Diving into the wortcunners’ store cupboard again!

Tansy – Tanacetum vulgarae

I have a deep interest in plant folklore and herbal use, mainly driven by a close association with my nan whose family spent many generations working on the land in rural Cheshire. A lot of the stories she would tell us when we were kids were about uncles and other relatives working the land and how the fairy folk helped out. She also talked about herbal medicine and the use of wildflowers  and plants as  food source- way before it became trendy to have survival programmes on the TV!

What is a Wortcunner ?

It is said that a wortcunner is an herbalist that has not only mastered the use of herbs and plants but also one that has been touched by plant spirits and someone that has a deep understanding of herbal lore. Wortcunner takes its name from the word wort meaning ‘root or herb’ and  ‘cunning’ taken from the middle English word ‘cunnen’ meaning to know.

So why Tansy?

I have always had Tansy ( Tanacetum vulgarae ) growing in my garden, the lacy leaves provide a great backdrop for other plants and the shiny buttons of the yellow flowers brighten up any day. We grow a lot of herbal plants, but I must admit that this is one of my favourites.

Tansy is an herbaceous perennial native to Europe and  Asia and has been widely introduced into other areas globally. It has yellow globular flowers produced mid to late summer and finely divided leaves. Other names for Tansy include; bitter buttons, cow bitter, or golden buttons. It thrives in most soils and can propagated by seeds or by dividing the creeping roots in spring or autumn.

The name Tansy is said to derive from the Greek word Athanaton (immortal) as it was said to have been given to Ganymede to make him immortal. It was also widely used by the Greeks for its medicinal properties. The herb was also used in preserving bodies / embalming the dead. Throughout the medieval period it was used to treat Intestinal worms, rheumatism, fevers, sores, digestive problems. It was also one of the strewing herbs used during this period possibly as it was effective at keeping flies away. Writing in the late 16th century, the herbalist John Gerard wrote that tansy was ‘pleasant in taste’ and that sweetmeats made from tansy were good for curing gout.

Tansy is also linked to Easter, when Tansy cakes were awarded as prizes to the winners of a handball game .The cakes consisted of young leaves mixed with eggs and as Mrs Grieve notes ‘were though to purify the humours of body’ after the limited fare of Lent, therefore reducing the amount of flatulence brought on by eating a limited diet of fish and pulses!

In the. 1940s, tansy oil was mixed with other herbs including pennyroyal and fleabane to produce a mosquito repellent that was relatively successful until insecticides such as DEET were produced. Tansy is also used in companion planting and has been used for biological pest control, including the control of Colorado potato beetle.

Tansy is a known herb for use in magical rituals especially in spells, potions and charms for longevity and in rituals of womanhood .

As previously mentioned, it has had a long and varied medical use, largely for expelling worms and as an anti-flatulent and other stomach disorders. However, in large doses it is extremely toxic and a violent irritant. Active ingredients in tansy include; thujone, camphor, sterols, terpenoids and sesquiterpenoid lactones. Its reported that the oil from 10-30g of the flowers can be a lethal dose in humans and that ingestion of a long period of time can be harmful due to the cumulative effects.

Henbane – a witches’ brew!

Henbane ( Hyoscyamus niger ) has long been associated with magic, ritual, murder and healing. A member of the Solanaceae family which includes daily food items such as the potato and tomato, it is highly toxic and along with other toxic members of the family including belladonna and mandrake , has a notorious reputation.

Native to Europe, Asia and Africa it is now found worldwide. Though not native to the UK it is thought that its  widespread occurrence stems from escapees from herbalists’ gardens and it is now partially naturalised though it is classed as vulnerable according to JNCC in the vascular plant  red data list for Great Britain.

It prefers sandy or chalky soils and can be found growing in waste ground and even allotments. It is thought that the seed can survive up to 600 years in the ground. Growing up to 36 inches tall, there are two forms; an annual form and a biennial form. The annual  plant flowers during July and August whilst the biennial form flowers in May and June during the second year.

