The Qualities of Flavour – Introducing the Five Tastes

Hello there.  I hope that you are all enjoying the weather.  Over the last few weeks I have been introducing you to several different methods of preparing herbal medicines.  This is something which I enjoy, there is nothing more satisfying than making medicines for those who come to me for support with their health and wellbeing.  I often prescribe herbal tinctures in synergistic formulations which have been created with the person in mind which I am treating.  This can be blending relevant tinctures together or creating a herbal cream with herbs to suit the patient.  I have also made teas, toners, capsules, hair conditioners, lotions, facial scrubs, syrups and even elixirs using quality natural and benefiting ingredients.

Cleethorpes Beach

Cleethorpes Beach

The preparations which I have shared with you in previous blogs include, teas (infusions or tisanes), decoctions, tinctures and creams.  The first three are remedies which are taken internally.  When deciding what to use when making medicine for internal use the qualities of flavour is a factor which should be considered.

Therapeutically I have been taught to understand the five tastes.  The different nutrients in the food and drinks which we consume have different tastes to us which are easily recognisable using our sense of taste and smell.

What categories spring to mind when you think about what you have eaten or drunk?

Can you come up with five?  I can imagine that you can come up with more.

Love your food

Love your food

Did you get any of these: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent salty, bland, aromatic, hot and cold?  (I bet you got spicy, creamy and many more too!)

The five tastes which have been used therapeutically are Sweet, Sour, Bitter, Pungent and Salty.  There are many layers – different combinations which produce different tastes.  Next time you eat or drink something consider which of the five tastes it can be classified in.  Sugar and honey are obvious sweet tasting foods.  Fruits also have a natural and nutritious sweetness, vinegars are sour, coffee (without sugar) is bitter, chilli and ginger are examples of pungent herbs and celery, seaweed and salt are obviously salty.

Chopped fresh vegetables

Chopped fresh vegetables

Reflection on the food that you are eating helps to develop your mindfulness and enables you to live in the present.  This is beneficial for your digestion as well as giving you an ability to relax, lower tension and stress.  Try eating without any distractions such as the TV or music.  Sit down without your phone, tablet or computer.  Focus on how you are feeling, start from the toes and work up making a note of how you feel.  Enjoy your food or your drink.  How does it taste? Which category (or categories) do you think it fits into? How does it make you feel?  What we consume is our nourishment, a necessity so that we can have the energy to do what we do.  By developing this activity you can understand yourself and your body better as well as understand what you eat better. Our relationship with our food would also change – generally for the better (without substituting happiness, healthy food isn’t all boring).  It you found this beneficial you can also extend the practice of mindfulness to your cooking too.

Herbs, food and drink all have an action on our body – our body digests them, breaking them down to access nutrients.  They have an action on our body – have a function to play in our health and wellbeing.  Everything is moderation is an important factor in our wellbeing, anything in excess can have a negative effect on us.  Certain tastes, because of the active constituents it contains have an affinity with different organs in our bodies too.  I would like to share my understanding of these with you.  Many people say that “You know if it is good for you if it tastes horrible!”.  When you look at our diets today compared to what they were when we were hunter-gatherers or even lived off the land (farming) there is a steep increase in the amount of sugar and carbohydrates that we were consuming.  And although it has been a long time (thousands and thousands of years) this is only a blink in the evolutionary scale of things.

Which foods would class as healthy? Which ones an unhealthy? Are there any which you think are neither?  Are there foods which are healthy up to a point?  Is this because of eating them in excess?  I thought of brain freeze (lol – it’s a hot day) but it is proven that excess salt has a negative effect on our health.  That too much sweet is bad for us.  In my next blog I will discuss the therapeutics of taste and how you can use it when deciding what herbal medicine to use or make.  Until then, try to think about your food.  You learn about your self in doing so, are you sat at your desk working? Or whilst travelling? Do you watch TV or listen to music whilst eating?  Do you sit around a table? Do you eat with your family? It is lovely to get the family sat around the dinner table with no distractions.  You get to enjoy your food and also catch up with those who you love most.  Sometimes people live together but be distant.  Eating together is a great way to bond (children or teens get used to it once it becomes routine), research found that in families who eat together at a table had children who were less likely to get into trouble or commit a crime.

