Elderflower Champagne and the meaning in making

Elderflower champagne tastes of British summer. Unusually this is something you will struggle to buy, you have to instead engage in the quest for the flower. You start by seeking them out, keeping an eye as you walk along the routes through your parks and neighbourhoods. Once you find a tree with those beautiful blossoms, pick them and thank the tree. Back at home, you can view your treasure more closely, shake any bugs off them and then put them with the rest of your ingredients in a large pan to start brewing.

I remember the smell of elderflowers from when I was a kid, although I didn’t know their name.  All of the different flowers from the bushes and trees around our area were inspected and sniffed. In the spring and early summer we would use these flowers for decorating various dens that we made, or put them in bouquets as gifts for our toys, or offerings for faeries. In the autumn different berries and leaves would be mixed into potions that smelt so pungent we implicitly knew they shouldn’t be eaten. 

As an adult, I don’t spend as much time making potions and floral offerings, which is part of the reason that making elderflower champagne (or fizz, we’re not supposed to call it champagne) appeals so much to me. I use this recipe from Spruce Eats. Unlike a lot of foraged alcoholic concoctions this one really does turn water into wine, rather than you just adding a flavouring to a drink you already have. There is something magical about the brewing process, and the fact that we can do it ourselves in our kitchens without expensive fancy equipment is brilliant. It’s also incredibly cheap to make. I never buy bottles to put it in, just save ones that were headed to the recycling bin and reuse them.

Human minds respond well to stories, to beginnings, struggles and resolutions. They help give us meaning and context for our lives. Today we have so much convenience that a lot of what we do is without thought and devoid of meaning. Often with food and alcohol there is no understanding of what sort of journey it has been on before it has got to us, and the closer we are to the end consumption the further we are from giving it value. The difference between eating a microwave meal you mindlessly swallow while watching telly and eating a meal you cook from scratch with ingredients from your garden. This isn’t to say that convenience is bad, and everyone should be making their own clothes from grass, there is a time and a place for fast food. When your meal has a story that you’re part of, when you involve yourself in the process of it getting onto your fork – because you picked the tomatoes out yourself, or grew the herbs, or you cooked it – it becomes more meaningful. 

Any glass you have of your own elderflower champagne is special. The flowers only bloom for a few weeks at the end of May until mid June and you can’t really buy it in the shops. When you share it with your friends, you will tell them about how you made it and remember the weather as you picked the flowers from the tree. When a bottle of it explodes on your shelf and soaks everything underneath it, you’ll remember the sound of it going off and tell yourself to make sure you burp the rest of the bottles more regularly. When you have a glass, because of the journey around it, it becomes a meaningful part of your day and you savour every sip. 

Summer becomes ours to bottle with just a bit of effort. 

Learning from Black Lives Matter

In recent weeks there has been a big push to make the Black Lives Matter movement even more visible. Although I spoke about this a lot on my personal social media, I didn’t do anything to raise any sort of awareness through this platform. This was wrong of me. Typical behaviour of a person who doesn’t have to confront these issues day to day, and I am sorry. 

If you do not know what Black Lives Matter is, please refer to their website and do some reading. 

What does Black Lives Matter have to do with peas? Why am I writing on a gardening blog about this?

I think that the media around gardening and growing is not welcoming to Black people, and that the institutes that shape our thought around gardening and growing are built on racial inequality. The pinnacle of British gardening, the Royal Horticulturist Society, has at its roots an entanglement with eugenics and much of white gardening is an expression of colonialism (I will write more on this later). These elements have built an environment that is homogeneous and exclusionary. 

To throw this back into gardening terms. Monocultures are good for industrial growers, but not for bees or the environment. They don’t really exist in nature and so need to be reinforced by chemical agents. We have a monoculture in British gardening and because we are in the middle of it we struggle to see the damage it causes. 

