2014 – A Good Year for Making Herbal Medicines

On the eve of the New Year I thought it would be fun to take a look back at my herbal medicine making exploits during 2014. Actually I process herbs practically every day of the year so it will have to be selected highlights.

In January and February when the ground is suitable, I harvest, wash and dry roots. This is Inula racemosa (Tibetan Elecampane) being prepared for drying. It’s a lovely job as the Inula smells so fragrant. Inularacemosa

Root harvesting entails a lot of washing and scrubbing so I try to choose a really sunny day for this task. When the weather is harsher there is plenty to do in the clinic in terms of making infused oils and encapsulating herbs.

This year I made some gorgeous infused Chilli oil using organic chillies.  Once it’s made I can use the oil throughout the year to make batches of Chilli and Lobelia Rub. This is pain relieving and relaxes overly tense muscles. 050814ChilliOil

My HerbShare members had a pot of the Chilli and Lobelia Rub in their boxes during the winter.

As with all the months of the year, capsule making is ongoing. Here’s a photo of my fabulous capsule maker, without which I would be lost as I have to make hundreds of capsules every week. 110314Capsules

You can see my tincture bottles in the background. They are all arranged alphabetically or I wouldn’t be able to keep track of anything.

With the coming of Spring I was glad to get out and gather Wild Garlic. The challenge over this last year has been to get to know my new herb foraging territory. I had lived in West Dorset for 13 years and knew the best places for all the wild medicines that I liked to use, but with moving to Somerset I have had to acquaint myself with new haunts and new medicines. wildgarlic

I found a beautiful Wild Garlic woodland. We made it a family outing so I had help with gathering for this one.

With the Spring fully under way in April it was time for Dandelions, gorgeous fields of gold signalling the start of the warmer weather. Dandelions are an excellent kidney medicine but picking needs to be done in old clothes. If you don’t wear gloves be prepared to have stained fingers for a while! IMG_3817 Cowslips1

Also in the early Spring the Cowslips are ready for harvest, but since they are scarce in the wild you need to grow your own to be environmentally responsible. My population at the allotments caused quite a stir amongst the cabbages and leeks.  Cowslips are a gently sedative relaxing herbal medicine which is especially good for soothing troublesome coughs. I add them to my Breathe Easy Tea.

With the coming of May it was Hawthorn gathering time – as its name ‘May’ suggests. I use a lot of Hawthorn blossom in my practice as it is such an effective cardiovascular tonic, supporting weak and failing hearts, as well as gently calming high blood pressure.  HawthornBlossom

I like to use the blossom in my capsule blends and later in the year I gather the berries for tincture.

In June the herb gathering season is entering its busiest phase, I gather and harvest herbs daily and the dehydrators are going 24 hours a day.  I was very pleased with how well my allotment established in 2014. This photo shows it at its height in midsummer. 070414Allotment

You can see St John’s Wort, Calendula, Eschscholzia, Agrimony, Goats Rue, Soapwort, Valerian and Marshmallow in flower. As you can imagine, there was a lot of harvesting needed to keep up with production.

With a very hot summer it was a pleasure to go to Ringstead Bay and gather Sea Lettuce and Kelp. Here’s the proof that I actually gathered my seaweed stocks myself. By the way I am waving a piece of seaweed not (as someone suggested) part of my bikini! seaweed

Sea vegetables are rich in minerals and a very healthy addition to the diet. I like to use them in certain capsule formulations where a mineral boost is needed.

After a summer of gathering and drying all sort of herbs it’s always good to see the herb store filling up. I need to gather enough of each herb to last me the year ahead, yet I never really know how much of each I will need. This is one of the reasons why I started the Herb Share Scheme. It allows me to share ‘spare’ herbs and herbal products with a very select few members. 072714HerbStore

I really enjoyed making up the HerbShare boxes over 2014. It meant that I could be creative and make limited edition special products each month. I also got to share my herbal knowledge with the members and see them starting to use herbs as a first port of call for family ailments.



These were the products in the April parcel.




At the end of the year it’s all about capsules, oils and ointments, with tincture making thrown in for good measure. tincturestodrain

This photo shows some tinctures which are ready to be drained and pressed.

Some of the tinctures are made with freshly harvested plant parts and others are made with dried herbs. It depends on the herb and the nature of the constituents. 102014FireCider

Finally as the cold and flu season approached I made a large batch of Fire Cider using my own Horseradish root which had grown very well in its new location at the allotment.

