Wednesday, 30 March 2011

March Review

Although it is such an exciting task I haven’t got any violets yet, again none seem to be local but I do know a place further afield if I can get there. I haven’t made bramble root vinegar as I still have a full jar that I made last year at the Herb Sanctuary. The roots are astringent and can be used to help stop diarrhoea. I have been looking at the blackberry/bramble bushes nearby and they have lots of new shoots on branches that look dead but obviously aren’t.
 I have been out sketching my ally, dandelion, and it was a great chance to spend more time with the plants and drawing them means you have to observe the detail. Although I have driven past the odd dandelion in flower there are no flowers in my garden yet but there are tight, dark buds in the centre of some plants. I have also noticed differences in plants, I have some dandelions with dark and very jagged, symmetrical teeth patterns along the leaf edges and others are a little lighter, with only small teeth patterns which are more numerous and asymmetrical. I have not grown dandelions from seed, I hadn’t kept any seeds and could not bring myself to buy any when I seem to have hundreds of plants now taking over the garden. I have looked at the seedlings, they come up with 2 plain oval leaves and then a pair of true leaves grow.
 Last year I took photographs of different stages of dandelion growth and noted how the buds open whilst they are still at ground level in the heart of the plant and afterwards the stem shoots up. This seemed like a good way to survive lawn mowers as the flowers seemed to too low to be trimmed and then shoot up on stalks the next day! This week I have made a dandelion leaf cider vinegar; the leaves contain vitamins and minerals, especially Vitamins A, C and K, and are good sources of calcium, potassium, iron and manganese which the vinegar should extract. Who needs expensive supplements? Just fill the jar with chopped dandelion leaves, top up jar with cider vinegar, podge bubbles away with a chop stick and allow to steep for 3-4 weeks.
Dandelion Cider Vinegar

 This week I have been working with elder although out of season which felt odd. When we were working on coughs I found a recipe that combined 50% wild cherry bark tincture with 50% elderberry glycerite. My cherry bark tincture was made and I purchased some dried elderberries and vegetable glycerine but was not sure I could make a glycerite from dried berries. Well I tried it anyway and found myself with a dark purple, sticky mixture which could be smelt from a couple of rooms away which hubby didn’t like but it tastes good and seems to have absorbed a lot from the elderberries so I am pleased with the results, I just need to complete the final bit of alchemy and combine glycerite with tincture.
Straining elderberries

 We had some lovely sunny weather last week and I remembered that I had elderflower syrup stored away in the freezer; it was just perfect in the sunshine and tasted better than I had remembered.
 I have made an iron tonic as Sarah had suggested as I tend to be a little anaemic and feel a bit run down at present. I finally remembered to buy some apricots, chopped them up and put them in a jar with young nettle tops from my garden. I forgot to look for Madeira wine but had a bottle of Italian table wine I had to use as a substitute. After 2 weeks I shall strain it and have a small glass of this tonic wine each day, I am looking forward to it.
 I am having mixed progress with my seeds, whilst the culinary herbs are shooting up, my medicinal herbs have not germinated yet.
 I spent Saturday at the NEC, Birmingham as my allotment buddy, Debs, was displaying some of her fantastic textile work and came across a lady showing naturally dyed material, amongst which were yellow/orange St John’s Wort and pale yellow Calendula, wool seems to take up the most colour – ideas for the summer are forming!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Herbs to Help Crohn's Disease

