From time to time I run a series of linked 4-6 hands-on days called Herbworks. You spend these days with me picking, making, learning stuff about herbs and how herbal medicine works.
Very occasionally I do a one-off Herbworks session if it is requested, especially if it is for a birthday treat. Yes, some people would indeed love to learn about making herbal medicine on their birthday. The last time I did one of these was with a young lad who knew more about herbs than I did before I started to train professionally. It was a pleasure to have him here and teach him more of what he is interested in.
It was especially nice to see a young man who is free enough of peer pressure to do what HE wants to do; and he did it well.
He and his father gave me permission to use his pictures. He is welcome back any time…
I went to a village on the edge of the Quantock Hills last night to give a talk on all the weeds in their garden that they could just use for medicine, if they were so inclined. I was given the option of not coming as half of their members phoned in to say they wouldn’t venture out on such a ferociously windy night. But, my friends, it takes a lot more than bad weather to keep a Herbalist down. Especially when they’ve been given a chance to talk to a captive audience.
So, what weeds do you think you have that could be turned into medicine?
I asked them to make a list of all the weeds they could ever think of….
And actually, the buttercup is the only one that we don’t use for medicine at the moment, and has never been used as far as I can tell. The bindweed and Japanese Knotweed can be used in medicine – but you have to be careful and I wouldn’t do it… and even the ragwort and groundsel used to be used as remedies but now have fallen out of favour due to fears of toxicity. The ground elder could still be used, people even used to eat it as a vegetable. But all the rest are plants that I make into medicine or buy in regularly.
I’m going to pick them off one by one to tell you how and when you can pick them and easy ways you can process them into remedies that you can take safely. If there are any healthy contraindications I will mention that too – so don’t start weeding as soon as the weather gets better as you may dig up something you regret…
So, next week I will start with Stinging Nettle – your vitamin and mineral store house, right there in your back yard.
After the Christmas break we have started the new year with seminars in Materia Medica and Pharmacy. I teach the Pharmacy and Herbal Therapeutics modules. Our herbal monographs in the Materia Medica module are not cut and pasted from other people’s work, but each herb is thoroughly researched from several sources, from practical experience and observation and written up an original piece with reference to action, phytochemistry, therapeutic range, dosage and historical context – giving an extremely high standard of work expected from an ex-Oxford scholar.
In Pharmacy we discussed the therapeutic differences between hot infusions with a short steep time [10 mins], cold nourishing infusions with very long steep time [4 hours or overnight] and decoctions [simmer 10 mins], and what herbs and parts of herbs we would use in each instance. Then we got to work trying them all out and making notes along the way as to taste and texture and feel and properties etc etc.
You can find our website at http://www.schoolofherbalmedicine.co.uk/
and Twitter @TSHM
In the midst of writing the modules for our professional diploma, and actually teaching on it, and seeing patients, and making up prescriptions, I do like a spot of trundling around in the countryside picking stuff and seeing what is growing where. Today, roaming along the canal with two little grandsons collecting willow for me to plant a willow hedge I saw a row of trees edging the tow path. Bird Cherry, Alder, Sycamore and Cramp Bark. THERE it is!
Every time I walk to this spot to harvest some twigs from the Viburnum opulus in early Spring I can’t remember which group of dead looking branches it is. They all look the same before the leaves uncurl. But today, faced with the green and yellow of the Cherry and Sycamore, the Cramp Bark leaves stood out a stunning red.
This photo doesn’t do the bright red of the leaves justice, but hey take my word for it. So, I had a cunning plan to help me to go straight back to this tree when, after winter, its bare branches look like all the others.
I tied a piece of string round a small branch, leaving it nice and baggy so as not to restrict growth.
The only problem was that green string was all I had and not very noticeable. But if I look hard enough at the end of February I think I will be able to spot it.
Wish me luck…
We’ve done it! The School of Herbal Medicine [www.schoolofherbalmedicine.co.uk] has successfully completed our first full year with students, with seminars every month and end-of-year exams just finished….
The exams were tough, but the standard has been good. Some of the subjects taught were completely new to the students – not many people even know what Pharmacognosy is! In addition, they completed exams in Pharmacy, Herbal Therapeutics, Botany, Materia Medica, and Anatomy & Physiology.
We look forward to welcoming the students back to level 2, and also to our new intake coming for the first time in September.
It’s June, and that means picking stuff!
My allotment has become overgrown because I’ve been away so much [April -Portugal, May-Finland, June-Norway] but that was unusual and it won’t be happening again. Unfortunately. But it just shows how much you have to be on the ball when you grow stuff, and how much you miss out if you are not tending your plot.
I managed to pick Feverfew [Tanacetum parthenium] which had grown beautifully despite my absence. I plonked some in 3 tyre stacks last year and away it went…
My glorious Feverfew, ignored but flourishing!
Just as I was about to snip off the flower heads like I do with Chamomile, I just checked with the trusty Herbarium website, and no – I needed to take the leaves as well. This made life a lot easier as I snipped out the stalks to take home and garble later.
Et, voila! A nice basket full. This will be dried, and some of the dried herb will be made into a tincture.