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Till then.  Have a happy and enlightening week.

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How to make a cream

Now then fellow bloggers.  I hope that you are all enjoying the glorious weather!  It’s amazing.  I can’t wait to finish up and have an ice cream in the sunshine :)I’m also really looking forward to giving another herb walk tomorrow.  The walk is based in Grimsby, everyone meets opposite the Vansen Centre on Bradley Road at 1pm.  It is £5 with under 16’s attending for free but this also includes sampling a herbal tea and tasting several tinctures of plants that you will discover on the walk.  Children and pet’s are welcome.  You get a couple of hours out exploring ancient woodland and discovering wild foods and medicines, how to harvest them, what you can do with them and how to use them 🙂 Great fun.

Anyway… enough about the herb walk… I am continuing my series of how to make herbal preparations/remedies.  Last week I showed you all how to make a tincture.  This week I am going to show you how to make one from scratch.  Creams are lovely.  Once you know how to make them you can adapt the ingredients to suit whatever health requirement you need.  I make creams from scratch for several of my patients.  This includes a refreshing, cooling and anti-inflammatory face cream, a cream to reduce spots and pimples, one for eczema and a cream for people who enjoy the outdoors to help with bites, stings, cuts and scrapes.

Calendula officinalis is an amazing herb which supports and speeds healing

Calendula officinalis is an amazing herb which supports and speeds healing

The difference between a cream and a lotion is the water content.  The more water is added to the recipe the more runny the cream will become.  Creams are made from blending oils and waters together.  They are described as Phase 1 and Phase 2 in most recipes.  Creams are not for internal use but are for direct application onto the skin.

Here I have chosen to make a Green Tea lotion to show you all how to make one yourself.  I have listed the ingredients for you in the proportions that I have used.  This will make over a kilogram of cream so please make sure that you have enough pots and/or jars to put it in once it is complete.  I have decided to use green tea as it is a source of natural antioxidants (which is great for the skin) and it contains caffeine which has been used by models to reduce the appearance of cellulite.  (With the weather being so nice it would be great to get my legs out in confidence).

Ingredients:

Coconut oil is solid but quickly melts at body temperature.

Coconut oil is solid but quickly melts at body temperature.

Here is a photo of the coconut oil - in todays weather a spoon is required - If I used by fingers it would immediately melt

Here is a photo of the coconut oil – in todays weather a spoon is required – If I used by fingers it would immediately melt

Glycerin can be from animal or vegetable sources, food grade or not.  This was purchased from Boots and is food grade, vegetable glycerin.

Glycerin can be from animal or vegetable sources, food grade or not. This was purchased from Boots and is food grade, vegetable glycerin.

This is my essential ingredient when making creams or lotions

This is my essential ingredient when making creams or lotions

Emulsifying wax does what it says on the packet - it helps the oil and water to emulsify together forming the cream or lotion.

Emulsifying wax does what it says on the packet – it helps the oil and water to emulsify together forming the cream or lotion.

I purchased by Green Tea from a herbalist supplier.  You can purchase herbs online or from myself.

I purchased by Green Tea from a herbalist supplier. You can purchase herbs online or from myself.

The green tea is loose and cut.  The supplier ensures that it reaches a certain standard with regards to the active constituents too.

The green tea is loose and cut. The supplier ensures that it reaches a certain standard with regards to the active constituents too.

Water phase (Phase 1):

50g Green Tea cut herb

800ml Spring water

Oil phase (Phase 2):

20ml Glycerin

20ml Coconut oil

125ml Olive oil

100ml Grapeseed oil

10 drops Geranium essential oil

30 drops Black pepper essential oil

40 drops Bay leaf essential oil

50ttp Eucalyptus essential oil

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is the procedure that I used to make over a kilogram of green tea lotion:

First I measured out 50 grams of Green tea.  I then placed it in a clean and sterilised saucepan.

