Our Garden Harvest Healing Balm

This Guest Article written by Karen Lawton of Sensory Solutions, was first published in Green Parent Magazine.

This morning I have been making ‘skin healing medicine’ with my three-year-old daughter Elektra.  It’s a herbal ointment we use for her dry skin that is a mix of the delightful sunny Calendula officinales also known as marigold, the intriguing Hypericum perforatum (St. John’s Wort), and the fragrant lady Lavendula officinales (lavender) with her famously calming blooms.

Harvesting the flowers from the garden over the summer months is a total joy.  Elektra is extremely observant of every plant and cuts each flower head so carefully (with her Hello Kitty scissors) all the while singing little ditties to the world.  Hypericum’s yellow flowers stain your fingers deep, dark, red as they are picked, we try to harvest as close to the full moon as possible on sunny dry days.

Once we have our floral crop they are individually placed upon newspaper in the airing cupboard to dry out for a couple of days. We do this because if we were to infuse them in oil straight away they can be more prone to moulding. Once dry we fill three glass jars with the flowers and cover them with organic Almond oil (that a friend sends from her yield in Southern Spain).  The herbs are then left for one lunar cycle.  We leave the Hypericum oil in the full sun of our south facing front garden so all visitors are met with the alchemical process, it is truely amazing to watch the yellow flowers colour the pale almond oil a deep blood red within days.

The Latin name Hypericum is derived from a Greek word meaning "over an apparition" and the plant was believed to ward off evil spirits.  This highlights its modern use as an anti-depressant since depression is often described as ‘being taken over’, ’loss of control’ or ‘feeling low’.  Perforatum signifies the perforations or little dots on the green leaves that you can see if you hold them up to the sun.

Applied externally to the skin Calendula is primarily a wound-healer, but it also has anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial effects.  The yellow and orange flowers of our Calendula plants dye the oil a brilliant yellow. This one is also left for one lunar cycle.

The name lavender derives from the Latin lavare, meaning, “to wash”.  The Romans who brought this lovely herb to Britain used it to scent their baths.  As well as smelling fabulous it has wound healing, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties.  We bury the lavender and almond oil infusion at the bottom of our garden in the vegetable plot – we found this technique for infusing oils in an old herbal and have had fantastic results.  The cooling earth energies are exactly what we wanted buried deeply amongst the roots of our Fig tree this infused oil took on a dark green tinge and a still quality – prefect to counteract itchy irritated skin problems – we left this on in the ground for 3 lunar cycles.

Once all the oils are ready we strain the herbs out and store the oils until we are ready to create our magic ointment

Equal amounts of each oil are poured into a Bain-Marie and then melted with beeswax and organic fairtrade Coco/Shea butter to form a creamy ointment.

The beeswax is from our local beekeeper, Michael, and it arrived as a big round cake of deliciously honey waxy smelling beauty – He cleans out his spent hives and filters the wax with rainwater.
 It was quite tricky chipping bits off this cake of wax to weight for the balm, as it is a very sticky consistency, so we used a little knife to literally chip away little flakes of wax. It is so much nicer than using mass prepared snow white pellets of wax than one can buy from wholesalers and some chemists.

Beeswax is the natural wax made by honeybees in the hive and its Latin names are Cera alba and Cera flava. A wide variety of cosmetics use beeswax as an emulsifier, emollient, and moisturizer.  After processing, beeswax remains a biologically active product retaining anti-bacterial properties. It also contains vitamin A, which is essential for human cell development.  Throughout time, people have used it as an antiseptic and for healing wounds.

Beeswax is added to the herbal infused oils to "set" them giving the ointment its consistency.

The Coco or Shea butter (both from Africa) give the ointment a soft creamy consistency.  Shea butter contains more vitamins and is said to have superior healing capabilities than coco butter.  In the past Europeans would have used lard or egg yolk.

50ml Hypericum
50ml Calendula
50ml Lavender
25ml Coco/Shea butter
15ml beeswax

It is a good idea to do a spoon test when all the ingredients are melted together to get the consistency perfect.  Drop a little of the mix onto a plate and leave for five mins, then mash it up with your fingers.  If it’s too hard add more oils, too soft add more beeswax.

As we dispense the ointment into jars we add lavender essential oil (about 3-5 drops into each 60ml jar).  A brilliant book that I have used constantly for recipies is Herbal Remedies by Chris Hedley and Non Shaw, full of useful creative ideas.

Since birth Elektra has had very sensitive skin with a predisposition to eczema. I was quite perturbed by this as I am not a sufferer myself and my eldest Harry has never had any kind of sensitivity reaction, but Elektra has a different dad to Harry and he is a classic allergy type, meaning he is prone to eczema, asthma and has sensitivities to dust, animals and pollen.

