Sarah Frances of Herber & Co shares her passion for the versatility of herbs
Having spent my life foraging hedgerows, growing fruit, veg and herbs, and working alongside my partner with trees and timber, it has been a joy to develop these passions within the field of herbology – a holistic study of medicinal plants that encompasses both academic and practical facets. I feel there is no better way to learn and create memories than by practical immersion; spending time with plants over the seasons, recognising their characteristics and where they like to grow builds relationships with those plants and their companions. Essentially, my current work focuses on herbs in the broadest definition and the beneficial properties of these plants, whether edible and culinary uses, or as sensory additions to the home, garden and wider ecosystems as a whole.
Herber and Co. operates locally through East Anglia, delivering walks, talks and workshops celebrating the versatility of herbs, especially our native herbal flora. I also create Herbernaculum soap and shampoo bars, which are available online and via the Alde Valley Spring Festival shop. This natural herbal soap company was developed at White House Farm in Great Glemham, after I was offered a maker’s residency at the spring festival in 2018. From initial experimentations, I have now created a fully certified unique range, each with their own formulated scent combinations and plant-based skin-enriching properties.
The studio space is a permanent base for me, with the stunning and wild organic farm a perfect venue for practical remedy making workshops, foraging walks, and many other seasonally themed workshops.
Like my own personal herb garden at home, I am gently developing the space that surrounds the studio as an exercise and example of how one can grow a multitude of useful herbs within a small area. Many of the seeds are saved for use in remedies or for next years’ sowing.
We take a mix of semi ripe and hardwood cuttings from rosemary, lavender, myrtle, sage and many more. We also make root-cuttings and divisions from elecampane, fennel, and marshmallow for example.
Sowing from seed has meant we can identify the seedlings that appear each year and make plans to move herb seedlings such as yarrow, foxglove, calendula, opium poppy, plantain, wild clary and motherwort. This recognition of seedlings and seed-leaves also means we can ‘edit’ the garden as it grows, allowing space and light between plants and a balance of flowers through the summer. It’s fascinating to see how the herbs re-orchestrate themselves in the garden each year, and to work alongside them by gently composing new themes as the herbs settle into maturity, and then using them to teach workshops or create preparations and soaps.
This month has been a busy one in terms of both gardening and making: many soap batches are now curing in preparation for the summer and will be available at the Aldeburgh Studio Trail in June, online and from the Festival Shop at White House Farm or visit me at the studio on site there. I have been particularly excited to add ‘Cherry Blossom’ Soap to this year’s stock list – a recipe that came about through an initial harvest of cherry blossom at White House Farm in collaboration with Jason Gathorne-Hardy’s cherry planting project.
The garden is coming quickly into growth now, with many herbs already needing staking, pruning or their first harvest. Smaller seedlings have been potted on and are coming on nicely in the greenhouse, soon to be hardened off for outdoor planting. I am formulating workshops for the upcoming months too and these will soon be available to book online.
Please visit www.herberandco.uk for more information or to register your interest.
You can also follow Sarah’s work on instagram @herberandco.
Fresh herb tea infusion:
If you’re currently out and about with the opportunity to spend time among the trees, the new leaves of beech (Fagus sylvatica) are luminous lime, delicately tender and perfect just now for gathering to infuse in a refreshing herb tea.
- Pick a few fresh leaves (above shoulder height and away from roads or contamination) and also a couple fresh sprigs of lemon balm (melissa officinalis). if you don’t have lemon balm to hand you can substitute with a slice of lemon.
- Let the boiled kettle sit for a minute or two before pouring over the leaves (so not to scorch the herbs).
- Cover and infuse for 10 minutes before drinking. (a teapot or caffetiere is handy for herb teas). This can be drunk either as a warming uplifting hot infusion or chilled as a cool iced tea.
NB: consult a practitioner for advice regarding fresh herb use for contra-indications with prescription medicine, health issues and if you may be pregnant.