Its history can be traced back as far as ancient Greece, sacred to Apollo and  known as Herba Apollinaris, it is believed to have been used as a visionary herb by the Oracle of Delphi. It has also been found in graves of Nordic shamen dating from the Neolithic period although some research points to it being used in the palaeolithic period. In Celtic regions the plant was known as  belinuntia and it is thought the Gauls used a decoction of henbane to poison the tips of their spears. Writing  in his work, De Vegetalibus (1250 AD), Albertus Magnus describes the use of Henbane by necromancers to invoke the souls of the dead as well as of demons. It was during the middle ages that henbane became associated with witchcraft and harmful practices. When applied as a salve to areas of the body where the skin is thin it is said to give vivid episodes or dreams of ‘flying’ or falling and other hallucinations. This is where images  of witches flying through the air is thought to originate.

In the late 16th century, John Gerrard mentions in his ‘Herball’;

“The leaves, the seeds and the juice, when taken internally cause an unquiet sleep, like unto the sleep of drunkenness, which continueth long and is deadly to the patient. To wash the feet in a decoction of Henbane, as also the often smelling of the flowers causeth sleep.”

Mrs Grieve, writing in her  ‘A modern Herbal’ in 1931 describes how is was thought Henbane was the toxic herb referred to in Hamlet:

‘Sleeping within mine orchard,

My custom always of the afternoon

Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole,

With a juice of cursed hebenon in a vial,

And in the porches of mine ear did pour

The leprous distillment.’

Though it’s now thought that this refers to Yew and not to henbane, especially as other Elizabethan writers refer to Yew as ‘hebon’. Although all parts of the plant are poisonous, it is the leaves that the most toxic and it was believed that even the smell of them when fresh could produce giddiness and stupor.

Henbane contains numerous chemicals, the main active ingredients being the tropane alkaloids hyoscyamine and scopolamine along with several minor alkaloids. Since ancient times henbane  was used  for the relief of pain, toothache and to treat nervous disorders and today it is used in modern medicine , especially ophthalmology.  Although used throughout history for murder and suicide, most cases of poisoning today are rare and  are usually associated with taking the herb as a mind-altering drug in the form of a ‘dream tea’.

 

The Mighty Yarrow

One of the nice things about this time of year, despite the heatwave and the parched grass is the ray of light poking through in the shape of flowering Yarrow ( Achillea millefolium ). Flowering from June until September, Yarrow is an aromatic perennial that can attain a height of 3ft, though more commonly seen at 2 – 12inches,  with panicles of white flowers and lacy green leaves. Occasionally you will come across plants with pink flowers, these will be growing on acidic soil whereas the white flowered yarrow thrives on calcareous soil.

Widely known for over 6000 years ( though the earliest find is from 60,00 years ago where it was found in a grave in modern day Iraq)  yarrow has a long and distinguished history in the fields of folklore and herbal medicine. During the Trojan war it is said that Achilles learnt the benefits for applying yarrow to wounds from Chiron the centaur  and when Achilles asked the gods for protection before going into battle, he was picked up by the ankle and immersed in a vat containing yarrow tea and making him invulnerable. However, where the gods had held onto the ankle , this was the only part of his body not immersed and became his weak spot – the Achilles heel!

The use of yarrow in treating wounds right up until world war one  has given it two of its many common names – soldiers’ woundwort and staunchweed. Other common names include: Allheal, angel flower, bloodwort, devils’ nettle, green arrow, herb millitaris, knights’ milfoil, old man’s mustard, sanguinary, thousand weed, bad mans’ plaything and many more.

In ancient China, yarrow sticks were used in divination rituals of the I Ching system and in the west it was thought to protect against evil spirits and even ward off the devil, though in Wales it was considered bad luck to have yarrow in the house as this would encourage the devil to enter. In the 17th century it was used as an herbal snuff and also eaten in salads. Across the globe, yarrow has been added to various alcoholic beverages and is still used this way in some Scandinavian countries.

Widely used in Western, Ayurvedic and Chinese herbal medicine, all the aerial parts of the plant are used to treat a variety of conditions including; fevers, colds, period problems, digestive disorders,  hypertension, wounds, earache, measles, as a poultice, for stomach ulcers etc, as well as being used as a general tonic and stimulant.

Within the garden, yarrow makes a welcome addition to any naturalistic planting scheme, wildflower meadow or herb garden. It is resistant to drought and will quite happily reseed itself year after year. Germination from seed may be slow and the seeds require sunlight to germinate. It can also be propagated by cuttings or splitting the clumps. In very rich soil, yarrow may become tall and leggy and may require staking. Yarrow is a useful plant as it improves the health of surrounding plants as it contributes phosphorous, calcium and silica to the soil.

