Maggie Pope
is a Medical Herbalist

Practising in
Bridgwater, Somerset

Get in Touch Maggie Pope

Healthy Eating

It’s not just about the herbs…

I am a fan of Herbal Medicine [obviously] and I am of the opinion that one can treat quite serious illnesses with herbs. I’m not just talking about a cup of chamomile tea at night time, and some mint leaves with your dinner. I am talking about a proper assessment with a qualified and insured Medical Herbalist, who takes a full medical history, does physical examinations and comes to a diagnosis – and who then can create a prescription and a lifestyle plan. Now, herbal tinctures do not taste nice in the main, but taken regularly at full dose, they can really help with acute and chronic disease processes.

However.

Patients need to adhere to the lifestyle plan as well. What does it contain? In general some personalised advice concerning sleeping, exercise, emotional stress and eating. And there is the rub. The eating. So often patients find it difficult to stick to the foods I recommend and leave the foods that I advise they stop consuming. I have wondered what to do about this for many months, as to get the quickest return to health people need to eat wholesome food and stop eating refined processed food. Then something very frustrating happened…

I was on holiday in Norway and met up with an old acquaintance who had lost a lot of weight and was also looking fit and healthy. This woman was in her 60’s and when I saw her last year she was overweight and complaining of long-term digestive problems as well as other minor problems such as chronic fatigue. When I commented on her new slim look she told me that her stomach problems had gone and she had so much energy…

The frustrating part was how she had done it. She had gone to a doctor and paid about £300 for a diet plan with a daily menu written down to follow, and when she told me of all the foods she could eat and all the foods she couldn’t eat I realised that it was more or less the same foods that I say try to eat or not to eat. So how had she succeeded where my patients found it so hard?

It was the meal plan. Every day she knows what to have for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And what to snack on. Ah. ‘Could you have followed this diet without the meal plan?’ I asked her. ‘No.’ she said.

There you go. Each time I give dietary advice I will send out a meal plan so patients don’t just have a list of foods they ‘ought’ to be eating, but they can follow a meal list without even thinking.

It’s the thinking that’s the hard part.

 

A ‘No Dig’ day with Charles Dowding…

 

I was just about to give up with my allotment. Somebody had sprayed my nettle patch with weedkiller and the whole area had died and turned brown with some awful chemical concoction that I had never wanted on my plot. I had been careful to hide these nettles behind my shed so I didn’t offend anybody with these weeds, but they were so useful! I used to dry the leaves for teas, and dry the seeds for making adaptogens to give an extra bit of energy. When I complained to one of the site supervisors he just told me not to make a fuss because the person probably thought they were doing me a favour…

Then, my 15 yarrow plants were dug up. I can only presume this was under the same misguided assumption that they were weeds, even though I had planted them in neat rows!

And then I get a stiff letter telling me to dig up my thin willow hedge that had been there 3 years because it was ‘not permitted’ on the site.

This coincided with a crisis of confidence about my ability to grow vegetables [medicinal herbs are easy – they are more like weeds], but I kept failing at veggies. I have 2 allotments and a large garden and I still buy a Riverford box every week – this is just not right!

I said to myself, just one more year – then I will give up my allotments. One of my problems was just keeping up with the sheer amount of weed growth… I went to the library to get out some books for inspiration, and one caught my eye;

Organic

NO DIG???

This sounded like my kind of book. I was so intrigued on reading it that I went to his website and wondered if he did open days, and I wanted to know if he was in reachable driving distance.

He lived in Somerset!

I scanned though his events calendar to see if he had a course coming up soon.

He had one on for the next day!

And there was a space!

I emailed and was booked and was driving down to Homeacres the next day, where I spent a very enjoyable, inspiring informative day learning the no dig gardening way. Listen; Charles makes growing vegetables achievable, he has so much good advice and he laughs off all the ‘rules’ that we thought we should follow [like water plants in the evening, don’t plant root veg into compost, dig deep to aerate the soil, etc etc] and he showed us round his huge veg patch to prove it works.

So, I’m converted to the use of compost and mulch, and if you ever have the chance to go to one of his days, just go! And if you can’t, then buy his books.

A special mention must be made of the lunch Steph provided from their veg garden – they grew it all and it was delish! Charles even produced the bread from rye flour he grinds himself and makes into rye sourdough loaves.

Just go visit!

 


 

New Year

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.

The road to my allotment on a sunny day.

 

More June Activity – Life at the Allotment

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.

Potatoes coming on nicely

Potatoes getting bigger, and joined by a marrow…

Three rows of onions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The future seed beds in front of the naked greenhouse…

 

My first crop of Calendula

 

 

 

Progress!

Lots of plants waiting to go to the allotment

 

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 [12].

 

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.

Before the slugs

‘Resting’ before being planted

Growing Medicine 3

Junk and Weeds!

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:

Marking 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.

All mine!

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.

Nice!

Hills in the distance

Not bad, eh?

The View

Growing Medicine 2

The Plot Develops

The plot that my friend and I share has been dug over and planted with a lot of soft fruit and flowers. My friend was given a green house that was erected near the base of the plot. My own little area was planted with some herbs, but during planting I heard that I had been given my very own allotment, so I dug them all up again! The photo above shows my space after I removed my Ladies Mantle, Joe Pie Weed, garlic etc etc. the children were very quick to plant some more stuff. I think that’s a cherry tree gone in there…

 

From the South

And above you can see the whole plot looking up from the South.

My friend’s children have been frequent visitors to the allotment and take a keen interest in what is being planted.

Below is their progress.

