Archive for the ‘Home Remedies’ Category

There’s always a point in the herbal year where I realise that everything is growing, blooming and fading so quickly and I have not been organised enough to make all the medicines I have planned. With all the delightful warm weather this spring it’s got to that point earlier than ever before!

Seeing my first nettles in flower gave me a shock this week, I have made some nice tinctures but haven’t dried even a single plant yet. As many of you probably know, nettles are said to become irritating to the kidneys after flowering due to the presence of cystoliths.

I managed to dash out on May day weekend to collect elder leaves for making infused oil and salves before the flowers burst fully into bloom this week. If you live further north and your elders aren’t quite flowering yet then it’s not too late to make some elder leaf infused oil which is great as an all purpose healing salve for rubbing onto bumps, bruises, bites, minor wounds and chilblains. David Hoffman writes, “some reports hold that elder leaf may be effective as an ointment for tumours” which is particularly interesting and Gabrielle Hatfield states that it was used as an insect repellent as well as a treatment for bites. Both these uses were new to me so I look forward to trying them out.

I made this oil by covering the fresh leaves in olive oil in an ovenproof pan, putting the lid on and letting it macerate in the oven on the lowest heat for three hours. I usually infuse my leaves using the double boiler method which I wrote about here but this new dish lets too much steam in which risks ruining the oil so I opted for the oven method instead. The oil came out a delightful deep, dark green and feels full of healing virtues.

Several herbalists recommend using vaseline as a base to infuse elder leaves and elder flowers. I would recommend staying away from petroleum based oils and jellies as they prevent the skin from breathing, a vital function where healing is needed.

Energetically speaking the leaves are best harvested before flowering as the plants put their momentum into the blooms after this point. I’m not sure if anyone has measured the difference in chemical constituents but it makes sense to me that this would be so. I was just in time as all the local Elder’s have begun flowering now. Which means that along with the Wild Roses that are newly decorating the hedgerows there’s even more medicine making to be getting on with.

A herbalists work is never done!

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Lesser Celandine or pilewort, as it more commonly known, grows freely in woodlands and other moist, shaded places and brightens the way whenever you pass it by. It’s Latin name, Ranunculus ficaria, refers to the resemblance of its tubers to figs and an old common name for it was figwort (not to be confused with the plant more commonly  known as Figwort, Scrophularia nodosa). Piles, or haemorrhoids, for which the plants got its modern common name, also used to be known as figs, so this usage for our pretty spring friend is nothing new.

In Mrs Grieve’s classic, A Modern Herbal, she tells us, “Wordsworth, whose favourite flower this was (in recognition of which the blossoms are carved on his tomb), fancifully suggests that the painter who first tried to picture the rising sun, must have taken the idea of the spreading pointed rays from the Celandine’s ‘glittering countenance.’ “

It is true that this little flower arrives early in the spring, appearing almost like a symbol of hope for the warmer days to come.

Used mainly to treat non-bleeding haemorrhoids and a sore or itchy anal area, it is oft quoted that  the main indication for this plant came about from the doctrine of signatures as its bulbous tubers are not dissimilar to the appearance of piles. Many years of use however, as well as a modern understanding of its constituents, back up this traditional insight. Pilewort contains tannins and saponins and is both astringent and demulcent, so toning and soothing to inflamed or irritated membranes.

In the past an infusion of pilewort was commonly taken internally as well the the ointment applied topically but these days it is mostly the ointment that is favoured.

Bartram recommends making an ointment by macerating one part whole fresh plant whilst in bloom to three parts of benzoinated lard. I stuck to making an infused vegetable oil via the heat method.

After harvesting the whole plant – roots, leaves and flowers – I washed them thoroughly to get rid of the tenacious clay soil that stuck between each nodule and then spread them out to dry off in the dehydrator for a couple of hours. If you don’t have a dehydrator then just blot them dry as best you can and leave to wilt slightly overnight. This reduces the water content of your herb and helps prevent rancidity. I then infused the herbs in sunflower oil in a bain marie for several hours on a low heat. You can read my detailed instructions on how to make an infused oil here.

Many people combine the infused oil with horse chestnut oil or tincture to make a nice astringent ointment but, as I have none at present, I came up with this alternative.

