The Seven Herb Spring Cure Soup!

Ideally this is made in March, April & May from young, fresh ingredients. References to the ‘Spring Cure’ are often found in the literature documenting centuries past in the south-west of England, but it was doubtless employed in many other areas and would have gone under many different names.

I really love this recipe, and I hope you will enjoy it, as well as the botanical illustrations that I have used to illustrate it, as much as I do!

Seven Herb Soup prepared - ready for a swirl of cream and a leafy garnish! I have been taking people out to forage for spring cures for many years, and I look forward very much to making my own spring cure at this time. It is not essential to use all seven herbs, and substitutions can easily be made, but be sure to stick to stinging nettles for the base.

Young spring greens of various kinds are high in vitamin C and a range of minerals (including calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, etc.), as well as being jam-packed with antioxidant bioflavonoids that help to mop up free radicals, preventing and limiting oxidative stress damage in the body.

These bioflavonoids help your cells to bounce back to their full fighting-fit metabolic health after dealing with the challenges of poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle. They may even assist the body to heal from viral infections and to deal with other difficult challenges; perhaps even chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

After a long winter with a lack of fresh green vegetable matter on the plate (remember – there were no supermarkets and no mass import of vegetables into the UK until the present era), the spring cure would have been consumed in the form of a delicious soup, daily, for at least a week or two, to help bring the body back into condition, restoring vitality and sparkle to skin, hair and eyes. It would have also helped more serious conditions like scurvy, which is caused by chronic vitamin C

 deficiency. These herbs have a reputation for assisting elimination of toxins by giving a boost to the liver, kidneys and lymphatic system, and nettles and cleavers in particular provide bio-available silica for healthy connective tissue and joints. Note that in general, the proportions should be 80% young nettle tops to 20% of all of the other ingredients found below combined (or whichever ones you can get a hold of in your area). It is also worthy of note, that if you are using wild garlic, you might want to tweak that ratio to increase the proportion of wild garlic leaves, as they are simply delicious! 

A note on selecting and sorting the ingredients:
Use only the young, tender, above ground parts of the 7 herbs below for this recipe. Where the stem is fibrous, be sure to perform the ‘turgidity test’ – so if it is still flexible and bendable then it is also tender enough to go in the pot. The stiffer parts of stems won’t bend in a nice curve when you apply sideways pressure, and they should not be used for this recipe as they will impart a fibrous texture that is not in keeping with the desirable creamy nature of the soup… and in larger amounts might even cause bloating and flatulence for those with sensitive digestion. The young tender green parts that you will use contain plenty enough insoluble fibre without adding lots more by putting in too many tough stems.

Method: This delicious recipe could not be simpler to create!

  • First wash and then chop the herbs, discarding any tough stems or damaged leaves, and set them to one side.

Soup herbs

  • Select a saucepan with a lid, and add a decent sized knob of butter or two tablespoons of olive oil to the pan.
  • Also add salt and pepper, according to your taste.
  • If you are not using wild garlic among your herbs, consider adding some grated garden garlic or diced shallots. A little grated ginger can be a nice addition too.
  • Add two tablespoons of water to the pan.
  • Add the chopped herbs to the pan until it is almost full to the top. Put on the lid and bring up to medium heat, slowly, over 3 or 4 minutes. Allow to simmer rather than boil.
  • After about 11 or 12 minutes, the contents of the pan should have reduced to about one-third of their original volume. Take the pan off of the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
  • Use a stick blender if you have one, or transfer the contents to a food processor, and ‘give it a whizz’ to make the soup nice and creamy. If you like a thicker soup, you can also boil a few new potatoes to add at this stage.
  • Serve the soup in bowls, swirling in a little cream, crème fraiche or natural yoghurt, and garnishing with a few leaves of coriander, ground ivy, or even herb Robert, Geranium robertianum, also known as ‘Stinky Bob’!

Stinging nettle
Urtica dioica


stinging nettle, Urtica dioica


Calcium, iron, silica, vitamin C, and in addition, plenty of anthocyanin / procyanidin flavonoids, which are good for heart health and mitochondrial health, as well as promoting healthy skin and healthy hair. Stinging nettle has many other medicinal properties and contains lots of medicinal compounds, but these are the chief ones that we will be making use of in our nettle soup-base, which must not be overcooked or zealously overheated to gain the maximum benefit from them.


Stinging nettles are very common in the UK. The stinging hairs are little hollow silicate needles and each one is attached to a bag of venom, that contains formic acid (ouch), and neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and acetyl choline (that cause a creeping sensation in the skin). These are largely going to be destroyed by our cooking process. The finished soup will have no sting at all, I promise!

To pick nettles without being stung, the secret is for the hand to be already moving upwards as it grasps the nettle firmly. This is because all of the stinging hairs are capable of hinging upwards towards the tip of the plant, and so they fold over when the nettle is picked in this way. Rubbing your hand against the direction that the hairs fold in, i.e. running it down the stem, will result in being severely stung! You could always wear gloves.

If you do decide to pick nettles to use the leaves later in the year, then it is a good idea to cut them down to ground level first, and wait two weeks before harvesting. Mature nettles are not as tasty and they also produce small but insoluble, sharp, crystalline growths at a microscopic level that just might be an irritant to your kidneys or GI tract. The nettle seed and root does have other, completely different uses, but we will save these for another article at a later date!

