After three years of neglect I have decided to officially stop blogging here. I now blog over on a completely new site called the Other Andy Hamilton. I decided that I was becoming rather oritinated on broadcasting, foraging, home brewing and beer. Although, selfsufficientish does cover some of those subjects I thought it better to move and have a site that was more about me whilst leaving the blogging here in the capable hands of Dave.
It doesn’t mean I’ve left selfsufficientish, just the blogging side of things. So if you are after all things selfsufficientish then do check out the forum or main site but for anything more Booze for free orientated then the Other Andy Hamilton is the place for you.
I keep being asked why I am not over in Copenhagen, so I thought I would take some time to anwser. The main reason is that I don’t really think that using all of that carbon to travel there, just to protest outside a building, would make a difference. If I thought it would I would have been there in a flash.
A few years ago I emailed 100′s of Mp’s and wrote letters to various Supermarkets campaing for a plastax here in the UK. Ok, that did not happen but what has happened is that many Supermarkets are now at least making moves towards reducing their use. Was this down to me alone? Well, no of course not – although at one point when you googled “Tesco Carrier bag”, the top search linked back to this site showing a letter full of greenwash from Tesco along with my irate reply. So, every little helps. The point that I am trying to make is that, whilst I think there is a place for direct action, I also think that if many people took a bit more intelligent direct action real differences could be made.
Back to Cop 15, the saying, “closing the stable door after the horse has bolted”, jumps to mind. I can’t imagine that they will do anything that will make a real difference such as taxing airline fuel, agreeing to stop using coal (Americas next big fuel) or even something small such as banning carrier bags!
Instead what will result will be some wishy washy agreements that won’t make any difference and really won’t mean anything. If Mp’s can’t be trusted with their own expense claims how can we trust them with something that effects other people? Even if they do they will not be in force until 2020 by which point it will be too late.
P.S. This seems to be the only way to save the UK music scene from banality.
In another life I think I want to come back as some kind of medicine man, well herbalist really. In fact I have not ruled it out of becoming one in this life. My interest in the medicinal side of wild plants has not dwindled in the last few years and with each passing year, I seem to become more knowledgeable on the subject. It helps that I pick plants and treat myself whenever I get ill; almost getting excited when I am ill just so that I can nip to the local park and pick something to cure myself. It also helps that I take people on wild food walks and that they often love to share whatever knowledge they have. Indeed, I am always pleasantly surprised when the most unexpected of people pipe up with a gem of knowledge.
As with any interest the more you follow it, the more you will meet people with similar interests. In fact I found myself at the opening of a herbalists apothecary, (I say find myself, I was actually invited). I have to applaud the fella (Max Drake) who opened it as starting a business and especially a retail business at the moment is not up there as one of the wisest moves. However, this place is perfect from someone like me. If there are herbs that I can’t forage or have not grown enough of I can nip down to the Urban Fringe dispensary at the top of the Christmas steps , Bristol, UK and pick some up. Since the closure of Bristol’s Culpepper shop, Max”s shop is the only place in Bristol where you can actually buy herbs (excluding non culinary of course). He is providing what I think is an essential service and the more that people learn about herbalism I am certain, the more they will agree.
Without becoming to gushy about this shop and risking sounding like a long advert, I have to say that it is worth popping in just to have a look round the place. As you walk in you will see to your right a display area made from wood salvaged from a 16th Century church. This really does give the shop some context as it was built 400 years ago, the structure of the building gives this away and apparently parts of the building are made from bits of old ships! You get a real feeling of the people who populated Bristol when looking around this old place. It also seems too that by stacking it full of herbs used to make people well, you are somehow nodding to the past residents of the place.
Anyway, back to the official shop opening. I found myself chatting to all sorts of people from different places. I spent most of the night talking to Zoe Hawes another medical herbalist. We got to talking about books and I got very excited about the book she is working on as it sounds right up my street. It’s called a Foragers Guide to Medicinal plants and will be published by Haymln in March 2010. I have a copy of her 2010 herbal journal, which would be a lovely gift for anyone interested in herbalism and in need of a diary. Zoe seems to have a similar outlook to me insofar as she believes that picking our medicines roots us firmly as human beings and reminds us of the thousands of years of practice that preceded our treatment.
