Monday, 30 May 2011

May Round Up

May has passed in a flash! We seem to have been so busy and June will be even busier.
Last weekend we had a Meet and Share event at the allotment, we all put a bit of food in the marquee and shared and ended up with quite a feast. Iain boiled some duck eggs and made mayonnaise using olive oil infused with basil that we bought in Italy last year; this gave me the inspiration for this month’s task of making an aromatic oil. I am going to make a basil oil but not by heating, I will infuse basil and olive oil in a jar for a couple of weeks.
 The plot next door to us built a barbeque for the Meet and Share which I'm quite envious of but we don't want to give up our growing space at to build one at the moment!
Allotment Barbeque

The allotment is coming on wonderfully, yesterday we lifted our first early potatoes and I also came home with a bag of mixed salad and a pak choi plant; cabbages and peas are nearly ready and broad beans are close behind. Some raspberries and a few blueberries have set and we have strawberries but the local wildlife seem to love them (not sure of culprit yet!) On the allotment herb front we have thyme, basil and sage so far.
Iain shows off our first potatoes

Deb sorts out our crop

 Yesterday we went on a deer hunt over the Chase with my two daughters, their husbands and two granddaughters. We saw lots of deer much to everyone’s delight and the girls made themselves antlers out of sticks to become deer and also had sticks as wands to become Harry Potter; a few sticks provided much more fun than any expensive toy could. Everyone helped me gather dog rose petals for my vinegar, we didn’t get many but I know there are plenty nearer to home that I can add.

 We are preparing for a weekend in Cornwall as it is the annual dinner of the Fellowship of the Knights of the Round Table of King Arthur on Saturday night in King Arthur's Great Halls, Tintagel. We have also arranged to have dinner with about 25 members of the Sir Bors Chapter on Friday night in our hotel, I’m sure an interesting and fun weekend lies ahead!

 In between everything else I’ve been experimenting with recipes for natural skin care products and will be in London the weekend after next to expand my knowledge. Later on in the month hubby and I are spending a few days in Rome to recharge our batteries.
 I am still trying to take in the mountain of information in Susun Weed’s Menopause book for my theory task and will then do a write up. I am looking forward to our next workshop at The Sanctuary which has the menopause as its theme so will compliment my reading.
 In my garden there is lots of herb activity, there is marshmallow, chamomile, elecampane, lavender, bronze fennel, St John's wort, rosemary, thyme, lemon balm, feverfew, chives, comfrey, hyssop, valarian, meadowsweet, echinacea and lots of nettles. The garden is getting neglected at the moment, mainly due to the allotment keeping me busy but the herbs are doing well and I hope to tidy it up soon as my shift patterns are changing at work.
Nettles have started to seed

Sunday, 22 May 2011

My Healing Oil For May: Comfrey Oil

When I saw this month’s task to make a healing oil I knew it was time to make some comfrey oil and after my plant got top heavy yesterday and fell across the garden path in front of me I knew it was not going to be ignored.
Comfrey in my garden