I also picked a bit of late Chamomile [Matricaria recutita] which seemed to have gone past it’s best [should not have gone to Norway…] and some lovely St John’s Wort [Hypericum perforatum] – leaves and flowers. This will also be dried as I have several ladies on this as an ingredient of their teas, and some will go into a tincture which I use for low mood and certain nerve pains.
A box of sunshine ready to go back to my pharmacy….
But annoyingly, my Mullein has been decimated!
And here’s why!
I know they have to eat – but I only had one mullein plant……
So, I’m half way through my teaching diploma at Bridgwater College; and it’s fun. I did think that if you had a degree in a subject and practical experience then you could just teach it. But no. There is so much more to teaching than getting up the front and telling students what they need to know. Without going into Bloom’s taxonomy, or discussing Humanism v Cognitivism, let’s just say there are methods to employ that enable different ‘types’ of learners to get the most out of the experience. If you want to teach adults, I can recommend doing the 2 year diploma [or 1 year certificate if you don’t have much time]. I’m attending lessons one evening a week, and the lessons are 3 hours long – but I think there is a day time option if you prefer.
For the School of Herbal Medicine I teach Herbal Therapeutics and Pharmacy in year 1; colleagues are taking Materia Medica, Anatomy & Physiology, Botany, and Pharmacognosy. We have lots of interest for next September’s intake for the seminars held in Bridgwater rather than out-of-the-way Porlock.
Although I don’t teach Anatomy & Physiology, I can’t help but want to show you our new Flexible Friend. We have named him Eric, and he is a lot of fun….
If you, or anyone you know, would like to train as a Medical Herbalist, then send them to our website www.schoolofherbalmedicine.co.uk
The birds have started singing; that means spring is on the way…
Although I want to start sowing the seeds of my medicinal herbs asap, when I went to visit my allotment I was surprised how quickly the weeds have encroached on my growing space. I shouldn’t be surprised as it happens every year. The first thing to do is clear up, basically.
Last week I sorted out my shed which I had abandoned for two reasons. 1. We had a spate of burglaries on our site and the lock had been forced off my shed and the contents ransacked. I don’t keep any expensive equipment in there, but the thieves took my cute camping stove on which my little kettle whistled when ready to make tea. What they didn’t take they threw around a bit and emptied out boxes of seed which the mice ate. Which brings me to the second thing… 2. Mice. Or to be honest it is probably rats, but I don’t want to go there. I found some droppings and a hole made under the door step into my shed. I didn’t want to go in as the creatures may have been lurking, but when the sun shone I felt bold and banged about and pulled out the furniture [I believe in allotment comfort and provide myself with table and chairs and shelves for books and biscuits], dusted and swept like Mole and soon the place was shipshape.
This week I tidied up the greenhouse. Since somebody smashed a side window pushing a wheelbarrow past on the 18″ wide paths the rain and yellow dock had got in. Rows of pots containing dried compost and shrivelled basil plants that I had forgotten about reproached me from the work bench, and the moss-rimmed netting that I had gathered up from the wind last Autumn and stuffed inside the greenhouse to door to ‘keep safe’ lay coiled around my feet. On a rainy day this would be depressing. So I check the weather forecast and only go when expecting sun.
I took a bucket and rubber gloves so I could wash all the pots in hot water, forgetting that my cute little singing kettle couldn’t sing till I replaced the cooker. Oh well. I used cold water, but the sun made the greenhouse hot. Yes, hot. In February.
I patched the broken glass with a sheet of plastic that I was going to make into a cold frame but never got round to it. I pulled up all the yellow dock, spraying seed heads all over the place so it will doubtless come back. I swept the floor, washed down the workbench and arranged all my pots as terracotta or plastic, and graded them due to size. All done.
Now my little domain is waiting for the seed order from poyntzfieldherbs.co.uk to come.
Just so you know. I can now take card payments; easier for you and easier for me….
With the winter still dragging on my patients often ask for some cough medicine. I always have some in stock. Except I moved and lost it all. How can that happen? Well, apart from the possibility of having left a box in the back of the removal van, I have looked in all other places I could think of. My big master bottle of lovingly created cough syrup has vanished.
So then, when a patient asked for a refill I advised her to go and buy some Potter’s Vegetable Cough Remover from Boots. But no, she wanted mine and she would wait for it.
So, I went to my new dispensary and made some. Just like that…
So first I boiled up my herbs [I used liquorice root, inula, horehound, mullein and thyme] in water and simmered them covered for 20 minutes. Then when the liquid had cooled I strained the fluid into a measuring jug and pressed the damp herbs to extract all the juice I could get.
Then I returned the liquid to the pan and simmered gently until reduced and added molasses sugar to make a syrup. The sugar was dissolved slowly and then the mix simmered again till a syrupy consistency.
I sterilised all my glass bottles with boiling water and heating in an oven for 10 minutes. The pouring of the sticky thick syrup is always a messy business. I just get on with it now without being too careful and just clean up thoroughly afterwards.
And voila! Especially for my lovely patient who would accept none other, Growing Medicine’s cough mixture:
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