Talking to (but not for) Max, Zoe and another herbalist friend Kathy (who practices at Neils yard in Glasgow) makes me question much about the present medical system and especially the commerce that surrounds it. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes western medicine really is the best option. However, there are times when I make up someone a herbal infusion of lets say mint, chamomile, yarrow and elderflower when they have a cold and I know they are only humouring me when they say thanks just to reach for a paracetamol. Or if someone has an upset stomach and I pass them some ginger. I know that I am in danger of sounding real “new worldy” or “hippyfied” in some peoples eyes by openly talking about herbalism with this but I would not mention any of it if I did not know that it worked. Time and time again I hear of medical trials that place herbs above western medicine for certain ailments. Take cold sores for example Lemon balm comes up trumps when used to treat them! What’s more with herbs is that there are little or no side effects.
I guess the real difference with herbs, herbal medicine and especially foraged for medicine is that there are not huge companies making huge amounts of money from them. It everyone grew their own drugs where would we be then? Perhaps the massive drug companies would start to flounder and we would not want that would we? They do such a great job of keeping us well and as such reasonable prices too.
Max Drake’s Urban Fringe Dispensary is situated at 58 Colston Street, Bristol, BS1 5AZ, Zoe Hawes is the author of the Herbal Journal out now and Foragers Guide to Medicinal Plants out in March 2010. Cath Kay practices from Neils yard, Glasgow.
I have been pondering for the last few months the signature at the bottom of my emails (and life has not even been that slow). I have come to the conclusion that, “please consider the environment before printing off this email” at the bottom of every email is now so commonplace that it is likely to have made as much of an impact as it is going to. Also, does it make that much sense, do people sit down consider the environment then print it off anyway?
Well I have decided that to try and have a bit more of an impact I will write a series of please consider the environment before… these include
please consider the environment before BOOKING YOUR HOLIDAY
please consider the environment before BUYING A MASSIVE TELIVISION
please consider the environment before DRIVING TO A SUPERMARKET
please consider the environment before BUYING CHEAP IMPORTED GOODS
Who knows what difference it will make, I imagine most people will not even notice and even if they do the only reaction will be “oh that’s different” or “bloody environmentalist”. Ah well, makes me feel like I have considered the environment.
I have been having the same conversations with many people over the last few days. They have approached me in a panic, all of them worrying that it is too late to plant anything. IT’S ONLY MAY, DON’T PANIC!!
I have only planted half of what needs to go in for the year and I am really not too anxious about it. I have learnt the hard way that things like runner beans and sweetcorn can be killed if they are planted too early. We have had some cold nights and the danger of frost is still with us, especially if you live in rural areas or further up North (UK).
So in May what can you still plant? Here are a few ideas, it is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is certainly enough to keep you busy.
- Runner beans in Situ
- Courgette (indoors)
And you can still make sucessional sowings of
- Salad leaves
- Peas (main crop)
- Pak Choi
So why are you sitting here reading this, go on get out and start planting.
Over the last two days Dave (My twin and co-selfsufficientish fella) and I have been foraging for wild food with groups of people in Bath and Bristol. Yesterday we were in Bath to help out Topping and Co bookshop and also to help promote our book. There we took a group of around 20 folk aging from 6 to bus pass age out for about an hour. We found a good selection of wild edibles just a stones throw away from the bookshop, we even gave an old lady a bit of a start as we gathered outside her front door and inspected the weeds growing in a tub on her doorstep.
Today we were in Bristol conducting our monthly wild food forage. Which is is basically a walk starting at the city farm looking at the ecology, wild foods, bio-diversity, medicinal uses of plants and a bit of folklore. I have just got back and despite being rather tired I am very happy. There is always a bit of a bulletproof feeling that you get when you arrive back after a day out engaging with plants. Foraging (collecting wild food) can leave you with a feeling unlike any other outdoors pass time even gardening. It is hard to explain without sounding like a bit of a hippy so I apologise from the outset.
