Sometimes, when a rash of itchy spots springs up your first concern is not to get a correct diagnosis but to STOP THE ITCHING.
You can find out what the cause is later, but if you just want to stop being driven crazy by constant itching, and if you have a patch of chickweed growing near you [lets face it, we all have...] then you can deal with the itching while you wait for an appointment with your GP [or a medical herbalist] for a diagnosis if necessary.
Lots of rashes and spots come and go, and I’m not suggesting that you need a check up. If the spots bother you and they last a good while then mebbe you could get them seen to, especially if you feel ill and/or are running a fever.
HOWEVER, back to common itchy spots and rashes caused by bites or cysts or eczema or something you touched that didn’t agree with you…
First, the chickweed Stellaria media. Grows everywhere – except, annoyingly, not in my garden – so I have to visit my daughter a 10 minutes walk away to gather what I need.
Chickweed Stellaria media
This is the stuff. A low-growing, sprawling plant with lots of tiny tiny white flowers. If you are not sure if your weed is Stellaria then pick a stalk and look closely at the stem. Chickweed has one line of fine white hairs running down one side. Just a line of hairs, not all over the place and the line moves round 90 degrees on the stem each time it is bisected by a pair of leaves. If you see this line of hairs, you have Chickweed.
BTW, if you are hungry you can eat it. This was a healthy addition the the Victorian salad. Wash it thoroughly [think dogs and cats].
If you are still itching you can chop up the washed and drained weed and squeeze the juice out into a bowl with your bare hands and just wipe it on. Even better, you can make a cream to carry around with you, keep in your bathroom or by your bed, or have in your first aid kit.
You will need:
50ml oil. Any cold pressed oil should do. Sweet Almond Oil, Grapeseed, Virgin Olive. [I used a Ribwort infused oil which I had already]
15g beeswax. You can buy pellets from places like Neal’s Yard, Baldwin’s, or www.aromantic.co.uk
50ml chickweed juice
This is the measured out fresh chickweed juice. Look at its vibrant colour! You have to measure very carefully, this isn’t a Jamie Oliver bung-it-all-in cake recipe. When you have measured out the juice you put the dish into a bowl of very hot water to heat it up. The juice and the oil have to be combined at the same temperature.
Tip the beeswax into the oil and heat in a pan of water on a hot plate. Don’t mess with just bowls of hot water here or you will be waiting all evening for the wax to melt, trust me, go in with the big guns…
When the wax has melted and the juice is hot, start to drip the juice into the oil with a pipette or similar and take an electric whisk to it. You are whisking the juice into the oil slowly, till it’s gradually all incorporated. Use the slowest speed, but please, use an electric whisk or it will never come together…
Keep whisking till it is thick and creamy. Difficult to describe, but when you see it you will know. Now, I should have taken a photo of the whisking process, but I was on my own and didn’t have enough hands. I did however take a pic of the finished cream in jars:
This, my friends, is fresh Chickweed cream. It should keep 6 months in the fridge, or even longer if you add a preservative like Borax etc. Look up preservatives on the aromantic website and choose a suitable one.
I will just add that a few days after making this cream an elderly woman came to me with an itchy cyst on her back. ‘Do you have anything for itchy spots?’ she asked. You betcha! She told me it took less than 5 minutes for the itch to disappear. Satisfying.
For comparison purposes the picture below is of a commercially produced chickweed cream: I prefer the greenness of the fresh juice myself..
After breaking my wrist in the summer of 2012 which impacted on allotment life through to the Autumn, and after the wettest Summer and Autumn that I can remember, followed by an extremely busy Christmas with a house full of lovely people, it is about time I got back to the allotment.
I visited today, managing to squeeze an hour in to eat my breakfast and drink my hot herb tea [I have a kettle and hob in my shed!] before the rain fell. All I managed to do was pull up the dead stems from last years Calendula, and mourn over my Spring cabbage – all 30 plants have been eaten by slugs and/or snails, razed to the ground by terrestrial gastropod molluscs.