This has really been just a very brief skate over my 2014 herbal exploits but I hope it’s enough to convey how much I love dealing with real plants and crafting my medicines from seed all the way through to the dispensary. I think that making herbal medicines in this way makes them special and potent as well as filled with healing intention.

If you’d like to have a herbal health check to get you on track in the coming year then do get in touch. In the meantime I’d like to raise a mug of herbal infusion to you and wish you a very Happy New Year!


To find out more about Myrobalan Clinic please visit www.myrobalanclinic.com

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Lily of the Valley – Apollo’s Gift to Aesclepius

Lily of the Valley newly established in a shady part of my garden

Lily of the Valley newly established in a shady part of my garden

Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) is blooming at this time of year.  The Latin name means ‘Of the valleys’ and ‘during May’ so for those people who find Latin names awkward I hope to persuade you how logical and descriptive they are (but then I’m one of those people who loved studying Latin at school)!

The beautiful fragrant bells of Convallaria used to be quite common in the British Isles in shady woodlands.  Apparently in the time of Nicholas Culpeper (who died in 1654), it was widespread on Hampstead Heath.  Sadly with the removal of tree cover the plant has disappeared from there.  There are still some wild populations but they are few and far between and it certainly wouldn’t be appropriate for herbalists to gather supplies from them.  It’s up to us to grow it ourselves if we want a guaranteed good quality source so I’ve established some plants in a shady part of my new garden.  It’ll be a few years before I can take a harvest but in the meantime I’ve found a useful source from my friend and clinic neighbour Heather who runs a busy florist shop.  She uses Lily of the Valley in wedding bouquets and always has leaves left over. She was surprised when I asked if I could have them as she had no idea that they were medicinal, but she’s getting used to my herbalist ways and was delighted that they would go to good use.

LilyValleyIn the language of flowers Lily of the Valley means ‘You’ve made my life complete’ or ‘Return of happiness’.  As these are matters traditionally associated with the heart it’s interesting then that Lily of the Valley is a potent heart medicine.  Legend has it that Apollo presented it to Aesclepius (the god of healing) as a gift.

Lily of the Valley contains a number of cardiac glycosides including convallatoxin, convallatoxol, convalarin and so on. The leaves and flowers have long been used as a cardiac tonic and diuretic.  It has an action similar to Foxglove in that it enables the heart to beat more powerfully and slowly in the presence of less oxygen. However it differs dramatically from Foxglove in that it’s much safer and doesn’t build up to toxic levels in the body with the potential for sudden serious adverse reactions.

Lily of the Valley has a role to play in normalising arrhythmias, supporting a failing heart and treating valvular disease.  Mitral stenosis, mitral regurgitation and cor pulmonale are conditions which would point to the use of this herb.  Although very safe under the treatment of a registered medical herbalist it’s not a herb to be used for self treatment.

As well as it’s well documented use as a heart tonic, this herb is traditionally thought of as a remedy to restore a failing memory.  Culpeper says: ‘It strengthens the brain, recruits a weak memory and makes it strong again’.  When I have my own plentiful supplies I’ll have to try that – if I remember.

To find out more about Myrobalan Clinic please visit www.myrobalanclinic.com


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Mistletoe – A Magical Herb

mistletoeMistletoe (Viscum album) is a beautiful parasitic herb found frequently on old apple trees and occasionally on oak trees.  It is in great demand as part of the greenery brought inside to celebrate Yule and kissing under the mistletoe is the remnants of its use as a Druidical fertility enhancing herb.  The white berries were considered to resemble semen.

63a.-Apple-trees-adorned-with-MistletoeFor magical purposes the Druids especially revered mistletoe found growing on oak trees.  It had to be cut with a golden sickle and not be allowed to touch the ground when it fell.  Traditionally it should be cut on Midsummer’s day or when the moon is six days old.  In the South West of England you will still find keepers of old mistletoe orchards who will not allow it to be cut unless it is the right time. 

A sprig carried was believed to protect the bearer against lightning strike and other misfortunes. If placed in a baby’s cradle it was believed to prevent the baby being stolen away by fairies and replaced by a changling. Wearing a ring of mistletoe wood would protect the bearer from all sickness.

Mistletoe is a medicinal herb too, a nervine and a narcotic which has been historically used to treat convulsions and epilepsy.  Most often nowadays it is used to help treat hypertension. It’s a powerful herb and should not be used to self medicate.  If you are keen to try mistletoe for high blood pressure then please consult a registered medical herbalist.