Ramsons / wild garlic
Allium ursinum

Ramsons / Wild garlic, Allium ursinum

Note that this is correctly called ‘ramsons’, and not ‘ransoms’. In the US, the similar ‘ramps’, Allium tricoccum, can be substituted.


All parts are edible but the bulbs of A. ursinum are disappointing and best left to grow another plant next year. As well as the leaves, stems and flowers being delicious, ramsons, like garden garlic, has a broad spectrum antibiotic action, particularly exerting its influence on the respiratory tract, and by dilating the capillary blood vessels of the circulatory system, it directs increased blood flow to the skin. The quantities used in this recipe are not written in stone, so be prepared to experiment by adding extra ramsons to get the taste right just for you, especially if you adore garlic!


Be VERY CAREFUL when gathering ramsons in Europe, not to gather the young leaves of Lords & Ladies, Arum maculatum. Take a note of the differences before you go foraging for them:

Fully grown Lords & Ladies leaves have a fork at the base of the leaf, and they are more or less arrow-shaped, unlike wild garlic. Mistakes tend to happen when it is very young ramsons being picked, because the young leaves or Lords & Ladies are NOT forked at the base, giving them a very strong resemblance to young ramsons! If in doubt, flip them over… ramsons leaves have parallel veins on the underside, but Lords & Ladies has a system of branching veins. Knowing that, one can generally forage for ramsons confidently, providing that one pays attention.

In the areas where it grows, wild garlic appears to be super-abundant, forming large swathes and carpeting broad-leaved woodland. It is fairly delicate however, so please try not to trample it. Possibly the ideal way to pick it is to pick a circular area about the size of a football. You will notice lots of much smaller leaves underneath, emerging from the ground, and these will soon grow to close the gap you have created. Doing it this way, means that you will avoid excessive trampling of the plants. Try to never pick more than 3 leaves at a time. This will make it easier for you to keep an eye out for young Lords & Ladies and stop it finding its way into the batch.

Cleavers / Goosegrass / Sticky Willie
Galium aparine

Cleavers / Goosegrass, Galium aparineFEATURES: .

This little member of the coffee bean family should be familiar to everyone. The little round seeds – from which a palateable and caffeine rich coffee can be made later in the summer – will get stuck all through your dog’s fur and your clothing too! The whole plant is covered in little hooked hairs, and for this reason it should not be consumed raw, as these can cause skin rashes in susceptible people, and can lead to a sore throat too!

The structure is said to resemble the branches and nodes of the lymphatic system, and cleavers is recognised as a good lymphatic tonic, for ‘clearing the lymph’, as was once said.

Little parcels of still-tender tips can be lightly steamed and served with butter, but like nettle it lends minerals, including silica, to our spring cure soup, as well as copious amounts of vitamin C, and with its’ lymphatic properties too… what a star!


You will normally find this species just about everywhere that you look for it, from early spring onwards. Be sure that it sticks to your clothing, otherwise you may have one of the other bedstraws, or Galiums… possibly even sweet woodruff!

Ground elder
Aegopodium podagraria

Ground elder, Aegopodium podagrariaFEATURES: .

Ground elder is one of the easiest members of the carrot family to identify, but you still need to make sure that you learn it properly before you go about eating any, as this family not only contains culinary essentials such as the carrot, parsnip and celery, and the herbs fennel, chervil and dill, but it also contains some of the most poisonous plants known to humankind, such as hemlock and hemlock water-dropwort.

That said, it is a fairly easy vegetable to recognise, in part due to its’ elder like composite leaf shape. The whole herb has a taste somewhat reminiscent of a cross between anise and celery, when fresh. It is a good salad herb, with a pungent flavour that becomes much milder once it has been cooked. 

Tradition states that ground elder was bought to Britain by the invading Roman army, around 2000 years ago. Presumably, with the business of an invasion going on, troops had to be fed and you would not want to grow plants that needed a lot of laborious tending to get results. Ground elder needs anything but. It is the bane of gardeners everywhere, propagating itself mainly via underground runners, but given a free rein over some otherwise neglected area, it can make attractive ground cover and a tasty crop. I also love it in salads.

Ground elder, like celery, has a reputation for being a bit of a diuretic and helping the kidneys with their job of elimination. Along with nettle and dandelion, it should be helpful where there are small kidney or bladder stones, and it should also help to chase away an attack of gout!


You shouldn’t have any trouble finding some ground elder to pick, but if in doubt, always ask an expert for their opinion. If you are brave enough to grow it in your garden, then give it a small island border all to itself, and contain it by mowing round it, or better still, grow it in a big tub. If you don’t wat ground elder popping up everywhere, then do not let it flower!

Taraxacum officinale

Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale






Like most of the plants in this series, this one is very common and probably needs no introduction to most everyone! It is a wonderful early season nectar source for pollinating insects such as bees and small beetles, yet you may be surprised to learn that dandelion seldom reproduces sexually over much of its range. It is a species complex comprised of many stable species, and these usually reproduce by parthenogenesis – something that has bee called ‘virgin birth’, where the female ovum just clones itself, meaning that all new seed are identical clones of the female mother plant. Apparently there are some exceptions to this rule too… in parts of south America and Spain.

