Topic: Foraging

Completely conkers; a herbalist’s weekend!

What did you do this weekend?

It’s quite likely that you saw family, went out with friends, did some shopping, cooking, washing. Am I right?

Well, I did many of those things too but being a herbalist often means I do things others simply don’t! This weekend, I also processed a large bag of horse chestnuts/conkers ready for using as washing liquid soap for clothes ! Yup, I spent a fair proportion of my weekend blitzing and dehydrating several kilos of conkers.


The seeds of Aesculus hipppocastanum are frequently used in herbalism for their astringent, venous tonic and anti-inflammatory qualities. They are wonderful for the veins and are used in prescriptions for varicose veins and other conditions which require the elasticity and tone of veins to be improved. The outcome of which is reduce oedema, pain, fatigue, tenseness and some pruritis in legs. Great, huh? NOTE: saponins are toxic when ingested in large quantities.

Are you completely c bonkers?

Well, possibly but the key thing is that conkers have a large amount of saponins in them. And saponins are soapy and form lather/bubbles when mixed with water and agitated.

So, to the washing liquid… I have done this in the past but as I didn’t have a dehydrator then, I ended up with a lot of mouldy conker bits on trays because I tried to do too many at once. The washes I did manage with conker ‘juice’ were fabulously soft although I found that the stain removing properties when our girl was a baby wasn’t great. That combo somewhat put me off at the time but now, the time feels right to give it another go.

What do you do?

Soak them overnight in hot water and use the liquid in place of washing detergents. There will be a fair amount of starch also released from the conkers and this will look milky around the bottom of the jar but isn’t going to do any harm.

As you can see from the pictures above I blitzed them small but the author of this article used a hammer and made much chunkier pieces. The larger the surface areas, the better the extraction and the quicker they’ll dry.

  1. Gather A LOT of conkers – now is the time – take a small child with you
  2. Blitz them in a food processor (I used a small stick blender bowl doing 5 at a time as my large unit has broken!)
  3. Dry them (spread out on sheets of paper, on trays in a super low oven or in a dehydrator)
  4. Store them airtight
  5. Soak a 1/2 – 1 cup overnight in hot water
  6. Strain and drain into the soap compartment
  7. Run your usual wash
  8. Compost the used bits

TIP: Conkers are ROCK HARD when dried so, to get the most out of them, get them as small as you can whilst fresh. This is not a job to leave for a few weeks!

The Spring herbalist

As the sun warms us up and the blossom cheers our spirits, we unfurl from our Winter hibernation ready to face the world again, much like the sticky buds of the Chestnut trees revealing their fresh, green new leaves.

The garden has leapt into life, the bulbs are gifting us their vibrant colours and Winter’s grey is finally starting to ebb away. What a relief. Spring has definitely started when Sunday’s dawn chorus is followed by the hum of lawnmowers!

Now is the time to think about those health changes which were too difficult as optimistic New Year’s resolutions in dark, dreary January.  When better to ‘spring clean’ yourself than with the lightening of the days?

Tips for aiding your Spring clean:  A cold infusion of fresh herbs

These wonderful can be gathered from your local park (watch out for dog toileting areas!), or if you’re really lucky, your garden!

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) leaves in Spring are less bitter than later in the year. Add a few to your salads and dose yourself with natural nutrition. Dandelions are diuretic but also a rich source of potassium. So, where a pharmaceutical diuretic leaches potassium from your body, dandelion assists in the elimination of excess water but also replaces the potassium! Clever plant. I get goosebumps when I think about how complete that is. You’ll find dandelion in most places where there is grass.  The yellow flowers are a giveaway but seek out the younger, smaller leaves.

Cleavers (Galium aparine) is a rampant, climbing weed which gest everywhere but it’s a herbalist’s dream! For your ‘spring clean’ it is a wonderful addition. It gives a light green flavour with a touch of the cucumber about it. One herbalist once said to me ‘imagine all those tiny hooks scrubbing and scouring through your lymph system’; a really great analogy and something for the post-Winter remnants. Readying you to spring into Spring.

Pick a large handful of each herb, place in a jug and cover with fresh cold water. Leave overnight and pour out a cup to drink the following morning. Feel the power of the green flowing through you. Drink in the fresh vitality of live plants from this simple and natural infusion! To make a more fragrant version, add a few leaves from a lavender plant.

Herbal ID

Dandelions and Cleavers are gentle herbs but be very sure that what you are picking is the correct thing – herbal mis-identification can be serious.  It may be natural but so are plenty of deadly plants!  To be sure, use a good ID guide or ask your local herbalist. I have written about mindful foraging

DISCLAIMER:  Before dosing yourself up with wild crafted herbs, be aware that if you suffer from long-term health conditions or are pregnant, it may not be suitable for you to follow these ideas.  Please check with a qualified medical herbalist first.