 I have read the links Sarah gave us about looking at the safety aspects of comfrey here and here and will not be using it internally or on deep wounds due to the risk of liver toxicity from pyrrolizidine alkaloids. I know that comfrey has been used for healing since Greek times and some people still do use it internally but personally I would rather not take the risk. There is a possibility that pyrrolizidine alkaloids toxicity builds up over the years so there is no noticeable reaction at the time. I believe it is up to each person to make their own mind up about using comfrey so was surprised to see that there are very few companies selling comfrey products who mention any risk but it does seem that products for external use are generally considered safe. I am sure of the type of comfrey I have as it is from a plant Sarah gave me at the Sanctuary and has cream coloured flowers.
 Comfrey oil can be used for arthritis, rheumatism, bursitis, tendonitis, phlebitis, mastitis, glandular swellings, scars, pulled muscles, injured joints, back injuries, tendons and ligaments. Two of comfrey’s old names were “knitbone” and “boneset” and I used the oil with success on my broken toes last year and healed speedily. The oil can be rubbed into affected areas, used in massage or made into a salve.
 I found an interesting article in the Nursing Standard (July1: vol. 23 no. 43: 2009) which reported German research on back pain using comfrey root ointment and a placebo in a randomised trial. “During the trial, pain intensity on active, standard movement decreased by 95.2 per cent on average in the comfrey group and 37.5 per cent in the placebo group.” Since reading this I have wanted to make comfrey root oil and now my comfrey is established I think I can sacrifice some root. I need to check with my mentor, Sarah, when the best time to dig it up will be, I’m guessing in the autumn. I am aware that there are more pyrrolizidine alkaloids in the root so I would use it for short term use.
 The main healing ingredient of comfrey is a substance called allantoin which helps to stimulate tissue growth and is great for healing.  For this reason it should not be used over a broken bone unless the bone is in the correct position to heal in and it should not be used over deep wounds as it will stimulate the top layers of skin to heal over the cavity and could leave dirt or debris trapped inside.
Comfrey Harvest

 Infused oils can be made by letting plant material soak in oil for several weeks but the method I have used is the double infused method. I have chopped my comfrey and put half into the top of a double boiler and covered it with sunflower oil. The water beneath the comfrey and oil mixture was kept simmering and topped up for two hours. After two hours the oil was drained off the comfrey and saved and the second half of the chopped leaves were put into the pan along with the oil that had already been infused once.  The oil was then infused again for another two hours before being strained a final time.
Second Infusion

Dark green comfrey oil

 A problem encountered with infusing fresh herbs in oil in this way is their water content which can harbour bacteria. The water settles at the bottom of the jar after being strained so the oil can be carefully poured off the top leaving the water behind.
 A salve recipe is 300ml oil warmed up with 25mg of grated beeswax melted into it. The mixture is poured into jars and will set. An ointment is less messy to apply to small areas than an oil.
Other herbs and conditions considered for an oil for this task:
A drawing oil is used to literally draw out infection, ingrown toe nails, thorns, splinters and debris from under the skin's surface, which can cause pain and inflammation and lead to sepsis. Drawing herbs include plantain and wild pansy.
 Herbs for bruises include Calendula, Comfrey, Elder bark, Horsetail, Mullein, Parsley and St John’s Wort and Yarrow. Elder bark needs to be gathered in the winter not the summer.
Herbs for healing skin include Calendula, Comfrey, St John’s wort,
Herbs for bones are Comfrey and Horsetail which is rich in silica used in bone formation and cartilage, Horsetail oil is not used commonly.
Anti-inflammatory herbs include Echinacea, Ginger, Meadowsweet and Willow.
For aching muscles Chamomile, Ginger, Holy Basil, Lavender, Rosemary and Thyme
Emollient: softens and soothes, reduces inflammation and irritation of the skin. Examples are Chickweed, Flax seed and Plantain.
Emmenagogue: stimulates blood flow in the pelvic area and uterus and have the ability to bring on menstruation. Women wanting to get into a regular cycle might use them.  Abortifacient herbs are classified as emmenagogues but not all emmenagogues will cause abortion. Mild emmenagogues include Feverfew, Ginger, Parsley, Rosemary, Sage and Yarrow; medium include Mugwort and Parsley; strong include Pennyroyal, Rue and Tansy.
Galactagogue: promotes lactation, or milk production. Commonly used galactagogue herbs include Alfalfa, Blessed Thistle, Fennel seed and Fenugreek.

Friday, 20 May 2011

The Tale (So Far) Of An Apprentice Flower Essence Maker!