The healing balm has been amazing on Elektra’s skin really helping to clear the eczema.  We have also cut out all dairy and wheat products from our diets, mine whilst breastfeeding, and now hers.  She loves drinking almond, rice and sometimes soya milk.  I recently stayed with a friend with a hemp seed milk maker and I now want to invest in one, because I am concerned at the sugars and additives in the packaged ones.

The digestive system is where a lot of skin problems and allergies originate so I have always used Chamomile with both kids to aid digestion brewed from the fresh flowers out of the garden. Chamomile is a mild bitter and herbal bitters have profound actions on the guts stimulating appetite and digestive processes she happily drinks unsweetened chamomile tea and now eats the flower heads right off the plants!!

Chamomile is totally safe for Babies and young kids and it is important to get children into drinking herbal teas and use to the many diverse flavours so that when they are ill administering herbs is easy. As a herbalist I see many parents wanting to give natural treatments to their children for specific health problems and my advice for getting children to happily take their medicine is to make herbal teas your daily family drink, making a pot of different delightfully coloured, aromatic smelling herbs is magical and a form of healing in itself.

I am Karen Lawton, a Green Witch living and working with plants in Hertfordshire, over the summers I tour with Sensory Solutions’ Witch theatre, dress up in Witchy costumes and teach folk about the joys of Herbs through practical sensory workshops around festival and fayres all over the U.K.

And the winner is....

dandelions and bluebells
The winner of the Practical Herbs ebook giveaway is
Ann Grabach.  Please let me know your email Ann, and I'll send it right over.

Thanks folks for taking part and helping to radiate the herbal love...more yummy giveaways coming soon...

CONTEMPLATIVE PLANT STUDY– seeking Nature on a deeper level

Maureen and Keith Robertson are Medical Herbalists practising on the Isle of Arran where they live with their 3 young sons. Vegan co-founders of the Scottish School of Herbal Medicine, they have dedicated their 16 acre vegan organic herb farm and emergent woodland to contemplative plant study.

They guide all kinds of learning journeys in herbal medicine and the Goethean inspired phenomenological approach to plant study. 

This simple but inspirational method of nature observation, seeks to embrace the inner and outer elements of the experience of the plant.  Becoming fully immersed in the phenomenon through sense perception, imagination and intuition, the cosmic forces inherent within the earthly gesture of the plant are revealed.   A process that ideally be repeated many times, throughout the seasonal moods, all weathers, landscapes and changing light of day and night. We meet the whole plant through being whole human. It's a creative conversation with a being that reveals the character and therefore the story of the plant, it's surroundings and the message it brings...

Read whole article HERE

Herbal Books: Practical Herbs

by Henriette Kress
I really like this book...concise, clearly written in a narrative style, using non techincal language with some lovely splashes of humour mixed in.  Plentiful in personal tips and reccomendations reflecting many years professional and practical experience. 

The harvesting advice is brilliant, good consideration is given to the ethical aspect of wild crafting and handy hints are most valuable.  The medicine making chapter is thorough and comprehensive with some suggestions that the author hasn't tried herself but has included in the spirit of experimentation.  Well illustrated with trouble shooting tips alongside the excellent instructions.

It is very user friendly, with the plant profiles addressing some often overlooked issues like common mistaken identities of plants.  This includes look-a-like descriptions and images.  And whilst we're on the subject the photos are beautiful, clear and detailed, in fact higher quality than some plant ident guides.  I belive they were all taken by Henriette herself.

In addition, the plant profiles include a generous selection of recipes, both medicinal and food wise.  Some have a cultural / craft use too, interesting tidbits, which is always good to see, adding a deeper dimension to our relationship with the plants.  Dotted throughout are sections on plant families, which I have to say as a herbalist has never been one of my special interests but in fact a good knowledge of which is quite important, not only for identification purposes, but how it extends our discovery of the plants medicines and gestures.

I particularly liked the 'Quick help for small troubles' boxes, like a foragers first aid...good barefoot herbalism.  This book is a gem for folk herbalists and medical /master herbalists alike.  A superb choice for an introductory herbalism workshop or course, and my only request is that a glossary of terms be added to make this the ideal practical text book.  I hope Henriette is planning more volumes...

*** Henriette has very generously donated a PDF e-book for our first herbal giveaway. For a chance to win please Like our Facebook page or join this Blog.  Name will be drawn from a tophat on Easter Saturday (April 7th) and the winner announced the same day. Thank you for your support ***

The printed book edition is also available here.  

A Celebration of Healing Plants for People with a Passion for Herbs

HerbFest, July 27th – 29th 2012

HerbFest is a festival celebrating the healing power of plants. It is designed for herbalists, but anyone with an interest in healing and medicinal plants is welcome to attend. There are workshops, lectures and herbwalks, plus evening entertainment.