So next time you go for a walk and spot the yarrow flowering, or think about removing it from your pristine lawn, allow your mind to drift back to Achilles and the folklore associated with this plant.

In a Prickle

Written by Elaine Gardener (Guest blogger)

The adorable hedgehog … voted Britain’s favourite mammal however, numbers show our prickly prehistoric pals are in decline.

Important information to make note of: take the time now to locate your nearest hedgehog rescue. The British Hedgehog Preservation Society can be called on (01584 890 801) to provide details of rescues nearest to the location of the hedgehog in need. https://helpwildlife.co.uk/map/ will list some, but not every, Hedgehog and wildlife rescue in the United Kingdom.

A hedgehog out in the day displaying abnormal behaviour such as wobbling, laying down on its side or in direct sunlight, moving slowly without  purpose for example, actively collecting leaves or grass, eating and drinking or resting in a well shaded, secluded area and regularly returning to a nest or other hiding place, is an EMERGENCY and will need proper care immediately!  DO NOT try to look after this mammal yourself; it will be seriously unwell and will require specialist care and medication. The life of this hedgehog depends on the action you take immediately – DO NOT leave the animal unattended as it could move away and it is unlikely to be found again.

The hedgehog needs to be picked up carefully, with a thick towel, thick gardening gloves or oven mitts, taking care to avoid injury to yourself or the hedgehog. Place the hedgehog in a high sided box with either newspaper and some straw/hay or preferably a light coloured towel or T shirt.

Place the box in a quiet place indoors.

.

If there is no heavy bleeding that you can see, wrap a warm (not too hot) water bottle in a towel and place at one end of the box. Place the hedgehog on the towel and cover the box with another towel. Leave room so the hedgehog can move off the heated area if it gets too hot. Place a shallow bowl of water in the box but no food. It can be dangerous for the hedgehog to attempt eating if the body has gone into shock and started to shut down. If it is bleeding heavily, follow the previous instructions but without the hot water bottle.

Call your local rescue without hesitation.

A Decline in Numbers

The majority of reasons behind declining numbers is human activity; destruction of their habitat by building, unintentional poisoning from the use of pesticides and herbicides and loss of hedgerows on farmland.

New roads are a danger as they are busy with vehicles and often cut through the hedgehogs’ previous known walkway.  A hedgehog has no ‘fight or flight’ defence mechanism as other animals do. Their defence mechanism consists of curling into a ball rather than run away. Hedgehogs spines work wonderfully well at keeping predators at bay and act as great shock absorbers but are no match for 4 wheels and a combustion engine. Hedgehogs appear to also rely on ‘It can’t see you therefore you can’t see me’ defence. 

Housing developments block off access to natural food and water sources. There is now a law in place after extensive work with developers that requires the installation of ‘Hedgehog Highways’ in walls and fences of new builds, to maintain access to the land.

Contrary to popular belief, slugs and snails only make up around 5% of their food source. These crepuscular creatures happily snuffle around feeding on beetles, caterpillars, worms and earwigs which are much safer for them to eat – slimy slugs and snails can carry lungworm (or be can possibly be poisoned with slug pellets) which will ultimately kill the hedgehog. A hog will only eat these when they are absolutely starving and then they’ll likely die of lungworm (or poison) rather than starvation unless they are found in time and receive immediate medical care.

They need our help to get out of this prickly situation.

How to Help – Make a Hedgehog Friendly Garden!

Ensure your garden is accessible:

Cut a 13cm hole (about the size of a CD case) in your fence – some fencing companies are beginning to offer hedgehog highway gravel boards

or – 

Remove walls or fencing and plant a native hedge

  • Ensure any ponds have an escape route:
  • Use a gently sloping gravel area
    • or – 
  • Add a ramp along one edge
  • Create a wild corner to encourage insects:
  • Leave the grass longer (ALWAYS check long grass before mowing or strimming as a hedgehog will not run away from the noise)
  • Make a log pile
  • Plant native friendly hedging
  • Remove hazards:
  • Lift any netting a good foot (30cm) off the ground at night
  • Cover drains and holes
  • Only site a bonfire just before lighting
  • Stop using slug pellets and chemicals – look at alternative natural products
  • Keep dogs on leads in the garden after dark to prevent accidents
  • Provide food and water:

Food is supplementary and increasing insects in the garden is beneficial. Feeding should not be stopped in winter in the belief they are all hibernating (See section on Hibernation). 