This year I shall just sow flowers and medicinal herbs and buy in greens from Asda, unless someone, somewhere can tell me how to protect my veggies. BTW, I did put down slug pellets, the non-organic blue ones, loads of them….
I also need to construct, or get someone else to construct, some staging in my greenhouse. This is the time to to sow early seeds, and I have a greenhouse up and glazed, but no shelves or tables to work on or keep seed trays on.
Apart from simple compresses where clean cloths are soaked in medicinal herbal infusions and applied to the skin, it is sometimes beneficial to have a mass of herbal product laid against the skin for 10-30 mins to help heal bruises, reduce inflammations or ease painful joints.
I am making poultices at the moment to help reduce the swelling of tissues behind an arthritic knee. This treatment doesn’t cure the arthritis but may help ease the pain and increase the movement a little. I usually make a pack of three, each poultice can be used for three days twice a day, rolled back up and put in the fridge after each use. I tell the patient to warm them up in the microwave before use then carefully wrap around the leg with the herb resting against the swelling, then rest with the leg elevated for 10 minutes if the poultices contains mustard powder, or 30 minutes if it is just linseed and/or slippery elm.
These are easy to make at home with some clean old sheeting cut into strips. You need about 60gms each of fresh ground Linseed, and slippery elm powder. You mix the linseed and slippery elm then add enough hot boiled water to make a paste which you spread on the strip of cloth. The photos below show how it’s done. I roll them up with cling film so they keep clean and don’t stick or leak. The cling film is removed when the poultices need to be used. The strip of cotton is long enough to be folded over to cover top and bottom, like a linseed sandwich…
By the side of the Taunton-Bridgwater Canal path you can find an abundance of medicinal herbs. Near West Street you can get down to the Canal path, and up until recently there was a beautiful Elder bush which always was loaded with fragrant flowers in the spring time, then later carried bushels of dark purple berries. This year two herbalist colleagues came down from London to help me harvest a few baskets of the flowers which I dried for tea, and made into tinctures.
When I returned in the Autumn to harvest some berries to make into Winter Tonic with cinnamon and cloves, someone had cut the bush down, right to the ground. Although I was disappointed, I knew there were more bushes towards the junction with Taunton Road, but walking along the Canal path all the bushes had a very very poor crop of berries. So far I have only managed to gather enough to make four 200mls of the Winter Tonic, but my its so good I have to restrain the children from drinking it. If you would like the recipe, please email me.
Scroll down to see how we did it….
I strip all the berries from their stalks with a fork or a snazzy little berry picker I bought in Finland where, like Norway, they gather a lot of berries and make jams and stuff.
Then I weigh the berries and bring them up to a boil before simmering them with some sugar.
The simmering will reduce the liquid by about a third, so it is rich and gloopy. Then we have to strain out the berries before we heat again with some cinnamon and cloves thrown in.
After the straining, we put the berries in some muslin and squash through a press to extract all the juice.
Then we add the cinnamon and cloves and simmer a while longer before pouring into bottles and labelling.
After we strain the berries, we simmer the reduced liquid with cinnamon sticks and a handful of cloves.
At Growing Medicine’s allotment June was a very busy time. We had brought seeds on under cover and had planted them out, plus the potatoes and onions were doing very well.
Eating good food is important for your health, as Hippocrates said; “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”
So with that in mind we are growing some veggies as well as medicinal herbs.
The greenhouse is still waiting for it’s glass, it’s all stacked up there ready to go in. By the side of the greenhouse there are some frames waiting to be made into seed beds ready for next spring. All the black plastic you can see there was left dumped by the previous holders of the allotment, we just keep shifting it about.
After the pics of the veggies, I have put up some photos of my first attempt at medicinal herb growing. Calendula.
So, I added pics of making tincture with Dandelion leaves in May.I have also been busy making Cleavers, Elderflower and Lemon Balm tincture.
The first photo is of the freshly picked cleavers twisted round in a bowl. Cleavers are long and sticky, and it’s sometimes hard to just break off the top half of the shoots and leave the yellow bottom leaves and roots in the ground. I usually take a pair of heavy-duty kitchen scissors with me and just cut off at a certain place down the stem.
