Life here in Harris unfolds at a slightly different pace, and while Scotland eases out of lockdown we suspect our island may be slower in feeling the effects of these changes.
Our seasons tend to take their own time too, with much of the native Harris flora budding while their more southern cousins are already in full bloom.
But, as the days grow long and the earth warms beneath our feet, it’s clear that our plant-life is no longer playing catch-up as the annual Outer Hebridean carnival of colour gets underway.
As always, the daisies are first to come to full flower, carpeting the coastline in wide blankets of white, before the humble dandelion adds a generous splash of yellow.
More than just mere common weeds, these early arrivals are much loved by our apothecary friend and local plantswoman Amanda Saurin, who tells us…
“Both share wonderful medicinal properties. Daisies are great for bumps and bruises while dandelions are anti-inflammatory and can be used as a diuretic in herbal medicine. The young leaves are delicious in seasonal salads too.”
Elsewhere, clovers are gradually appearing and the marsh marigolds grow golden in the ditches and drainage channels which criss-cross great swathes of Harris croftland.
The white, fluffy fronds of cottongrass, or bog cotton as it’s more commonly known here, are bursting and seas of their feathery heads can be seen bobbing lazily in the moorland breezes.
Even the rare trees of Rowan and Hawthorn dotted around the island have come to life, while Iris, Meadowsweet, and the small but beautiful Marsh Orchids are not too far behind.
Among all this new growth, Amanda has been busy exploring and experimenting with the plants she can safely pick while under the limits of lockdown. As she tells us…
“If I had to be anywhere during this crisis I’m glad it’s here in Harris and virtually everything I need is within reach of my fingertips. My croft has proved to be full of interesting plants and even my windswept, salt-drenched garden hedge has provided me with great potential!”
“It’s really all about taking the time to look around you, and there’s certainly plenty of that to spare right now. My poor husband now chooses to take his exercise outings without me because I can take half an hour just to walk ten paces…”
As well as creating our well-loved Sugar Kelp Aromatic Water, and more recently a Mint and Rosemary hand sanitiser, we’ve been collaborating with Amanda on other concoctions to add an intriguing twist to your Isle of Harris Gin cocktails.
In spring our inaugural release of Harris Wild Rose Tinctures sold out in just a few weeks and we’re now delighted to be finalising the recipe for a second botanically-based batch to capture the best of an island summer.
The details of this new limited edition remain under wraps until it goes on sale next month, but we are happy to reveal a few discrete details. Amanda teases one of the defining indigenous ingredients…
"I've been working with a very prickly plant whose flowers simply smell of summer, but it's very temperamental. My challenge is always getting to know and understand how to get the very best out of what I harvest. With this one, it's about picking and then using it very quickly, it has to go from the plant to the pot inside an hour.”
In addition to this exciting new tincture, summer also promises more in the way of wildflowers as the famous machair lands erupt into a riot of blues, pinks and purple.
With the sheep freshly sheared and moved on to higher ground, these delicate beach-side pastures will soon be abuzz with bees and other insects, which in turn support birds like plovers, lapwings, corncrakes and oystercatchers.
As the strange ‘new normal’ our world finds itself in continues through the brighter months, Amanda remains busy with her A.S. Apothecary work, now firmly rooted on her croft in the village of Northton which continues to undergo a transformation.
But her work, although traditional, is a far cry from the old-school sheep and cattle-keeping most crofters choose to focus upon, as she laughs…
“Every time I tell them what I'll be growing I get the same response “But you can't eat flowers!”.
As spring turns into summer we’re pleased to confirm that you can, and you’re now able to drink them too…