Crohn's disease is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It usually affects the intestines, but may occur anywhere from the mouth to the end of the rectum (anus).
While the exact cause of Crohn's disease is unknown, the condition is thought to be linked to a problem with the body's immune system response. The body fights against itself producing inflammation and pain, it might overreact to “friendly” bacteria in the gut.
Crohn's disease may occur in any area of the digestive tract. There will be healthy areas of tissue between diseased areas and times when it flares up. The inflammation causes the intestinal wall to become thick, if the wall becomes too thick it could cause a blockage. Problems with the walls of the intestines can lead to poor absorption of nutrients and sufferers may also have problems associated with vitamin or mineral deficiency. Examples are anaemia from lack of iron and blood loss and osteoporosis from lack of calcium and vitamin D. Some medications prescribed for Chron’s disease may interfere with the uptake of nutrients as well.
There are different types of Crohn's disease, depending on the part of the gastrointestinal tract that is affected. Crohn's disease may involve the small intestine, the large intestine, the rectum, or the mouth. The most common part of the GI tract affected is the lower part of the small bowel known as the ileum.
The disease may occur at any age, but it usually starts in people between ages 15 - 35. Risk factors include smoking, Jewish ancestry, European (particularly Scandinavian) ancestry, living in an industrialised country, a diet rich in processed foods or a family history of Chron’s disease.
Symptoms include fever, tiredness, stomach cramps, loss of appetite, pain when passing stools, diarrhoea and weight loss. It can be serious and involve ulceration and bleeding that requires surgery.
 Where Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) looked at it my previous article does not cause any damage to the structure of the GI tract, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) which includes Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s disease does cause problems.
 In the diet possible food allergens can be avoided such as wheat, dairy, spicy food, citrus fruits, tomatoes, alcohol and coffee so as not to aggravate symptoms. Some food is said to help healing, bromelain from pineapple helps inflammation and healing.
 Being stressed and tired may trigger symptoms, adequate sleep, exercise and relaxation can help.
 If there is blood in the stool, a change in bowel habit lasting more than 10 days or symptoms that do not improve with treatment a doctor needs to be consulted.
Herbs to Help Crohn’s Disease
Some articles suggest herbs that help the immune system such as Echinacea might help but my mentor, Sarah has said in the past that it is not a good idea to boost the immune system in auto-immune diseases as it is attacking the body which we do not want to encourage.
 My thoughts are that herbs to help would be anti-inflammatory and analgesic, assist with stress and relaxation, relieve bloating and regulate bowel movements and contain vitamins and minerals to try and supplement poor absorption.
Chamomile is a mild sedative and has anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and carminative properties that help digestion and soothes and heals the mucous membrane of the digestive tract. It helps with wind, discomfort and stress.
Dandelion is a bitter which helps with the digestive system, it contains vitamins A, B, C, D (the vitamin A content being higher than that of carrots) with minerals potassium and iron which could help to try and boost depleted vitamin and mineral absorption.
Fennel has a calming effect on the stomach and is one of the most effective remedies for relieving wind pain and reducing flatulence.
Frankincense is anti-inflammatory and can reduce pain and inflammation. Studies have been done on Boswellia serrate, an Indian frankincense,” the boswellic acids inhibit the enzyme 5-lipoxygenase which is responsible for the production of leukotrienes. Since the inflammatory process in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is associated with increased function of leukotrienes, the benefits of Boswellia in the treatment of both chronic colitis (ulcerative colitis) and Crohn's disease have been recently investigated”
Garlic can be used to control the symptoms and complications of Crohn’s disease, and should be used regularly for several weeks. If the inflammation of the intestinal tract lining is caused by bacteria, fungus, or other infections, garlic can heal those infections and kill the harmful bacteria in the system.
Hops reduce tension and anxiety. They help calm the nerves, promote sleep and bolster the intestinal tracts and stomach against attacks triggered by emotional states.
Lemon Balm reduces wind and bloating. Lemon balm is also effective in alleviating anxiety, tension, nervousness and mild insomnia.
Liquorice has a soothing effect on the intestinal wall.
Marshmallow soothes the lining of the intestines and helps to regulate the bowels, it is a demulcent and emollient (a substance that soothes mucous membranes).
Meadowsweet reduces acidity in the stomach and has an anti-inflammatory action on the intestines which helps with pain.
Nettles are full of vitamins and minerals and can be added to the diet as in soup or drunk as a tea to boost depleted levels. Nettles contain iron, silica, potassium, manganese, sulphur, vitamin A and vitamin C.
Passion Flower reduces tension and anxiety.
Peppermint contains the essential oil menthol which, when ingested produces powerful antispasmodic effects that directly soothe the muscles in the digestive system, aiding in digestion. Peppermint tea has a calming aroma which can help relax nerves and subdue a nervous stomach. Peppermint tea also helps with wind pain, abdominal pain and irregular bowel movements.
Skullcap reduces tension and anxiety.  
Slippery Elm is a demulcent (a substance that protects irritated tissues and promotes their healing) it soothes the lining of the intestine and helps to regulate the bowels.
Turmeric is anti-inflammatory and can reduce pain and inflammation, use it in your cooking.
Wild Oats reduce tension and anxiety.
Yarrow can help to treat gastrointestinal problems. The plant contains flavonoids, which are chemicals that can increase secretions of saliva, bile and other stomach acids in the GI tract. The flavonoids and other chemical components in yarrow can also decrease spasms in the smooth muscles, which can ease stomach cramps. Yarrow's volatile oil contains alkamides that have shown anti-inflammatory actions.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Seeds, Seedlings and Young Plants