Like cleavers, dandelion root can be dark roasted to make an excellent ‘coffee’, but it is the leaves and maybe a few flowers that we are interested in here, for our Spring Cure Soup. Dandelion is another ‘herb of elimination’ that benefits the kidneys and the urinary tract, supporting them in their action of cleaning the blood.


If you intend to weed dandelion out of a garden or allotment, then this provides an ideal opportunity to pick the leaves and harvest the roots for use in making coffee, as a roasted vegetable, or as a medicine. Any small section of root that gets left behind in the soil will grow back. In practice this will happen often!

Dandelion can be found all year round but it is at its prime in the spring. For salad use – very popular in Belgium and France – the leaves are first blanched for a week under a terra-cotta bell, making them sweeter and more palatable. For our soup, a few wild harvested leaves will be fine. The bitterness of dandelion stimulates the vagus nerve and in turn this results in bile secretion, an increase in digestive enzyme production and an increase in peristalsis, meaning that dandelion is not only a good kidney herb, but it is also a good tonic for a sluggish digestion and could improve nutritional absorption too!

Red deadnettle / Purple archangel
Lamium purpureum

Red deadnettle / Purple archangel, Lamium purpureum


Like other members of the mint family, this plant has square stems, and bears flowers in the leaf axils that are tubular and have a prominent lower lip. This lip feature gave the mint family its former name of Labiateae. Though it doubtless has many other uses, it is included here for flavour and texture predominantly. Like all of the plants in this section, it is rich in vitamin C and a range of minerals.


Very, very common and often considered to be a weed species in gardens and allotments, yet the young tops are actually quite tasty and can add interesting texture and flavour to mixed salads.

Ground ivy
Glechoma hederacea

Ground ivy. Glechoma hederacea


Ground ivy is a prostrate creeping herb in the mint family. It is not even distantly related to its namesake, the ivy, which should not be used. With an obvious square stem and tubular, prominently lipped flowers that are born in the leaf axils, as well as leaves borne in opposite pairs, this is an obvious candidate for the mint family. Every now and again it throws up erect stems on which to bear its pretty lilac to blue flowers.

Once upon a time, this was a flavouring for ale, before hops became popular in Britain, and that lends to it another country name, which is ale-hoof. The flavour is somewhat like its distant cousin in the mint family, the sage. In mediaeval cookery, ground ivy was finely diced and made into a “mint-sauce” style sauce using vinegar, to be served with red meat and game.

Ground ivy has a unique ability to dry up mucus secretions in the sinuses, and for this reason it makes an excellent herb tea to enjoy in hayfever season, particularly if you are sensitive to oilseed rape / canola flowers. At a push, even eating a small handful raw will often bring considerable relief! Although it is doubtless full of vitamins and minerals, it is included in this recipe predominantly as a flavouring herb – imparting a herby flavour to the soup.


Like all of the herbs used in this recipe, ground ivy is very very common, and found just about everywhere! Shady spots can often produce the lushest of plants, and I always feel that it is an added bonus to add a few that are in flower.

Other plants that could easily be added or substituted for the above (except for the stinging nettles – retain those):

White deadnettle, Lamium album

White deadnettle, Lamium album


  • Chickweed, Stellaria media
  • Greater plantain, Plantago major
  • Ribwort plantain, Plantago lanceolata
  • White deadnettle, Lamium album
  • Wall pennywort, Umbilicus rupestris
  • Spring beauty, Claytonia perfoliata
  • Sea purslane, Atriplex portulacoides
  • Sweet violet leaves, Viola odorata
  • Three-cornered leek, Allium triquetrum
  • Crow garlic, Allium vineale



Chickweed, Stellaria media

Chickweed, Stellaria media

If you found this interesting, then The Wild Side of Life runs a series of foraging courses in the spring and summer, and a Spring & Summer Forager’s Club, both of which have healthy eating as medicinal herbs as their focus. The Yellow Emperor, from Han Dynasty China, the classical Greek Hippocrates, and the Persian scholar Avicenna, were all credited with the important philosophical tenet “Let food be thy medicine”. On our courses, we explore how to make that a reality in our daily lives.

During August we also run our Summer Herb School, and our 2 day Herbal First Aid course will be exploring how to wildcraft the healing virtues of these herbs and others in greater depth!

IMPORTANT: Never eat any plant or wild mushroom without being 100% certain of its identification… ok, I know you all know that already 😉

The Wild Side of Life was voted Best Food Foraging Education Provider in the Food & Drink Awards and features in BBC Countryfile Magazine’s ‘Best UK Foraging Courses’. Fred Gillam (also known as ‘Fred the Forager’) has appeared on national television foraging for porcini with Gino D’Acampo, in For the Love of Britain presented by Dame Julie Walters, on BBC radio 2 with Jeremy Vine and on Radio 4’s Farming Today programme. He is the author of Poisonous Plants in Great Britain.