Foraging gives you a connection with your surroundings in many ways, firstly is a nutritional link. We have evolved around plants over thousands of year and different plants will have different properties at differing times of the year. We have different needs throughout the year. Take spring time for example, plants that are considered to be cleansing such as goosegrass (aka cleavers or sticky willy) are in abundance. During the harsh winter months we stock up on sugary and fatty foods. This winter belly is perfectly natural as it would have kept us warm. We don’t need it in the Spring and cleavers has been used not only to help cleanse the system but as an aid to dieting.
If you have been foraging for some years you will also find that you are much more likely to notice the subtle changes in the climate. Plants that are blossoming a week or two earlier or plants that simply have stopped growing in certain areas. These are a couple of the tangible things that foraging can do, the far less tangible is the overall feeling of belonging to something bigger than yourself that you get after connecting with the planet (see told you I would get a bit hippy).
Anyway, back to the actual forage – we left our crew of people at the end of a hot days foraging looking very happy if a little tired. They all want to book again later in the year and as a group there would not be a single one I would not apprechiate coming back. It does seem that mostly good folk are drawn towards wild food forages which certain does help when you are the facilatator.
To see us in action we are on this clip (after the Gurellia gardeners) it is a French/German show called Global Mag on the Arte channel. To read more look in the months edition of Ethical Living magazine. If you want to learn more about our wild food forage or book a place on the next course please do follow this link,we’d love to see you.
Well it looks like no-one fell for my April fools joke, ah well will try again next year. Nope no-one for UKIP has ever approached me.
“Fact is often stranger than fiction”, just a bit of cliche I thought well that was until this morning when I recieved a call.
“Hello, can I speak to Andy Hamilton?” Said a young and rather well spoken voice.
“Yep”. I replied, rather bluntly as I thought it another 8am sales call.
“I have Marta Andreasen on the other line I will just put you through”.
What is this I thought, who on earth is Marta Andreasen.
“Hello Andy, may I call you Andy”.
Ok I won’t transcribe the whole conversation as it could get a little tedious. Apparently, I have caused a bit of a buzz in Westminster after my recent appearance on the West edition of the politics show.
It seems that UKIP want to be “Zietgiest instead of stuffy”, they are looking to appeal to the older allotment grower and the younger well allotment grower. UKIP belive that we are the future.
They are suggesting that I become a kind of high profile sustainability advisor. I shouldn’t really be talking about this on here as I have been advised to keep it low profile but so I have left out some of the more private parts of the conversation.
I told them I would get back to them tomorrow. I mean I could make a real difference if I was an advisor to UKIP, it’s just that I am a card carrying member of the Green Party. The cash will come in handy though.
Perhaps I should just sleep on it.
Japanese Knotweed Fallopia japonica is a plant that can divide forages from allotmenteers. Many foragers and love the stuff whilst allotmenteers dread seeing it. Why, you may well ask. Well it is because it is such a thug in fact to call it a thug is to play down its perniciousness. This weed is more like a guerrilla force than a thug, in the plant kingdom this stuff makes mint, brambles and couch grass look like Luxembourgs army.
This plant is hardy up to temperatures of −35 °C and to ensure that you have gotten rid of it you have to dig down up to 3m to get every last bit of the root. It can grow very quickly at 3cm a day and reach a height of 3m. This plant is worse than having your brother come and stay for just one night, as once this plant arrives it is very difficult to get it to go! It can grow through tarmac, walls I have heard of one woman who dag and day over 5 years and has now eradicated it from her garden – I will add that this is a woman I met on a boat and I have never seen her again to verify if she has still got rid of it. Mostly it is sprayed and sprayed with powerful herbicides and this is the only way many people can get it to go.