First I measured out 50 grams of Green tea. I then placed it in a clean and sterilised saucepan.

I then measured out 500ml of the spring water and covered the herb with it ensuring that the green tea all got wet.

I then measured out 500ml of the spring water and covered the herb with it ensuring that the green tea all got wet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the water phase of the cream or lotion.  The key to getting the oils and water to emulsify is to have them both at the same temperature.  Therefore I make a herbal infusion in the saucepan and melt the oils together in a glass bowel on top of the saucepan.

Once you have immersed the herb in the water you can place a glass bowel over the saucepan to make a bain marie or double boiler.

Once you have immersed the herb in the water you can place a glass bowel over the saucepan to make a bain marie or double boiler.

I then measured out 20ml of coconut oil

I then measured out 20ml of coconut oil

 

Added 20ml of glycerin

Added 20ml of glycerin

Reset the scales and measured out 32g of emulsifying wax.

Reset the scales and measured out 32g of emulsifying wax.

The final oil to be added to this mixture is the olive oil.

The final oil to be added to this mixture is the olive oil.

You can then add all of the measured oils to the glass bowel and turn on the heat source (in my case a gas hob)

You can then add all of the measured oils to the glass bowel and turn on the heat source (in my case a gas hob)

Do not overheat the mixture as you do not want to destroy the active principles of the green tea infusion before in haste to melt the oils.

Do not overheat the mixture as you do not want to destroy the active principles of the green tea infusion before in haste to melt the oils.

Stir continuously, this is to agitate the oil mixture speeding up the melting process but also so that you can keep an eye on the temperature of the herbal preparation - if you feel it is too hot turn it down.

Stir continuously, this is to agitate the oil mixture speeding up the melting process but also so that you can keep an eye on the temperature of the herbal preparation – if you feel it is too hot turn it down.

As you can see they are starting to melt - the emulsifying wax has more rounded edges.

As you can see they are starting to melt – the emulsifying wax has more rounded edges.

Nearly there - keep stirring.  If you are a fan of quantum physics, or mysticism or spiritual this is the time to focus positive thoughts into the lotion/cream

Nearly there – keep stirring. If you are a fan of quantum physics, or mysticism or spiritual this is the time to focus positive thoughts into the lotion/cream

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The oils have now all melted. It is time to turn off the heat. Be careful as the glass bowel will be hot.

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Strain the green tea into a measuring jug using a sieve/strainer/muslin cloth. Measure how much liquid has evaporated as part of the heating process and top up with cold water back to 500ml.

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Pour the oil mixture into a clean bowel and slowly add the herbal infusion whisking constantly. The mixture will froth up. This is normal, it is partly because you are adding air to the mixture and partly because it is emulsifying. The mixture will be very warm from being on the heat source. I therefore add 300ml of spring water once I have finished adding the herbal infusion. This should be done bit by bit and will cool the mixture.

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As the lotion/cream starts to cool down it will thicken. Once you are whisking and you can see whisk lines in the mixture and the bowel is at a tepid temperature then you can add the grapeseed oil and the essential oils. I have added the grapeseed oil as a preservative.

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The finished product. Creams should be kept out of direct sunlight and in an airtight sealed jar. Do not put it in a container until it has fully cooled as it will continue to thicken. You don’t want to put it in a glass or hard walled container with a thin neck and then not be able to get it out.

Once you have realised how satisfying it is to make creams you will happily experiment.  I have citrus body lotions, conditioners, bath melts, intensive hair repair oil melts, face creams, eye creams, foot creams and many more in my household.  I find it is fun to do with my daughter (when I am not making medicine for patients but creams for personal use).  Experiment adding herbs to the oil mixture, the water mixture, try floral waters, try different essential oils, invest in Vitamin E oil which is excellent for skin and another great preservative.

To make a cream, omit the olive oil and reduce the water by 300ml.

This recipe can be reduced down to make a smaller batch or multiplied up to make a larger batch.  You can even make a non fragranced batch and scent it with essential oils in smaller batches as you use it.