A Tale of Tinctures

Tinctures were first introduced to me in my travelling years in northern England. A fellow man of the roads named Pete had a reputation for working effectively with plant medicines and treating people who lived on the sites where we lived when they went down with coughs, colds and tummy bugs. Pete introduced me to his passion for making simple tinctures and 25 years on I make and use them all the time.

grinding herbs in a pestle and mortar

Preparing a batch of fresh herb for tincturing

Tinctures need not be a mystery, in fact in this blog I am going to tell you all about what they are, why they are useful and I’m generally going to de-mystify them for you, as one of the things that I often get asked is ‘what is a tincture’. Well… tinctures are useful things, I reply!

All living things, including plants, are absolutely jam-packed full of organic chemicals, many of which our amazing body is capable of using in different ways; there are essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals, enzymes that catalyse chemical reactions in our bodies, materials that provide food for the healthy bacteria and fungi that live inside us, compounds that block certain chemical reactions and provide relief from processes such as inflammation, substances that tone up mucous membranes and toughen up tissue, the list goes on and on and on and is in fact huge! Aside from the minerals, all of these compounds are known as ‘organic compounds’ because they contain the basic carbon building blocks of organic life – so the term ‘organic compounds’ has nothing to do with organic agriculture, or the notion that ‘organic things are good’. In this case, organic simply refers to the chemistry of carbon and molecules with a carbon backbone (think ‘carbon based life-forms’).

shelves full of tincture bottles

Tinctures – potent herbal medicines in a compact form

A herbal tincture is a preparation where some of the organic compounds in herbs are ‘extracted’ in a solvent which is usually alcohol in the form of ethanol (brandy, vodka, etc.) but it can also be glycerol (called a ‘glycerite’), or even vinegar, which is a source of the organic solvent ethanoic acid or ‘acetic acid’. What matters here is that we are using various organic solvents to dissolve the organic compounds present and get them into a solution. Depending on the solvent used, as well as its strength or concentration and how much water is also present, different strengths of tinctures with different ranges of medicinal actions can be obtained. Some of the compounds present in plants do not dissolve very well at all in alcohol, so for example if you were keen to create a medicine that used the soothing mucilaginous ingredients found in mallows there would be little point in making a tincture of your mallow roots or leaves in spirit – the soothing slippery substance known as mucilage has a low solubility in ethanol. Once in a solution the dissolved compounds in a tincture become very available to the various chemical processes that happen when we ingest them.

Angelica archangelica

Angelica, Angelica archangelica
used as an anti-microbial / anti-viral, keep the acrid sap off of the skin when preparing

There is less in the way of organic compounds in a few drops of plant tincture than there was in the amount of herb that was used to make it, yet some tinctures behave in ways when we take them that point to their active principles being very readily available to the body. Some tinctures can be quite powerful in their actions; very often with tinctures a little plant goes a long way!

To traditional folk herbalists a tincture is also much more than a chemical based medicine. In European folk belief, it is as if the very souls of the plants come to reside in the tinctures. Tinctures are seen as potions brimming with life forces and even consciousness rather than as the dead chemical medicines that we have come to expect, but that is a whole different story.

There are many methods that can be employed to make tinctures and each of them has its merits and its complications. Tinctures can be made by the slow passage of solvent through a large batch of herb material in the filtration method, and probably the most common method, the ‘weight to volume method’, requires that a given volume of solvent be used to extract the vital ingredients from a given weight of dried herbal material, providing a certain amount of standardisation as regards the process.

However it should be remembered that plants are not standard things. Depending on the weather patterns that year, the strains used, the soil type they are grown in, how many viral and insect attacks they have had to endure already and probably a whole load of other things we aren’t even aware of, plants are not easily standardised.

The most simple tincturing methods use chopped up fresh plant material rather than dried and here I am going to give you the most basic method, often known as ‘The Simplers’ Method’. It is more than adequate for most home use in that it provides very effective tinctures at a low cost and for the minimum amount of effort. Really it is perfect for the kitchen herbalist making remedies at home.

The Simplers’ Method

filtering Rose tincture

Beautiful, delicately perfumed rose-flower tincture
used by the most famous of European plague doctors, Nostrodamus

Firstly, by way of explanation, historically a ‘simpler’ was a person who created medicines from plants, and perhaps minerals too, employing a very small number of plants (often just one) in each medicine. This approach is great for making mild remedies that deal effectively with the symptoms of common ailments and is a thread of tradition within folk herbalism. In contrast, modern holistic practitioners look deeply into the whole life patterns of their patients and prescribe complex regimens of herbs to address deep seated patterns and imbalances.

At their simplest, most basic level, the ‘herbal simples’ include the tinctures made by the simplers’ method and a range of other ‘simple’ pills and potions that are perhaps most effectively used in a similar way to over-the-counter medicines. A fundamental difference that cannot be over-emphasised is that even a single plant may contain hundreds of organic compounds in a state of dynamic electrochemical balance. By contrast most over the counter pharmaceuticals contain one single isolated active ingredient – so in other words there is nothing simple at all about a simple!

Making a Specific Tincture

A simple tincture that uses fresh (non-dried) plant material in a ratio of 1 part by volume of herb to 1 part by volume of solvent (typically brandy) is known as a ‘specific tincture’. I use the abbreviation ‘sp. tinc.’ on my labels to denote this. In practice this produces a tincture that is weaker than 1 part herb to 1 part solvent due to the air spaces in between the chopped plants and the water content of the plants, but for our purposes these tinctures are generally plenty strong enough for use.