This year it will be held at Croydon Hall again, on Exmoor in Somerset. Lecturers will include 7Song, Saskia Marjoram, Davina Wynne Jones, Patrice de Bonneval, Catherine Skipper, Andrew Flower, Mike Brook, Karin Uphoff, Andrew Johnson, Nikki Darrell and Glennie Kindred.

There is a choice of accommodation available from en-suite rooms through group rooms to camping. The earlybird booking fee for HerbFest is £100 (excl accommodation and meals)

For more information and to see photos from previous HerbFests, go to the Facebook page for HerbFest or the website: www.herbfestuk.co.uk

Apprenticeships in Herbal Medicine

at Drimlabarra Herb Farm, Isle of Arran, Scotland
A unique apprenticeship opportunity with two of the UK’s leading herbal practitioners and teachers. Maureen & Keith Robertson, Founders of the Scottish Sch
ool of Herbal Medicine, are offering to share their wealth of knowledge with some specially chosen individuals. If you would like to learn about growing, identifying, harvesting, drying, processing and using herbs throughout one complete season within a small, unique group please contact us on www.veganherbal.com We are recruiting for a maximum of 4 visiting apprentices and 2 live-in apprentices.

This program is designed for:People who are passionate about natural medicines and who want to become empowered with knowledge on self care.
People who want to learn how to make and dispense herbal remedies – storing herbs, making infusions, ointments, oils and more
People who value an experiential, hands-on, practical and traditional energetic approach to herbal medicine use and are less concerned with an academic or professional qualification.
Medicine Making and Pharmacy -embrace the opportunity for hands on and experiential learning in all the practical aspects of being a herbalist. Learn how to find or grow herbs, process them and make medicines; then learn how to use them safely and effectively for improved health, including tutorials and work shifts in the dispensary. This is an apprenticeship in self reliance.
Learn to be in Conversation with Nature by recognizing food and medicines, becoming familiar with botany and plant identification via herb walks, tasting and studying family characteristics. Allow yourself to explore a more intimate relationship with plants through botanical illustration and looking at growth sequences.
Harvesting and processing herbs -careful harvesting ensures long term sustainability of the plant; careful processing ensures a high quality medicine.
Enjoy a practical introduction to organic cultivation & sustainable/wild crafting.

Making and dispensing herbal medicines will allow a practical understanding of the use of herbs for medicine – formulating and prescribing for specific ailments.
Plants as teachersExperience the pharmacology of taste based on the 5 elements of Earth, Fire, Water, Air & Ether. Discover how to discern therapeutic qualities and indications of herbs using your senses in an unforgettable exploration of the six tastes of sweet, sour, astringent, bitter, salty and pungent. This draws you perfectly into holistic plant chemistry –mucilages, tannins, flavonoids, bitters, volatile oils etc.
Materia medica and clinical applicationsUsing the traditional energetic framework of constitutional types and temperaments, we will consider in detail how the herbs work energetically; how they might affect different constitutional types and their different tendencies to illness. This will include formulating strategies and treatment planning, dosing and contra-indications.
What you get:Four weekend workshops between April and July 2012 worth £480
2 days of tutorials either side of the 4 weekends ie 8 days worth £800
6 x Monthly individual follow up consultation/tutorial via skype or telephone worth £200 (face to face with live-in)
Correspondence course worth £450 or exemption if a SSHM Correspondence course graduate. Concessions on other programmes included
Cost for the apprenticeship programme is £1990
£500 non-refundable deposit on acceptance and then payment balance before 16th April 2012.
Weekend workshop for 2012 (can be taken separately)
April 21-22nd Practical Herbal Medicine making and tasting
May 26-27th Food as Medicine - growing a herb/kitchen garden– feeding yourself & others
June 30th-1st July Staying Healthy with Herbal Medicine & Herbal First Aid

July 21-22nd Finding balance in a busy life – using herbs for nervous system health, energy and stamina including Plant meditation practice
25th- 26th Aug Gathering the Self – Identifying and setting your new intention and finding & making your own remedy to support that. (25% discount for apprentices).
One Year Correspondence Course in Herbal Medicine can also be taken separately.

Spring Hedgerow Happenings: Chickweed

The waysides and wild places are truly starting to stir from the slumber of winter.  As young leaves of verdant growth are peeping through the dead leaves and debris, one has called to me in a shy but insistent voice ...

The common, inconspicuous and humble evergreen Chickweed, often the bane of gardeners, is one of the most healing and abundant plants to be found in our fields, gardens, hedgerows and wild waysides. 