  • Water is essential to life. Leave plenty of shallow bowls around
  • Feed with complete kitten biscuits (not treats) and/or meaty cat or dog food. Fish flavour is okay and it can be in gravy or jelly.
  • Hedgehog specific food however, some products can contain items that should not be fed to hedgehogs therefore cat or dog food is advised.
  • Build a simple feeding station, to prevent other wildlife (or cats) eating the food
  • The following is not an exhaustive list but MUST NOT be fed to hedgehogs:
  • Mealworms
  • Sunflower hearts
  • Peanuts
  • Bread
  • Milk
  • Provide a home:
  • Build or provide a wooden hedgehog house (good quality, predator-proof houses can be bought) for sleeping or nesting
  • Fill with dust extracted meadow hay
  • Never be tempted to peek in the house – if disturbed, nesting females can abandon their hoglets
  • Never use chemical wood preserver or disinfectants. If it needs to be cleaned out, use hot water only.

Autumn Juveniles

High mating season is usually in May and June with hoglets appearing around 4 weeks after nesting. 

A female may have 4 to 5 hoglets. Sometimes a second litter is born late in the autumn and these hoglets can struggle to put on sufficient weight before winter hibernation. On average, a hedgehog should be around 600-650g7 before hibernating to allow for 30-35% body weight loss during this period. If a small hedgehog (less than the 400g size) is seen in autumn, then contact your local rescue for their advice.

Hibernation

During the winter months, hedgehogs are understood to go into deep sleep called hibernation. However, they don’t sleep the entire time, often waking to move nests which can consume a huge amount of energy. Not all hedgehogs hibernate either. This is also time when food is scarce so leaving food and water out year-round is essential.

Ticks and Fleas

Fleas are indigenous to hogs only and don’t infest anywhere else – not even your dog or cat! Fleas are rarely on the hog, preferring to stay in the nest and feed when the hedgehog is sleeping.

Never try to remove a tick from a hedgehog unless you know what you are doing and are using the correct tools. Incorrect removal can lead to leaving part of the ticks mouth parts behind causing infection. Interfering with a tick can also cause it to regurgitate the stomach contents into the hedgehog. One or two ticks are not a problem, they will drop off in due course. A hog with several ticks needs attention from a rescue or vet as this usually indicates and underlying problem.

Hedgehogs and the Law

Hedgehogs are protected by law (Schedule 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) and should be enjoyed at a distance allowing them to be wild. Legally, hedgehogs are only allowed to be handled by a rescue or when in need of emergency care. There is no need to regularly weigh them unless a small juvenile is spotted in late autumn which will likely also need to be rescued.

Dazzling them with a torch to get a photo or to watch them is also against the law. Therefore, it’s a great idea to get a trail camera with infrared lights to be able to watch them happily snuffling away in the dark. These can range from around £30 upwards. These cameras are also a great way of spotting hedgehogs in need of rescue.

A hedgehog will not stay in your garden if it doesn’t feel safe. Keep them wild and enjoy watching their natural hogtivities on camera!

1   Build a Hedgehog Feeding Station, RSPB https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/give-nature-a-home-in-your-garden/garden-activities/openahedgehogcafe/

2   British Hedgehog Preservation Society https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/

3   Vale Wildlife Feeding Wild Hedgehogs Guide http://www.valewildlife.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Feeding-wild-hedgehogs.pdf

4   Build a Hedgehog House, RSPB https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/give-nature-a-home-in-your-garden/garden-activities/giveahogahome/

5   Riverside Woodcraft, Riverside Gold https://www.riversidewoodcraft.co.uk/hedgehog-houses/hedgehog-house-riverside-gold-plus-free-food/

6   Hedgehog Street https://www.hedgehogstreet.org/about-hedgehogs/hoglets/

7   Size Guide, Willows Hedgehog Rescue https://www.willowshedgehogrescue.co.uk

Written by:

Elaine Gardener. A microbiologist with 15 years of industrial pharmaceutical microbiology experience now working in the Centre for Enzyme Innovation at the University of Portsmouth (https://www.port.ac.uk/research/research-centres-and-groups/centre-for-enzyme-innovation).