Fig Ointment:

40ml pilewort infused oil
20ml plantain infused oil (just use extra pilewort if you have no plantain oil).
20 ml calendula infused oil
10g beeswax
5ml self heal tincture
5ml witch hazel
10 drops lavender essential oil
10 drops geranium essential oil

Melt the beeswax in a bain marie and add the infused oils, stirring until fully mixed. Add in the tinctures and witch hazel and whisk or blend with a hand blender until fully incorporated. Stir in essential oils and leave to set.

Apply liberally several times a day to affected area.

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Virtually everyone I have spoken to recently has a cold and I also began the week with copious amounts of mucus pouring from my nose (too much info, I know!). Luckily it passed quickly and I’m back on form but it inspired me to share my top 5 simple tips for dealing with a cold and restoring the immune system.

People always bemoan the fact that there is no cure for the common cold and fill themselves full of paracetamol, noxious inhalers and antibiotics when all these things will tend to stress the body further, even if they bring temporary relief.  In most peoples’ cases a cold will move through fairly quickly and it’s not necessary to do very much at all other than eat a nourishing diet and stay warm and rested. It’s good to avoid foods that are too rich or mucus forming such as dairy, white flour products, sugar, bananas, sweet fruits like pineapples and mangoes or an excess of nuts. Generally I think when it comes to colds, the simpler the treatment the better. That’s why these tips are arranged from simplest to most complicated, for most people number 1 will be enough, though I did engage all 5 this week when the need arose. There’s nothing here most of you won’t already know but I guess it’s good to have a nudge in the right direction sometimes. ;)

These tips are very general as specific symptoms, chronic infections and low immunity will all require individualised treatment. For most of us just suffering from the occasional seasonal chill however, they should suffice.

  1. Rest: This is without doubt my top tip for colds. It allows the body space to heal itself which is, or at least should be, the ultimate goal of any treatment. I think the reason I tend to get over colds pretty quickly is that I have no problems at all with being grossly lazy! When I start feeling ill it’s straight to bed with a hot water bottle some ginger tea and a good book. In fact, I secretly quite enjoy getting sick on the odd occasion (don’t tell anyone) as it gives me the opportunity to do just that and no one can make me feel guilty for it. So if you’re one of those Type A personalities thats not happy unless 101 things have been achieved in your day and never give yourself time to rest and recuperate, listen to my words of wisdom and get thee to bed.
  2. Steam: A good steam, preferably in a hot bath with some lovely herbs, is wonderful for opening up the pores, clearing the sinuses and helping to move illness out of the body. Teamed with a herbal body rub prior to the bath this is a simple but very effective way to boost immunity. I included a recipe for a bath and shower rub in my post on using essential oils for the immune system here.
  3. Raid the kitchen cupboards: Ginger, lemon, honey, cinnamon, garlic, onion, thyme, sage. black pepper and rosemary are all useful in treating some of the symptoms of a cold. The majority of households will have one if not most of these things in their cupboards so no special herbal medicine stash is needed to get you back on form. Gargle with sage tea for a sore throat, indulge in a thyme foot bath if you have a cough or make a chest compress using a wrung out flannel soaked in thyme tea. Sip lemon and ginger in hot water with a spoon of honey and finely chop garlic in olive oil to spread on your bread. Make a spicy chai with cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, black pepper, cloves and a pinch of rooibos or green tea to sip by the fire and add herbs and spices to your soups to fight infection and boost immunity. Treating colds is where kitchen herbalism really comes into its own.
  4. Diaphoretic teas – Diaphoretic herbs are those that encourage sweating and thereby help to rid the body of infection. If you have a feverish cold but are mostly cold and clammy to the touch with cold extremities you’ll benefit most from warming diaphoretic teas like ginger, cinnamon, angelica, sage, thyme and cayenne. However if you are hot and restless and need to release this through sweating, a cooling or relaxing diaphoretic will be of most use to you. These include delicious teas like Lime blossom, elderflower, catnip, chamomile and yarrow. Most colds are kapha, or damp and cold, in nature (hence the name!) so warming diaphoretic teas will be very helpful. However some colds are more pitta or hot and come with inflammation, sore throats a red face and excessive heat. In these cases a warming, stimulating herb will exacerbate the problem whilst cooling and relaxing ones will allow for a gentle release of tension, heat and discomfort.
  5. Elderberry and Echinacea: If you want a bit more support for your immune system then these two herbs are the first port of call for most folks. Lots of studies have shown elderberry’s effectiveness in both treatment and prevention of colds and flus and it’s so delicious taken as a syrup that it becomes no great hardship to take your medicine. Though it is great as a preventative, Echinacea works on the immune system in a variety of ways so it can also be useful as a treatment once you’re already sick. The root is the part most commonly used but this year I’ve been using a lovely Echinacea seed tincture made by my friend and herb grower Therri. She describes it as more nourishing and supportive than the root which is more stimulating. I made up a mix of equal parts Echinacea seed tincture, elderberry tincture and elderberry syrup and it was impressively efficacious.