If you don’t want to make your own herbal creams and lotions I will happily make them for you.  I can tailor the creams to your specifications or your health needs.

If you live in Grimsby and Cleethorpes I can offer one to one sessions in your home showing you how to make creams and lotions.  There is also the possibility of workshops in the near future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Delve into the delightful world of delicious decoctions

Hi there. Are you looking forward to the next instalment of my making herbal remedies series? I hope you are!! I always enjoy making things with herbs. In the 12 years of learning and discovering more and more about herbal medicine I will always come across and learn new things. There is a lifetime of learning in any field of study that a person chooses…. and I love nature so I see herbalism as an extension of this.

happy summer solstice

Just to digress slightly… Happy Summer Solstice 🙂 merry meet and merry greet to everyone. I hope that you have a wonderful celebration on today’s happy occasion.

Back to the topic at hand. Last time I shared how to make herbal infusions. This is a simple way of preparing herbs yet it is very effective. Decoctions are very similar to infusions – the key to understanding which method to use is:

“Always make an infusion with herbs, leave and flower. Decoctions are for parts which need a bit more power.”

Decoctions are used to extract the herbal goodness from berry and root. The hard, woody parts of a plant. Which as you are aware can also include bark, gums and resins.

Liquorice root is a typical example of a herb which is better being decocted instead of infused

Liquorice root is a typical example of a herb which is better being decocted instead of infused

Where as an infusion is made by pouring boiling water over a herb and steeping them for 5 – 10 minutes you need to get the pans out for a decoction. It is where you boil up either fresh or dried bark, root or berry in a pan. The tissues of the hard plant parts are softened by boiling which helps to extract all of the virtues of the herb that you are using.

If a herb is mucilaginous and this is a virtue which helps it to support health and wellbeing then it shouldn’t be decocted as this will destroy this action. This applies to marshmallow root, comfrey and slippery elm (which is powdered bark). Generally aromatic herbs will lose their volatile oils through decoction – therefore they should also be infused instead. Peppermint, fennel seeds and valerian root are all aromatic herbs which rely of the volatile oils to support the physiological actions they have on the body.

It makes the extraction process easier if you chop the herbs which you are using up. The more surface area the herbs have the easier it is to extract the active constituents into the boiling water. Something that we were taught in science and which we use without being conscious of it when we are cooking and baking in the kitchen.

Decoctions are immediate preparations similar to infusions and should be used within 24 hours of making them. Therefore only make enough for a day’s worth of herbal use. I use decoctions to make delicious teas, to add herbs into creams which I make, to add to the bath, for a hair rinse and if I have any of the decoction left over I like to water it down and feed it to my plants (indoor and out) as the goodness which will support us in our health and wellbeing was originally used to support the plants health and wellbeing – therefore infusions and decoctions make great plant foods. Just be careful not to upset the plants by feeding them their own family!! They will be as upset as we would if this happened to us!!

It's not weeding.. it's harvesting.  All parts of the blackberry can be used.  It needs to be washed but then the root can be decocted.

It’s not weeding.. it’s harvesting. All parts of the blackberry can be used. It needs to be washed but then the root can be decocted.

Dandelion root is a fantastic herb which is great in a decoction. As is yellow dock, willow bark and blackberry root bark. All of which are medicinal plants which grow around Grimsby and Cleethorpes (as well as globally) and tend to be abundant or classed as a weed and therefore are safe to harvest without affecting the ecology of the area.

Try to use 25g of herb with roughly 500ml of water as a rough guideline of ratio’s for decocting unless otherwise specified.  If you have time allow the herb to sit in the water and soak for a few hours prior to boiling it up.  This isn’t essential though.  Always cover the pan with a lid to contain any volatile elements which are released though the heating process.  Bring the herb to a slow boil and then reduce the heat and allow them to simmer for 10-15 minutes.  The harder the plant material the longer the simmering time of extraction is required.  Once you have boiled the herb, if possible press the plant material using muslin cloth to ensure that you are getting all of the plant goodness.

