Trained herbalist, nutritionist, aromatherapist and drinks specialist and author of The Herball’s Guide to Botanical Drinks
The plants in this guide are all edible, but do bear in mind that not all parts of every plant are edible, so please follow my advice about which parts to use and in what quantities. For safety purposes, all plants should be correctly identified before harvesting and using.
Beautiful, bright orange calendula flowers bloom late into summer and autumn, and occasionally into winter. Calendula is the flower of the sun, and it is mostly the flowers that are used, though the leaf can also be useful. Both flowers and leaves should only be collected in fine weather. The flowers make an excellent infusion or decoction to be used internally and externally for its anti-inflammatory actions. I love to run a bath infused with fresh or dried flowers of calendula; it is so nourishing for the skin. A water distillation (hydrosol) of the flowers, applied externally, is excellent for inflammatory skin disorders. The leaves can be chewed, juiced, or eaten in salads, and they also make a wonderful infused vinegar and oxymel.
What would life be without the rose? It is harvested for its buds and petals in the summer and fruits (rosehips) in autumn. There are thousands of cultivars. When I discuss roses in this book, I mean two of the most aromatic varieties: Rosa damascena and Rosa centifolia. Rose is used for perfume and oil, extracted by distillation. Dried flowers and hips are used for food, health supplements, and herbal teas. In the Middle East and North Africa (and in my home), roses form an integral part of everyday life – in many religious ceremonies and in foods. Rose water is used by the gallon. Plants begin to flower in April. In warmer climates, harvesting begins in late April, while in Europe it is nearer the end of May. The concentration of perfume and constituents is at its greatest just as the flowers develop into full bloom; they should be gathered before sunrise, with calyx attached, to capture maximum oils.
A sturdy, robust perennial that flowers from late spring and throughout summer. Cultivated and harvested mainly for the fragrant flowers – although the leaf is beautiful, too – it is a firm favourite of bees. Harvest the flowers throughout the growing season, to get different aromatic qualities. I love the greener fresh buds for their vibrant, less pungent aroma, but collect both immature and mature flowers to use in combination. I pass the young flowers through a CO2 extraction unit; it fills the home with the most heavenly scent and puts you in a lavender daze. I always sleep so well after working with lavender. The leaf, too, can be collected much earlier in spring before it matures; it has more vibrant flavors and aromas. Lavender is classically used for its calming and antidepressant actions. The oil is fantastic for relieving headaches. It is great dried and used as an infusion, although in small quantities and in combination with other plants, it can be overpowering.
One of the oldest living organisms on the planet – with some living for more than 1,000 years – ginkgo is the oldest herbal remedy. These trees have been here for over two million years. Ginkgo’s medicinal use has been recorded for thousands of years. It is traditionally used as a circulatory stimulant, cardiovascular tonic, and blood thinner, with beneficial effects for stimulating the brain and improving memory. The beautiful and unmistakable double-lobed, fan-shaped leaves are best harvested in early to late summer. They are delightful used fresh or dried for a herbal infusion with hot water.
Is there a more magnificent orange color than that of the California poppy? The flowers and aerial parts can be harvested throughout late spring and summer, and you can buy them dried, but if possible use them fresh, as you want to harness the vibrancy of the astonishing colour. The sight of that orange is like a brilliant sunbeam shining right onto the heart. The bright orange flowers open and close with the sun; you can sit and watch it happen. California poppies are traditionally used to relieve pain and headaches and as a sleeping aid. I use them for the same purposes. California poppies make a calming and sedative plant potion and can help to shine a calming and comforting ray of sunshine, a little like a restorative snooze in the late afternoon sun.
If there was ever a plant trying to tell us that there is more to life than meets the eye, it is the passion flower. Its simple green vine-like exterior opens to the sun to reveal an intricate, psychedelic, multidimensional floral display that I still marvel at. The hollow fruits can be popped. Traditionally used for its sedative, hypnotic and antidepressant calming actions, the passion flower is known as the plant of dreams, helping people to sleep and to remember their dreams. The leaves and flowers can be used. The leaves should be collected late in spring and early summer before the flowers bloom; the flowers should be collected on a sunny day in summer.
Michael Isted has designed drinks and showcased products internationally for luxury hotels, spas, yoga centers, restaurants, and bars and is launching new Herball Bar concepts for luxury hotels throughout the Middle East. His new book, The Herball’s Guide to Botanical Drinks, out now, is published by Jacqui Small, an imprint of The Quarto Group.