What are your favourite tips for treating colds?


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Essential Oils are the volatile aromatic compounds extracted from whole plant material. There are many theories about how they are used by the plants themselves; some say they are just metabolic waste products, others believe they are used to attract pollinators with their enticing aromas but many believe that one of their major functions is in protection of the plant from bacteria, viruses, harmful insects and fungi.
One of the primary uses for essential oils in humans is also in adding the immune system. As each plant experiences slightly different environmental conditions every year, the exact chemical make up of an essential oil will always vary slightly which ensures that viruses and bacteria do not become resistant to it. Like us, plants are dynamic living beings who are quick to react to their environment and modify their responses accordingly.
Essential oils are easily absorbed into the human body and therefore can be powerful allies in keeping us strong and healthy. To be able to use these oils in our own healing is a great gift from the plants. They are highly concentrated and as a result must always be diluted for topical use. A 2.5% blend of essential oil to base oil (such as sweet almond, apricot or olive) is a rough guide, though for children 1% is more appropriate or 0.5% for those under 2 years old.
Oils that are particularly nice at this time of year include lavender, thyme, eucalyptus, black pepper, ginger, lemon, rosemary, ravensara and myrtle.

Thyme is a lovely herb and essential oil for supporting the immune and respiratory systems

Here are some ideas of ways you can use the oils to support you in the colder season:
  • Footbaths: A few drops each of frankincense, lavender and thyme diluted in a tablespoon of base oil and added to a hot footbath is a lovely treatment to de-stress and support the immune and respiratory systems all at the same time.
  • Shower rub: Make a 2.5% blend of your favourite immune suppoting oils in a carrier oil, such as almond, and rub it vigourously all over the body before getting into a hot shower or bath. The steam will open the pores and help you absorb the oils better. 20 drops each of bergamot and lavender and 10 of black pepper in 100ml jojoba would make a lovely shower rub.
  • Chest salve:. A chest salve makes an effective immune and respiratory supporting treatment that is great for adults and children alike, though care must be taken with the oils chosen and the strength of the blend for children, I would recommend a blend of herbal infused oils rather than essential oils for very young children.

A very simple chest rub can be be made with the following ingredients:

  • 90 ml sunflower oil
  • 10 ml beeswax
  • 50 drops essential oil –  for example; 25 each of thyme linalol and eucalyptus radiata

Melt the beeswax in a bain marie and add the sunflower oil, mixing well. Remove from the heat and pour into a 100ml jar. Allow to cool slightly (but not set) and stir in the essential oils. Allow to set properly before using by rubbing a generous amount over the chest area and upper back. Breathe deeply.

  • Diffuser: Most essential oils will have a cleansing and anti-microbial effect when burnt in a diffuser or oil burner. Cinnamon and frankincense; bergamot and clove; niaouli, lemon and lavender  or black pepper and ravensara all make great combinations depending on the specific effect you are looking for. A little diffuser on your desk if you work in an office is particularly useful to purify the air around you.
  • Inhalation: Steaming your face over a bowl of hot water containing a few drops of tea tree, eucalyptus or lavender can be a lovely way to clear the sinuses and support the immune system. Chamomile is a great choice where tissues feel sore and inflamed.
  • Gargle: Dilute one drop of organic lavender or tea tree in a bottle containing 250ml filtered or spring water. Cap it and shake vigorously to disperse the oil. Use this as a gargle at the first sign of a cold or when you get that warning tickle at the back of your throat.

These simple remedies are enjoyable to use and can help keep you immune system healthy during the winter months.