Planting rows of fruit bushes

You can see their little footprints all over the place, but I think here we have raspberries and gooseberries. This is quite a transformation from what the plot looked like when they first took it over. You couldn’t see the soil for the weeds. Which is kind of where I’m at at the moment. OK, so they have plot 39, and I have been given plot 14 which is waaaay over there to the left.

My plot is going to have a page all to itself, so click out then click back in…..

 

 

 

Growing Medicine

The Beginnings

OK, so having a website called Growing Medicine refers to two things.

1. The medicine I give my patients grows. It has been a living, photosynthesizing, independent  fresh plant. Full of natural goodness, as they say. Vitamins, minerals, secondary metabolites….all there in the various parts being made, ready and waiting to be used.

This is in stark contrast to the medicine produced by Big Pharma; synthetic chemicals produced in a factory.

2. I intend to actually grow some of my medicine myself. Lots of the stuff I use I buy in from specialist herbal suppliers, especially anything exotic or difficult to grow.

Lots of stuff I can pick freely from the fields, woods and canal path near my home. This includes Meadowsweet, Nettle, Cleavers, Elderflower, Elderberry, Hawthorn, White Dead Nettle, Comfrey, Yarrow, Ground Ivy, Ribwort…

But some stuff is elusive, like Marigold, Self Heal, Violets, St John’s Wort, Scullcap, Chamomile, Goldenrod, Boneset and more. Last week I was offered a share in an allotment and I didn’t need to be asked twice. I have my key to the gate of the plot, and went there today after lunch cleverly getting the timing right as the sun went in behind the clouds and the driving rain whipped the back of my head just as I started to dig.

The whole plot is a mess…

Dismal Plot

…so you can see it is quite a task. This is my end [above] where the compost will go. I have dug out a small 6′ x 3′ area ready to put cardboard on and cover with ‘soil improver’ from the local council at £10 a ton. I will lay this to a depth of 6″ then put in out my little herb plants when they have started to grow.

I have sent off a big order to www.poyntzfieldherbs.co.uk who specialize in medicinal herbal seeds up in Scotland, so I know they should be hardy enough to survive Somerset.

Although I have been University trained in Herbal Medicine, and have been educated in Phytochemistry, Pharmacognosy and Botany etc, I haven’t been told how to grow the plants we use in our medicines.I think it is assumed we will buy them all in as I have been doing. But hopefully soon I will make some lovely fresh tinctures and will have an Open Day when you can drop in and taste some…

The greenhouse at the top of the photo belongs to the next plot up, ours starts where there is a square of freshly dug soil. Anyone with any allotments tips, please feel free to put them in the comments box. I am a novice here…

Long and thin, but all ours!

 

Blackberries

Blackberry picking

A few weeks ago was the end of the blackberry season here in the South West. The common blackberry Rubus fructicosus L is ubiquitous, as Julian Barker says in his book The Medicinal Flora of Britain and Northwestern Europe;

‘Understanding the full variability of the bramble is a specialist obsession, the elucidation of which has already taken more than a lifetime and is only just begun. Over 2000 ‘species’ have been described in Europe. The variation between different groups shows up as the arching of the stem, if and how it roots, and the detailed nature of prickles, glands and hairs. Fortunately for us, we can safely generalise: there is no other similar group of plant to confuse even the most urbanised blackberry-picker.

‘A clambering shrub with shoots lengths from 1-3 metres. Compound leaves with leaflets inn 3’s, 5’s or rarely 7’s, stipules present. Sepals fuse at their base to form a cup; the 5 ‘teeth’ are turned down in fruit, as when you open a banana. 5 white or pinkish petals are free as are the many stamens and numerous separate carpels which coalesce to form the aggregate fruit. Widespread and abundant in woods, hedges, scrub, heaths and open commons.

All you need is a container and off you go…

‘This is the most generous of wild plants and it is in the wild where most of us would have it stay. The understanding of its ancestry, speciation and progeny is likely to absorb the attention of a few generations of botanists yet. Blackberry picking must be the most widespread remnant of collective gathering in post-agricultural, industrialised communities. As well as food, the medicinal use of the leaves is ancient. However inconvenient the thorns may be, the Highland economy was no doubt grateful for the legitimate free wool they provided. It was thought improper to eat the fruits after Michaelmas because then the Devil had licence to defile them by spitting or urinating on them. Yes, they can taste a little queer late in the season!’ Julian Barker *

Take a friend and fill your containers

The blackberry has a long growing season, no matter how many you pick, there always seem to be more there when you go back a few days later. We don’t have to boil them all up at once into jams or syrups like our ancestors did. If we have too many to make into crumbles and pies we can freeze them and use them later. We like to defrost a pack and mash with a little icing sugar for instant fresh jam. It’s lovely, but store in the fridge as it doesn’t keep long.

Frozen on the day of picking

* Barker J, The Medicinal Flora of Britain and Northwestern Europe, 2001, Winter Press, West Wickham

 

What to give them when they come home from school?

Fresh veg, cottage cheese and cream. A surprise hit…

…and they are asking for cakes, biscuits and [today] Dolly Mixtures?

I just tried a new thing. I tipped cottage cheese, yoghurt and cream into a dish. Added chopped cherry tomatoes, snipped salad onions, chopped mange tout and french beans. I stirred in some cracked black pepper and a bit of salt, placed it in the centre of the table and said try some on a Ryvita.

So Henry did, and he loved it. He called it de-licious.

Which isn’t bad from an 11 year old boy.

And he forgot about the Dolly Mixtures….

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