My earliest conscious memory of my maternal grandmother was about age five. I can still recall the delightful aromas emanating from her tiny countryside kitchen, her long wavy auburn hair plaited back neatly, whilst she was gently stirring an exquisite ruby-red liquid in her legendary cast-iron pot. Her flowery home-made apron was stained with the juice from the elderberries we had just gathered from the tree in her wildflower garden.
I vividly remember her incredible patience and kindness, showing me how to strip the berries from the stems, gently cleaning them and placing them in her large sturdy cooking pot filled with water, leaving the content to simmer for hours. We strained the berries and added some precious family secret ingredients before allowing the liquid to thicken. We poured the velvety syrup into sterilised glass bottles, and she wrote the labels in her wonderfully unique handwriting.
She was a skilled cook and seamstress, and she loved catering for large events such as birthdays, weddings, and christenings. She also adored spending time in nature, and she understood the olden ways of healing with plants. Her house was always open for everyone, with the offerings of amazing food and herbal decoctions. There was love, joy, and so much laughter. My memories of our family celebrations were full of wonderful tales of nature and life, sumptuous dishes, and the sharing of the wildest of wishes and dreams.
Looking back, I’d like to think that those precious experiences in my grandmother’s home were the reason I became a herbalist, but the path wasn’t always a straightforward one. Around the time I turned 16, my grandmother passed away. She was buried on a cold January morning. Gone were the joyful family mealtimes in her home, her hugs and stories, her beautiful garden. Even though I tried to recreate many of her signature recipes from the books she left me, it didn’t feel the same for a very long time.
Fast forward to today, that grief has turned into deep gratitude for my time with her. Over the years, I continued to study herbal medicine with ever-increasing admiration and respect for the herbal craft. I have also grown to love teaching, and I feel impassioned about creating herbal courses that inspire people the way my grandmother encouraged me. I enjoy watching people learn these essential skills, evolve, and grow in confidence, making their own herbal remedies and hearing exciting new stories of healing.
When I look at my students’ faces at these teaching events, I am often transported back to my five-year-old self in that wildflower garden. And I realise, we can’t possibly recreate memories through herbal recipes alone. Because knowledge is more than just ingredients. The love of herbs comes from spending precious time together. From sharing our stories, our ancient knowledge, and living our dreams.