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It’s been a busy week so far gathering the last of the blackberries, the first of the rosehips and lots and lots of lovely hawthorn berries. I don’t think I really have a favourite herbal plant, there are so many to love and admire, but if I had to choose one then hawthorn would certainly be a strong contender.

Beautiful Hawthorn, abundant with berries

The Hawthorn is a beautiful and elegant tree, with a rich lore of mythology and magic behind it, however it still remains very much human in scale. Growing in practically every hedgerow, it’s easily accessible and offers us medicine in the form of its flowers, leaves and berries. Whenever I see hawthorn, which is pretty much everywhere round here, I think ‘friend’.

Hawthorn Berries

Hawthorn is fascinating medicinally because it’s one of the few recognised Western herbal adaptogens, loosely meaning it helps to bring the body into balance, irrespective of whether it is over or under functioning. Widely used as a heart tonic it can help stabilise both high and low blood pressure and will benefit almost any problem that affects the heart or circulatory system, from high cholesterol to chilblains. It helps to dilate coronary arteries, improving circulation and bringing relief from angina. It also increases the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively by improving the contractility of the muscle and its high levels of antioxidants help to protect the capillaries.

A cascade of berries

What is particularly interesting though is that whilst here in the West hawthorn is used almost exclusively as a heart tonic, it has been used quite differently by other cultures and in other ages. Culpepper, writing in the 17th Century, tells us it is ‘singularly good against the stone and… for the dropsy’ implying it was mainly used as a urinary tonic, possibly because, being a member of the rose family, it has some astringency. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, where it’s known as shān zhā, it’s been used predominantly as an aid to digestion, to help the body assimilate fats and as an aid to liver function. In Ayurveda the berries are considered sour and heating, so not suitable for Pitta types in excess. In the Yoga of Herbs the authors write, ‘Hawthorn berries are a good example of the stimulatory power of sour herbs for both circulation and digestion. They have a special action on the heart, strengthening the heart muscle and promoting longevity. They are particularly good for Vata heart conditions like nervous palpitations, or the heart problems of old age (the age of Vata) like cholesterol and arteriosclerosis.’

The flowers are soothing and nervine and many herbalists combine preparations of flower and berry to get the benefits of both. You can read more about the flowers in my earlier post here.

Red and shiny and perfectly ripe

I like to prepare my berries in alcohol or vinegar as well as drying a good number for use in decoctions. To make a decoction simmer two teaspoons of dried berries in a cup of water for 15 mins and drink three times daily.

A delicious herbal vinegar can be made by filling a jar with hawthorn berries, either  alone or combined with rosehips and covering in apple cider vinegar then leaving to infuse for a month to six weeks before straining and rebottling. Remember to use a plastic lid as metal with go black and nasty.

Tincture can be made in a similar way by covering the berries in vodka or brandy. This year I made a simple hawthorn tincture in vodka and another in which I combined the berries with rosehip and ginger in a mixture of port and brandy, yum. Let infuse for 2-3 weeks before straining and rebottling.

A lovely way to use hawthorn berries is to dry and powder them. They can then be used in numerous ways by adding a little of the powder to smoothies, soups, cookies, breakfast cereal or just about anything else. They are very tough though and have a stone in the middle which needs removing so it can be easier to just buy them already powdered from a good herbal supplier.

Left to right – hawthorn and rosehip vinegar; (top) hawthorn, rosehip and ginger in port and brandy; hawthorn tincture in vodka.

Hawthorn, you truly are a heroine!

Lusach has a beautiful post on making hawthorn berry decoctions here, which is well worth a read.

Culpepper’s Complete Herbal – Nicholas Culpepper
Medical Herbalism – David Hoffman
The Yoga of Herbs – Dr. David Frawley and Dr. Vasant Lad

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I’ve managed a few elderberry harvests in the last couple of weeks and have been mixing up some different syrups and other medicinal and delectable preparations. Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is one of our most important herbs at this time of year as both a treatment and preventative for autumn and winter colds and flus.

Harvesting Elderberries

Collect  your elderberries when they are ripe and a deep purple/black, remembering of course to ask the Elder Mother’s permission first. When you get home, strip them from the stems and discard any that are still green or red as well as any that have shrived. Elderberries should be cooked before ingesting as they can be laxative and emetic when eaten raw.