When I saw Sarah’s call for blog party entries for flower essences I thought I couldn’t possibly join in as I don’t know enough about them and I didn’t have enough experience. When I thought about it I decided that I could write about what I have learnt so far as an apprentice.
 I never imagined that part of learning about herbs with Sarah would involve looking at flower essences and the energetic side of plants but was delighted to find out we would do. I think the first flower essence ever made was fever few, we were sent off around the Herb Sanctuary to see what called to us and feverfew chose me. Sarah taught us to float the flower heads on top of a jar of spring water in the sun for four hours. We then removed the flowers (carefully with no fingers) and added equal parts of brandy to flower essence. Simple! I relied on Sarah, other knowledgeable herb people and books to tell me what my essence could be used for. We did a few swaps as well so I came home with other essences including forget-me-not.
 I shall always remember making my hawthorn flower essence last year. Hawthorn is for the heart on all levels, physically and emotionally we had been told. My friend and I wanted to make a tincture as well and we spent ages picking single flowers to fill big jars from high branches. Other people were kindly telling us to put some leaves in or go to a lower tree but for some reason what we were doing, even if labour intensive, felt right. We spent a lot of time picking after checking it was OK with the tree, and I felt that my friend needed this tree. When I got home I was still thinking about my friend and the hawthorn and an idea came to me; I diluted some flower essence with some rose hydrolat and put in into a little spray bottle to spray on her heart which she was delighted with.
 This year we made an infused horse chestnut bud flower essence which involved heating the sticky buds in a pan. I looked up the remedy in books and on the internet but first had to find out how to identify a horse chestnut in winter and then felt a great sense of achievement in just finding a tree, let alone doing anything with it! This remedy had a totally different feel to it to my lighter sun prepared flower essences, it felt darker and heavier and as if it was full of stored energy which was yet to be released.
 My flower essence making experiences have taught me that the time taken with the plants when gathering and preparing them helps energy transfer both ways before you even get to the finished product and if you have put in time and love then your completed flower essence will be more powerful for it and will  guide you to its use. I will always refer to books and other people and have respect for their knowledge gathered over time but I think there are also some things you need to experience to know. The beauty of having a mentor like Sarah is that there is someone there to enthuse me and give me a little nudge in the direction of these experiences.

Flower essences preparing in the sun on a bench at The Sanctuary

Sunday, 8 May 2011

May Tasks

The herb apprentices have been given the tasks for May, so it’s time to sum up last month and look to the month ahead. In April I learnt about herbs that could be used for headaches and migraines which will come in useful and have put my findings on this blog. I also tried teas of two of my study herbs, bilberry and blackberry.
 I have finally combined my elderberry glycerite and wild cherry bark tincture, a superb bit of alchemy if I say so myself! This looks smells and tastes like a cough mixture should – made me cough when I tried it! It is the glycerine I think that gives it some sweetness and is mostly responsible for a nice warm feeling as it oozes down your throat.
 Sarah kindly prepared a crab apple flower essence for me with blossom from the Sanctuary, I’ve had a big problem so far this year with finding the plants I need for my task.
 I also gathered ground ivy from the Sanctuary, the tea was like drinking a perfumed infusion and I have prepared a tincture. What was really worrying there was that I thought ground ivy was very bitter; this is because I decided a few years ago that I needed some, found a picture in a book and the corresponding plant in a field and made a very bitter tea. When Sarah showed me ground ivy the plant looked the same except that it was larger so I’m not sure what I consumed, happily it does not seem to have been poisonous.
Ground Ivy

 I have been useless at making dandelion flower products due to a severe lack of time and being distracted with researching natural skin care products after my course in London. I spent today at the NEC and attended a really useful talk by Penny Price on using essential oils in organic skin products. I also nosed at peoples products and was able to test stuff and got a few samples and freebies.
 This month’s tasks are:
·         Make one bruise/bone healing/drawing oil and one aromatic oil of your choice. Describe why you chose to use this herb and what you will use it for. (If you choose comfrey, please read all Paul Bergner’s research on comfrey here and here 
·         Menopause. If you’ve not already read Susun Weed’s book, do so this month and consider what protocols you would develop to support someone going through this time in their life. I have this book and shall refresh myself.
·         Research and note the meaning of the following terms: emollient, galactogogue, emmenagogue.
·         What have you been doing with your herbal ally? Review what you have learned so far and write a story either for adults or children which incorporates some of your knowledge
·         Make a dogrose petal and leaf vinegar and/or elixir and as many different elderflower products as you can. (eg double infused oil, cordial, vinegar and champagne!) The great news here is that elderflower and dog rose both grow close to me so for the first time this year I don’t have to panic about where to find stuff.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Two Little Angels And A Garden Of Fairies