Plants that are useful for tincturing using this method include those with a lot of essential oils and other volatile (typically ‘smelly’) compounds as well as a range of other ethanol soluble compounds such as alkaloids and organic acids. It is also suitable for herbs with some water soluble components as brandy or vodka for sale in the UK typically contains 40% alcohol by volume, the remaining 60% being comprised of water.

In the days when alchemical methods dominated the preparation of herbal medicines, the ‘spirit of vine’ (brandy) was highly regarded. Because all fermented plant material eventually produces alcohol, which when fully distilled yields ethanol regardless of which plant you started with, ethanol or ‘pure spirit’ was regarded as the spirit held in common by all plants, in contrast to their soul or essence which bore the characteristics of the individual species and even the individual plant concerned. Using this alchemical terminology the process of tincturing is one of dissolving the soul of the plant concerned in a sea of plant spirit – known as the menstruum. Just as the metal mercury was regarded as the spiritual principle of all metals by the alchemist, so spirit of wine was regarded as the equivalent – a vital source of the spirit of all living plants, also metaphorically described in some mediaeval texts as ‘mercury’.

I digress… for those of you who have followed thus far, here is my version of the simplers’ method, laid bare for you I hope in terms that are simple to understand.

Recipe – Ingredients and some equipment that you need:

  • Herb material containing alcohol and water soluble compounds suitable for tincturing. In practice many but certainly not all herbs.
  • Spirit in the form of brandy, vodka or stronger spirit (‘spyritus’ / ‘everclear’) so long as it is fit for human consumption. Do NOT use rubbing alcohol / isopropyl alcohol as this is poisonous. The spirit should contain at least 40% ethanol by volume (abv) or be at least 80 proof. Stronger alcohol will extract more components but less of the water soluble components producing different characteristics.
  • A clean, sterilised bottle and lid
  • A funnel
  • A clean, thoroughly rinsed tea-towel or muslin cloth
  • An unbleached coffee filter or similar
  • Labels

Step 1) Take a herb that contains useful ethanol soluble and / or water soluble components. Typical herbs that fit the bill are rose flowers, lemon balm, angelica, skullcap, meadowsweet, etc. Avoid herbs that have very strong actions and carry a risk of toxicity like some of the nightshades for example. This method does not give a very clinically accurate dose and you wouldn’t want to run the risk of taking too much of these stronger herbs. According to folk tradition the herb should not be cut down with an iron blade and should not be allowed to touch the ground unless it is a root – make of that what you will – I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide if it has any importance themselves. It is most definitely important however that you use plant material cut at the time of the year when that plant is at its most potent (research) and that the material that you use is not diseased or damaged in any way by pollution.

Step 2) Chop, shred, bruise and dismember the herb using whatever means are available. Stone pestles and mortars can be useful as can rolling pins and perhaps a blender! The purpose of this is to rupture cell walls as well as dramatically increasing the surface area that will be exposed to the solvent. BEWARE though – once cell walls are ruptured, enzymes will be set loose that may catalyse the rapid degradation of your plant material. You will need to work quickly to get this stage complete and to get the plant material (known as the ‘marc’) into the solvent (stage 3) to counteract this as much as possible.

Step 3) Place the chopped, bruised herb material into a washed and sterilised jar so that when pressed down it three-quarter fills the jar. Pour in your spirit a little at a time, whilst stirring the herb about with a small stick or the handle of a wooden spoon, to release any trapped air. This will ensure maximum contact between the spirit and the herb, preventing any of the material from spoiling as ethanol is a very good preservative. Once you cannot fit any more spirit in, ‘podge’ (technical term) the herbs down with your stick / spoon handle so that they fit into the jar in a nice compact way and then top up the fluid so that it covers the herbs by around one centimetre. A little less is ok, this is not a precise science. The objective is to prevent the herbs in the jar from sticking out of the spirit for long periods of time as this could cause them to oxidise and spoil. Place on the lid and tighten.

Elderflowers tincturing in vodka

Elderflowers tincturing in vodka

Step 4) Place the jar somewhere where you will see it a lot. You will need to shake the jar once daily and podge the herbs back down below the spirit each time. If you put the jar on the shelf that is directly in front of you when you eat your breakfast you will remember to do this most days! You will need to allow the tincture to sit, shaking and podging once daily, for one month or roughly one lunar cycle. Leathery or waxy leaved herbs don’t give up their vital compounds so easily and you may need to leave them for longer, perhaps 6 weeks. The same applies to the tougher mushrooms such as the bracket fungi. The tincturing phase works best if you put the jar somewhere at ambient room temperature and with diffuse light. The UV light in daylight will encourage many compounds to dissolve by supplying a little extra energy to the mixture. Too much heat may cause some of the delicate aromatic compounds to be lost or to degrade, so when tincturing, extra heat is not recommended. Equally a cold room may slow down the process too far.

Step 5) After the allotted time has elapsed you will need to ‘press out’ and coarse filter your tincture, prior to bottling. The initial pressing out step involves passing the tincture – marc and menstruum together – into a coarse filter such as a very well rinsed clean tea-towel. The tea towel or similar is used to line a funnel and the tincture material poured slowly through it into a bowl. Once it has finished dripping, the solids can be wrapped in the tea-towel and the whole squeezed and wrung out to remove the rest of the remaining liquid. It will be cloudy and contains lots of small particles so will require further filtering if it is to be stored for long periods.

