Winter’s Healing Plants

If there is one person to credit for the interest in herbs in this country, and the ever-growing range available for South African gardeners, it is Margaret Roberts, who has devoted herself to discovering all there is to learn about these fascinating plants, and to sharing her knowledge (and her plants) with us. Nowadays she does likewise with the healing plants or superfoods, so essential to our jolly good energy and vitality.

marg sandy portraitIn this series she teams up with her daughter and business partner, nutritionist and chef Sandy Roberts, to bring us a weekly update from their busy farm near Hartbeespoort Dam that includes delicious wonderfood recipes plus tips on how to get the very best from the superfood garden.

1. Rosehip syrup

July is rose-pruning time – this I remember from my childhood, particularly how sharp the thorns and secateurs were. First prune off any rosehips that have withstood the icy cold. My grandmother called them ‘Gold Roses’ as their rich insides could be cooked with jams and jellies, adding valuable vitamin C to the pot. We are striving to set up a section of the kitchen garden with roses that produce abundant hips for Sandy’s jam-making activities, and our old-fashioned roses are increasingly valuable for this added bonus.

Make a syrup with warmed honey in a double boiler and add enough thinly sliced rosehips to submerge under the honey. Cut off the dry and brittle calyx and select the Rosehips that are ripe and juicy only. Slice with careful handling as some Rosehips are quite tough. While the honey and hips warm, with a heavy spoon (start with a wooden spoon) press the slices of hips down into the base of the pot to soften and to release their juices. Try to soften it all to a pulp. Simmer for 30 minutes and keep pressing and stirring. My grandmother added crushed cloves – a teaspoon at a time – which she crushed in a heavy mortar with a strong pestle and this added to the honey mixture and made it exquisitely enticing.

rosehips2

Once the hips are softened, this fragrant syrup can be added to other things like chutneys or jellies or cool drinks as well as other jams, or a teaspoon can be added to a cup of ginger tea to soothe a cold or cough or sore throat. Always sip tea slowly so it can be absorbed through the mucous membrane of the mouth.

Save all the rose prunings. Keep them in a heap and once they are dry find an extra safe place to burn them as the thorns do not disintegrate easily and can be painfully dangerous if left in the soil. The rose ash is an added bonus, mixed into the compost heap.

We are planting Chinese winter vegetables now in midwinter – the delicious pak choy, mizuna, white radishes, kales and smooth little spinaches, and include rocket. All of these are incredibly rich superfoods, helping us to fight off flu and coughs and clear our sinuses.

Buy trays of seedlings now from your local nursery and set up an easy to reach series of big pots, or dig over long beds near the kitchen door for quick pickings in compost-rich soil. We even grow small pots of wheatgrass for juicing with celery, parsley and home grown carrots – and it all looks so interesting and so charming and so healthy with all the vitamins and minerals in abundance.

Recipe: Sandy’s Immune Boost Salad

Mix together a selection of leaves from your garden – not just lettuce but kale and Chinese greens too. Add winter flowering nasturtiums and nasturtium leaves, some Gallant Soldier (a prolific garden weed) as it has strong natural antibiotic properties that will help to keep us fighting fit – AND it is a forager’s delight as it tastes so good! With chopped parsley, fresh High Hopes Basil leaves – a perennial basil – and some home-grown chopped celery with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a little olive oil, this is pure pleasure.

Try to have this sort of salad two or three times a week if possible and grow your greens selection continuously right up into the first heat of the summer. By the way, these greens also make the most marvellous soups too and winter soups really top the popularity charts. This is Sandy’s Winter Standby – it is a soup no one ever tires of and can be varied with vegetables in season:

Recipe: Winter Vegetable Soup

winter soup

Serves 6-8

In a large heavy bottomed pot lightly brown 3 cups chopped onions in a little olive oil. Add:

  • 3 cups peeled and coarsely grated sweet potatoes
  • 3 cups finely grated carrots
  • 3 cups chopped celery stalks and leaves
  • 3 cups coarsely grated pumpkin or squash
  • 3 cups sliced leeks
  • 3 cups finely shredded cabbage, dark outer leaves included

Mix all together and add 3 litres of boiling water. Add more water as needed as it cooks away. It will need to simmer for around 2½ hours. Now stir in:

  • 2 cups lentils
  • 2 cups black eyed beans
  • 2 cups split peas
  • 2 cups pearl barley

Simmer until tender, adding more water if needed. Finally add Himalayan salt to taste with 2 teaspoons of paprika and about 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper to taste. Stir well and simmer. Add the juice of 2-3 lemons with 3 tablespoons of honey and 3 teaspoons of grated ginger root. Serve piping hot with home-baked brown bread.

This soup is a jewel as there are so many ways to flavour it, change it, and with the different vegetables available it can taste quite different too. Enjoy! We’re soup addicts and make it every week throughout winter. Remember you can grow all your soup ingredients throughout the year.

For more info

Note: Margaret Roberts has a fine selection of plants and seeds available from her nursery.

Words and Pictures: Margaret Roberts
Styling: Sandy Roberts

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