I seem to have a house full of toilet rolls and egg boxes full of compost and seeds or baby plants of vegetables and herbs and I still have 4 egg trays of potatoes chitting away. On the vegetable side I have Halloween Pumpkins growing at a great rate, Peas not far behind and Sweet corn has started to shoot up. Lots of seeds are just keeping me in suspense, I’m not sure of germination times.
 This week I have sown herb seeds of Motherwort, Wild Bergamot, Chives, Calendula, Coriander, Dill, Lemon Balm and Meadowsweet. I am waiting for the Basil I sowed last week to show itself. I should know what these young plants look like over the next few weeks.
 In the garden most of my herbs have survived the harsh winter weather we had before Christmas. Roman Chamomile is quite leafy, Sorrel has leaves, St John’s wort is doing well, Comfrey has little leaves, my single Meadowsweet has small leaves and Valerian leaves are coming up red at the moment. Marshmallow looks like it is still with us but I can’t find my little violet. I planted some Elecampane root from Sarah but nothing is happening yet. Rosemary, Blue Hyssop, Bronze fennel and Thyme are accounted for.
My first glimpse of Meadowsweet this year

 My herbal ally, dandelion seems to be getting leafier and I seem to have loads of them all of a sudden. The population will start to dwindle as I try more herbal recipes with them.
Dandelions are growing quickly

 The vastness of our allotment 100ft x 45ft has struck us now it has been ploughed and we can start to use it. We have a major couch grass problem and I’ve invited lots of family and friends over on Saturday to have a dig and weed party. I’m sure there is a herbal use for couch grass, I must check before I throw it all away. Hopefully I’ll get some early potatoes planted Saturday which will give me room for more seed-containing toilet rolls of herbs, flowers and vegetables.
Our bare plot is in the centre