Pointed oval, bright green leaves that are succulent and soft grow opposite each other and on alternate sides of the stem.  Fine hairs also follow this growth pattern on the stem making this a helpful guide to identifying from other look a likes, such as Mouse Chickweed. 

The tiny, star like white flowers are linked to the botanical name of the plant, being Stellaria media, and this is reflected in some of the folk names: Starweed, Starwort, Satin flower.  Other country names allude to the use as a nutritional food for hens: Chickweed, Chick Wittles and Passerina.

The best season to harvest is from now until early summer, then again in early autumn when the fine new growth is evident.  The high summer growth becomes straggly and full of butterfly eggs.  I have found a pair of scissors or herb knife is best for removing the aerial parts, as Chickweed has shallow root systems which means you might also get a handful of soil when you pick it out of the ground - much easier for making medicines, with a clean getaway

A low and trailing plant, earth hugging, that ideally seeks out cool, shady and moist habitats - a nod to the gesture of wonderfully soothing properties...
Cupleper defined Chickweed as a 'fine soft pleasing herb under the dominion of the Moon'.  Certainly when I watch the moon, I am touched by the cool, silver light with a crispness that is refreshing.  This perfectly describes the signature of Chickweed medicine - highly cooling, soothing and moistening.

Medicine and Nutrition

Stellaria is demulcent and emmoillient (internal and external agents, respectively, that soften, sooth and protect tissue), a wound healer, blood cleanser, anti itch and refrigerant (releases heat from the internal organs).

It is excellent external medicine for use as a drawing poultice, soothing and clearing boils, abcesses eruptions and chronic skin conditions.  I have seen miraculous (I kid ye not) healing within days of acne rosacea, fungal skin infections, burns, and spotty itchy skin due to hormonal imbalances.  It quite literally removes the misery of the external heat and irritation associated with psoriasis and ezcema. 

The profound cooling effect extends into internal heat characterised by sharp, fleeting pains which move around the body in an excitable and irritated way : rheumatic joints and associated digestive toxicity.  It succesfully removes heat from the liver and purifies the blood so often seen with rheumatic, acidic conditions.  It will help to heal IBS and colitis. 

Chickweed also has an affintity with the lungs and respiratory system where it soothes and calms overly stimulated muccous membranes, healing imbalances such as pleurisy, bronchitis, asthma, and irritable coughs.

How best to apply this healing herb as medicine...for skin conditions external application can be as simple and effective as an infused oil.  For a wonderful recipe and an excellent article by The Herbarium on herbal oils

This can further be made into a soft cream, which I prefer to an ointment, being more readily absorbed  and doesn't leave a veil on the skin which, although is greatly protective in some cases, keeps the heat locked in.  A bath with the fresh juice or infusion is wonderful when the itchiness and inflammation is widespread over the body.  For internal application choose the tincture, tea or fresh juice.

And remember Chickweed is a wild food supremo, not only for being available in the hungry gap, but also for the high nutrition it yields...let food be your medicine...This little beauty tastes mild and succulent added raw to salads and is a storehouse of vitamins and trace minerals:  Vitamin C, B complex, Vitamin D, calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, phosphorus, manganese, and sodium. 

So diminutive it may be, but powerful in it's medicine, Chickweed really is a star of the hedgerow

" I went out to the hazel wood, because a fire was in my head..."

Hazel, tree of creative transformation and inspiration. The Celtic folklore and stories of this mercurial tree, tell us of wisdom and fertility for the intuitive impulse. ... Seek out the golden shimmer of the catkins in the early spring sunshine, may this spark your creativity, nourish your imagination and inspire your pilgrimage towards beauty...

Read the rest of the poem The Song of Wandering Aengus by WB Yeats

Herbal Help for Tonsilitis

This guest article, written by Karen Lawton, first appeared in The Green Parent Magazine.

My son Harry has the proverbial constitution of an ox - having only been ill three times in all his thirteen years.  The first time was at two months old when he contracted bacterial meningitis, which was really scary.

I awoke in the early hours of the morning to a screaming baby, which was totally unusual for him.  He had been extremely content and chilled up until that night.  He wouldn’t feed and his father noticed a rash so we rushed him to Brighton’s accident and emergency.

The first doctor we saw told us that it looked like chicken pox.  He gave us some advice and discharged us.  As we were leaving a ward sister asked to look at Harry more closely.  I passed him to her and she literally ran down the corridor with him shouting ”I need a lumber puncture now!”.  He was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis and we spent fourteen very stressful days in a glass room on the children’s ward - my first ‘baba’ and such a potentially disastrous illness.  Harry was given penicillin, which saved his life (the first and last time that he has taken orthodox medicine). 