Gardeners are always learning about the invisible connections between different systems and how they affect each other, we need to realise that we too are living things who are just as connected to wider systems as our tomato plants are to the bees. We are not separate from nature, and just as we try to shape and control the forces around our plants we too are shaped and controlled by forces larger than ourselves.

Black Lives Matter has caused people to rush out and buy books to educate themselves about how systemic racial oppression exists in everyday life, and to try to understand what they can do about it. We are becoming more aware of what our lives of convenience are built on, and the terrible cost of the advantages that we take for granted. I only inhabit a small space online, with the tiniest contribution to social media – but I want to use it to say that I can see that things need to change here. I don’t fully understand how to make that happen, but I’m learning. 

Gardening for me is spiritually and mentally soothing, and brings me a calmness I don’t get from anything else. Having that connection to the land brings me joy. Not everyone is going to feel the same way about it as me, but everyone should have the chance to. Growing your own food and making your land welcoming for wildlife can be a radical political act which links into building communities, environmental action and food justice. If something is radical it has to be accessible to everyone, and right now it isn’t. By learning from Black Lives Matter I hope we can start to see the systems that exist that result in inequalities and exclusion in a whole variety of areas and learn how we can proactively dismantle them. 

4 ways I manage my eco anxiety

The world is a huge place with complex problems we often feel powerless to solve. Sometimes it feels like the planet is being asset stripped by maniacs with no long term thinking about the harm this will cause to all life. I don’t need to list the reasons why it is easy to have eco anxiety, because if you care about the environment they are obvious. Anxiety around any issue can have a massive impact on people’s lives and with scientists and the media reporting on climate catastrophe it is very easy to understand why eco anxiety is becoming more common.

When mine flares up I do the following things:

  1. Go for a walk

Do it, as soon as you can. Ideally try and get in near some trees. Changing your environment and moving your body is good for any type of anxiety. We are not all blessed to live among rolling fields and idyllic scenes, but even as someone who lives in Manchester city centre there are always things of beauty to find. Living in Ancoats I walk along the canal. Just making the effort to find a bit of nature is really rewarding, at the moment there are little goslings in the canal and I love spotting them while I’m out. 

  1. Start small

Part of the reason I personally find the environmental crisis so anxiety-inducing is the sheer size and scale of the problem, and the feelings of helplessness this brings up in me. It feels like there is nothing I can do to help. The thing is, that isn’t true. When I start to feel this way I try and go back to basics and do small manageable tasks that are quick to complete that I know have a good effect on the environment. Whether this is sowing seeds to grow my own vegetables, swapping plants with neighbours or helping out in a community garden. If you can’t get outside or have mobility issues you can help by finding local community gardening groups and supporting them on social media with likes and shares. If you don’t have a garden you can try some guerilla gardening, you can start as small as scattering wildflower seeds in unused areas. 

  1. Reach out

There are a lot of people who feel this way, and by reaching out and being open about your uncomfortable feelings you can find support. A lot of the time with anxieties it comes in waves. I have days where I feel incredibly positive and strong, and at those points I can be there for people who aren’t doing as well. I also have days where I feel like the planet is doomed and I worry about my baby but on those days I try to speak to others. Often just the act of framing language around my anxiety makes it go away and if that doesn’t work just knowing I am surrounded by like minded people really helps.  

  1. Read

If your head is proving a dangerous place to be, try and get out of it! There are books around climate change that are hopeful, I enjoyed Scatter, Adapt and Remember by Annalee Newitz. One of the big issues with climate change is that it is an existential threat on a gigantic scale, the likes the world has never seen. Although we don’t have a solution to this level of threat, we do have a tonic to existentialism which is absurdism. I find reading The Stranger by Camus to realign me. In general just getting away from a screen and from social media, and giving your brain something else to focus on and engage with is very calming. 

These are things that help my mental health around eco anxiety. Gardening has always been a massive boost to my overall mental health, so it is particularly good for this problem. People are innovative and feel a deep connection to the earth, with enough of us on the same page there is a lot we can do to help nature.