You don’t try and remove the twirls of leaves, you chop it all up stems and all.
After you have chopped it up roughly then you need to blend it so it cuts down
finer, or you will not be able to get enough menstruum around it.
The herb doesn’t need to go too long in the blender, and don’t put in too much at once.
When you have comminuted the herb then press into jar and fill with vodka. Though I use a 96% ethanol mixed with water to make a 25-30% strength menstruum.
Always label the jar with the herb type, date and strength of alcohol, together with ratio of herb to menstruum and ideally place gathered and state [fresh or dried].
It’s was about time.
I had bought the alcohol.
I had read the books.
And to be fair, I had been taught how to do it at Uni.
But out in the community, on my own, I never quite mustered the courage to go out and pick herbs and tranform them into my own tinctures. Instead, I have been buying them in from herbal medicine suppliers, [yes, there are such things...].
A tincture is a form of herbal medicine. You get the herb, put it in a mix of alcohol and water to extract medicinal constituents, leave it for a couple of weeks, then strain and bottle.
I chose dandelion leaf [Taraxacum officinale folia] from my garden lawn. I knew there had been no pesticides sprayed, we have no cats or dogs, and to be fair – it’s just beyond my patio….
I picked 200g of the fresh leaf. This is what it looks like;
You have to pick it over, take out bugs, check for blemishes, and generally ‘garble’, as James Green says in ‘The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook’ .
So, I sorted it out carefully
and snipped the end stalks off.
And then I weighed it…
Next step was to snip it up small. This would have taken all morning with a pair of kitchen scissors, so I fed it through my Kitchen Aid blender handful by handful:
This was quicker, but still took a while.
each load of leaves was comminuted
[useful word, look it up]
into a small amount at the bottom.
Until eventually, I had a bowl full of fresh, lush green-ness!
So then, I measured the alcohol. 25% ethanol with 75% water.
Put the mashed herb in a clean jar,
poured in the menstruum [that's the water and alcohol mix]
shook it about and sealed it up
And there, my friends, you have it.
This jar will sit in a dark place for 2 weeks.
I will give it a little shake every now and then, to mix it up.
And then, I will strain it and bottle it.
If I remember, I will take pics and post them up.
If you want to try using herbs, buy these 3 books!
1. Wild Drugs by Zoe Hawes [available from Amazon]
2. Practical Herbs by Henriette Kress [available from her website www.henriettesherbal.com]
3. ’The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook’ by James Green [available from Amazon]
So, been busy [daughter married and all], but some things have been done.
First, we have a greenhouse – presently in bits in my garden – but still…
Secondly, we have a shed – presently in bits on the allotment – but still…
We have dug over a vast expanse of the site. Well, my husband dug and I watched. Also helped by my lovely Henry .
About a couple of weeks ago I put in Potatoes, Onions, and Peas!
And a week before that I planted Raspberries!
Therefore, all in my garden would be lovely – except a lot of my little plants got eaten by SLUGS. So we have strewn eggshells round the most recent plantings and will see how we get on.
This is looking from the top of the plot, looking down to the East, on a very hazy morning. My heart sank a little when I took in the 9 tyres, plastic sheeting and weeds. Not to mention that the whole site had been compressed after Wessex Water had been in with their equipment and dug a new hole for drainage [or summat]. Anywho, just look at the mess….
The nicely dug area at the back of the centre photo is nothing to do with me, that’s the next plot with the grass path between. At some stage one person had both plots and grew Tay berries right across both plots spanning the path. I have to begin to demarcate my edges as the path has merged with the weeds almost everywhere so I am not sure where my allotment ends and the paths begin. So, first job was mark the boundary:
This is the right edge of my plot with the path separating me from the plot of a very helpful young man from Yorkshire… This doesn’t look like much, but it took me ages.
I got a chair out, [borrowed from a neighbour] and proudly bashed in my plot marker for all to see. Actually, the view from my allotment is lovely. Take a peek.
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