Ripe Black Berries

Discard the unripe berries

Elderberry Syrups

I have made a variety of different elderberry syrups this year with different healing properties emphasised in each one. The basic method for all the syrups is the same and is as follows:

  1. Place 2 cups of elderberries in a pan with 2 cups fresh water and whichever additional herbs you are using (see below for variations.) Simmer gently for about 30mins with the lid off until the water has reduced to about half it’s original amount and the berries have released all their juice. Set aside and allow to cool completely.
  2. When cool, strain through a jelly bag into a measuring jug.
  3. Add approximately the same quantity of raw honey to the elderberry juice and stir until dissolved. You can use less honey but the mixture will not last so long.
  4. Bottle in sterilised preserving bottles and label. Store in the fridge.

Making Different Syrups

Simmering Elderberries

Deliciously gruesome!

During the first stage you can add different herbs according to your preference. I added a handful of fresh thyme and hyssop to my first batch to make a syrup that is particularly effective for winter ailments that affect the respiratory system. My next batch included orange peel and cloves to make a Vitamin C rich, anti-microbial blend that will also ease the digestion. Cardamom and ginger added to the next batch are warming and stimulating to sluggish winter circulation. Finally I simmered a batch of elderberries on their own and added 12 pink rosebuds when I turned it off the heat. I let these infuse whilst the mixture cooled and added half the quantity of linden blossom honey (I used less so as not to overpower the beautiful and delicate rose flavour) to make a divinely comforting blend for grey days which also encourages a healthy heart. As I mentioned before this syrup won’t last as long as the others but it’s so delicious I don’t think it will be hanging around for long anyway! In the fridge these syrups should last 3/4 months, slightly less for the rose one.

Syrups can be taken directly off the spoon, added to hot or cold drinks, drizzled on porridge, added to smoothies or any other way that takes your fancy.

Sugar vs. Honey? Most traditional syrup recipes use sugar instead of honey and heat the elderberry juice a second time after adding it to make a thicker syrup. The advantages of this are that it will last longer, potentially the whole year until the next harvest comes round, and that it’s much cheaper- raw honey can get a bit pricey in large quantities. The downsides of course are that sugar does not contain the medicinal benefits of raw honey which is antibacterial and rich in antioxidants and enzymes. In fact, sugar can act to deplete the immune system and many people in today’s sweet-crazed society already have imbalances caused from an excess. Still if you want to make large quantities that will last, it’s pretty much the only option and the damaging effects won’t out way the benefits of the elderberries.

Elderberry Elixir

If you want a long lasting and delicious preparation that warms your wintery cockles then this could be the one for you. I go to town a bit on my elixir, making it with a combination of port and brandy, local raw honey and warming spices. When i was at university I was introduced by a friend to the winning combination of port and brandy as the ultimate cure for colds and flus. Nowadays I tend to turn to herbs first but I still respect these warming alcohols for driving out the cold and the ache. That’s why I combine them with the elderberries and the warming spices from another of my favourite beverages, Chai. For me, this blend is the ultimate winter warming wonder recipe. Take a tablespoon in a small glass of warm water each evening as a preventative or take half a teaspoon every couple of hours at the first sign of infection.

Elixir Magic

To make it fill a jar with freshly picked elderberries and add one cinnamon stick, broken into pieces, 8 thin slices of fresh ginger and then 12 cloves, 12 black peppercorns and 20 cardamom pods lightly crushed in a mortar and pestle. Add brandy until 1/3 jar is filled with liquid, then add 1/3 port and top the final third up with honey. Stir everything thoroughly with a bamboo chopstick or glass stirring rod. Lid, label and store out of direct sunlight, somewhere cool and dry for a month to six weeks before straining and rebottling. I like to hold the jar between my hands every few days and add some energy healing to the mix.

Elderberry Tincture

This  can be made very simply by filling a jar with elderberries and covering with vodka, lidding, then allowing to sit for a month stirring occasionally, before straining and re-bottling. This will last at least the year and has the advantage of being easily added to blends of other herbs.

Elderberry, Blackberry and Apple Autumn Crumble

Add some elderberries into your favourite crumble recipe to give your immune system a boost and lend a lovely tang to the other fruit. I made this one with cooking apples, blackberries and elderberries with a few dates to sweeten it. The topping was made from oats, ground almonds, seeds and pecan nuts with a few more chopped dates and some ground cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and vanilla powders. Scrumptious.

