Maggie Pope
is a Medical Herbalist

Practising in
Bridgwater, Somerset

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August, 2013

Allotment update

Allotment overview

If you compare this photo with one of the early ones on my blog, you can see I have come a long way…

The white greenhouse in the centre background is mine, and marks the bottom limits of my allotment. The photo was taken from the shed where I store my tools, seeds, dry herbs, keep books and chairs, and brew tea and soup [more of which later]. Behind my shed I have a bit more of allotment for the compost heap and 2 red currant bushes.

Not too bad for £17 a year, water on tap, on-site friends and advisors included in the  price.

So, I really wanted to grow Althea officinalis from the Malvaceae family. A number of wild mallows grow in waste land and pastures, but only Althea officinalis [Marshmallow] and Malva sylvestris [Common Mallow] are used in herbal medicine. I am surrounded by Common Mallow, so I thought what the heck I’ll dig up a root and plant it in my allotment. I use mallow for irritated mucosa, coughs, gastritis, inflammation of the pharynx etc. A lot of symptomatic relief. So I transposed a Common Mallow plant, but it was a sorry specimen and it didn’t really thrive.

Althea before

This is the scrappy Malva, or Common Mallow. The leaves weren’t all that soft and flowers were sparse. It had to go….

That’s better; a lot more tidy! You can now see the White Horehound plants coming up around the area.

Fortunately, I was given a couple of Althea officinalis plants by a Herbalist colleague in London after I visited her allotment and felt the soft, downy leaves; much more soft than the Malva, which promises a more soothing medicinal action perhaps.I planted them asap, but they still looked droopy and forlorn. Yesterday though, I saw a couple of new leaves appearing at the bottom of the stem. They may just survive.

Althea after

Bulk Tincture Making

Bulk Tincture

Bulk Tincture

So, this is what I call bulk tincture making.

Those of you who work in professional herbal product warehouses may  snigger at me but I am just a one-man-band here, beginning to make as many of my own medicines as I can. Making three separate tinctures in one day to me is bulk tincture making…

All these herbs are local, and they are fresh. I went for a walk one early May afternoon by the canal. This time I took the path on the opposite side to the one near my house and followed it as it veered away from the canal edging towards the river on the other side. The path here is quite wide and dusty, fringed with stinging nettles and white dead nettles; I had already harvested quite a lot of both so I passed them by. But when I turned the corner a 14-15′ high Hawthorn tree was in full flower, covered with bunches of creamy blossoms surrounded by bright green leaves. The whole tree was so fresh, so new, and so vibrant I just had to get my bags out. [I always carry bags in my pocket – you never know what you might find…].

I came home with bags bulging and tipped them straight into my straw baskets till I could process them. I don’t keep any herbs in plastic bags for any time at all except to collect and carry home. Anyway, the tree was left with plenty of blossoms so I know where there’ll be berries come the Autumn. I use hawthorn for arteriosclerosis, tachycardia and the prevention of heart disease.


Hawthorn Blossoms

In the area where I live I find masses of Cleavers [Galium aperine] in the spring. Sometimes I juice them, but you don’t get much liquid out of piles of stems and leaves. I prefer to tincture them fresh, or to dry them for teas. The cleavers I picked this spring were mostly gathered from an area close to me [just over the road actually] called Browne’s Pond. It’s a small lake, and what makes it special is that it is only 100 yards from the road, and edged on one side by a residential street. You can’t call it ‘countryside’ but it is a lovely quiet place on the periphery of a small town. We get fishermen here, young families picnicking and feeding the ducks; and the local residents have got together to form ‘Friends of Brownes Pond’ and their aim is to keep it a pleasant, litter-free environment, and to maintain the pond life and water plants around the edges. They have inserted mesh boxes containing reeds and grasses around the edge and are looking after the area well. It’s here I come with my scissors to cut my cleavers. I don’t like to pull them up ‘free hand’ as I always get roots, yellow leaves and clumps of earth.

Cleavers are a native British herb, and is traditionally used as a diuretic and lymphatic. I use it a lot for people with skin problems and enlarged lymph nodes. In the first photo you can see I have made a large jar of Cleavers [Galium] tincture. The photo here shows bunches of cleavers drying to make into teas.

Galium 1

Drying Cleavers

Stinging nettles are all around me, there has never been any shortage of this particular herb. It’s a pity they get such a bad press. Nobody else seems to like them…

They come up each year like clockwork, like old friends. Timing is important for nettles and I gather what I need in the spring then just leave the rest of them alone to do there thing till I want their seeds in the Autumn. I don’t cut the leaves late in summer because of warnings of high levels of calcium carbonate crystals which may irritate the kidneys. I don’t know how true this is but I avoid them just the same. Everybody knows they have to handle stinging nettles with gloves, don’t they. Even then, I always manage to sting myself somehow. One day I want to try the remedy for arthritis the Romans were credited with; that of flaying the joint with the nettles so the skin was stung. This relieved the pain from the arthritis. Perhaps somebody could try it and let me know.

I made a big pot of fresh nettle tincture [Urtica dioica], and still had piles of them to dry for teas. I use nettles as a source of minerals for patients, and have found them useful for some hay fever sufferers.

nettle bunches

Piles of Nettles




August 2013
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