Filtering off the marc - the solids left in the filter paper

Filtering off the marc – the solids left in the filter paper

Step 6) The cloudy tincture can now be passed through a second filter to remove the fine particulates. An unbleached coffee filter works very well for this, as does a kitchen towel at a push. For maximum shelf life the resulting tincture should be completely clear.

Step 7) Tinctures, once made and filtered, should be stored in tightly stoppered bottles in a cool and dark place. Stored carefully in this way they should remain effective for at least 2 years, perhaps longer, with one or two exceptions.

How to Use a Tincture

Tinctures of the gentler herbs that are commonly used for many complaints can be taken several times per day in doses of between 5 and 30 drops per dose depending on the strength of the tincture and what it is being used to treat. The tincture should always be taken in a little water so as to reduce the alcohol by volume to below 20%. Anything above this tends to be evacuated from the stomach very quickly, hence the need for dilution. Some tinctures, for example tincture of Arnica montana, are traditionally used on the skin rather than internally. If you are doing this it would be a good idea to do a little spot test somewhere first to make sure that you are not allergic to the herb being used. Always do thorough research about the plants that you are working with.

Disclaimer: Everything in this article is provided for your entertainment only. I do not endorse you, the reader, to carry out these practices and if you do then you are doing so at your own risk. I am not responsible for the consequences if you decide to follow the information on this page. Always consume alcohol sensibly and if you take herbs check for any contra-indications that may be damaging to health or interact with other medications first.


I hope you have enjoyed reading this article! If you would like to gain some practical experience of working with herbs and of tincturing, you could try one of our herbal weekend courses here, where we will show you everything you need to know to get you started:

Autumn Mushroom Season Update 2015

The 2015 autumn mushroom season is well underway now, with choice chanterelles, porcini, saffron milk caps, chicken of the woods and many other things being found over much of the country. Things in Wiltshire and parts of the south /south west have kicked off pretty early due to the unusually cool and damp summer that we have been having, and if we receive sufficient rain as autumn progresses we could be in for a long mushroom season! It’s a great time to dust off that wicker basket, grab a small kitchen knife and get out there in the woods and fields to do some mushroom hunting

… as I write this I am tucking into a sumptuous omelette of forest mushrooms and preparing this year’s batch of amethyst deceiver vodka (a Russian speciality) after spending much of the past 3 days hunting for and eating gourmet mushrooms.

Omelette in progress

Amethyst deceiver vodka and a collection of wild mushrooms destined to be an omelette!

We have some great courses for you this autumn including the Secret Sunday Mushroom Club (recommended by BBC Countryfile Magazine as a way to learn to pick mushrooms safely) and our extremely popular Gourmet Mushroom Discovery Days with foraging and mushroom tasting that will delight chefs and foragers alike. We are hosting the UK’s first 2 day Medicinal Mushroom Conference in November where some well known authors, foragers, mushroom growers and herbalists (Roger Philips, Matthew Rooney, Fred Gillam, Cristina Cromer) will team up to raise awareness among health care practitioners and the general public about the benefits of medicinal mushrooms. After a short pause to take stock over the middle of winter, we will start 2016 with our Small Game Preparation course and the very popular St. George’s Mushroom Champagne Picnic in early May. We’ve got things happening in Wiltshire, Lincolnshire, Somerset, The New Forest and the Gower in South Wales, as well as leading foraging team building events throughout the autumn – so you are keeping us on our toes!

We’ve just heard that Vegetarian Living Magazine will be running a feature on mushroom foraging this coming October entitled ‘On The Toadstool Trail’ featuring exclusive hints and tips from our very own Fred the Forager (who brings 32 years of mushroom foraging experience to your table), so do look out for that… or you can get an exclusive member’s preview… here

secret sunday Mushroom clun

The Secret Sunday Mushroom Club in action

Starting in mid September – The Secret Sunday Mushroom Club: 18.5 hours of tuition spread over 4 non-consecutive Sundays and over several excellent habitats. Watch the occurrence of mushrooms change as the season progresses and see them at all stages of growth. Includes a guest ticket for one day and 12 months email support with identification. Locations are given out a few days before each meeting to allow time for reconnaissance, ensuring the best chances of success! Click the link for info and dates. Cost: £145.00. Gift vouchersGift Certificates also available.

Available from September through November – Gourmet Mushroom Discovery Days: A day out in the woods encountering choice edible species and some of the most significant poisonous ones. Get to know your death caps, destroying angels, fool’s funnels and deadly webcaps before learning to find the choice species such as ceps, chanterelles, blewits, bay boletes and more, then enjoy your finds with speciality breads and a glass or two of wine in the woods. Click the link for info and dates. Cost £90.00. Gift vouchers also available.