Elderberry, Blackberry and Apple Crumble

Elderberries can also be dried or frozen to make into teas or add to other preparations later in the season. I’ve had lots of fun creating delicious elderberry concoctions this autumn and I’ve enjoyed reading about other people’s adventures with elder too. Some posts from other bloggers I’ve been enjoying over the last few weeks include a lovely one over at Nettlejuice which you can read here. This one here from Moment to Moment which is full of beautiful photos. And this one here from Sensory Herbcraft which has an alternative syrup recipe using sugar.

Update: I’ve just read this post over at the delightful Teacup Chronicles which is full of great information on elderberries and some lovely reflections.


Elderberry Medicine Chest

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A while ago, Holly left a comment asking where I buy my herbal and medicine making supplies from. I thought I’d share this in a post in case anyone else is seeking out good suppliers. This post will mostly be of relevance to those in the UK, though many companies will of course ship internationally if you can’t find anything similar where you live.


Dried Herbs and Tinctures: Of course the hedgerow is the first stop for many of my herbs but there will always be times when you need to buy in extra herbs or ones you haven’t had time to harvest yourself. Unfortunately many companies who supply in bulk sell to practitioners only, but two I use that sell to the general public are Cotswolds Herbs, who have good quality dried herbs and at very reasonable prices though much of their stock is not organic, and The Organic Herb Trading Company, who stock a full range of organic herbs though they only take orders of £50 or more. For small quantities of dried herb or tinctures Baldwins or Neal’s Yard are probably your best bets. This does work out much more expensive in the long run though so it’s always worth clubbing together with a few other people and buying in bulk.

Herbal Plants and Seeds: Growing your own herbs is so much fun and gives you chance to get to know plants that you don’t meet in your local rambles. There are a few nurseries and stockists that do a good range of seeds and/ or young plants including Suffolk Herbs, Herbal Haven and Poyntzfield Nursery. Jekka’s Herb Farm do a great range of herbs though, as I had a bad experience the first time I ordered from them, I tend to look elsewhere first.

Essential Oils and Base Oils: Essential oils can be bought from Materia Aromatica who do a range of lovely organic oils. On the high street Neal’s Yard are also good though not quite as pure.

You can get some good quality base oils, such as olive or sesame, from the health food store or supermarket, as long as you make sure they are cold pressed and organic. For other organic base oils I go to Materia Aromatica again or, for non-organic oils, Baldwins or Aromantic do a good selection, though I have found the quality to be inferior to the organic ones. Base oils are fatty oils and, as plants store toxins in their fat cells, it’s best to get organic if possible.

Bottles and Jars: I get empty jars and small dropper bottles from Essentially Oils or Baldwins who also stock tincture bottles and other useful sundries such as measuring cylinders.

Other Bits and Pieces: For other kinds of herbal preparations I buy my cider vinegar from the local farm shop,  my witch hazel distillate from Aromantic and my honey from these amazing people at Pyrenees honey who stock the yummiest raw and organic honey I’ve tried. They do a local Sussex one from the allotments which I use most often as well as a range of delicious flavours (try the oak honey, it’s incredible) from Spain which are lovely for a treat.

I hope that list was useful to some people and if anyone has any of their own recommendations, please let us know in the comments below.

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Nettle Seed

I passed a lovely afternoon recently in harvesting my first nettle seeds of the year. They are so abundant right now and so helpful during these busy periods that it was a real pleasure to get out gathering them.

There are a couple of great articles on the internet describing how to harvest nettle seeds along with their uses which I highly recommend reading, notably those by Henriette here and here and Kiva Rose here and here. Though many people know how beneficial nettle leaf can be, until the recent revival of interest in nettle seeds it was a little used remedy in modern herbal medicine. Even now it seems to be much more popular amongst traditional herbalists and herbwives rather than medical herbalists, not that the distinction is always so clear.

The benefits of nettle seeds have some overlap with those of the leaf, both being strengthening, mineral rich, great for skin and hair and for supporting the kidneys and urinary system. Whereas the leaf is gentler and more nourishing however, the seed packs more of a punch.

Abundant and ready to harvest.

