Thursday, 22 September 2011

Life and the Herb Festival

 “Life is what happens when your plans go wrong” is a favourite saying of my friend Iain. My husband and I went down to the Cotswolds the second weekend in September for Sarah Head’s Herb Festival. A great weekend was planned out before me, lots of “doing things”, listening to speakers and giving a talk myself on Sunday afternoon about aromatherapy. Unfortunately Saturday lunchtime "life" happened, someone drove into my eldest and 32 week pregnant daughter’s car as she was driving along with her husband and 2 year old. My daughter and son-in-law were taken to hospital so I had to dash back to help.
 Until then I’d had a good morning; first of all I dug up some horseradish to go in Fire Cider Vinegar, I think I could now identify it anywhere! Other attendees were also harvesting, I saw calendula, elderberries and dandelion roots.

Horse Radish Harvest

 Lucinda Warner did a wonderful talk about the external use of herbs, I was really interested and could have sat and listened to her all day. I tend to forget the difference between a compress and a poultice and I think she has managed to organise this muddled part of my brain.
A compress uses an infusion of a herb on the skin rather than the whole herb; there are lots of different types though.
A poultice is made of the whole herb and is also used on the skin.
This seems so simple I don’t know how I kept getting them mixed up before and if this was all I’d gained from Lucinda’s talk I’d have been happy but she managed to get a lot into her hours talk.
Tea Infusions
A tea infusion can be used on the skin; this is an infusion of herbs and hot water made twice as strong as a tea you would drink. This is suitable for washing over large areas of skin especially cooling and soothing red and irritated skin. It could be cooled and used on sunburn or hot itchy conditions and is suitable for children or the elderly.
Compresses are very useful for hot conditions; salves with bees wax keep in heat and reduce the oxygen that can get to the skin.
Make by soaking a cloth in the tea infusion and placing over the affected area. For a chest infection Lavender and thyme would be warming and drying. Comfrey is an example for sprains, hot and cold compresses could be alternated for a minute each. For the digestive system chamomile, ginger and cardamom are useful herbs. Ginger tea can be used as a kidney compress. To keep the heat in a warm compress you can put a towel over and a hot water bottle.
 Oil compresses are made in the same way, just put warmed oil onto a flannel and place over desired area. Castor oil is decongesting for heavy periods, start to use a few days before the period is due and can also decongest the liver.
Vinegars can be used; rose vinegar mixed with 50% water is cooling for sunburn.
Baths, Footbaths and Hand baths
Maurice Mességué, is a famous French herbalist and practices a form of herbalism passed down through his family, I hadn’t heard of him before Lucinda mentioned him.  His practices involve, among other things, soaking the patient's feet or hands in a strong decoction of locally gathered herbs and he seems to have some famous people among his clients. We have learnt about foot baths at our herb workshops and my husband daren’t sniff or show any sign of a cold unless he wants his feet in a bowl of ginger tea.
A thyme footbath can be used for chest infections and chronic bronchitis, ginger and black pepper for circulation, black pepper for chilblains and a strong calendula infusion with lavender can help foot problems. We can absorb a lot through the skin on our feet, Lucinda mentioned the garlic test; rub garlic on the soles of your feet and after about half an hour you can taste it in your mouth.
Oats in the bath can help sore dry skin and children with eczema. There was a discussion about different ways to do this; put porridge oats in muslin and hang under the tap, grind first in a blender for a creamy bath, use the muslin bag to rub over skin after it has been under the taps and powder oats and make into little muslin bags that can be used on the face.
The simplest poultice is a spit poultice, simply chew the herb then put it on the area needed. Dock can go on a nettle sting, yarrow on cuts and grazes. I once took some friends to the Herb Sanctuary and we stopped on the way for breakfast, coffee and croissants on a supermarket car park and a wasp stung a friend on the tongue. We hurried on to Sarah who suggested a plantain spit poultice which helped the swelling and pain and was so easily accessible.
You can mash your herbs in a mortar and pestle or pop them into a blender with a little water and apply them to an affected area with a square of muslin and a bandage over the top, refresh every 15 minutes and keep it moist. Comfrey can be used on broken bones and sprains; honey is a nice binding agent in any poultice. Lucinda made a poultice mixture and passed it round, my neighbour put a bit on a cut on her hand and at the end of the talk it fell off, she could not believe how much smaller her wound looked.
Kitchen cupboard poultices include cabbage leaves which Lucinda recommended for mastitis. Simply bruise the leaves and place on the skin. I have seen a cabbage leaf poultice used before for eczema. The leaf was bruised, placed on an arm with the stalk end downwards, a layer of cling film was put over it and then it was bandaged into position, when we checked after an hour or two the redness on the ladies arm was subsiding.
Powdered Herbs
Powdered herbs can be sprinkled onto minor wounds to dry them out and heal them; yarrow is first choice along with plantain, lavender and calendula which helps to stop the spread of infection.
I don’t think I was ever quite sure what was in a liniment either. It is made from an alcohol infusion or half alcohol infusion and half infused oil. It is a liquid rub, vigorously rub the affected area to stimulate circulation and bring blood to the surface. It could contain rosemary and help with aches and pains. Liniments are also used on horses.
Infused Oils
Oils can be infused by the windowsill method where herbs are placed in a jar with oil and left to infuse for a few weeks. It is best to cover the jar with muslin instead of a jar lid to allow any water from the plant to escape and prevent mould. A popular method is to double infuse. Put half of your plant material in the top of a double boiler or bain-marie and cover with oil, after 2 hours strain the oil, put the other half of the herb in the pan and cover it with the oil which has already been infused once. After another 2 hours strain off the plant material again and you have your oil. This oil can then be used in a salve if desired, 10g of beeswax to 90ml infused oil.

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