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:
The School of Herbal Medicine opened its doors to the first students September 2015. I did my first day’s teaching there October 18th with 7 hours of Herbal Therapeutics; this weekend we focused on the Cardiovascular system and the Respiratory System. Susan Vassar covered the Gastrointestinal system in Anatomy and Physiology om 17th. We had the brainwave of hiring a brilliant cook to provide a hot meal midday which was appreciated by students and staff alike.
The students have been loaded up with large files which we aim to fill over the next 6 years. They are a great bunch and are a pleasure to teach. The modules may seem large and indeed the workload is considerable, but we believe we are offering something unique in England. See swherbschool.wordpress.com for more info. It is our blog.
It is our intention to start to grow our own plants for our students to make into our own medicine to use on our own patients. The students are invited to help plan and plant a herb garden, and to come to Bridgwater to grow and harvest whenever possible. Our base is at New Place, Porlock but we have a satellite training centre at Growing Medicine, Bridgwater.
If you are interested in training to be a professional Medical Herbalist email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, although intake is closed for this academic year we will admit more students September 2016. Payment plans are available.
One day courses to get people introduced to making things with herbs. Salves, teas, tinctures, powders and more. Learn how to make your own first aid kit. Construct your arsenal against the common cold, while learning the best way to approach fevers, diarrhoea, constipation, rashes and other minor health niggles you wouldn’t go to your GP about.
First Saturday will be 7th March 2015, 10.00-12.00 £45, bring a packed lunch and I will provide tea and coffee
Just email me at email@example.com if you would like to book a place…
Colds and Flu Season…
The common cold is a virus droplet infection of the air passages of the upper respiratory tract. There are many hundreds of different viruses that cause a cold to develop, which is why there is no specific ‘vaccine’. You can catch it by breathing in the virus in droplets coughed or sneezed by an infected person, or by touching and object that has the virus on it, left by an infected person, like a door handle or passing books to and fro at school, or toys at a playschool or nursery. It presents with symptoms of runny nose with clear or thick yellow catarrh, sneezing, slight sore throat, slight ear ache, a feeling of malaise, headache and is usually afebrile.
Many different strains of virus are responsible for the common cold, and they are constantly undergoing mutation. There is of course no point in the patient requesting antibiotics from their GP unless a secondary bacterial infection has taken hold; the most important thing to be aware of when a patient is complaining of a cold is that inflamed mucosa are more vulnerable to infection with bacteria. This can manifest later as sinusitis, bronchitis or ear infections.
The ‘cold’ is ubiquitous, yet there is no fool proof method for dealing with it, either with herbs or orthodox medicine. With herbal medicine though we have many more remedies than your local pharmacist. What can you buy at the pharmacist? Lemsip and honey, paracetomol if you have a headache or are getting a bit of a temperature. Beechams make capsules and powders to relieve the symptoms of colds and flu. Let’s take a look at what they typically contain:
Paracetamol – to relieve head pain and lower temperature
Phenylephrine – this is used as a decongestant. It also comes with possible side effects which include; nervousness, dizziness, insomnia, upset stomach, shaking, tachycardia…just google it.
Guaifenesin – this is used as an expectorant to assist in the bringing up of phlegm in acute respiratory tract infections. Originally from the Guaiac tree the Guaifenesin used now is a synthetic form which has been available from the 1980’s.
In our herbal pharmacy we have decongestants, antitussives and expectorants that have no unpleasant side effects. For a simple cold all we need to do is get the patient to wrap up warm [this helps the immune system and inhibits most viruses as the common cold virus does not survive well above 33°C], give a diaphoretic to help get the temperature to peak, dose with anticatarrhals and anti-virals and advise to keep drinking your hot herbal tea…
What would I give for a common cold?
Yarrow, Echinacea, Elderflowers, Ground Ivy
Cold Tea [drink hot]
Yarrow10g/Elderflowers 10g/Ground Ivy 10g
Place the 30g of dried herb into a cafetiere, pour on one litre hot water and steep 10 mins. This should be kept warm so pour into a flask and sip through the day.
Echinacea angustifolia tincture 5ml every hour with water.