Disclaimer: I am not a rescue nor claim to be one. Information has been provided based on current advice available from rescues.

With thanks to Hamble Hedgehogs (Registered Charity 1185442) for their contribution to this.

The (not so) humble Dandelion

I love dandelions, no matter what people say about them being a problem ‘weed’ in lawns etc. I also dislike the term ‘weed’, in my eyes a ‘weed’ is just a wildflower in the wrong place. They also are a strong memory from my childhood; blowing the seed heads to tell the time or to try and get into the mind of a loved one. The memory of being told that if you get the juice on your skin you would wet the bed, this may stem from the French who called the plant ‘pis-en-lit’. In fact, dandelions are well known in herbal medicine as a diuretic, so eating many leaves in a salad before you got to bed may lead to you ‘pis-en-lit’ the bed!

Dandelions stretch way back into history and were known to the Egyptians, Romans and other cultures such as the Persians. In fact, around 900AD the Persians knew the plant as tarashquq, though a hundred years later it was known as Taraxcum. Most people are more familiar with the term Dents de lion (teeth of the lion), again from the French and referring to the leaves.

Native to Europe and Asia and now naturalised in most other parts of the world, it is a member of the Asteraceae family. They prefer growing in full sunlight or partial shade and can be seen in most habitats except those of the polar regions and in dry deserts.

In the UK there are over 230 species of dandelion, most of which require a degree of expertise to tell apart from each other. Despite people wanting them removed from their lawns, dandelions have a number of uses – the leaves and flowers can be eaten in salads; a tea can be made from the flowers and leaves; roots can be dried and used as a coffee substitute; the flowers can be used to make dandelion wine ( highly recommend this!) and the flowers can also be used to make dandelion jelly and even dandelion honey . Finally, the flowers attract a wide range of pollinators and other insects, providing a source of pollen and nectar from early spring.

Going back to dandelion honey, it is not a true honey in the sense of being produced by honey bees but is an interesting alternative that tastes like honey but is slightly runnier but can be used in the same way as traditional honey. A very simple recipe for ‘dandelion honey’ (we do not take any responsibility for people trying this at home, please undertake your own research first) is :

  • Boil and simmer dandelion petals, having removed any green parts, with water and lemon juice / slices
  • Steep the liquid for a few hours then strain the juice off
  • Stir in granulated sugar and simmer until it thickens up
  • Leave in the fridge overnight

Because of the high sugar content this ‘honey’ is quick to crystallise and will give a slight crunch to food. The one downside to dandelion honey is that it can have a slightly bitter after taste, though I really like it when spread on toast! So next time you look out across the lawn and before you dig out the lawn mower, maybe think about collecting a few flowers or leaves for your salad or leave a small area that’s difficult to mow as a food source for wildlife  and maybe, just maybe after reading this you may now see a different side to the not so humble dandelion.

Recipe ideas in tough times

Recipe links:

Most of these are simple easy to make and, mostly with everyday ingredients.

Students are always trying to stretch the budget, just adjust the quantities to suit the amount of people.

https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/collection/student

https://studenteats.co.uk/recipes/16-idiot-proof-recipes-all-students-should-learn-5647.html

Budget meals, the BBC website has always been a good source of inspiration.

https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/collection/budget

https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/collection/cheap-eat

More budget friendly meals.

https://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/g3166/cheap-easy-recipes/

Tesco real food is another good source.

https://realfood.tesco.com/recipes/collections/on-a-budget.html

Skintdad is worth a look too.

https://skintdad.co.uk/budget-recipes-easy-meals/

In the digital age everyone loves an app.

I can personally recommend  “Fitmencook” , it’s a paid for app that’s always being updated and has loads of really great recipes.

Something for everyone.

Step by step with photos and some even have videos.

“Yummly recipes, is another great app.

Free app, try the “Change4Life Smart Recipes”

Towards infinity and beyond – or at least 2030!