Herbs to Help Irritable Bowel Syndrome

 The term syndrome refers to a group of symptoms which in the case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) occur in the large intestine or colon. The main symptoms are changes in bowel movement between constipation and diarrhoea, spasmodic pain and bloating. There may also be mucus in the stool, a feeling that the rectum has not empties completely, fatigue, headaches, nausea and vomiting or anxiety and depression. Having this syndrome can impact on a person’s quality of life. Passing blood is not a symptom and requires medical assistance, you would need to see a doctor urgently.
 The cause is not known, sometimes it starts after an infection or food poisoning or there may be problems with the muscles in the intestines, some link the start of it to a stressful event. Infection or food poisoning may cause the bowel to become more sensitive. Intolerance to certain foods is thought to be the cause in only a few cases. It is most common amongst women and between the age of 25 and 45. Some women report a worsening of symptoms around the time of their period which could indicate hormone involvement.
 Stress is believed to be a trigger that can worsen IBS. The nerves of the autonomic nervous system serve the intestine and in times of stress it may become more active and contract more. Some experts think that a problem with this nervous system is the cause of IBS. Finding methods of stress relief may help; one could try complementary therapies, meditation or exercise such as Tai Chi.
 Treatment involves symptom relief, trying to lead a healthy lifestyle, stress reduction, regular meal times and dietary changes.
 Low fat, small regular meals are recommended to try and prevent symptoms. Lactose intolerance can present with similar symptoms so it is worth being tested to check if there is a problem with digesting lactose. Drink plenty of water and avoid foods which make symptoms worse, common foods to avoid are coffee, milk, sorbitol and strong spices.
 There is conflicting information around on the use of fibre, all seem to agree that soluble fibre (found in fruit, vegetables and oats) can help IBS but some authors suggest avoiding insoluble fibre(found in wheat bran, whole grain and fruit skins) whilst others say it helps if the sufferer has constipation.
 A way to check yourself for possible food allergies at home is to do an elimination diet, the most common food allergies are wheat, dairy, citrus, soy, gluten (the protein in rye, wheat and oats), corn and soy. Avoid all of these foods for about two to three weeks. Then re-introduce one new food every couple of days. See if symptoms return or there is a negative reaction when re-introducing a food. Alcohol, coffee, tea and smoking can also be stimulants to the bowel and should be avoided.
For safety a trained practitioner could supervise an elimination diet to check for food intolerances. Many foods are removed from the diet for a brief period of time, and then re-introduced in a sequence to check the body's reaction to different foods as they are added.
 Peppermint oil capsules, prebiotic foods which increase natural bacteria or probiotic drinks which supplement friendly bacteria can all help with wind and bloating.
Herbs to Help
Helpful herbs could help with stress and symptoms of IBS such as pain, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation.
Anise seeds contain the volatile oil, anethol that relaxes the intestine. Anise relieves nausea and is helpful for colic pain. It regulates digestion, making it useful for both constipation and diarrhoea which can both be involved with IBS.
 Anise is also helpful for trapped wind, bloating, vomiting, chronic diarrhoea, gastrointestinal cramps, and sluggish digestion. It's a mild sedative and is useful for calming stress-related nervousness and relieving insomnia so can also be used preventatively if stress is a trigger. Anise is anti-spasmodic and helps prevent fermentation and gas in the stomach and bowels. It is used in a tea or seeds can be chewed.
Bramble roots and leaves can be used in a vinegar for IBS. Bramble, or blackberry is astringent and can help stop diarrhoea.
Calendula tincture mixed with a water three times a day helps with diarrhoea and constipation.
Caraway has anti-spasmodic effects, stimulates the production of gastric juices and is carminative so reduces bloating. Active ingredients in caraway seeds, carvol and carvene, soothe the smooth muscle tissues of the bowel.
  Caraway seeds in can be brewed into tea, lightly crushing the seeds first will increase their strength or alternatively, the seeds can just be chewed.
Chamomile reduces inflammation and relieves spasms in the bowels. Chamomile has a calming effect on smooth muscle tissue, making it an effective remedy for gastrointestinal spasms as well as GI tension resulting from stress. Chamomile is also used for indigestion and gas. A tincture can be mixed with warm water and consumed three times a day to relieve intestinal spasms
Dandelion roots, roasted are a gentle laxative, helping the liver and kidneys to do their work and keeping the bowels in a healthy condition.
Fennel has anti-spasmodic properties and it stimulates the production of gastric juices. Fennel tea is beneficial for bloating and gas, which tend to be the most difficult IBS symptoms to overcome.
Fennel is useful for gastrointestinal cramps and bowel irregularities and studies have shown that fennel can regulate contractions of the small intestine.
The active ingredients are the volatile oils anethole, fenchone, and estragole. The higher the volatile oil content of the fennel, the more effective the tea will be for IBS symptoms.
  Anethole has a chemical structure similar to dopamine, a chemical that is naturally present in the body. Dopamine is known to have a relaxing effect on the intestine. Fennel also has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, probably also as a result of the anethole, which has been shown to be anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and anticarcinogenic.
Garlic will help expel gas and has the added benefit of helping your colon rid itself of mucus and parasites which could cause some of the IBS problems.
Ginger acts as an anti-spasmodic, helps prevent vomiting, and improves the tone of intestinal muscles. It also has a mild anti-inflammatory action. says that as an analgesic, ginger is comparable to ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for fighting inflammation and pain, which are common among IBS sufferers.
Lemon Balm tea relieves intestinal spasms and is relaxing.
Milk Thistle relieves constipation while supporting liver function.
Oregano contains two volatile oils, thymol and carvacol, which act as anti-spasmodics, increase the production of gastric juices and ease bloating and wind. It is part of the mint family and has similar properties.
Peppermint oil reduces abdominal pain and the bloating of irritable bowel syndrome, possibly by blocking the movement of calcium into muscle cells in the intestines and easing excessive muscle contraction there. Peppermint is considered a carminative herb, which means that it is used to eliminate excess gas in the intestines. Peppermint tea from the herb would be carminative but may be gentler than the oil capsules.
 Menthol and methyl salicylate are the main active ingredients of peppermint. They have anti-spasmodic actions, with calming effects on the muscles of the stomach and intestinal tract. They also have powerful analgesic (pain-killing) properties, which are mediated, in part, through activation of kappa-opioid receptors, which help block pain signal transmission.
Rosemary tea helps ease cramping.
 Slippery elm is thought to calm digestive irritation by coating the lining of the intestinal system. Slippery elm can help with IBS symptoms; by adding bulk to the stool, it is thought to ease diarrhoea and by softening the stool, it helps to ease constipation. Slippery elm calms irritated mucous membranes and aids digestive problems linked to IBS