Interestingly this is where I made the decision not to vaccinate. Various healthcare professionals were pressuring me to vaccinate him but I just kept thinking that there was no vaccine for what he’d just suffered and he pulled through, so he must be strong enough to fight off illness by himself.

The second time he was ill was ten years later in Morocco when he suffered food poisoning from scrambled eggs we’d eaten in a cafĂ©.  It predisposed a migraine and he was in agony for days.  As we were travelling in our truck I had quite a few herbs to treat him with.  I mostly used valerian capsules and thyme and chamomile teas.  It was quite a shock having to nurse a ten year old as I had never been needed for this before!

This last time the illness was tonsillitis.  Harry’s glands were red sore and swollen, he had a bunged up nose and couldn’t breathe at all well.  He felt utterly miserable.  As his fever increased he got quite desperate and asked me if I thought we should go to the doctor.  I explained that the doctor would almost certainly give him a course of antibiotics and some form of painkillers or NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and that these would probably get rid of the swelling and make him feel more comfortable.  However, his digestion would also suffer since antibiotics normally affect people’s digestive systems, also he would more than likely suffer the same illness again in a few months as his immune system would be weakened.

At thirteen Harry is rebelling against me.  He insists on wearing Lynx, loves anything Nike or xbox and is embarrassed about my ‘witchy ways’.  So I was very happy when he made his own decision to take herbal medicines for his tonsillitis, especially as he had made many of them himself.

Harry has grown up with herbs, at four years old he knew the Latin names of our local flora – although we called them their ‘magical names’.  I was studying for a degree in Herbal Medicine at that time and learning their names so a walk to school would be filled with stories of the king Quercus robur (oak) and his many subjects (the fairies and elves), Urtica dioica (nettle) became Urti the cruel magician who always put painful spells on folk, Gallium aparine (sticky bud) a gallant knight, Hedera helix (ivy) the head chef in the palace kitchen and so on…

The tonsils are lymph nodes in the back of the mouth and top of the throat.  They help to filter out bacteria and other micro-organisms to prevent infection in the body.  Tonsillitis occurs when a particularly virulent bacterial or viral infection causes them to swell and become inflamed.  Signs and symptoms of viral and bacterial tonsillitis are often similar, however, minor differences are frequently present. 

In bacterial tonsillitis although the front neck glands are usually distended and sore there is little or no swelling of the back neck glands.  In viral tonsillitis both front and back neck glands are usually enlarged and tender.  Viral tonsillitis is more likely to be asymmetric, that is one tonsil may be much more swollen and painful than the other.

Harry’s tonsillitis was bacterial; I could tell this by the white spots on his enlarged tonsils.  The herbs I chose to use were strongly anti-bacterial together with immune enhancers.  I used teas, a throat spray and essential oils.  I also made vegetable broth with lots of garlic (naturally antibiotic) and bribed him with the promise of soothing cooling ice cream for pudding!

Our garden path is lined with the most delightfully scented aromatic herbs and is a constant wonder to children and adults alike.  Hands are trailed along the herbs and wonderful smells are released on each journey up or down the path.  Amongst others there are the uplifting and protective rosemary, calming lavender, pungent thyme, heady sage, smoky wormwood, tasty marjoram and sweet myrtle.

For Harry’s tea we used some bay leaves, thyme (which was in flower), sage (also in flower), marjoram, elderflowers and rosemary.  They were all thrown into a teapot and left to infuse for fifteen minutes.  He then drank a whole pot with plenty of honey every few hours.

I made a throat spray using a mix of elderberry (Sambucus nigra) syrup and tinctures of pokeroot (Phytolacca americana), marigold (Calendula officinalis), ginger (Zingiber officinale), sage (Salvia officinalis), thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and rosemary (Rosmarinus offincinalis).  The mixture was put into a spray bottle so that Harry could spray his tonsils regularly.

I make elderberry syrup every autumn and have a years supply in my fridge.  It is extremely immunostimulating and antiviral and so is effective against flu as well.  Harry, like many children, loves the sweet taste of syrup.  Hypocrites called the elder 'the medicine chest', as all its parts are useful in medicine, The blossoms are extremely affective at drying up snotty secretions and brilliant mixed with yarrow to bring down a fever, the bark is an emetic (induces vomiting), the smelly leaves when decocted can be employed to keep midges and mosquitoes at bay and the berries are antiviral and immunostimulating.

Sage, thyme and rosemary are called aromatics in herbal medicine and are full of antiseptic oils and help fight off infection.  Pokeroot and calendula are powerful lymphatics, which means that they encourage the immune system by helping to remove infection from an area so that it can be safely excreted from the body.