November 14th and 15th – The UK’s First Medicinal Mushrooms Conference: A full weekend discovering the healing potential of medicinal mushrooms, including guided foraging, talks, presentations and demonstrations by Roger Philips (author of “Mushrooms”), Matthew Rooney (the UK’s only bio-dynamic medicinal mushroom cultivator at, Fred Gillam (Fred the Forager and author of “Poisonous Plants in Great Britain”), Martin Palmer author of “Medicinal Mushrooms – A Clinical Guide”), Cristina Cromer (Medical Herbalist and former lecturer in herbal medicine at the University of Westminster) and Natascha Kenyon (forager and concocter of medicinal potions at The Wild Side of Life). Prices vary on a sliding scale – see conference web page.

preparing turkey tail

Preparation of turkey tail mushroom full spectrum extract, an immune modulator

Saturday March 12th – Small Game Preparation: This one day course will take you through all of the basic skills and knowledge required to prepare small game such as rabbits, pheasant or wood pigeon in the field for food. Not for gratuitous hunters or those who see hunting as sport, this course is designed to equip those who choose to eat meat from the wild with the necessary skills to do so with as little waste as possible, and teach relevant knowledge about hygiene, knife skills, game, roadkill and the law. Cost £85.00. Gift vouchers available.

Starting in April – The Secret Sunday Spring Forager’s Club: 18 hours of tuition spread over 4 non-consecutive Sundays and over several excellent habitats including ancient woodland, chalk grassland and river meadows. Learn to identify, gather and use a wide range of spring foraged ingredients including wonderous wild garlic, tasty burdock shoots, tender hogweed fiddles, crunchy pignuts, citrussy pine candles and more. You will also learn how to avoid Europe’s most poisonous plants. Click the link for info and dates. Cost: £130.00. Gift vouchers available.

Saturday 7th or Sunday 15th May – St. George’s Mushroom Champagne Picnic: The weather should be warming up now and there is nothing nicer than a champagne picnic in the spring sunshine. You will be taught how to seek the delicious St. George’s mushroom effectively, how to identify it beyond any doubt and how to combine it with other spring wild food ingredients to the greatest effect.We will enjoy a foraged dish of super St. George’s and wild herbs in the afternoon along with some glasses of bubbly and sample a range of other sumptuous wild food treats. Cost £85.00.

st george's basket

A basket of delicious St. George’s mushrooms in the spring

Don’t forget our gift vouchers make a wonderful surprise gift for anyone, whether it is for Christmas, someone’s birthday or just for the joy of giving something special to someone you love. I hope to see you all out in a wood or meadow sometime over the coming season, or perhaps next spring picking St. George’s mushrooms. Until then, have a truly wonderful mushroom season, may it be both bountiful and fascinating!

Best Wishes

Fred the Forager / The Wild Side of Life

Wild Side of Life – Spring Newsletter 2015

Hello Wildsiders!

Spring is here and as the soil begins to warm up, things are also warming up in the foraging world. I’m going to tell you about all the exciting things we are up to this year in a moment, and I am also going to share a recipe with you… a simple recipe so good that having just drained my second bowl I am left wanting more! 

Wild garlic, young stinging nettles and the herb known as cleavers are to be found in many many places around the UK at this time of the year, and I am going to tell you in a minute how to make a truly rewarding thick soup using just these three common plants. It is so ‘moreish’ that you will want to go out picking the ingredients every single day!

I’m just pausing for a little more of that soup… One day they will invent a ‘click to taste’ button but right now there is only one way to taste this and that is to go and make it for yourself. Once you have checked out the offerings in this newsletter, scroll down and check out this beautiful recipe… and thanks go to the talented Natascha Kenyon for having created all three bowls full 🙂

First, here are my spring offerings to you from The Wild Side of Life. Click the links to find out more:


St. George’s Mushroom Champagne Picnic (only a few places left)
We will forage for this beautiful spring mushroom that sometimes grows in HUGE rings, cook it together with other wild foraged ingredients, then enjoy with a glass or two of champagne! Delicious! Happening on the 26th April so book now!

Secret Sunday Spring Forager’s Club (only a few places left) 
An in-depth foraging experience where you will receive 18.5 hours of expert tuition in different habitats over the spring season. Bring a guest along for a feast, and send pictures of the foraging finds you make outside of the course to our private mailing list for identification. Starting in 2 weeks – book now!

Pignuts, Fiddles and Burdock
A special day focusing on finding and cooking these 3 ingredients in imaginative ways… it’s all about the taste and there will be plenty of it as we combine these exciting foods in a multitude of ways! We will also be walking through some stunning scenery on this day and will stop to eat out packed lunches in one of Wiltshire’s remotest spots near an ancient burial chamber of the Marlborough Downs.

Private mentoring in sap tapping and spring wild food cookery is also available, contact me to arrange:


Herbal First Aid Weekend 
On this weekend you will learn to identify many useful medicinal plants from the English hedgerows and use them to make between 15 and 20 remedies to treat common ailments that most of us encounter at some time or another. You will take home tinctures, elixirs, teas, electuaries, infused oils, capsules and salves for your own home pharmacy, along with the skills and knowledge to make them again and again.

Winter Remedies Weekend
Many of us tend to suffer a bit in the winter in our temperate climate. Coughs, colds, influenza, chilblains, aches and pains brought on by damp. Lots of conditions are exacerbated by the damp cold of winter and on this weekend you will learn to identify many useful medicinal plants from the English hedgerows and use them to make between 15 and 20 remedies to treat common winter ailments. You will take home cough remedies, immune enhancing mushrooms, anti-inflammatory teas, elixirs, capsules and salves for your own home pharmacy.