Saturday, 12 March 2011

An Introduction to Reflexology for Self Help in Daily Life

I am posting this after attending the Me Too event today and being asked for written information on the warm up massage and hand charts. I have met some lovely caring people and hope this helps them and anyone else interested.
What is Reflexology?
Reflexology involves applying pressure to the feet or hands using thumbs, fingers and hands. It is based on a system of zones or reflex areas that correspond to areas of the body.
 Reflexology creates relaxation, can reduce pain, improve blood flow, and ease pregnancy. A big effect is in stress reduction, which reduces tension in the whole body.
 Reflexology has been used since Egyptian times, there are hieroglyphic pictures on the walls of the Tomb of the Doctor, the Chinese and Japanese also used reflexology. It emerged in the Western World in the nineteenth century.
Although reflexology is most commonly known as being practiced on the feet, hands can also be used.

Hand Reflexology
Used today as hands are more accessible and anyone can work on themselves at home, on bus, lying in bed etc.
Today I used a non-perfumed hypo-allergenic hand cream to help my fingers move over my dry hands, this is not essential but can be used if desired.

Warm Up Exercise for Hand Reflexology
This exercise could also be done on its own at any time for relaxation. At no point should any moves hurt, reduce pressure if pain is caused.
1.       Squeeze end of each finger.
2.       Rub each finger between finger and thumb of other hand.
3.       Gently pull each finger between finger and thumb of other hand.
4.       Gently pull webbed area between fingers.
5.       Massage top of hand with thumb.
6.       Inner wrist – cradle hand with other hand and use thumb to massage inner wrist. Soothing if you do repetitive movements like using keyboard, computer mouse, video games, play guitar.
7.       Massage palm of hand with thumb.
8.       Press centre of palm with thumb 3 times and take a deep breath to relax each time.
Hand Reflexology for Headaches
Start on one hand with palm upwards and apply pressure using thumb to for 3 seconds to the top of each finger and thumb. This is where the head, brain and sinus reflexes are located.
Hand Reflexology for Back and Neck Pain
Massage along spinal reflex which starts on the outside of the thumb and follow down and round to the centre of the wrist. For lumbar/sacral pain keep thumb pressed on this point for 5 seconds. For neck pain circle one thumb around the bottom of the other thumb.
Hand Reflexology for Digestive Problems
 Massage clockwise around centre of palm (same direction as bowel). Press with thumb for 5 seconds.
Hand Reflexology to Relax
 Make hand into a cup shape, feel for dip in palm in line with space between index and middle fingers (along diaphragm line in diagram), this is the Solar Plexus reflex area, massage in an anti-clockwise direction to wind down.

