They're in the coldframe, nestled and hunkered down against what has been an abysmal summer. There we have said it, what a crock of....Hold on, we won't go that far. There are plants still making it, there is still the herb garden between all the weeding, the rocketing grass and the ever present rain clouds. We wonder whether there is a sun god dance. We suspect that any dance to the sun god will involve some level of nudity and frankly we're not even wearing long shorts in this weather. Getting natural on a hillside when the temperature is barely peaking ten degrees does nothing for us or you. However, in that coldframe are ox-eye daisies, nestled beside hollyhocks and in the glasshouse there is freshly potted on bergamot. Take a deep breath and you can smell summer even if you can't see it.
So, you probably know what ox-eye daisies and bergamot does but if you don't we'll get to that below. However, some of you may be scratching your heads at hollyhocks. What do hollyhocks do? Well, traditionally cottage gardeners planted them close to house walls to draw away the damp from the old cottages. That use has largely been forgotten but the black hollyhocks we are growing can be used as a natural colouring in materials and in herb teas. Hollyhocks are also edible, roots, flowers, leaves, stems can all be eaten supposedly. However, those roots are woody, so be wary of them and use them instead for infusions (that's simply water and the leaves or flowers, though a black hollyhock flower may not do wonders for your pearly white teeth unless you are going for Dickensian look). The leaves can also be used as a poultice (steamed damp leaves wrapped around whatever is hurting) for chapped skin, inflammation and splinters. However, caution should always be your watch word with plants you are unfamiliar with, so try the flowers in a herb tea first with mint or lemon balm. If you can't face that, then leave them alone, let them flower and enjoy the flowers. Bees love them.
Now, you probably know that bergamot oil can be used for rashes and infections but what of the wonderful bee friendly plant? It could take forever to get oil out of them. Well, pulverised bergamot leaves can be used on bee stings. It's not surprising that bergamot is found in Earl Grey tea but you can also make a tea from the leaves and flowers. In fact, some cheap tea bags can be enhanced by popping in some bergamot with them in a tea pot. For those of you who do not have a tea pot, shame on you, go and buy one now and don't tell anyone you have never owned one. For shame. Tea in a pot is far superior to tea in a mug. Bergamot doesn't stop there, the flowers are great in salads, and with fruit. Bruise some leaves and stalks and use them like a brush to coat honey onto chicken as it barbecues or better still, chop up the leaves and rub it into beef and chicken. Then when you have had your fill of bergamot tea, bergamot meat and bergamot eased bee stings, you can get in a lovely bath with bergamot in and the scent will relieve your bones and blocked up sinuses. This is really an all round flowering herb. (CAUTION - think terms and conditions voice here - bergamot tea should not be drunk by people with menstrual disorders. Pregnant women should not drink bergamot tea. Do not drink bergamot tea every day for the rest of your life, drink the tea for a week to a maximum of ten days, then stop for seven days before resuming. If you are drinking it to treat a cold, or flu, or even sinusitis - which it is excellent for - you can drink it up to three times a day, but do not exceed this beyond four days. As always, common sense must prevail and if you have an adverse reaction to it, bloody stop). Bergamot should never be used to access like this, let's face facts bergamot in your meat, tea pot (have you bought one yet? Go away and buy one now), bee stings and bath will put you off it for life, and do a lot of damage if you continued that regime for forty days and nights. Likewise you should never eat a ton of rosemary in one sitting, you will smell lovely but you will also be on a psychedelic trip of a lifetime shortly before dying. Likewise, you should never eat a ton of beef, because your heart, your stomach and your sweat glands simply cannot take it, your veins will literally roll back up into your liver. Anything in excess will kill you, even a good time, so yes, all those rock 'n roll songs lied to you and you should know better because everyone who sung them died young or pickled themselves.
Anyway, last on our list at the moment is ox-eye daisy. We're growing these not just for the herb garden but for the orchard too. If we have enough they'll make it onto the verges in front of house too. These wonderful daisies can, when young, have their leaves plucked and used in salads. The flowers can be used in tea, sweetened with honey for sore throats. These are just a few uses for these herbs. There's plenty of more, just go out and look for other uses but as always be sensible when using herbs you are not familiar with, read a bit more about them, better to be know what you are doing than sitting in A&E at four in the morning trying to tell a nurse you're high a kite from drinking daisies. Seriously, they'll lock you up for that.