I HOPE THAT YOU ENJOY TRYING THIS OUT AS MUCH AS I ENJOY IT!!

What it health?

Marigolds, seem as sunshine herbs are great for boosting both mind and body

My favourite quote is by Mahatma Gandi “Health is true wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” But what is health? I know from observing people that it is taken for granted when people are healthy and sorely missed when it is gone!! Whilst studying to be a herbalist at University I was taught that our health is a great way to look into a persons past – this is because our health is the result of all of our actions and their consequences in life. I know that this sounds a bit drastic but when you boil it all down it is essentially true too!

rose

Roses can revitalise and uplift your spirits when taken as a herbal medicine – although the same can be said when we receive them too!

Health arises from a harmony with nature, our health isn’t just our actions but also our response to the changing seasons and the tides of time. Health therefore isn’t something which is achieved but something which is constantly worked on. The ideal state of happiness and health is still achievable but it isn’t so much a goal as a lifestyle choice. Our mind can affect our body for example: depression can lower the immune system. The same is true that our body can affect our mind – if we are lacking in certain nutrients then we can experience confusion, poor memory, irritability, lethargy and several other issues which we attribute to our thoughts and emotions.

When you look at the body in detail it is constantly changing, biochemical reactions are constantly occurring, cells are dying, new cells are being made to replace them – we are not who we were a year ago as practically every cell in our body will have been replaced!! Change is constant and because we are living beings we can survive and function effectively if we can easily adapt to change. Some of us struggle with this which causes stress which in itself has a detrimental effect on the body.

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Meditation is a great way of stilling the mind and reducing the mindless chatter that occurs.

Hippocrates is deemed the founder of modern medicine, a lot of his philosophies regarding health are FINALLY being accepted again. “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.” If we do replace every cell in our body on a regular basis then it stands to reason that we are what we eat. If we eat a lot of bad foods then we will end up feeling bad. Simples’! He also viewed health as a balance. This Hippocratic doctrine of harmony is only just re-entering the scientific arena. In Hippocratic teachings it is taught that both health and disease are under the control of NATURE and natures laws. Health and disease reflect the influence exerted by the environment and our way of life (our lifestyle). Health depends on the state of balance and equilibrium among the various internal factors which govern the mind, body and soul. This balance of health is only reached when we live in harmony with our environment.

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Reconnect with nature to be more in harmony with it. It’s amazing how great you can feel after spending time outdoors

Love your planet, love your community, love your neighbours, family and friends and most of all love yourself! As a herbalist I use herbs and plants, gifts from Mother Nature to help to support your health and wellbeing and bring it back into balance. Health also required action on the part of the one being healed by assessing their lifestyle including their thoughts, diet and routines.

Herbal Hair Dyes

As the sun is STILL shining… and my last post didn’t jinx it… I would like to introduce you all to natural ways to highlight or dye your hair.  I was inspired to write this post yesterday when I was out with my sisters and niece.  Hair dye was purchased – a divine plum (I can’t wait to see her new look!!).  Whilst in the aisle of a shop in Freshney Place, Grimsby, several people picked up hair lightening kits.

chamomile

Chamomile flowers lighten hair naturally

As a herbalist I try to use natural products where possible and minimise the amount of chemicals I use.  It is really easy to lighten your hair naturally using herbs.  If you are spending time in the garden or outdoors why not use lemon juice or chamomile to lighten your hair naturally.  You can make a tea using dried chamomile flowers (or fresh) – infuse a handful of fresh flowers or a teaspoon of dried flowers in a cup of boiling water for 5 – 10 minutes.  Allow to cool down, I have found it easy to put the infusion in a spray bottle and then spray onto hair.  If I do this I add a quarter of a cup of vodka so that it doesn’t go off.  This can be slightly drying but will quickly evaporate on a hot day.  You can also dissolve some salt into the mixture to get a sun-kissed beach head of hair.  You can do the same with lemon or apply it to your hair neat.