According to Henriette, ‘Nettle seeds are adaptogens. They help with the general stress response, they strengthen the adrenals, and they’re loaded with minerals and trace elements’. As most of the hype around adaptogens has centred on exotic plants from far away lands it’s particularly nice to have such a great example growing abundantly here in the UK. I always think that the medicines we need most are the ones which are most abundant near where we live and in these stressed-out, sped-up times, for many of us nettle seed is no exception.

Useful for chronic exhaustion, adrenal fatigue and burnout, nettle seeds have also been used to aid kidney function in both people and animals with degenerative conditions. David Winston writes here, ‘I discovered Nettle Seed could be used as a kidney trophorestorative – literally a food for the kidneys. I have used the seed tincture to treat over 30 cases of degenerative kidney disease and the results have far exceeded my expectations. A recent study published in the Journal of The American Herbalist Guild [4(2):22-25] confirms my clinical experience, showing that Nettle Seed increases kidney glomerular function and reduces serum creatinine levels. Many herbalists have seen significant benefits from using Nettle Seed tincture in patients with glomerulonephritis, chronic nephritis with degeneration, and to protect the kidneys from nephrotoxic medications.’ Impressive stuff.

As the endocrine glands work together to maintain a subtle balance in the body, often a medicine that affects one of them will have a knock on effect throughout the entire system. So nettle seeds can help harmonise the whole of the endocrine system, though their primary action is to balance the adrenals.

Last year, Sara Jane of Brighton’s Green Aprons group told me that taking just a small amount of the fresh green seeds had kept her awake the whole night. Kiva Rose has also spoken of the overstimulating effects of the fresh seed. They don’t seem to affect me in quite the same way, so perhaps it’s constitutional. From an Ayurvedic perspective I imagine Pitta types would find them quite stimulating but Kaphas could benefit from their energising effects. I’m pretty Vata and, as I say, they haven’t ever kept me awake, though they did give me  a surprising and uncharacteristic motivation to do lots of housework! Perhaps I shall make my fortune marketing them as the new ‘mother’s little helpers’. Or perhaps not.

To be on the safe side, it’s best to take the dried seeds as they have a more gently restorative action and are energising without being too stimulating.

Harvest now will the seeds are hanging in strands

The first time I harvested the seeds I ignored Henriette’s advice and, like many a young herbalist who disregards the voice of experience and wisdom, I came a-cropper. As she suggests, nettle seeds do seem to harbour a remarkable amount and variety of insect life, so it’s really best to do as she says and cut whole stems rather than just the seeds and hang them for a few days to allow the wildlife to escape. I take them down before they are completely dry and finish them in the dehydrator but that’s just because years of living in damp houses have made me cautious of air drying anything. Once dry, strip off the strands of seeds and rub them through a sieve, you’ll be left with a beautiful harvest of dried nettle seeds.

Most of the nettles growing near me are the perennial Urtica dioica but if the annual Urtica urens is more abundant near you then do remember when collecting seeds that the success of next year’s new plants depends on them. If you have only a few plants in your area, look elsewhere for your bounty. This lovely nettle patch, and a couple more like it, are just outside my house so I’m lucky not to have to worry about over harvesting!

Nettle Patch

Nettle seeds are so easy to incorporate into your daily diet and can be thought of as much as a nourishing ‘superfood’ as they are a medicine. Sprinkle them on salads, soups, in sandwiches or blend in smoothies. Take up to a teaspoon a day and see how you go, you can use more or less depending on how they affect you.

I make a delicious seasoning from nettle seeds, hemp seeds, nutritional yeast, mixed herbs and a pinch of salt and pepper.

This amount of nettles filled an average size jar with dried seeds. I’ll need to do another few harvests in order to make a tincture from the fresh seed and stock enough dried seeds to see me through the year.

Nettle Seed Harvest

For more detailed info on when to pick and how to process nettle seed see this post here.

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Calendula and Chamomile were born to be friends. As cheerful and vibrant as each other, they are two of the kindest herbs I know, always on hand to heal, soothe and balance myriad ailments.


Alongside their individual personalities they have much in common, as good friends often do. They both have a deservedly high reputation as skin herbs and are particularly beneficial for soothing sore, dry and irritated skins due to their calming, anti-inflammatory properties. They have both also been used for soothing the nervous system and relaxing spasms in the digestive system. Despite being powerful healers they are gentle enough for young children. They are both anti-septic and can be helpful for a range of external and internal infections.