Mistletoe has also been used for cancer treatments for 90 years. At my clinic I always prefer to deal with whole plant medicines but it is worth mentioning that there has been a great deal of interest recently in the use of Mistletoe extract as a complementary treatment in cancer therapy. Research has shown that it increases quality of life, improves the immune response and protects healthy cells against the harmful effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.  Fortunately much work has been done to research ways of cultivating this plant to fulfil the demand. I would hate to see all the old West Country orchards cleared of mistletoe.

So next time you’re kissing under the Mistletoe, spare a thought for its rich magical and therapeutic heritage!

To find out more about Myrobalan Clinic please visit www.myrobalanclinic.com

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Turmeric – ‘The Miracle of Life’

TurmericTurmeric or haldi has long been known for its healing properties and is called ‘The Miracle of Life’ in India.  In the West it was named ‘turmeric’ after the Latin ‘terra merita’ which means ‘meritorious earth’.

For those that are used to buying the beautiful yellow powder for curries I should explain that the spice turmeric is derived from the root of the turmeric plant, You can buy fresh turmeric root from continental grocers and its spicy lemony scent is heavenly, thoroughly recommended for a completely different curry experience!

It’s much more than just an ingredient though. Turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory making it an excellent treatment for swollen joints as well as cases of inflammatory bowel disease and gastritis.

If you have a tendency to blood sugar imbalances you should incorporate plenty of turmeric in your diet as it can help to normalise your blood sugar response.  Of course you should also look at your diet and make sure that you are not stressing your pancreas by eating a preponderance of high glycaemic index foods.

Turmeric (2)Turmeric also has a valid role to play in staving off the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. Research studies indicate that turmeric blocks the production of IL-2 protein, which is known to destroy the protective sheath found around the nerves.

This miracle spice contains curcumin which has been shown to have anti-cancerous activity. Recent research is pointing towards its helpfulness in prostate cancer.  There’s also a strong tradition in Ayurveda of using tumeric paste externally on cancerous growths, particularly on the breast. As if that isn’t enough curcumin has also recently been shown to have a significant anti-depressant effect.  A 2013 study has heralded curcumin as being superior to prozac in the treatment of serious depression.

Turmeric can also claim a useful role in cardiovascular health as it helps to lower cholesterol levels.  Its systemic anti-inflammatory effects serve to guard against arterial disease.

Turmeric is said to be helpful for every symptom and not surprisingly there are a great many ways of taking it.  You can incorporate it into your cooking, after all Hippocrates said ‘Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food!’ You can mix turmeric with olive, neem or coconut oil to make a paste and apply it to painful areas such as bunions. The temporary yellow staining on the skin is worth it for the relief!  The paste can also be used to treat wounds such as slow healing ulcers or infected cuts. 

IMG_2645You can take turmeric internally as capsules, fresh juice or as a paste mixed with oil or honey.  Turmeric can be prepared as a tea with a little lemon and ginger but my favourite is to blend it with selected spices and drink it mixed into hot non dairy milk as a hot chocolate alternative. As well as being delicious this is a very efficient way of receiving the benefits of turmeric because the oil content of the milk aids the absorption of the active ingredients.

In Ayurveda it is said that the fresh root is better for ‘hot’ conditions and the dried root is better for ‘cold conditions’.

If you haven’t discovered the wonderful health benefits of turmeric yet then now is a good time to start.

To find out more about Myrobalan Clinic please visit www.myrobalanclinic.com



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Creating Space Through Toning the Cardio-Vascular System


Very often patients tell me that they feel as though they don’t have enough time in their lives.  They feel as though they are on a constant treadmill fulfilling their duties and responsibilities with no time ‘for themselves’.  They have no time to shop for healthy food, no time to prepare it even if they have managed to get it, no time to eat properly and no time to relax.  I really feel for them.  It’s a terrible state of affairs.

When such patients come in for their first consultation I notice that they talk quickly, the words come tumbling out as though there isn’t enough time to tell me everything that they need to.  It seems like there’s no space between the words and no space between the thoughts.  Not surprisingly they often complain of poor sleep due to the incessant chatter in their heads at night.

When I take their pulse I notice that there are no clearly defined gaps between the beats. I know when I feel that type of pulse that the patient needs astringent herbs, especially Aesculus, more commonly known as Horse Chestnut.  Aesculus tones of the cardio-vascular system and one of the effects of this is that the pulse becomes better ‘defined’.  I have also observed time and again the ability of this herb to assist with the creation of boundaries in people’s lives.  They report back during follow ups that they have been able to start saying ‘No’ to people and feeling more clear about what is important and necessary.  Many people take on too much before their health is up to it.  They need to be selective while they are rebuilding their energy and resilience.   