The way I make tinctures is very simple in fact Harry had prepared many of the tinctures he took.  I like to pick my herbs on their planetary days (a copy of Culpepper is great to have for reference - I prefer the simplified Colour Herbal).  Basically Monday is ruled by the moon, Tuesday by Mars, Wednesday by Mercury, Thursday by Jupiter, Friday by Venus, Saturday by Saturn and Sunday by the Sun.

I harvest the plants on a dry day after the morning dew has evaporated with these planetary correspondents in mind i.e. calendula is a herb of the sun so pick on Sundays, thyme is a herb of Venus so pick on Fridays.  Then I chop it up and pack as much as possible into a jar and cover with good quality organic vodka.  I then label and date the tincture.  One lunar cycle later I strain the herb out and retain the liquid, which is the tincture.

We also burnt essential oils of lavender, eucalyptus and geranium in oil burners all over the house.  Essential oils are distilled extractions of the herbs and extremely powerful medicinally.  This blend helps to clear infection whilst also being uplifting and beautifully scented.  It also prevents the spread of infection to other members of our family.

Harry recovered from his bout of Tonsillitis after 3 days taking all the herbs. However, he is insistent that is was ice cream that cured his tonsillitis!!!

I am Karen Lawton, a green witch living and working with plants in Hertfordshire.  During the summer I tour around festivals and fayres all over the UK with ‘Sensory Solutions’ Witch Theatre’.  We dress up in witchy costumes and teach folk about the joy of herbs through practical sensory workshops.

Gorgeous & Good For You

A Practical Workshop Making Natural Plant Based Skin Care Products

We are all conscious of potentially harmful ingredients in our food, and of the growing toxic load on the environment. It is just as important to reduce that load on our bodies by using products as free as possible from harmful chemicals. There are real, natural alternatives to the lotions and creams on the market, and you can make them yourself.
90% of our ingredients are pure plants! All of these have their own unique medicinal properties and actions. You will learn how to transform these herbal medicines into beautiful skin care products that actively benefit the skin.
The day consists of a little bit of theory, lots of mixing and making, and some serious pampering. We will be sharing our personal recipes and formulas, developed over ten years of making and selling our herbal products. Take these home and experiment with your own range.
Saturday 24th March, 9.30am – 4.30pm, £55  @ Milton Country Park, Milton, Cambridge

Book your place on the website Of People and Plants

Herbal Storyteller

Amanda Edmiston photo

Amanda Edmiston is a freelance storyteller accredited by the Scottish Storytelling centre in Edinburgh and her passion is researching and retelling traditional stories and folklore which highlight plants, their medicinal use and the part they play in all our lives.

Her long term aim is to collect and retell stories about herbs, their uses and their place in every society on this planet in order to keep alive the knowledge and bring stories that can excite a passion for plants to as many people as possible

The therapeutic effects of storytelling is widely documented. Its ability to empower people, increase positive communication and allow personal and learned stories to communicate ideas and illustrate a broad range of situations is limitless. Specifically Amanda's herbal storytelling brings diverse groups of people together as they discover a commonality in the fairy stories and legends from around the world that highlight plants and their uses.

Amanda comes from a long line of artists, travelers, writers and storytellers, her educational background includes theatre arts, human rights law, energetic herbal medicine, and she has also studied Native American Art and Culture in New Mexico. She has lived an eclectic life, but has now found her passion in storytelling. The sessions she provides, to a diverse range of groups, can take place in a variety of settings including educational, cultural and botanical, but are also perfect for multicultural and disadvantaged groups. She provides workshops and follow up sessions designed to enable people working in these fields to share ideas and use storytelling as a tool to enthuse and energise the groups they work with.

Amanda's recent work has included 2 days of storytelling with highly sensory props telling the true uses of spices as emeshed in a traditional legend for The Spice weekend at Chelsea Physic Garden in London; 'Eat Mugworts maiden' stories exploring traditional herbal use in Scotland and how this changes as the cultural dynamic alters and how we can use this to positively impact on our health and our relationships with each other and our environment; for the Centre of Human Ecology. Tales highlighting an uplifting attitude to growing and recycling an ongoing project for Glasgows South Seeds community gardening organisation. Tiny Tales 'Around the world in five senses' sessions for the Storytelling centre in Edinburgh. 'Felted plants' for 'Sit and Knit a bit' at Tramways a day of events for International Womens day. Plus work with nurseries, primary schools and womens groups

Look at her lovely website here

What's on a herbalists book shelf?

When I hold workshops or talks, people often ask me what are the best herbal medicine books.  So I always take along a diverse selection from my bookshelf, they range from therapeutic and practical, ethnobotany to myth and magic. 

So here begins a mirco series of reviews on the herbal and plant healing books that I love and consult most often.  I'm encouraging fellow herbalists to submit a guest review of theirs too, so in the end there will be a comprehensive reference list to browse.