So we are nearly at the end of February already , sustainability is still high on everyone’s agenda with the 2030 targets all over the media and politicians from around the globe preaching on how we must hit our targets . 
This got me thinking about where we are and what’s happened so far this year and quite a lot has happened so far. In the U.K. we are just getting over two damaging storms and so far in most of the country we have experienced a mild but wet winter with little snow or frost, especially down here in the south west- a sign of things to come in the following decades. Climate change isn’t going away but may be some methods of protesting or raising voices on this issue aren’t the best .
HS2 has been given the go ahead to proceed, not great for the countryside and the negative impact it will have upon it. The agriculture bill was brought into legislation , there seems to be a mixed feeling in this whereas the environment bill has just gone through parliament for the first reading without any issues . This should have a positive impact when it finally come into legislation , especially with the promotion of biodiversity net gain for developments . 
I can not  work out the global extinction lot and this week , by digging up the  lawn outside of Cambridge university they have not  done themselves any favours. So by digging up grass that absorbs carbon  What they don’t seem to realise is that the lawn will be put back in , using petrol powered equipment, possibly importing topsoil and turf therefore having a larger carbon footprint on restoration . Watching them on the news they remind me of some sort of bizarre cult that do what they are told ( couple this week with the guy that stopped the tube train last year and got beaten up by commuters etc) – and on thinking this I had a flash back to the Simpson’s episode where Homer couldn’t be converted ( ‘the leader is good, the leader is great …….!’ It seems to me that they are going do me the ‘green peace’ route of direct action protesting ….each to their own but I feel peoples opinions could shift against them . 

I have a deep interest in physics and technology and how this can be applied to protect / enhance the environment and reduce the current climate emissions problem . This week research scientists in the USA announced a protein nanowire technology that produces electricity from moisture in the air . It’s at early stages yet but could definitely  be a game changer if it can be scaled up and efficiencies proved. The research in smart materials and their use in environmental sensors and other applications is showing promise as well
Going slightly further  than the U.K., it seems that we are still interested in mining the moon and asteroids for their resources as we are exhausting the ones on the earth . This sort of reminds me of the old Wild West with prospectors staking a claim and setting up camp. NASA are interested in the moons resources especially water, Helium-3 and a range of rare earth metals . There is also interest from other countries and private concerns . If you want any positive news in this , then JPL and NASA day it will take 220 million years to deplete 1% of the moons mass – not good news as not only have we depleted the earths minerals and damaged the environment we are now quoting figures in how long it would take to deplete and other planets resources . 
The next few years are going to be interesting , will we got the targets ? If not , how far off will we be?

Will technology be scaled up and proved to be of assistance? Will we look at mining the moon?  If you go back to the physics and believe in the multi universe hypothesis , is there another version of the earth that has been through a similar situation and has sorted its self out or are there multiple earths that haven’t had such problems …. who knows but the run up to the 2030 deadline is going to be interesting and we certainly need to adapt and make changes  or , in the words of a famous Star trek Doctor – ‘it’s life Jim, but not as we know it !!’

Cardboard and Home-made Napalm.

Clearing out the Loft

Clearing out the loft is a bit of a random thing to talk to about, but there is a train of thought following my efforts.

I have lived in this old house for about twenty-five years and in that time, I have had a bit of an obsession with keeping the boxes that most things come in (the retail packaging).

Now I here you saying, why would you do this?

There is method in my madness and that’s most Electrical items you buy come with a warranty and if you read the small print carefully after you register the warranty online, or years ago by post maybe and there is usually a clause in that requiring to send off the offending item for repair in the original packaging.

Yes, that will be the same stuff that most normal people throw away the day after you buy something.

Now in fairness I think I can count on one hand the times that I have needed the packaging and had to return something for repair or replacement to the manufacturer, usually high value item such as TV’s etc.

The last time being a 42” Panasonic Plasma TV that the mainboard failed in less than twelve months old, now that was one energy sucking beast and you could almost cook on the heat given off by that bad boy.

Now that was a long time ago and also one of the reasons, I changed it was the ever-rising cost of energy and more energy efficient technological advances resulting in a much larger TV, that uses a 6th of the amount of the old Plasma did.

Anyway, I digress and back to the loft and the ever-expanding collection of boxes over such a long period of time.