Maybe the obvious advice to these people would be to calm down, to start meditating or doing mindfulness practices. Realistically though you can’t expect someone caught up in this pattern to be able to comply easily. Their whole body is programmed to rush.

As a herbalist I know that if the body is in better balance then the mind will follow, after all there is no separation between body and mind.  The first line of treatment in my clinic then is to help tone the cardio vascular system and to create space between the beats of the pulse. Once this is in place the patient will be much more receptive to meditative or mindfulness practices.

With the introduction of meditation and more space in their life the patient feels a huge sense of relief. Time seems to slow down.  The pulse feels different too.

To find out more about Myrobalan Clinic please visit www.myrobalanclinic.com

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Making Infused Herbal OIls

Herbal infused oils are like gorgeous jewels

Herbal infused oils are like gorgeous jewels

Each summer I love to make infused herbal oils. Infused oils are a really good way of preserving the healing properties of herbs which will be used later in the year to make ointments or other external treatments.  The properties of the finished oil will depend on the herbs that you have used. For example Chilli infused oil will be heating and stimulating, Lavender will be soothing and healing, Comfrey will be good to heal sprains and injuries, St John’s Wort has a particular affinity for inflamed nerve endings so is really good for post herpetic neuralgia (after shingles) and Mullein Flower infused oil is brilliant as an ear oil.  

Making infused oil with fresh St John's Wort flowers

Making infused oil with fresh St John’s Wort flowers

To make an infused oil all you need is lots of the fresh herb picked when it is absolutely dry on a hot sunny day, a kilner jar and plenty of oil. You can use any oil which contains good amounts of Vitamin E.  I usually use olive oil but choose the mild version as it has a less pronounced smell. You can also use safflower oil, rapeseed oil and if you are feeling flush, almond oil or even jojoba oil.  As safflower has specific properties against bruising I choose it when I am preparing infused oils to make my bruise ointment.

Using a double boiler to make an infused oil

Using a double boiler to make an infused oil

Generally in the summer you can make infused oils by packing the jar full of the herb, covering it with oil and leaving it on a sunny windowsill for three weeks. Make sure that no herb is sticking out above the level of the oil and that the jar is packed solid with herbs.  Alternatively if you need your oil more quickly you can make it in a couple of hours by heating it gently in a double boiler or a slow cooker.


Straining and bottling

Straining and bottling

Once the oil is ready you strain it through a piece of clean muslin or a coffee filter in a colander. You can squeeze it out or press it, but don’t be too enthusiastic at this stage or you will end up with a cloudy oil.  I tend to filter it again using a coffee filter as it is going into the clean dry bottles.  Be warned it takes ages to go through the second filtering process so be prepared to leave it and get on with other jobs.  It is worth the wait though as you will end up with a clearer brighter oil which will keep much better.  The second filtering seems to remove the watery component of an oil made with fresh herbs.  Once it is in the bottles make sure you label it and then store in a cool dark place.

St John's Wort oil turns red as it infuses

St John’s Wort oil turns red as it infuses

My favourite infused oil is St John’s Wort because it visually demonstrates the wonderful alchemy of herbal medicine. You pick bright yellow flowers, add them to a jar with greeny olive oil and then watch in wonder as the whole thing takes on a gorgeous vibrant red colour.  This is due to the release of the oil soluble medicinal ingredient, hypericin.  You can see the oil glands in a St John’s Wort leaf if you hold it up to the light. You will see that the leaf seems to be full of pin pricks – hence its name Hypericum perforatum.

A word of caution though: it is important that infused oils made according to this method should ONLY be used externally.  Fresh herbs, even when picked on a very dry day, contain water and therefore when covered in oil create ideal conditions for the growth of anaerobic bacteria.  One of these is Clostridium botulinum which creates the botulism toxin when it grows.  Whilst oils containing this are completely safe to use externally, small amounts are very dangerous when taken internally and there is no sign or taste that an oil is affected.  If you really wanted to make infused oils as culinary ingredients there are ways of doing this safely, for example by only using dried herbs or by adding salt or vinegar to make the oil inhospitable to the growth of the bacteria.  Alternatively you can refrigerate them and use them within three days.