There are still plenty of cheerful yellow dandelions around; their uplifting splashes of colour replaced the daffodils as they faded. Many dandelions are now in seed with their puffball heads full of “fairies”, ready to be carried off by the wind.
 This week I purchased The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual by Michael Green which has a good section to encourage one to go and meditate with one’s herbal ally, listen to your plant and it may tell you the name it calls itself and what you may use it for. It is quite inspiring and made me think that maybe I was not connecting enough on an energetic level with my ally, the dandelion, as I haven’t been hearing anything.
 Yesterday I had my two little granddaughters for the day, Rebecca, four, and Freya coming up to two. We decided to have lunch in the garden, “a picnic”, as it was a nice day and I’m not bothered about two tots running round dropping food and knocking drinks over if we’re outside. In my untamed flower borders, dandelions are ruling the roost this year and the children started to pick them. Rebecca showed Freya how to blow the “clock” and send the fairies on their way; Freya struggled, got fluffy dandelion seeds stuck all round her mouth, gave up and started pulling them off with her fingers instead and humorously repeated this several times. I tried to show the girls how to tell the time by how many times you needed to blow to get rid of all the seeds and found it wasn’t as easy as I’d remembered from childhood and I needed a 24 hour clock! Rebecca is also a champion fairy catcher.
 When I looked back I thought I don’t always need to be in solitude and quiet, straining my ears and my consciousness. I don’t think yesterday’s dandelions cared what name we gave them, they invited us to have fun and be carefree and they are very clever, as thanks to our fairy clocks I’ll have another good crop to have fun with next year!

Herbs to Help Migraines

Migraine sufferers have additional symptoms to headaches and probably different causes; a migraine can last up to 3 days. Migraines are most common between the ages of 20 to 50 in about 15% of the population. Sufferers often report an “aura” before the migraine starts such as seeing flashing lights, confusion or weakness. Migraine symptoms may include:
·         Nausea and vomiting
·         Sensitivity to light
·         Sensitivity to sound
·         Affected vision
·         Sensitivity to smell and touch.
It's thought that migraine symptoms occur when there is a sudden change in the level of a chemical in the brain called serotonin. This affects other neurotransmitters and causes changes in the blood vessels in the brain. Migraines are more common in people with depression which can also present with lowered serotonin levels.
Hormone changes can cause migraines in some women whether linked to the monthly cycle, prescribed hormone therapy or body changes such as in the menopause.
Some people may have triggers which set off an attack such as oranges, caffeine or alcohol in the diet.
 Migraine sufferers may have busy lives and some meditation or therapies for relaxation may help.
Herbs that may help migraines
Some herbs can be used as a preventative such as bay and feverfew and others have analgesic properties such as willow. Herbs which help to calm the body such as passion flower may help and maybe treating depression if present could help, St John’s Wort springs to mind here. It would appear that other herbs which may be useful are gingko and garlic which can help with the circulation to the brain.
Bay is an important herb for migraines as it may prevent them. Take as soon as symptoms are felt.
Cayenne is a type of pepper. Recent evidence has proved that it helps with cluster headaches.
Chamomile is known to be a good for headaches. It is naturally relaxing and can help with the upset stomach and nausea that migraines can cause. Because it is a mild sedative it can help a person relax which often helps to ease pain.
Feverfew  is best used as a preventive treatment. A substance found in Feverfew known as parthenolide is said to be the one that helps get rid of migraines, it inhibits the release of substances that dilate blood vessels which contributes to pain. A decrease in serotonin levels in the brain can cause migraines; low levels can also contribute to depression. Parthenolide works in conjunction with other active ingredients in Feverfew to regulate the serotonin levels.
Feverfew can be made into a tea or the leaves can be chewed (3 a day), putting the leaves between bread in a sandwich may help make it more palatable. The plant is bitter tasting and needs to be taken for about 3 weeks for there to be a good effect in preventing migraines but many people report relief soon after chewing a leaf. In research studies feverfew has been shown to be effective for migraines but one Dutch study found no improvement, this study used a tincture instead of fresh or dried leaf.
Golden Feverfew