If you would like streaks of sun lightened hair then ensure that you apply the lemon or chamomile to the sections of your hair that you want lightened.  Or if you would like hair that gradually lightens like the L’oreal Paris Preference range which is currently being advertised on the TV then make a large amount of chamomile tea, dip you hair in it before going out in the sun and every time you come back indoors re-dip your hair in the herbal infusion ensuring that you do not wet as much hair as the last time.

A close up of sage - Salvia officinalis

A close up of sage – Salvia officinalis

Now you may not want your hair lighter – if this is your case then you need to grow/purchase or harvest rosemary, nettles and/or sage.  A natural way to darken ones hair is to get a large handful of sage leaves, cover with 2 teaspoons of borax and 1/2 pint of boiling water.  Mix well and leave until it goes cold.  The borax helps to preserve the infusion.  You can then carefully apply it to your hair with a brush, you can repeat this process as often as you like as there are no side effects to topical application of sage infusion.  Rosemary and nettles are both reputed to darken greying hair.  Rosemary also makes a great rinse for people with auburn hair and helps to clear dandruff.  You can make herbal infusions with any of these herbs or a combination of the three.

You always need more fresh herb than dried when you make a herbal infusion, if you make it in a teapot which has a cover more of the volatile (essential) oils are preserved, the wonderful aroma from herbs are the actual volatile oils which you are sensing from your olfactory senses (sense of smell).  There are several ways that you can use herbs to darken your natural colour or aim to prevent premature greying of your hair.

Rosemary is used to darken greying hair.

Rosemary is used to darken greying hair.

You can make up an infusion and use as a rinse between shampooing and after conditioning.  You can make an infusion and place in a spray bottle and apply prior to putting your hair up.  You can apply the herbal infusion to your brush as mentioned before.  You can also make the infusion into a shampoo or conditioner itself.  Another way is to allow the herbs to steep in a plant based oil for several weeks.  Keep this oil out of the sunlight while you are making it and shake it daily ensuring that no plant material is poking out of the oil (as it can go mouldy).  You can use the oil as a deep conditioning treatment once a week.  Try applying it to your hair (it works better if it is warm) and leave on for a few hours under a hot towel or overnight and then wash out with your normal shampoo and conditioner.  Not only are you giving your hair a natural moisturiser but the infused herbs will work to darken your hair.

The methods that I have shared with you will vary in results depending on your hair type, diet, length of time you have used it, strength of the sun etc.  The key is these are natural methods of hair care.  The lightening methods are dependant on the sunshine – the sun naturally lightens our hair but the addition of the herbs helps to accentuate it.  Of course there is henna – which I am sure that most of you would be aware of.  Henna is a climbing plant which produces a red/auburn colour – a natural way to get beautiful red hair.  It would be great if you could post your pictures of your hair once they have been highlighted/dyed naturally.

If you would like to learn how to make shampoo, conditioner, infused oils, hair masks etc., I can offer one to one sessions in the comfort of your home (if you live in the Grimsby and Cleethorpes area), possible workshops on how to make herbal body care products are being planned and a possible location is being sought.  Any ideas – please let me know.

 

Spring into action and grow

The raspberry leaves are starting to bud this year :)

The raspberry leaves are starting to bud this year 🙂

There is nothing quite as connecting as getting your hands in some mud, in a world where we walk about with shoes on all the time (rubber soles are insulators) we can become quite disconnected to our planet. If we each planted a tree would there really be an issue with global warming? Why not plant five? Or one a year at least on Earth Day (April 22nd). A pip from an apple will grow into a massive tree which will supply our children, our future generations with delicious food. As we are near the end of Gardening Week I wanted to discuss ways in which you can grow fruit/veg and herbs without it costing the earth.If money is an issue please do not give up before you have started, if you buy fruits and vegetables to eat then you already have access to free seeds… save the inside of peppers when you cut them up and allow them to dry out. The seeds can now be planted to grow pepper plants which will taste so much better than the ones you bought in the supermarket originally…. and they will be organic (if you don’t spray them with horrible chemicals that is). Seeds can be harvested from apples, oranges, lemons, tomatoes, peppers, passion fruit, melons, strawberries and raspberries.