An Introduction To Aromatherapy for Self Help in Daily Life

Although I was unable to make it to the Herb Sanctuary today I was really pleased to be asked to talk at a Me Too event in Wolverhampton where I met some lovely people and had an enjoyable morning. We had 45 minutes for aromatherapy and 45 minutes for reflexology to cover some basic information and look at how we could help ourselves in daily life.
What is aromatherapy?
In aromatherapy we use essential oils which are concentrated plant extracts to help with our physical and emotional well-being. The essential oils can relax or revitalise you and can be used to help with headaches, colds, aches and pains and skin complaints. Aromatherapy is a great way to help to relax, unwind and cope with the pressures of everyday life.
 Aromatherapy has been in use since ancient times, the Egyptians 4000 years ago and Chinese 2700 years ago. The term aromatherapy came into use in the twentieth century. A French chemist, Dr Jean Valnet, burnt his arm in a laboratory and plunged his arm into the nearest liquid available which was Lavender oil and he noticed how quickly the skin healed. He then looked into the properties of other essential oils.
 Aromatherapy is thought to work in two ways; by smell which affects the mood centres in the brain and by minute amounts being absorbed by the skin. The properties of each oil are different.
 Although these essential oils are natural remedies they are very concentrated and need to be used with care. Never take any oils internally and with the only exception of Lavender oil, never use oils neat on your skin. Essential oils need to be diluted before they are put onto the skin, a vegetable oil such as sunflower oil can be used.
 It is also important to make sure that you have genuine essential oils and not perfume oils to ensure safety. You can buy the oils from shops like Boots or Holland and Barrett’s. An on line aromatherapy supplier I can recommend is Penny Price .
 An essential oil is obtained from plant material such as leaves, fruits and flowers and is most often obtained by steam distillation. It can take a lot of plant material to make a small amount of oil.
How to use essential oils at home
·         A few drops on a tissue on a radiator will fragrance a room as it warms up.
·         2 drops on a tissue or cotton wool ball can be smelt throughout the day or placed by a pillow at night.
·         For massage put 4 drops in 2 teaspoons of a carrier oil such as sunflower oil.
·         A few drops can be put in the bath to relax or revitalise, add the essential oils to a teaspoon of vegetable oil or milk first to ensure the essential oils are mixed better in the water. Put 8 drops into a bath, 4 drops could be put into a foot bath. If oil is put into a bath take great care as it will become slippery
The six oils we looked at were lemon, eucalyptus, peppermint, roman chamomile, tea tree and lavender.
·         Helps with concentration and clear thoughts.
·         Helps to become calmer and relaxed.
·         Helps with colds, fights off bacteria.
·         Can be used to help disinfect worktops, put 5 drops in a small spray bottle filled with water and spray onto worktops. This spray could also be used as an air freshener.
·         Use on verrucae and warts.
·         Tones the skin.
·         Use in the bath to calm and soothe skin or to relieve stress. Can be used with skin problems like psoriasis and eczema.
·         To relieve stress or aches and pains, massage diluted oil onto body or affected muscles or joints.
·         For insect bites and stings put one drop of essential oil onto affected area.
·         For minor burns put 2 drops of neat oil onto area after first running under cold water. (remember only to use lavender oil neat in this way)
·         To aid sleep put 2 drops on a tissue or cotton wool ball near to your pillow.
·         Helps relieve stress and to create relaxation.
·         Massage a small amount onto temple area for headaches.
·         Fights off bacteria.
·         Use to help with concentration and to feel more awake.
·         To help with travel sickness take a tissue with 2 drops of essential oil on it to smell on the journey.
·         For headaches put 1 drop into 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil and massage a small amount onto forehead.
·         For nausea, indigestion and wind put 1 drop into a teaspoon of vegetable oil and gently massage abdomen in a clockwise motion.
·         Can be used for aches and pains.
·         Used in commercial products for headaches to rub onto forehead.
Roman Chamomile
·         Known as an oil safe to use on children (diluted).
·         If feeling stressed, anxious, worried, exhausted or can’t sleep put 2 drops onto a tissue to inhale.
·         Use for a calming bath or in a bath to help skin or aches and pains.
·         Use diluted for a calming massage or for aching muscles or inflamed joints.
·         For a stomach upset or colic use 1 drop in 1 teaspoon of carrier oil gently massaged in a clockwise direction over the abdomen.
·         Can be used to help soothe teething babies.
·         For colds, flu or blocked nose inhale 2 drops from a tissue.
·         1 drop in a teaspoon of carrier oil could be used as a chest rub for colds and flu.
·         Use as an insect repellent.
·         Aids concentration.
·         Antiseptic and antiviral.
·         Can help with pain relief; massage diluted oil onto affected area.
·         Found in products such as Olbas Oil to help with colds and conjestion.
Tea Tree 
·         To relax and rejuvenate put 4-6 drops into a bath.
·         For Athletes Foot or smelly feet use in a foot bath.
·         Use on spots, verrucae and warts.
·         Antibacterial and antifungal.
·         Commonly found in oral hygiene products.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Gardening Lesson Number 1