So why would you want rid of it, well I love the way that Paul Kingsnorth likens this plant to a major supermarket in his book real England. The following paragraph beautifully sums up how both knotweed and Tescos behavior.
“Just as Knotweed is all cloned from one single plant, so the big chains are all cloned from global corporations. Just as Knotweed makes it impossible for the local plant life at its roots, and thus kills off the local insects and the local birds, so the big chain shops kill off the local independent shops around them and thus destroys the local economy. Just as Knotweed will come back again several growing seasons in a row until those of us out there with mallets and rollers are exhausted, so a big supermarket, refused planning permission, will apply again and again until the Council and local people are worn down and give in.”
I guess you are wondering why foragers might like it. Well it is because as the title of this blog suggests, it can be eaten as a food at this time of year in the UK. The trick is to cut it when it is about 15-20cm tall. It has a taste very similar to Rhubarb when cooked. In fact replace rhubarb with knotweed in any recipe and you can’t go far wrong.
This is simply a fruit fool made like any other. It is absolutely delicious and I think could eaisly start to show up on menus. Perhaps I should send my recipe to Heston Blumenthal.
- 2 tablespoon of sugar or half a litre of apple juice
- A big handful of knot weed (12 shoots)
- 2 Bananas
- 1 cup of double cream
Cook the knotweed for a few minutes in sugared water (or apple juice) until tender. Strain and blend until proper mash up. Throw in the bananas and blend them too. In the meantime beat the cream until it is stiff. Fold in the resulting goo. Refrigerate for about an hour and serve with a foolish counternance.
I have read that you can serve knotweed like a vegetable, simply steam it. However, it does taste like rhubarb with a texture like asparagus. It is certainly interesting and I think I will need to experiment with it further before I can really suggest that it works.
Advice on harvesting knotweed and the law
As knotweed is such an invasive plant you have to be aware that it can be regually sprayed. The patch that I found is in an area that I walk past every day and so I know that it is safe. If you have any doubt about your patch of knotweed being sprayed then I would strongly advise on leaving it well alone, it is simply not worth the risk. I have seen a patch that has been sprayed for knotweed and 3 years on it is still fairly barren.
A second note of warning is about the crop once you have picked it. Do only use the first shoots of the year (15-20cm or 6-9 inches) as the adult plants are not only too tough to eat but they have a sap inside them that can leave your mouth blistered.
Whenever we contduct our wild food walks we always tell people to only pick what they will eat and leave at least a 2 thirds of the plant or if there is only one plant in one area then leave it alone. Japaneses knotweed is slightly different in that (I personally think) you are doing a bit of service by harvesting it as it must weaken the plant. So take as much as you use and even cook it up and freeze it. Although do use all of it, I have heard of people throwing bits away only to find it growing out of the bin. So I would advise burning anything that you have left over or at least try cooking and eating all of it.
Remember that the plant can grow from a piece of the root the size of your thumbnail so it is rightfully covered by the Environmental protcetion act (see below).
Environmental Protection Act 1990
Japanese Knotweed is classed as ‘controlled waste’ and as such must be disposed of safely at a licensed landfill site according to the Environmental Protection Act (Duty of Care) Regulations 1991. Soil containing rhizome material can be regarded as contaminated and, if taken off a site, must be disposed of at a suitably licensed landfill site and buried to a depth of at least 5 m.
An offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act can result in a criminal prosecution. An infringement under the Environmental Protection Act can result in enforcement action being taken by the Environment Agency which can result in an unlimited fine. You can also be held liable for costs incurred from the spread of Knotweed into adjacent properties and for the disposal of infested soil off site during development which later leads to the spread of Knotweed onto another site.
My herbalist friend Max gets very excited about knotweed as it contains a resveratrol. A link to his site explaining the herbal uses will be arriving shortly*
*When he gets round to writing it.
Some Japanese Knotweed videos
Here is a poem about Knotweed in Wales.