The common Daisy is a traditional plant used to subdue irritating coughs that hang on long after the cold has gone. A great way to use the daisy as a cough remedy is to immerse the flowers into runny local honey and leave for several days. You can leave the flowers in if you like, but I strain them out and use the honey, which has absorbed phytonutrients from the flowers, and use the honey straight from the teaspoon as a cough syrup.
Influenza is an acute viral infection of the nasopharynx and respiratory tract and is caused by a different type of virus to the common cold. It generally starts with fever, aching and shivering, and brings with it symptoms that are much more severe than acute rhinitis and which last for longer. Accompanying symptoms include headache, sore throat and persistent unproductive cough that can remain for weeks, and sometimes patients experience nausea and vomiting. The influenza viruses may also provoke something referred to as the post-viral syndrome, which is a time of debility, fatigue and low mood and which may persist for some months. There is also a greater risk of secondary bacterial infection and complications, some even leading to death, for example pneumonia.
There are only three different forms of virus which cause flu, A, B and C which belong to the orthomyxovirus group of viruses. Influenza B is related to local outbreaks of flu which tends to be seasonal and can be contained, while Influenza A tends to be at the root of worldwide epidemics. It is Influenza A which has the greatest capacity to develop new variants at irregular intervals thus evading the host immune system which may have developed immunity against a previous deviant. The most serious worldwide epidemic of Influenza A was in 1918 and was the cause of approximately 20 million deaths. A later shift in the antigenic profile of the virus was at the root of another outbreak in 1957 causing a worldwide pandemic. Influenza C causes a much milder respiratory illness that is not thought to cause epidemics. Nearly all adults have been infected with influenza C virus and lower respiratory tract complications are unusual. There is no vaccine against influenza C virus.
Most at risk are the elderly, children and the immunocompromised.
A chest rub or poultice is a useful adjunct treatment to a respiratory tract infection, the constituents are absorbed easily through the skin and can start their action on the lung tissue swiftly. In many cases direct action by a topical remedy has more immediate effect than a tea.
Actions that you would anticipate including would be; decongestant, immune cell stimulating and anti-viral.
Decongestant herbs: Eucalyptus or Pine essential oil. Dilute in a carrier oil and rub onto chest, or include in a chest rub ointment, or use as in a steam inhalation.
Thymus vulgaris. Use dried herb as a hot tea to make a poultice, or use as part of a steam inhalation
The chest rub made below contains local pine tip infused oil, with black pepper and thyme.
The whole point of choosing the name Growing Medicine for my clinic and business was to illustrate both the fact that the medicine I use comes from things that are growing in contrast to things that are synthetically made in bulk in a factory, and that I am actually growing some of my own stuff. Since I started practice here in Bridgwater I have acquired an allotment and have begun a scheme of growing my own medicinal plants, some of which I have made into tinctures and teas and stored in my pharmacy ready to use for my patients.
Years ago, before I started training for my degree in Herbal Medicine, I used to wonder what women did when their children got ill before the NHS was developed. In some social history books I discovered that in rural areas there was a lot of knowledge about medicinal plants, and this wisdom was passed down from generation to generation orally. And people used to just pick tips up from each other. In most villages there would be a certain individual who had amassed a great fund of plant knowledge and neighbours would defer to them in times of illness in the family. If you are interested I can recommend Memory, Wisdom and Healing: The History of Domestic Plant Medicine by Gabrielle Hatfield. The History Press 2005.
Last week one of my daughters had a cough and cold. I was in my allotment that morning and I picked White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare.
White Horehound is expectorant which makes it useful for those productive coughs of a heavy cold, as opposed to those dry irritating coughs that hang around after a cold has long gone. It relaxes the muscles of the bronchus and frees up the mucus that just sits there.
And I picked some Greater Plantain, Plantago major.
Plantain is great for colds. It is demulcent so it helps soothe sore throats and inflamed respiratory membranes, and it has expectorant properties to help get up stubborn mucus from the bronchial tubes.