Like most people I tend not to venture into the loft too much until we reached the point where the box collection was taking up far too much room and let’s face it, in twenty-five years that’s a lot of Electrical devices that had come and gone.

In fact, when I actually started to look through and throw out boxes of items that had long since gone to the Electrical graveyard or just simply been replaced with newer upgraded versions.

Now after several hours (yes there really was that many boxes), cluttering up the top of the landing , all down the staircase and spilled over into the hallway much to my wife’s disgust at the mess , it was time to break down the monster and put out for recycling.

So, the only logical way to do this was break everything down and separate into recyclable and non-recyclable and this is where from a sustainability point of view it gets interesting.

Now most things nowadays you would like to think would be packaged with the environmental impact taken into consideration, wouldn’t you?

Well the Environment was less of a hot topic over twenty years ago as it is today with plastic waste chocking our oceans, it was an eye opener breaking down boxes as to who even many years ago was way ahead of their time in terms of sustainable packaging and who even more recently definitely is sat in the naughty corner in terms on un-recyclable packaging.

On the good list and taking top marks were Dyson, as their entire box and contents was all cardboard, next on a par if not better were Vax as I noticed their inner cartons formed to the shape of the carpet cleaner was all made from formed cardboard pulp.

Same story with PURE the very early pioneers of DAB radios with again all preformed pulp cardboard pulp.

Even Apple and this has been the case for some years are way up there in terms of cardboard packaging of phones, Ipads, in fact pretty much all their product range.

Now onto the Naughty list with overuse of the planets most non environmentally friendly material “polystyrene”, yes that god awful stuff was Panasonic and Samsung (mainly TV boxes), joining them was Sony in the hall of Shame, closely followed by Brother printers and Hewlett Packard.

Now given some of those boxes were a few years, even two decades old, then some can be forgiven and one would hope that they are now promoting more sustainable packaging, but the TV Manufacturers have got a long way to go since those boxes were only two to three years old.

I was pleased that I could put out four large boxes crammed full of Cardboard and another six bags to go to recycling, but far less happy with the five black bags worth of completely non-recyclable Polystyrene that will probably go to Landfill which does make me sad.

As tempting as it was to turn it into home made napalm and sell it on the black market, that wasn’t a viable or legal option.

So, in terms of Sustainable packaging we have still got some way to go and lets hope that manufacturers and retailers can now do the planet a favour and stop using non-recyclable packaging.

Green motoring, how green are electric vehicles?

With the massive upsurge in usage and ownership of electric vehicles, just how green are they really? is a massive hot topic. Yes the car may produce 0 emissions , but if it’s plugged into the grid, then unless it’s renewable clean energy being generated is it really that green ?

There is an awful lot of argument and skepticism that is the emissions from energy generation could be just as much if not more than that of normal petrol or diesel vehicles. Well without getting debunking and quoting stats from reports, let’s look at what we do know and before we get into anything too deep.

Firstly how is the car being powered? Plugin full electric, hybrid PHEV plugin or self-charging hybrid. So let’s take Plugin full electric with no combustion engine at all and just an electric motor totally reliant on batteries, their range and recharge time.

Is the energy Green that powers it?
That depends on how the electricity is being generated and some may argue that Nuclear energy is clean energy, maybe in as much as the emissions, but not the nuclear waste produced as a bye product. Modern reactors we are told are much cleaner than the older ones. 
Wind turbines , yes green and renewable energy. 
Solar farms, yes green and renewable, but you also need to look at the manufacturing process and the expected life of solar panels. 


Biogas, energy made from food waste, green waste and often animal excrement.
Hydroelectric, probably one of the most efficient and cleanest, mainly because of the constant water flow and generation efficiency. 
Wind turbines need wind and that’s not always available all the time, depending upon location, offshore wind farms we are told are more efficent.


Biomass fuel-powered which has been used to convert the old coal-powered stations, or incinerators to generate electricity, although the amount of filtration needed on the incinerator some may argue it’s debatable if that’s a clean source of energy.


So if you plug your car into your house and you have solar panels fitted with battery storage capacity it’s pretty much a self-sufficient charging system. 
Solar panels are most efficient in the day time, so unless you work from home or your workplace has solar-paneled charging stations, then you way up efficiency.

for most of us mere mortals that don’t have access to solar, just make sure your energy supplier puts you on a “green tariff “ where all if not at least the vast majority of the energy is produced by cleaner generation through renewable energy sources.


