Anna Rósa has almost thirty years of experience as a herbalist and skincare specialist, and most notably for our purposes, she’s an expert on Icelandic foraging. “I came across this article in the newspaper about a herbalist,” Anna Rósa explains, casually sipping tea in her sparse office. “I’d never heard about it before, but after that I just knew that I was going to be a herbalist and four months later I was in England studying herbalism. People thought it was weird, but it was a calling. I had no choice in the matter.”
After four years of study, Anna Rósa returned home to southern Iceland, where she grew up, and subsequently threw herself full force into foraging. “I mainly work in the south. I know it much better and it’s so full of flora,” she explains. Her other favourite spot is the north, but her work takes her all across the island.
To get her supplies, Anna Rósa relies on a network of rural informants, or “farmer spies,” as she prefers to call them, to keep her up to date with the emergence of different plants across the countryside. Once the herbs start growing she waits for a dry day, but as she explains, “that’s difficult in Iceland so I’m addicted to the weather report in the summer.”
You might imagine that herbalism is a somewhat relaxed profession, but this is an assumption that Anna Rósa assures us is misfounded. “You can’t dawdle around, it’s hard work,” she emphasises, explaining that plants have to be prepared within a crucially short window of time to prevent damage, meaning the herbalist will often drive to Akureyri and back in a single day. “I just drive early, fill the car and come back and dry [the plants] or make a tincture or oil with the fresh herbs. It has to be processed straightaway… you work the full night if you have to.”
But beginner herbalists needn’t despair—for those who are not foraging on a commercial scale, the art is a little simpler. “Absolutely everyone can learn the basics,” Anna Rósa reassures us. All you’ll need is a pair of robust scissors, a sturdy sack and a little enthusiasm. Anna Rósa recommends starting out with meadowsweet, a large sweet-smelling herb with creamish-white flowers. “Here in the south we have fields of it everywhere so you can’t possibly over-harvest”, she explains, adding that she often uses the plant to treat gastric issues. “It’s very easy to harvest—you can gather enough for the winter in just one hour.”
In fact, the herb can be used to brew the Reykjavik Grapevine Tea, specially concocted by Anna Rósa herself and said to have anti-inflammatory and immune-system-boosting properties. Make it yourself at home and email your reviews to firstname.lastname@example.org We’ll be waiting with healthy, non-inflamed breath.
The Reykjavík Grapevine Teablend
1 part Meadowsweet
1 part Angelica seed
1 part Yarrow
Put 3-4 tablespoons of the blend into 750ml of boiling water. Allow to brew then sieve the infusion and enjoy.
Bonus tip: put the herbs back into a flask of fresh water and drink throughout the day.
Anna Rósa recently launched a new website to export her skincare products globally – all profits go to refugee organisations. As Anna Rósa explains, using her skills to help refugees is “her real passion” and she’s very excited about this new venture. Head over to her website to treat your skin and support a good cause at the same time.
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