Beginning with The Complete Woman's Herbal by Anne McIntyre, an experienced herbalist and ayurvedic practitioner.

This is a wonderful book - comprehensive and thorough, presented in three parts:

Herbal Wellbeing : The first chapter 'About Herbs' offers an easy to read summary of the chemistry of herbal constituents and their therapeutic value. Then a glossary of herbal preparations for internal and external applications and how to make them. Plus an list of Essential Oils and their actions. 

The second chapter 'The Well Woman' emphasises the mind and body connection with advice on general health and how to lead a balanced life.  In addition here can be found clear and non technical descriptions of the various systems of the body

The Seasons of Womanhood includes the all the cycles of growth from puberty to menopause and later life.  Each chapter is covered with a senstive understanding of the challenges faced at each milestone of being a woman. The fundamentals of the menstural cycle covering both the healthy and disturbed cycle is very well written and each imbalance has a symptom picture, then herbal treatments and self help suggestions to try.  When necessary Anne refers the reader to diagnosis by a qualified practitioner - very sensible and always reassuring.

Practical Problem Solving : the third part which contains a chapter on 'First Aid', with excellent examples of what to keep in your medicine chest and how to use them plus what can be found in the herb garden and the kitchen cupboard; 'Healing Yourself' deals with some chronic and pretty serious serious health challenges and gynaecological ailments - again written sensibly and sensitively.  'Beauty Treatments' contains recipes and advice on skin and hair care.  'Housekeeping Herbs' has some wonderful concotions that are easy to source and make. 

Throughout, the book is peppered with brilliant herb monographs clearly documenting the actions, applications, contra indications of 71 healing plants.  They are arranged in order of most relevance to the chapter topic, and because of the multi purpose nature of medicinal herbs  and the fact they are well referenced in other parts of the book, they are easy to find via the index too.

Anne has written many other books, check her website to find the latest.

Willow Muse

rhapsody of flow, I do not rush
my quenching upwards to crown of gold
in boggy earth, transformation revealed

I seek,
Reflecting roots, reflecting lunar
the origins of inner life

I radiate darkness into motion,
stirrings beneath the land
guardian of ancient Albion's lost imaginings
whisper silent tales

Willow and the Re-awakening Earth

The woodland willow stands,  a lovely bush of nebulous silver;  there the spring goddess revealed.