The batteries required to run the cars are not exactly seen as environmentally friendly in the chemicals and minerals used to produce them. 
Extremely unfriendly to dismantle the end of life and disposal.

Although I understand the network of charging points is growing, I think until we see a dramatic increase in range before a recharge is required maybe self-charging is a better option. By all means if you only make short journeys buy an all-electric car, but the technology is still evolving and getting better which each newer model seeing increased range.

So are Self-charging hybrids the answer?
Self-charging hybrids are great for an awful lot of people simply because there is no need to plug them in, yes it still contains batteries, but much smaller than the full-electric cars require. It still has a petrol engine, which runs more efficiently due to using both under heavy load and increased driving speeds. For urban driving, at lower speeds, it can switch to electric.

Don’t get confused with PHEV which in all honesty is a token effort for most people if they travel a fair distance as the electric range is only on average mostly 30miles before it switches back over into petrol mode. Use both electric and petrol together for super-fast acceleration and it’s even less than a few miles. For me, I can see how company drivers are being swayed by the tax breaks on PHEV, but if a company really wants to make a difference to the environment there may be more efficient ways of reducing their carbon footprint.


So, in conclusion, I feel we have got a long way to go yet before the vast majority of people switch to full Electric vehicles and is it the heart or the mind that drives that decision.

For me personally, it makes more sense, for now anyway, to run our latest addition to the household which is a city car, with a 1.0ltr highly efficient petrol engine, stop-start technology, costs £40 to fill and achieves a whopping 70mpg. So no electric car yet for us anyway.

Balsamorhiza sagittata (Oregon sunflower / Arrowleaf balsalm root)

As mentioned in the previous blog, I am interested in plants that have a range of uses and this year one of the species I am trialling will be Balsamorhiza sagittata. Native to the western areas of the USA and Canada, it is a member of the Aster family.

In its native range it can be found in a variety of habitats ranging from desert scrub to grassland and mountain forests. It is extremely drought tolerant.

It is a perennial, hardy to zone 5 in the UK and has a long tap root which in its native range can reach 2m in length and has large hairy leaves. The yellow sunflower like flowers are 2 1/2-4 inches wide borne on stems that can range from 8 – 24 inches in length. The plant prefers a sunny aspect and will not grow in the shade

Uses

Before looking at the uses I would just like to say that this section is for information only and we take no responsibility for anyone trying any of the uses listed below – so that’s the boring bit over, lets look at the possible uses for this plant.

Pollinator plant

The flowers are recognised in its native habitat for attracting many bees

Edible

The crown of the root is said to be edible raw and the roots, when cooked have a sweet taste although there are reports of the roots being a little bitter.

To cook, they are best slow roasted. Young shoots are reported to be edible and can be cooked or eaten raw in salads and the young flowering shoots can be peeled and eaten.

The seeds can be roasted and ground into a flour for cooking with or used to make a dough that can be eaten raw. The seeds may also be ground into a coffee substitute.

Medicinal

Native American Indians widely used part of the plant for medicinal purposes including an infusion of the leaves and stems to treat a wide range of illnesses from stomach pain, through to fevers and headaches.  Chewing the roots and swallowing the juice is reported to ease sore throats and toothache.

Chewing the roots and putting the pulp on skin complaints and wounds. The pulp has also been used to cool and repair burns etc.

Cultivation

Sow the seeds in early spring in a greenhouse or inside, apparently the seeds germinate quite quickly if they are only lightly covered with compost. I’m planning to sow successional batches from the end of February into march and see how fast they do germinate here and then planning to grow on both at the allotment and in our flower beds.

Once the plants are large enough, they should be ready to plant outside, again the literature seems to agree that they will tolerate a range of light and medium soil types, which suits the ground at the allotment but soil at home is slightly on the heavy side so it will be interesting to see how they grow in the slightly heavier soil.

There are other Balsamorhiza species that have similar uses but so far, I have not been able to locate any of the seed. If anyone can point me in the direction to obtain seed of the following species, I would be most grateful.

Balsamorhiza deltoidei

Balsamorhiza hookeri

Balsamorhiza incana