UK First Medicinal Mushrooms Conference
A conference held at a 5-star venue in rural Lincolnshire with practical woodland foraging & remedy making, guest speakers include Roger Philips (author of “Mushrooms”), Matthew Rooney (Biodynamic Mushroom Cultivator at ‘Mushroom Table’), Martin Powell (author of “Medicinal Mushrooms – A Clinical Guide”), Cristina Cromer (Medical Herbalist and former Lecturer at the University of Westminster) and Fred Gillam (author of “Poisonous Plants in Great Britain”) and Natascha Kenyon from The Wild Side of Life. Please send an email if you are interested to…


Family Bushcraft Camping Weekend
A weekend for all the family to learn the basics of camp-craft, putting up a ‘basha’ shelter, purifying your own river water, learning techniques for lighting the cooking fire without matches, making cord from tree bark, and much more. An idyllic woodland clearing with a clean flowing river awaits your adventure.

Ancient Pewter Smithing 
Using the ancient ‘cuttlebone’ technique known to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, you will be guided through all the processes needed to cast your own item of unique and attractive jewellery in English Pewter. Some say the look of the molten metal in the fire is like a magical window on creation itself – it is certainly a memorable and inspiring experience. We will do this in a small group over a native hardwood charcoal fire. You will take home a beautiful and unique item to cherish forever.

Coracle Making Weekend
Coracles (skin covered, wooden framed, tensioned boats) of differing designs were once widespread on rivers in many parts of the world and originally covered in animal hide. Since the industrial revolution in Britain they have been covered in calico cloth and waterproofed with tar. Still used for salmon fishing, these versatile and fun craft carry a surprising load and can take you to places inaccessible on foot. Make your own and take it home!

Woodcrafts of the European Nomads (flowers, pegs, baskets and more) – details coming very soon, please drop me an email if you are interested… we will be creating hand crafted items in the woods using the centuries old methods of the gypsies and travellers… baskets, clothes pegs, wooden flowers… and sharing Romany stories and cookery around a roaring camp fire!


As featured in BBC Countryfile Magazine’s Top 10 UK Foraging Courses

The Secret Sunday Mushroom Club
Acclaimed foraging experience where you will receive 18.5 hours of expert tuition in different habitats focusing on how to locate and identify with confidence most of the best UK edible species. Fred the Forager regularly uses more than 100 species and there will be plenty of advice on how to build you own repertoire safely. Bring a guest along for a feast on the last day and have the finds you make outside of the course identified by sending your pictures to our private mailing list. Places go fast so book early.

Gourmet Mushroom Discovery Days in Wiltshire, The Gower and the New Forest
If you are looking for an exciting and special one day mushroom experience these days are for you. You will be introduced over the course of the day to some of the finer gourmet mushrooms and shown how to spot the poisonous lookalikes. We will cook our finds in the forest at the end of the day. These courses take place in some of the best locations in the region for fungi, and time will be spent discussing how to pick mushrooms sustainably without detriment to future populations. Take home some wonderful memories and feel free to come back for advice when identifying you future finds.

Gift Vouchers

Did you know that you can buy vouchers for mother’s day, birthdays, Christmas day, practically any day you like from my website? If the course voucher you need is not already available on the shop page, all you have to do is email and I will prepare one especially for you with your recipients name on it! 

Here is what people have had to say about receiving our vouchers as gifts…

“My Gourmet Mushroom Discovery Day has simply been a wonderful birthday present. When I first received the voucher I wondered what it would be like but I have had an amazing time and have learned so much! I will never look at the woods in the same way again and I even feel confident enough now to go and pick some of the mushrooms for myself!”

“My son bought me a voucher for Mother’s Day for a day’s foraging tuition with The Wild Side of Life. I have had a lot of fun and I never realised just how much tasty food is out there for the picking. I enjoyed my present very much and I would definitely like to go out again, perhaps on one of the courses next time.”

There is a new loyalty referral scheme that you can join too, meaning that you can get your courses for less if you share the joy with someone else – which is a win-win situation. I am going to email everybody about this very soon so if you are one of our subscribers keep an eye out for it in your mailbox.


We will be attending a number of food and festival events this year so pop in to our stand for a chat and a foraged fruit leather… we love to meet you all! We will be at the Great WIld Food & Chilli Fair at Molden in Essex on June 27th & 28th. The website for this fabulous event is here. As Fred the Forager I will be running workshops in ‘de-mystifying mushroom identification’, ‘tree foods’ and ‘herbal first aid’ as well as giving a talk on Poisonous Plants. You can find out about all of them here, where you can also pre-book your workshop places at this event.

On May 16th watch out for my talk “The Mushroom Forager’s Tales” in The Real Food & Drink Theatre at the Marlborough Food & Drink Festival in Wiltshire. There will be lots of other talks by well known foodies too, so check their web page to find the schedule.

The Wild Side of Life will be providing foraging workshops and medicinal mushroom talks at both the Green Gathering and Heart of the East festivals / gatherings this year, as part of the AVALON RISING programme.

…and now for the recipe, mmmm enjoy 😉 and don’t forget to check out our presence on Facebook and Twitter

Click here for the Wild Garlic, Stinging Nettle and Cleavers Soup Recipe

Best wishes and happy foraging!
Fred the Forager