The light is now noticeably lengthening after the winter solstice and it gently rouses the tender green shoots, and the rising of the sap. It is traditionally and symbolically the season of purity and renewal. A quickening, lactation and lambing time when new growth and new life silently emerge with the promise of the re-awakening earth, the gateway to Spring.
In the mythic imagination, this season is sacred to Brigid, the Bright and Exalted One. An ancient sun goddess of the healing waters, the creative fire and the blessings of the hearth. She is the muse of poets, herbalists and the healing arts, spinners, weavers and blacksmiths. Her totems are Swan, snowdrops, Wolf (in Gaelic, this month is Faollieach 'Wolf Moon'), Serpent and the solar cross. Her sacred day is one of the four great Celtic fire festivals: Imbolc (translating as Ewe's milk) on the eve and day of February 1st. But really this is not a fixed astronomical or calendrical event like the equinoxes and solstices, more like a season, celebrated to the nearest dark or full moon, to the flowering of the snowdrops, or even the falling of late winter snow, white symbol of purity and silence.
The inner life too yields to this seasonal transition. The deep, still winter darkness has incubated dreams and intuition, and through the sometimes mists and gloom of February days, the creative spark of inspiration and manifestation is quietly tended. And now is the perfect time to cleanse, renew and bless the body, the heart and the home.
Read more of Brigid's Story
I like to sense what signs, stories and gestures are in the landscape, fields and hedgerows all around us, and this time of year with the low slung light reveals the striking golds and fiery reds of branches reflecting the sun's growing strength. So my gaze and imagination is captured by the Willow tree.
The Willow genus is great in number – over 500 species including white, crack, weeping, bay, purple, osier, grey and goat willow. The White Willow (Salix alba) is the largest and most recognizable of all the family, attaining heights of 20 – 25 metres with girths of 6 metres. It has a distinct habit of slanting trunk with an explosion of whipped branches that open to a wide and rounded crown. Willow longs for water and enjoys wetness, so is found most often along watersides, ditches, rivers and streams. It will thrive on well aerated and moist, nearly boggy, soils. On many levels, a tree of renewal, literally observed in its ability to regenerate fast growth from withies just slipped into the wet earth.
The bark is deeply fissured and gnarly, a brown yellow colour, and often with a generous smattering of golden lichen. Feeling dry and rough to the touch indicates a tendency to parchedness and therefore thirst. The inner heart wood has a distinct reddish tinge alluding to the more fiery element and solar nature of the tree form.
The leaves, apparent in later spring, are long and lance shaped, greeny grey colour, shiny and smooth on top with a white and downy underside. The icicle - like shape of the leaves reveals the gesture of the principle of frozen or 'stuck' yet still flowing water. And at the same time they are informed by a radiant quality, most recognizable in the summer months when the breeze blows the leaves revealing a gentle showering of silver rain earthwards.
Willow flowers in the form of catkins, male and female on separate trees, and they are produced from early February on the Goat Willow, just after the Hazel, , right along until May time when the White Willow releases flurries of white downy fluff and causes all manner of miseries to hayfever sufferers.
Myth and Magic
Most folk would consider the Willow being aligned with lunar energies but for me this is a tree of both the sun (warmth/fire element) and the moon (water element). At Imbolc time, the catkins of silky soft, silverly buds on the male pussy willow tree burst into stamens of golden pollen – a striking alchemical gesture of transformation, fertility and union. Attracting insects and bees with the earliest offerings of sustenance, an expression of the outward movement of the Sun's fertile rays.
Willows affinity with and guardianship of streams and healing waterways brings to mind dreaming and the elemental water. Symbolic of the emotions, it speaks of liminality, the 'betwixt the worlds', of the conscious and unconscious where a shift in perception allows true inspiration to arise from the fertile and mysterious darkness of the imagination. Enchantment can be sought to induce visions and poetic insight from the Song of the Willow, the tree top trance: the wind in the willows… The ebb and flow, the alluvial tides pulled by the moon is the music and rhythm of Willow.
Dedicated to a host of mythic and ancient goddesses, Willow was also sacred to the classical Goddess of the Moons Hecate, the formidable Underworld divinity. Her realm being the darkest of the moon and she is the initiator guardian of the crossroads, alluding to Willows gift; the transformative power of the emotional life. The darkness is acknowledged and made visible, the challenge (at the crossroads) has been taken and the choice been made to embrace the shadow and integrate with it into the wider landscape of being.
Willows Song is oft encapsulated in vessels; think willow woven baskets and chairs and instruments; a chalice for receiving healing and inspiration. Delightfully illustrated in a story called Maon and the Willow from Irish legend:
A young man knew the secret shame of King Maon Labraidh, the burden of which eventually made him quite ill. A Druid called to heal him sends him to a remote grove to whisper his secret to a Willow tree. Thus the burden was lifted and the youth restored.
As it happened the court harpist needed a new harp, and unknowingly creates one from the very same tree. Later in the Kings hall, to the astonishment of all, as the harp strings are strummed, the harp sounds the words and reveals the kings secret. Once the secret is known (the shadow embraced) healing is brought to the kingdom.
Read the whole story as retold by Fred Hageneder
It is a known fact that the bark of the White Willow tree yields the pre-cursor of aspirin, salicin which oxidizes in the body to become salicylic acid. This therapeutic constituent is powerfully anti inflammatory, analgesic, antipyretic (reduces fever), astringent and antirheumatic. It can be taken internally and externally to assist the healing of inflammatory rheumatic conditions, painful muscles and joints, sprains, strains and bruises, gout, lumbago, sciatica, neuralgia, diarrhea. It combines well with Rosemary for headaches.
I have heard tales of old Fen boys, chewing on the twigs to relieve aching, stiff joints. And I have often used and recommended a Willow bath of bark and leaves – infuse in a teapot with boiling water for about 10 -15 minutes, strain and add to bath – wonderfully soothing after strenuous exercise or hefty work in the garden. Sip a cup of the tea whilst you soak.
The gesture of Willow is very much of fluidity and pliancy, implicit in its growth pattern, habitat and folklore. This signature is wonderfully reflected in Willow's healing medicine. Bodily conditions like osteoarthritis and stiffness in the joints and muscles imply a tendency towards rigidity, being inflexible not only physically, also mentally and spiritually. Willow soothes muscular and arthritic rheumatic pain which is a damp and boggy presence in the body – remember Willow's preference for wetlands? Rheumatic environments in the body also tend to have a moist heat generated from them; seen in an almost constant low grade fever and red, swollen hot painful joints. Here, another interesting distortion of the fire element at work (and play!) within the formative forces of the tree, becoming manifest in the material.
The relationship of element fire; fire in the head; inspiration; fever and passion to the element water, emotions and inner life that so informs our creative expressive natures is found woven within the essence of Willow.
Willow heals a tendency to resist life; to hold on to negative feelings that dam up and become stagnant or stuck. Energetically the willow enables the contracted and stiff soul to become for-giving, to creatively yield with inner and outer litheness to Life in its manifold twists and turns much like a river. Essentially, Willow teaches us to go with the flow…