When I moved to this New England land in 2005, one of the first projects I began was to create an edible fence on the periphery of the property. Originally inspired by the permaculture principles I had been reading about, I envisioned this fence as a friendly delineation between the public road, the forest, and my private space. This hedge would provide nourishment, medicine, beauty, a sanctuary for bees and other wildlife, and ultimately a boundary between the magic world of my own gardens and the world outside of them. While I wanted something to mark the edge of my space, I couldn’t imagine the typical white fence so commonly found in residential areas. I wanted something that had a natural, living presence in the neighborhood.
Each year I have planted new perennial shrubs and small trees that bestow us (and passersby on the street) with plentiful food and medicine. The raspberries offer leaves for nourishing tea infusions and large juicy berries that taste like the first moments of autumn light. In the late spring, the smell of the rose bushes opens the heart and the rose’s healing gifts continue until the rosehips appear in the fall. Hazelnuts, hawthorns, currants, apples, and elderberries also provide abundant food and medicine. Aside from the plants I have chosen to cultivate, many other plants have volunteered in the hedgerow, surprising me with unexpected and profoundly helpful herbal gifts. Mullein, Mugwort, Poke, Multiflora Rose, and Nettle are just a few I have learned from over the years. The hedgerow really began to take shape and have meaning during my herbal apprenticeship with Tony(a) Lemos from 2012-2014. All of the pieces came together and my life changed profoundly during this time of deep connection and learning.
Recently, I have begun to contemplate the symbolism of this landscaping as I am now developing a healing practice at my homestead. When I started planting the fence, I knew very little about hedgerows, especially about the connection between hedgerows and my Irish and English ancestry. As I worked on it, I felt guided by an unknown force deep within my DNA. It turns out that the trees and shrubs that felt like natural choices for the project have historical significance within this heritage. I now believe the plants themselves were showing up to quietly teach me about my own roots all along.
Hedgerows have a rich history throughout the UK and are widely recognized as demarcations of property, protection for gardens/farmland, sources of food and medicine, and ecological habitats for a wide range of species. In addition, Celtic folklore imbues the plants and trees of the hedge with many mystical properties. The hedgerow is thus a gateway between our physical reality here on Earth and the dreamtime space where the spirits of the land reside. I have directly seen how the plants of the hedgerow provide for both the physical and spiritual realms.
It has taken me years to recognize the many symbolic layers as they have unfurled. This project is an ongoing communication with the land. Each year as I input energy and ideas into strengthening this beautiful boundary, it grows more and more prolific, hardy and abundant. As I tend to it by planting, watering, composting, singing, etc., the hedgerow tends to me by feeding my body and my spirit.
This physical landscape I have been creating all these years has also been a mirror to, and a concrete manifestation of, some emotional healing work I have been doing. The hedgerow has taken form on this land as I have been learning how to set healthier emotional boundaries. I like to imagine that setting healthy limits also provides nourishing sustenance. Having clarity about our own needs makes less guesswork for others and provides for more security in the relationship. There are fewer feelings of rejection when limits are set if there is something wholesome to nosh on at the boundary’s edge, whether it’s a contemplative process inspired by the beauty of an opening flower or a handful of fresh berries. As I continue to construct this fence-work of plants I envision folks being able to snack on the fruits as they walk by my clearly defined space. When it feels just right, I invite them inside to share the gifts of the land.
The recipes that follow have been developed over the years by experimentation with the hedgerow’s gifts.
Hedgerow Immune Tonic
This simple brew provides a yummy barrier to colds and flus. The berries and rosehips in this recipe are loaded with Vitamin C for immune system strengthening. I harvest the elderberries and currants when they are ripe and immediately freeze or dehydrate them so that I can make this medicinal treat year-round. The finished product will keep for several months in the refrigerator. Take a tablespoon each day to boost your immunity or several if you are in the midst of a cold/flu or feeling especially run down. This recipe makes approximately 1 quart.
1 cup Elderberries (fresh, frozen, or dried)
1 cup Black Currants (fresh or frozen)
½ cup Rosehips (dried)
6 cups Water
1 Cinnamon Stick (optional for flavor)
1 Vanilla bean, cut in half and scraped (optional for flavor)
1 cup Raw Local Honey
½ cup Apple Cider Vinegar
Other optional additions I sometimes throw into the mix: a few strips of Astragalus Root or Reishi, a few tablespoons of Tulsi or Schizandra Berries
Combine Elderberries, Black Currants, Rosehips, Cinnamon stick, Vanilla and water in a saucepan. Simmer on low until liquid has been reduced by half. Strain and cool to just below 100 degrees. Stir in honey until fully melted/incorporated and then add apple cider vinegar. Bottle, label with the date and store in the refrigerator.
Hedgerow Hazelnut Spread
Hazelnuts are a nutritious source of vitamins and minerals and supply us with healthy fats, protein and fiber. My favorite way to enjoy this spread is spooned directly out of the jar into my mouth. It is also wonderful to spread on toast or apple slices and best when shared with loved ones. This recipe yields approximately 1 cup.
3/4 cup Raw Hazelnuts, shelled
3 TBSP Maple Syrup
¼ cup Raw Cacao Powder
1 TBSP plus 1 TSP Coconut Oil, melted
Pinch of Flake Salt (optional)
Water for achieving the desired consistency
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Arrange hazelnuts on a baking sheet and bake for approximately 10 mins or until just turning a light brown color. You can remove the skins if you wish by rubbing the baked hazelnuts in a dry dishcloth. I leave the skins on because they are nutritious. Cool the hazelnuts and add to a high-powered blender (I use a Vitamix) with the maple syrup, raw cacao powder, coconut oil and salt. Turn blender on low to begin incorporating ingredients. Gradually increase the speed. You may need to turn blender off and scrape down the sides with a spatula or, if using a Vitamix, use the tamper to stir ingredients while blending. Add water one teaspoon at a time to achieve the desired consistency. You can also add more oil if you like a smoother spread. I prefer a coarser, thicker texture which requires 3 teaspoons of added water. Keep refrigerated if you don’t eat it all immediately!
Thank you for reading and Enjoy!
-Devon Green Whitney