A HOT START AND A WET END
The summer months have proffered a long, hot and dry season here taking us all quite aback on Islay. With weeks of sunshine and virtually no rain, the summer has held a quick-fire procession of picking for our in-house botanist James. That was until the end of the month when a few unseasonal downpours came, more than enough to keep the island distillers happy.
In early July, James wafts into the distillery with a tub of Lady’s bedstraw (Galium Verum) – it’s delicate savoury notes bringing nostalgic delights to some while others recoiled in disgust claiming “It smells like my granny’s house”. It’s lovely. Those who disagree, it turns out, had a cold that week
James’ botanical radar is currently picking up Apple Mint (Mentha x villosa), Camomile (Chamaemelum mobile), Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense), Red Clover (Trifolium pratense), Wild Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), Wood Sage (Teucrium scorodonia), Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) and Mugwort (Artemissia vulgaris) and Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria).
Mid-month picking was yet to commence on the meadowsweet which was ‘not quite there yet’; though in last year’s calendar picking commenced a week later. The forecasted rain helped it along a little quicker through the prolonged dry spell. And then James was picking picking picking. Now, at the end of the month and after a blustery and very wet weekend it meadowsweet is looking little disheartened and wind-burned.
HOW TO PICK CREEPING THISTLE
On a recce trip for apple mint we found along the peripheries a swathe of honey scented creeping thistle ripe for the picking. What is it James looking for? “Foosily” heads he says. Fully foosiled. “It’s definitely a technical term James?” “Oh yes.” “Some of the heads are narrower and less foosily all over.” This description requires hand movements and facial expressions to fully appreciate it’s seriousness.
We are high into the nettle season now. This nitrate loving Urtica dioica is going to seed but these jaggy, stinging, needlelike fellows seeds (botanically ‘nuts’) can put a spring in your step. Though jury may still be out on the full effects, nettle seeds contain adaptogens which can act as a natural stimulant akin to caffeine. No sting to them once dried and with a quick rub down, properly prepared they pertain to a myriad of potential health benefits from circulation, an iron boost to general rejuvenation and pep.
Here’s a little nettle syrup recipe we’ve played with.
And spiffing nettle tea cocktail from Gunther Strobl of Campari Bar Basel.
The elder tree’s flowers were in bloom at the beginning of July sending out sweet scents along the roadsides and thought parts of Bridgend’s woodland. At the end of the month close to all has gone but rest assured many a local will have picked some for homemade ‘champagne’. However, with more of it still out (despite the wind) meadowsweet makes for a nice change in the classic recipe if you’ve missed the elder flowers.