I can hear you shouting at the screen saying “They are food plants not herbs!!” You are right, but in the famous words of Hippocrates “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food”. Our diet has a huge impact to our health. We literally are what we eat.

Growing raspberries is an excellent example of getting delicious food AND herbal medicine from one plant. Raspberry is a native plant to the UK although it isn’t found in the wild any more 😦 (I hope you can prove me wrong on this one!!). It is a delicious fruit which is quite pricey to purchase from the supermarket but easy to grow in your garden or in a pot. The fruit tastes ten times better and as a bonus the leaves are medicinal. Herbalists use the raspberry leaves in herbal tea blends. They have an affinity with females and help to tone and tighten the womb and uterus – great if you have experienced a miscarriage and would like to ensure it doesn’t happen again. You can drink a tea of the leaves in the lead up to you trying to concieve another baby – preferably 1-3 times a day for three months. You can add delicious tasting herbs to the tea to suit your taste if required.

You can even go to poundshops and pick up raspberry canes for £1!!  Poundshops even stock vegetable seeds, herb starter kits, strawberry root stocks, blueberry, gooseberry and current canes too!!

Grow your own blueberries? I don't mind if I do!!

Grow your own blueberries? I don’t mind if I do!!

Seeds are quite cheap and offer the opportunity to grow your own herbs. If you get bored staring at a pot and waiting for it to sprout you could always set aside a small plate or bowel with moistened cotton wool pads. Place your seeds a space apart on the cotton wool pads and keep dry, you will then get to see the seeds sprouting, once this occurs you should pot them into compost so that they can continue to grow. This technique is a bit like the cress egg heads that were completed in junior school.Supermarkets offer packets of fresh herbs – these are plants which have been forced to grow quickly, you can always separate the packet into several pots of soil and allow them to develop into maturity. Once they have established they can be planted outdoors. Parsley is classed as an annual herbs but several of the plants I have grown have lasted for two years instead of one, which is an added bonus.

You don’t have to spend money on expensive plant food either! A plants food source is cellulose – or starch. Potatoes and rice are full of starch. If you have cut up potatoes to make a meal for yourself/friends or family – save the water that you used as it will extract starch and be an excellent plant food to both water and feed your plants with. Same with rice – soak rice before boiling and save the white water from soaking. If you drink herbal teas, use the tea bag again to make a weak brew, dilute till it is a similar colouration as wee and pour over your plants. They will love you for it.

Hate weeding the garden? Do you know that alot of the plants you dig up may actually be medicinal? Dock roots, dandelion herb and root, nettle herb and root, plantain, chickweed, shephards purse, bramble leaf, bark and root… all can be turned into cosmetic and medicinal products. Don’t see it as weeding, look at it as harvesting 🙂

Gardening is an excellent form of therapy – its doesn’t have to cost alot and as well as the emotional, mental and physical benefits of nurturing a plant into maturity you also get to either eat it or make cosmetics or medicine out of it too!! Free therapy but you get tomatoes!! Walks in the outdoors (generally in the Autumn) will give you the opportunity to harvest seeds – yarrow grows in the middle of Grimsby town centre and also along Cleethorpes coastline. The seeds can be collected in the autumn.

Can’t wait till them? Sage and Rosemary are excellent plants which grow together very well, they are also both great plants for vegetative propagation – this is taking a cutting (roughly 2″ long), planting it in a pot of compost and watering it for several weeks to create a new plant. If you know someone who has either (or both) of these plants in their garden already the majority of the time if you ask nicely they will not mind if you take a cutting (especially if it is established and large) and you can grow your own plant 🙂 Both smell divine, are great to use in cooking, can be added to baths, made into a tea and used to support your health and wellbeing.

Great eh? I think so 🙂 Happy Gardening Week everyone

National Liquorice Day

Glycyrrhiza or Licorice is a wonderful adaptogenic herb

Happy National Liquorice Day… what was that? You didn’t realise that it was! No neither did I until I read a wonderful article from Knapsack Spirit.  Serendipity really as I was planning to write about this wonderful plant and finding out that today is deemed National Liquorice Day somewhere in the world just cemented that fact.