Chilli oil

Chilli oil

Making infused oils is not only very easy it is a wonderful way to make the most of the abundance of summer and store herbs for use during the winter. These oils are a really good first aid treatment for burns, skin conditions, aching joints and injuries. They’re quick and convenient to use (compared to say a poultice) and very effective as the medicinal properties are absorbed through the skin over a wide area. Once you have made your infused oils you have the option of using some of them to make ointments at a later time.  I make a lot of herbal ointments as these are convenient and ideal for small applications of herbs to specific areas – such as cuts or bites.  I like to have a range of different ointments in my first aid kit and they are a popular component of my Herb Share parcels.

If you bottle your oils in clear glass bottles (and then store them out of direct sunlight) you can admire their beautiful colours as you take them out of the cupboard to use them. Alternatively you can just admire them like a set of gorgeous jewels!

To find out more about Myrobalan Clinic please visit www.myrobalanclinic.com



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Harvesting Calendula – The Sunshine Herbal Medicine

calendula 007It’s the time of the year when my Calendula crop is flowering and requires regular picking and dead heading. I pick little and often so that at the end of the season I have enough dried Calendula flowers and infused oil to last the year ahead.  The sticky resin that you feel on your fingers when you pick the flowers is to be welcomed as it indicates the medicinal potency of the flowers, a combination of saponins, caretonoids, bitter principle, essential oil, sterols, flavonoids and mucilage.

Calendula officinalis is an important herbal medicine.  The first part of its name refers to the longevity of its flowering period, there are very few months of the year when one’s Calendula patch does not have the odd flower. The second part of the name, ‘officinalis’ refers to its long established role as a medicinal plant.  Calendula is probably best known as an excellent first aid treatment for cuts, scrapes, inflammation and infection of the skin.  The type of wound that is particularly well suited to this herb is one that looks like a cat scratch – red, swollen, puffed up and infected.  Although Calendula is often thought of as an antibacterial remedy it is actually a bacteriostatic, helping the body to win the fight against the infection by slowing the bacteria down and supporting the body’s response to the challenge.  Dr Richard Hughes (in 1880) wrote ‘no suppuration seems able to live in its presence’ and he seemed to understand this bacteriostatic role even before it was proven scientifically.

Not just for external wounds, Calendula can help the healing of gastric and duodenal ulcers, cleverly combining a healing action with gentle stimulation of the digestion so that the environment of the digestive tract is made less favourable for the formation of ulcers and the growth of Helicobacter pylori.

Calendula has an affinity with the lymphatic system, a system which I often find is clogged and poorly functioning due to modern diets and lifestyle. Signs of an overloaded lymphatic system tend to be repeated infections, particularly tonsillitis, oedema (water retention), poor energy levels and slow healing wounds.

Calendula growing at my herb field

Calendula growing at my herb field

The flowers are bright and cheerful, reminiscent of pure sunshine. They’re my herb of choice for swollen and stagnant lymph glands where there’s an infection lingering.  Herbalist Matthew Wood points out that Calendula is excellent for infections in those lymphatic node rich areas such as under the jaw line, breasts, armpits and groin.  He makes the connection that these are areas ‘where the sun don’t shine’, Calendula brings sunshine and clearing to the ‘shaded’ areas.  I have noticed that patients who need Calendula present with a real weariness and a slight yellow colouration around the eyes.

Calendula contains bitter principles and acts as a cholagogue so supports the action of the liver and gallbladder.  This makes it a good choice of herb when there is lymphatic stagnation combined with reduced liver function.  After taking Calendula patients find increased energy and the hint of yellow around the eyes is resolved.  Herb books will tell you that Calendula is also an emmenagogue so can help delayed menstruation and painful periods but I suspect that this action is due to its normalising effect on the liver.

As well as being bacteriostatic it is antifungal so a foot bath of the flowers will help get rid of troublesome athlete’s foot.  I once supplied a patient with some Calendula tincture to use for her son’s persistent athlete’s foot. She emailed me a week later to say: ‘One week of using your lotion completely resolved a problem that two months of allopathic treatment could not budge’.  You can also take this herb internally for systemic fungal infections. 

Calendula is so easy to grow and so pretty in the garden I thoroughly recommend that you find space to grow it each year. You’ll be growing virtually a complete herbal first aid kit!

To find out more about Myrobalan Clinic please visit www.myrobalanclinic.com

Using dried Calendula flowers to make an ointment

Using dried Calendula flowers to make an ointment

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