Garlic & onion reduce clotting which may lead to migraines so there is a constant stream of blood to the brain so there’s no “rush” leading to a migraine.
Ginger is cited here in a case study that was published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology. A woman substituted her conventional anti-migraine drugs with ginger. She drank 500mg to 600mg of ginger powder mixed with water, four times a day, for four days, beginning at the onset of a migraine aura. Her condition improved within 30 minutes. Her continued use of fresh ginger in her diet resulted in fewer number of migraine attacks over a year.
Gingko Biloba improves the blood flow and thus ensures better oxygen supply to the brain. It is also good for memory and attention.
Passionflower is a well-known calming herb; it lowers anxiety, relieves pain and is anti-inflammatory so helps more than one symptom.
Skullcap is used for relaxation which relieves stress and tension.
Willow contains salicylic acid which is found in aspirin and acts to decrease inflammation and pain. It should be taken for longer durations for better results. The University of Michigan suggests that although it may take longer to feel the effects of willow than aspirin, the willow effects can last longer.
Wood Betony is a nerve tonic, it calms and relaxes, helping to relieve stress and tension.
Essential Oils
1-2 drops of peppermint in carrier oil rubbed on the brow area can bring relief, too much can cause headaches. Rosemary or lavender oil diluted and rubbed onto the affected area can also help.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Beltane and May Blossom

Marke the faire blooming of the Hawthorne tree
Who finely cloathed in a robe of white,
Fills full the wanton eye with May's delight.


 Well it’s that time of year again, Beltane, when the summer starts, energy is rising, fertility rites are carried out and the Hawthorn blossoms. Happy Beltane!
I love hawthorn with its many uses, associations and stories; it’s one of my apprenticeship plants because of this. I always associate the first of May with Hawthorn flowers and every year I search in vain for Hawthorn or May blossom for Beltane celebrations, but this year, presumably due to the sunshine we’ve had, the local flowers have been in bloom for over a week. The flowers are many and cascading over bushes, the perfume is not liked by all but I like it; I want to try some flower tea this week as I have not done so before.
 Last year I collected blossom later in the month at the herb Sanctuary and made a flower essence and a tincture. The flower essence is used for courage and broken hearts. The tincture is for the heart and relates to all levels, physical and emotional. Picking so many flowers gave me time with the tree and a chance to look at how beautiful each dainty little flower is. 
Hawthorn flower essence preparing in the sun

 There are interesting stories about hawthorn, its history and lore from Glennie Kindred here and Mystic Familiar here.
We’ve spent the weekend celebrating Beltane in Glastonbury and watched the sun rise from the top of the tor.
Maypole dancing

Here comes the sun

 At the allotment the vegetables are all growing and we have some little strawberry fruits setting. Watering is a chore as we have to use watering cans, the water pressure is poor at times as the water is pumped up from a well and it took four of us an hour to water the plants today with no rain in sight. We harvested our first crop today, we thinned out the peas and the little plants were tasty so have ended up in a salad. I made a dressing which included mint from my garden and chive vinegar which I made last year from chives at the Sanctuary steeped in cider vinegar for 3 weeks.