First thing last Monday morning I found myself in Regents Park. There is is something very special about being in such a popular place when everyone else is at school or work. A sense of bunking off, which appeals to the teenager in me. And of course, very few people were there so i enjoyed the rare feeling of having the park to myself on a sunny day in London.
I was meeting a friend at the Garden Cafe, which is in the Inner Circle near to the Rose Garden, so I took a detour and wandered through the fragrant beds filled with roses of every colour. Rose is one of my favourite herbs. The wonderful herbalist Christopher Hedley always says it is like 'a hug in a bottle' and I've found him to be right again and again. It's wonderfully uplifting and you only need a tiny amount of the tincture in a mix or a handful of dried petals in a tea to work its magic. The essential oil is terribly expensive, but there is nothing like a few drops in a bath - except perhaps a wander through a rose garden on a sunny blue early summer morning, with the evaporating dew carrying this heavenly scent from the petals into the air.
The rose beds are pretty traditional and formal, but there are high posts encircling the main garden, with loops of rope slung between, supporting great swags of climbing roses. If you can tear your senses away from the roses and look around the base of each gatepost, you'll find herbs planted all around. I rather love this photo I snapped of a climbing rose blossoming low on the stem veiled by a haze of Bronze fennel. Bronze Fennel is very decorative and has just the same medicinal and culinary properties as the more usual green variety. In my Herbal practice I use the seeds, as they are a great carminative, easing bloating and digestive discomfort. I also give them as a tea to new mums as they help stimulate milk production and reduce colic in the baby. Growing fennel to harvest seeds means growing a lot of it, but whichever part of the plant you use, those aniseedy oils will promote good digestion. If you have some in your garden, the feathery leaves make a pretty garnish and the bulbs make one of my favourite summer salads, sliced and roasted in the oven with fresh tomatoes and plenty of olive oil and rock salt.
Anyone who has been on one of my herb walks will know I am enchanted with the diversity of medicinal plants growing in Regents Park. From the St Johns Wort growing wild at the back of the zoo to the hawthorn hedges and the Lime trees which will be dripping with their fragrant linden flowers in just a few weeks time. But did you know there is a hidden corner of the park where a remarkable medicinal herb garden flourishes? The Royal College of Physicians' is the large modernist building tucked in at the South Easternmost corner of the park, a couple of minutes from Great Portland Street tube. I'm delighted to say they have agreed for me to host a midsummer herb walk (a stroll really, it's quite small) to celebrate Herbal Medicine Week. . Details as below:
Tuesday 21st June 2011. Meet at 6pm in the forecourt of The Royal College of Physicians 11 St Andrews Place, London NW1 4LE. £10 per person (£5 concs). Contact Paula at firstname.lastname@example.org