Liquorice… love it or hate it, this plant is amazing.  A member of the pea family (fabiaceae) it is 50 times sweeter than sugar.  It tastes sweet and slightly bitter and is moistening and warming.  It is the root which is used in herbal medicine.  How many of you pick up a root from the health food shop and have a good chew on it?  Releasing all of the flavours and helping to clean your teeth naturally too!!

This herb is one to be used with caution though, people with high blood pressure, diabetes, health issues with your liver or possible low potassium levels or cardiac disease shouldn’t take this medicine without the guidance of your doctor or a health professional such as myself.  You should also be cautious taking this herb if you are on cardiac glycosides, corticoids or hydrocortisone medications.  Herbal safety is important – most people think that herbs are safe because they are natural but they are the original medicines and contain active constituents which can affect a persons health positively or negatively which is why you should always consult a professional.

Now onto the fun and interesting bit… liquorice has been classed as an adaptogenic herb.  Adaptogens are important herbs used by herbalists as they help the body to adapt to stress and support normal functioning, they can instigate a change in hormone status and also boost the immune system and digestive ability.  When you think of all the health issues of yourself and the people around you a large majority of them are caused by stress or stress is a significant factor which aggravated health problems further.

Liquorice is contraindicated when a person is taking steroid medications because the herb itself stimulates immune function and lessens the stress response.  The purpose of steroids is to suppress the immune system, stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are natural supressors of the immune system which is why we are more suceptible to illness when we are stressed and run down.  Pharmaceuticals have harnessed that fact in the production of steroid drugs such as hydrocortisol creams to suppress an overactive immune fuction.  Liquorice contains saponins called glycrrhizin which the body used to create hormones including steriod hormones.  It all starts to make sense once you become aware of the body and how it works 🙂

Liquorice has been used as a food and medicine throughout the centuries.  It is a tonic restorative for the adrenal glands (which is where the stress hormones are produced).  It has been used in several different herbal traditions for the treatment of coughs, colds and other respiratory diseases.  There is a link between the adrenals and the lungs – during foetal development they both develop in the womb at the same time.  The link continues through adulthood as people who have experienced a lot of stress (and therefore have depleted their adrenals, something called adrenal fatigue) tend to have lots of upper respiratory infectiosn such as coughs and colds.  I have seen this personally through clinic observation of patients.  As the adrenals are supported and energy levels restored (as much as possible) so the number of chest infections drops.

Liquorice is also very beneficial to the digestive system, it can strengthen the stomach, reduce diarrhoea, clear heat, dispel toxins and support the repair of ulcerated tissue.  It is anti-inflammatory and hepato-protective.  This means that it can reduce inflammation and protects the liver.  The liver is an important organ as it processes all the hormones that circulate in the body as well as all of the medicines which we take.  When you go out on a bender it is the liver which has to process the alcohol and the reason why you suffer a hang over the next day.  So supporting and protecting the liver has a beneficial impact on your health and wellbeing (and may reduce the suffering the day after the night before!!).  People who have inflammatory bowel diseases will benefit from liquorice’s amazing restorative ability, conditions include: Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, gastritis, gastric ulcers, duodenal ulcers, ileitis and leaky gut syndrome.

There is a history of liquorice being cultivated in England which interests me greatly as I try to source my herbs as locally as possible and cultivate the ones which I cannot source.  I will be looking to cultivate this in my garden in Grimsby once I have sourced some seeds.  Love it or hate it, I prescribe this herb alot because of its beneficial and nourishing actions.  So here’s to Liquorice… a herb which has a day dedictated to itself.

Related articles: http://knapsackspirit.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/licorice-root/

References:

Grieve, M (1977) “A Modern Herbal” Great Britain Peregrine Books

Wilson, J (2011) “Adrenal Fatigue. The 21st Century Stress Syndrome” United States Smart Publications

Winston, D and Maimes, S (2007) “Adaptogens. Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief” United States Healing Arts Press