One of my favourite ways to combine them is in this deliciously rich and soothing cream that I use on areas of dry or irritated skin, sunburn, insect bites, allergies, scars or just as a lovely moisturiser that is great for sensitive skins. It also makes a perfect cream for mother and baby and can be used to help a range of problems such as nappy rash, cradle cap and sore nipples to name but a few. I call it my ‘little pot of kindness’ as that just what these herbs are.

Little Pots of Kindness

Chamomile and Calendula Calming Cream- A Little Pot of Kindness:

These quantities make enough cream for two 60ml and one 30ml pot. It’s good to make it in small batches as the only preservatives it contains are the vitamins A and E, so it only has a shelf life of about 3 months out of the fridge or 6 month in. Essential oils can also act as preservatives but are not really present in high enough quantities in this recipe.

50ml calendula and chamomile infusion (steep a tablespoon of each herb in a cup of freshly boiled water, strain and measure out required amount).
25ml aloe vera gel (also calming and healing)
1/2 teaspoon vegetable glycerine
10g beeswax
20g coconut oil (considered cooling and calming in ayurvedic medicine)
25ml calendula infused oil (see here for how to infuse your own oils).
25ml chamomile infused oil
2ml Vitamin E
5 drops Vitamin A
10 drops Lavender essential oil
4 drops Roman Chamomile essential oil

Melt the wax and coconut oil in a bain marie or double boiler on a low heat, adding the calendula and chamomile infused oils when liquid and stirring a little if the waxes start to solidify. In a separate container mix the herbal infusion with the aloe vera and glycerine. Take the oils off the heat and allow to cool slightly before adding the vitamins A and E. For more detailed instructions on cream making along with photos of when the oils are ready to blend, see this post here. I use a small hand blender to mix them as I’m not making a large enough quantity to use my big blender. You could also use an electric or hand whisk. Begin to blend/ whisk the water mixture and slowly add in the oils, a drizzle at a time. Continue to blend until you have a nice smooth, even, creamy consistency. Spoon into a jar or jars and stir in the essential oils. Pop in the fridge for a short while to cool.

This is the same method I used to make my infused elderflower moisturiser. I find it works well for me but creams are notoriously difficult when you make them without using an emulsifier. If your cream seems to be separating don’t despair, just keep scraping the mixture down the sides, mixing it up with a spoon and blending or whisking again. It’s fine to use an emulsifier if you prefer, I just like to make things as simply and naturally as possible when I can.

Oh and don’t forget to thank the chamomile and calendula for all their goodness and care. :)

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Linden Update

When I wrote my last post on Linden, the blossoms were yet to open. I finally managed to collect my harvest about 10 days ago, when I accompanied the lovely Sarah and Therri on their rounds of the local Tilia trees.

I only collected one bagful but that was plenty for me to make a small quantity of tincture, some infused oil and a lovely linden Elixir. Linden, also known as Lime or Tilia, has a beautiful sweet honey/ floral smell which can make a gentle, subtle infused oil that will help with nervous tension and calm anxiety when massaged into the skin. It’s also antioxidant so lovely in face creams which I’ll be making a batch of soon. I used Jojoba oil to make mine, partly because Jojoba is one of the plant oils that is best absorbed by the skin and partly because it’s the only oil I had sufficient quantity of left! You could use any light, unscented oil however such as sweet almond, apricot kernel or a light sunflower. See here for my post on how to make an infused oil.

Infused Oil and Elixir

I’m particularly excited by the elixir as it’s the first time I’ve made it. I was inspired by the wonderful taste of lime blossom honey (said to be one of the best in the world) and wanted to incorporate it into a medicine which would capture the different properties of Tilia in something delicious and sweet tasting. To make it I filled a jar with Tilia blossom, the flowers and bracts, and covered it to the top with one third Lime blossom honey and two thirds brandy. I then added 7 drops of Linden flower remedy to increase the subtle healing properties of the elixir. I love Tilia as a flower essence, my experience being that it lightens my mood, opens the heart, increases perception and brings a sense of sweetness and calm to my day.
I’ll leave it to infuse for six weeks, giving it a little shake once a day, and then strain out the plant material and take it liberally, either in a little warm water or straight off the spoon! Yum.

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