The Heritage Lottery has restored the wall around the allotment and is funding gardening lessons; we get these for 2 years it seems. Each plot has to be looked after by three families, Steve and I have teamed up with Iain and June and Barry and Debbie, we attended our first class yesterday full of enthusiasm.
 Today we looked at types of soil and crop rotation. Whilst I was familiar with crop rotation it was good to go over which plants go into which groups for rotation. On our plot we have decided on four parts to rotate and a fifth part which will have permanent plants in such as fruit bushes. The herbs are to go by the wall in front of the fruit trees.
 We have been chitting potatoes for a few weeks; earlies, second earlies and main crop but we had a new challenge today. Joyce, our teacher, has given each plot a Jersey Royal seed potato (but it can’t be called Jersey as we’re not there) and started a competition to see which plot can grow the most potatoes from it.
Barry with shiny spade & Iain with our competition entry potato

 Our plots will be ploughed again this week and then we can start digging and planting although it is too cold for most plants. Joyce says it is warm enough for planting when you can either sit on the ground with your bare bum for ten minutes or can comfortably go outside without your coat on, I know which method I shall use! She says that from now on we will be much more in touch with the weather and temperature; I love to work with the seasons.
Our plot includes 45 feet of wall from the original Edwardian walled garden which we had decided to grow cordon or espalier trees against. Our trees had arrived; apricot, greengage and sweet cherry and we had our spades ready to plant them but it became apparent as our lesson progressed that we had ordered the wrong type of trees, they needed to be grown from a different root stock so we have had to send our trees back and need to find a supplier of espalier root stock plants. First lesson learnt!
 The garden is organic; did you know a Blue Tit can eat 800 caterpillars in a day? We need to encourage them, I hope they don’t turn to cabbage once they’ve run out of caterpillars!
 We talked about planting seeds using toilet roll tubes or newspaper tubes and when I got home I started on my collection of toilet roll tubes. I have planted sweet corn, courgettes, peas, cayenne chillies, basil and sweet peas but still have lots to do. I’ve run out of toilet rolls so will be following Kaz’s instructions on newspaper pots next.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

March Tasks

White rabbits!
March has crept up on me but with it comes the excitement of a new set of Herb Apprenticeship tasks. I need to look at the plants I am growing and get on with sowing my seeds and keep notes on how everything progresses.
 I shall be looking at Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Chron’s disease, what causes these diseases and what herbs might help.
 The seasonal tasks are to make a bramble root vinegar and violet syrup. Violet syrup sounds gorgeous; I must admit I hadn’t heard of it before. I have had a quick search on the internet and have seen beautifully coloured purple and magenta coloured liquids which look so exciting as most things I make seem to be shades of brown. My own little violet is not in flower but when it is I shall go on a hunt for some flowers, there will not be enough on my plant to make an egg-cup full. Brambles, or blackberries are one of my plants I am studying this year and there is no shortage of these near to my house.

 I also need to keep up with my herbal ally and to draw it in its current stage of development. I have decided that as last month I looked at roots, this month I will look at leaves in detail.
 This month’s herbal terminology words to look up are mucilaginous and diaphoretic.
Mucilaginous: Herbs that have a soothing effect on inflamed mucous membranes such as in the respiratory tract or the digestive system.
 Examples are Liquorice, Marshmallow and Violet.
Diaphoretic: Substance that produces perspiration and elimination through the skin.  Sweating can also bring the body temperature down during fever. These herbs increase blood flow by dilating the capillaries and blood vessels.
 Examples are angelica, elderflower, ginger and yarrow.