I gave a talk last night on how to make beer. It was in the place that I live, Bristol (U.K) and I gave the talk as part of the Freeskilling evening program. Freeskilling is the brainchild of that bloke who is living for a year without spending any money – Mark Boyle. Whatever you think of him doing this it has to be said that (at least in Bristol), he has got people talking.
Anyway, freeskilling is exactly what it says on the tin. It is people teaching others some skills for free. So I did not make any money out of my talk last night and did it just for the love of it.
What I was aiming to get across last night is just how easy it is to make your own beer and to really take control of what you are drinking.
The average hop farmer sprays 14 times a year uding 15 different pesticides and only 0.04% of the UK hop production is organic. When I found this out it made me wonder about my hangovers, could I be realing from an actue pesticide poisioning? Ok I am being alarmist, but I do try to eat organic food whenever possible so why should I make a comprimise on a Saturday night.
I opened the talk with a statement, “I want you all to leave here knowing how to make Ale”. Hopefully, everyone did. I tried to keep it as simple as possible and broke it down to 12 steps.
Step by step
Step one: Decide on size of batch, is it for a party or at home. So do you make 10 pints or 100 pints?
Step two: Choose your ingredients. What flavours do you like, perhaps try some yarrow or just a hopped beer.
Step three: Steralize at your equipment due to all the airborne yeasts and other nasties that can cause a brew to be mouldy.
Step four: Pour in malt extract.
Step five: Pour in sugar or sugar equivalent – ie molasses, golden syrup, honey or whatever. If you want to use just malt extract then use 1.5 times the amount you would sugar.
Step five: Boil up your ingredient. (hops, rosemary, yarrow or whatever)
Step six: strain using a muslin cloth or jelly bag. Pour over malt and sugar in fementation bin
Step seven: top up with cold water. To make the right amount.
Step eight: If not cool enough allow to cool until hand hot.
Step nine: Sprinkle over yeast
Step ten: leave to ferment (a week to be on the safe side)
Step eleven: Pour sugar into bottles [or honey] (prime) then siphon.
Step twelve: leave for about a week then drink.
At the moment I am experimenting with loads of different ingredients instead of hops, thyme, rosemary, sage, dandelion, pine needles to name but a few. I replace the same weight in herbs for what I would use in hops and I wash and dry all the herbs I use.
Like the talk I want you to leave this blog knowing how to make Ale. So to reiterate and add some numbers and ingredients you might want to try this recipe below my simple and cheap beer recipe.
- 1kg (2lb) of Malt Extract
- 55g dried hops (2oz)
- 750g (1.5 lb) Sugar (brewing sugar preferably, otherwise granulated)
- 20g (1oz) Ale yeast
- 13 litres (3 gallons) of water
Other Equipment needed
- Massive Saucepan/cauldron or two big pans
- Muslin cloth or Jelly bag
- Fermentation bin (at least 13 litres)
- Big plastic spoon
- Empty Beer bottles and caps.
- Syphoning tube
- Optional – Hydrometer and thermometer
Get a really big pan/cauldron or if you don have that then two pretty big saucepans will do. Bring 7 litres of water to the boil then throw in the hops and keep boiling for 25-30 mins. The water should change colour and should taste bitter.
Steralise the fermentation bin, rinse and pour in the malt extract and Sugar.
Strain the hop liquid through the jelly bag. The hops should then be added to the compost heap as they are highly beneficial. Stir the wort to ensure that the sugar is all dissolved.
Pour over 6 liters of cold water and ensuring the temperature is below about 18c or 65f sprinkle on your yeast. The gravity (if using a hydrometer) should be roughly 1030.
Now put the top on the bin and seal it for a week or until fermenation stops.
Place a level teaspoon of sugar into each bottle and syphon the liquid into the bottles ensuring that you don’t syphon in any of the sediment.
Leave the bottles for 10 days then they are ready to drink.
The beer should be about 4.5% and the cost will vary depening on ingredients. It make approx 25 pints and my ingredients were £5 as they were all the best, a cost of about 20p a pint for a locally brewed organic beer you can’t buy cheaper than that.
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