And some of my lovely aromatic Catnip, Nepeta cataria
Catnip is a traditional cold remedy. It is a diaphoretic, which means it herbs induce involuntary perspiration that helps to manage a fever. It also boasts some nervine properties so it can help relax stressed ill people.
This was what women would have done years ago, instead of going to the pharmacy to by Lemsip and paracetamol.
I took the herbs home, washed them and snipped them into bits. I then added them to an in-cup infuser with some dried yarrow harvested from my garden, and made a hot soothing ‘cold’ tea.
And Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, is another important remedy for helping the body deal with a fever. Your body needs the fever to improve the function of your immune system, and disable those cold bugs. It is brilliant in the acute stages of heavy colds and influenza. It is also supposed to have antimicrobial properties.
Some I picked earlier from the garden and dried for teas;
Growing Medicine Tea: Beneficial for coughs and colds. take with lots of rest and a good book…..
This is Jacqui Apostolides after a very successful Open Day at Broad Oak Farm in Essex. As they say from their website:
Broad Oak Herbs is a totally unique company. We currently farm just over an acre that forms part of a 6 acre organic smallholding in the beautiful Essex countryside, our herb farm specialises in growing medicinal herbs very much in harmony with nature.
Founded in 2010, when Dawn Pooley met local Herbalist Jacqui Apostolides (Fordham). The idea to start a herb farm specialising in medicinal tinctures quickly became a reality as our other partners became involved. This is true pioneering work and the only medicinal herb farm in Essex.
Where possible we use local craftspeople and materials to make anything we need to use on the farm.
Packaging and printing are kept simple and minimal using recyclable materials to reduce our carbon footprint.
Very little electricity is used in making our products, we use a shredder to process our herbs and this is all done in our lovely open sided barn. The brewing tinctures are stored in our makeshift stockroom and then the tinctures are pressed using a hand pumped hydrolic press.
We produce the best tinctures we possibly can. Broad Oak Herb tinctures and other herbal products are produced exclusively from fresh herbs grown here, harvested at their peak.
Processing of the herbs is done on site, where they are made into tinctures immediately after being picked, so that nothing is lost. This is done in such a way as to preserve the whole of the life force, resulting in a product which is still biologically active. Potency of a remedy comes from a whole plant extract, which we know makes all the difference. We use naturally fermented organic grain alcohol and vegetable based glycerine for our products.
Growing organically ensures that the plants are free of any traces of herbicides, fungicides or synthetic fertilizers. The herbs are collected in tune with the rythyms of nature on flower and fruit days, according to when nature herself dictates. Moving towards biodynamics and permaculture, our hands-on, tuned in brand of horticulture ensures individual attention to both the plants and the land.
One of the main elements of growing on this land is the concept of working co-creatively with nature.The idea behind this comes from our herbalist Jacqui. Deeply inspired and influenced by the work accomplished at the Findhorn community in Scotland and Perelandra gardens in the USA, Jacqui felt compelled to try this method within Broak Oak Herbs with a view to exploring the opportunities to cooperate directly with what we understand as nature intelligence. For a definition and explanation of nature intelligence, please read Machaella Small Wrights paper athttp://www.perelandra-ltd.com//PDF/PP11_What_is_Nature_Intelligence.pdf
This means we are on an immense journey with this project, bringing together our vision of working with nature but still using state of the art modern methods to produce very unique tinctures and other medicines.
Phase one commenced in January 2010, with preparation of part of the field and a planting scheme. The first year crops and harvesting from around the farm produced a small yield of exceptional tinctures in 2010. We have erected a polytunnel, where we plan to experiment growing herbs that may not survive our outdoor climate, such as some auyurvedic herbs. We are trialling sacred basil, and ashwaganda. We have also propagated some White Sage that we are quite excited about.
For the future, we plan to establish Echinacea and to introduce Liquorice beds. But this all takes time.
This is such an exciting venture we believe, for students, herbalists and the general public alike as Broad Oak Herbs will become a great living classroom in which to study and observe herbs.
My colleague and I have been so impressed with the quality of tinctures that we buy from them that we went up to view their project. And we took lots of photos.
We were given a comprehensive tour of all the herbs beds. Why they planted in these shapes, why they put what where, etc…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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