Category Archives: Lotions

Bones, Bites and Bali

As some of you know, I fell from my bike in November and was out of action for quite some time. In short, I broke my cheek bone in several places, took quite a hit on my bum and was rather shaken up. Illness is one of the greatest teachers so naturally lessons were learned. I wrote a few of them down as the weeks went by and thought I’d emerge from hibernation today, to share some of the ways I used herbs and other things to aid recovery. I have tried to relate the story to the Wise Woman system of healing, just as I ask my apprentices to relate a health incident they have been through to the system.

Step Zero – Serenity medicine
Bali lily and water cabbage

For the first week I did nothing but allow my body to quietly sort itself out. The cut over my eye was quickly glued together in hospital as this was clearly necessary but the rest was left to calm down, in readiness for a facial reconstruction operation. No herbal ointments, no supplements, no infusions, nothing. The body’s powers of repair and regeneration are amazing. Stores of nutrients from deep within the body are called upon to fight the cause. There was clearly nothing to do except rest and sup on water, chicken soup, pumpkin soup and all manner of smoothies. The nutrients which are taken from the storehouses of the tissues must be replaced. Adding anything extra to my diet felt wrong at this point, even dangerous so I stayed away from everything other than plain food. My mental taste-buds were my guide.

Step One – Collect information
I wanted to know several things:
1. How the accident had happened. It was a mystery and this was not helping me. It took three weeks to find out that a stone or similar must have wedged between the front wheel and mudguard, stopping the bike very suddenly. Knowing helped in some ways. Knowing that I am not able to prevent this happening again didn’t help. So I researched bike helmets. That helped. More people should wear one.
2. I wanted to know about the imminent operation. Without it my sight could be lost, with it I should look normal again. Risks of anesthetic, risks of not operating. Knowing helped.
3. I believe nothing happens by chance. Why did this happen at that moment? I searched, through dreamwork and visioning. I found answers. The answers are for me. That helped. I act on my findings.
4. Shaking, why did my body persist in shaking? Shaking is a natural response to trauma and I needed to welcome it. Whole schools of therapy revolve around it. This is an interesting field!

Step Two – Energy medicine
The energetic body is an incredible part of us. It is us. When it disappears we disappear. To feel the flow of Nwyfre / prana / chi (whatever you want to name it) through a major chakra almost disappear and not return for weeks is a terrifying thing, speaking personally anyway! I was unable to correct this easily so a dear friend helped. Being aware that the energy body is out of balance is important. Knowing how to track it’s state and assist it’s return to balance is important.

Nourishing Comfrey – Boneknit

Step Three – Nourishment
Let food be thy medicine. After the operation I incorporated Oatstraw infusion into my daily diet. One liter a day. This helped to soothe my nerves (they were rather frazzled). Motherwort tincture helped in this way also. Ten drops as and when needed to bring things into perspective again. I keep a green ointment in stock here at home for all manner of skin ailments. This was very helpful after the operation. I kept it away from the broken skin and used it with intention to seep into the skin and speed the bone and flesh healing. Comfrey within the ointment came into its own as I have never felt before. So soothing, healing, scar reducing and welcome. I trusted my thoughts on when to begin using it – not before the bone setting operation, not before the skin had stopped it’s healing fluid oozing. All had calmed before I used it. I did not wash my face for three weeks and then moved onto a regime of plain tepid water, then a little ointment here and there above the breaks plus the SJW oil mentioned below. My face was cut and grazed from my eyebrow to my collarbone. All marks went quickly, except for the super glued cut (which is not surprising). What money we waste on skin care preparations!

Another thing that nourished me was friends. They helped nourish me with food, books, cards and they nourished me by making contact in whatever way felt best. Nourishment on all levels! I must nourish my friends.

Step Four – Stimulate / Sedate
When the cheekbone breaks the supplying nerve tends to be constricted and stops working so that side of the face becomes numb. This can remain permanently in some people, due to the way the bones heal, degree of nerve damage during the trauma etc. I was keen to avoid permanent nerve damage so as the bones began to feel more fixed I turned to St John’s Wort oil. This herb has an affinity to nerves and it was all I wanted on my skin other than the green ointment. Soon after I began working with the oil the nerve began to return to action. It was completely back to normal after 6 weeks.

Nadis Herb Shop, Ubud
Nadis Herb Shop, Ubud

Step Five – Supplements and Drugs
Paracetamol seemed inescapable for me in the first weeks after the accident. I took paracetamol and codeine erratically. I don’t touch them usually but I wanted help. They certainly helped with pain but it was quickly clear that they could not remove the cause of the pain. This may sound obvious and of no consequence but for me it was something of an issue.  When I took the pills I could sleep but it was not very restful sleep. It made me feel out of control, detached from myself and although it stopped my shaking, it didn’t stop the cause so when they wore off, the shaking and fear returned with a vengeance. I found other ways to deal with the worry and shaking eventually (Motherwort and Oatstraw) but if I had not realized that these would help, I imagine I would still have been taking the drugs. That’s not a comforting thought as most people don’t know about those simple herbs. It was also a learning experience in that by simply removing the worry, I could remove the pain. 

We went on holiday  three weeks after the accident, to Bali, not exactly a hardship and certainly an opportunity for herbal learning. I learned all I could about Jamu – traditional Indonesian medicine. During my quest I met Lilir, a generous herbalist at Nadi Herbal in Ubud. A bug bite on my calf had grown to the size of a tennisball overnight and I needed local herb advice. Lilir calmly applied a hot herb tea compress, applied some herbal antiseptic spray, advised me that Patchouli essential oil is a useful first aid antiseptic in the tropics, and then taught me about Sambiloto. I began a course there and then. What an amazing herb! Sambiloto or King of Bitters (Andrographis paniculata) is a herb competing (and combining) with Sweet Annie from the Artemisia family in the fight against Malaria and Dengue Fever. Get to know it. It could really help you out. I used it to make me less appetizing to the bugs. It is really incredibly bitter so Lilir recommends it in pill form and not at a high dose. I began with one pill a day for 14 days and then down to two pills a week.

Kunjit asam Jamu

Another Jamu which I fell in love with is Kunyit Asam. I have learned how to make this at home and am trying to make a litre bottle of the orange wonder each week. It is a potent concoction of Turmeric, Tamarind, Galangal (or Ginger) and sweetened water. It has many useful properties and I treat it as a supplement to reduce inflammation and stimulate digestion. It is to be respected and should not be used by certain groups of people.  Interestingly, powdered versions are available in Balinese supermarkets and chemist shops. I bought a few packets but find them super sweet and poor immitations of the freshly made potion. But it is good to see that there is demand for such a mass produced Jamu product. An interesting read if you want to know more about Jamu was written quite recently by Susan-Jane Beers.

Since returning to Amsterdam I have found a great source of fresh Turmeric rhizome and have been experimenting with homemade Mead, infused with Turmeric, Ginger and Lemon. So far so good!

Jamu powder for sale in Bali

Whilst I was researching various nasties which can be transmitted via tropical insect bites, I learned about natural ways to treat Dengue Fever. Fresh Papaya leaf appears to be a very promising remedy. Here is some interesting reading about it. In learning about that, I found out about how fresh Papaya fruit can help keep various intestinal bugs at bay. So Papaya also became part of my daily regime.

Step Six – Break and Enter
VUAmsterdam
An operation was necessary in my case. It went very well and was less intrusive than it could have been but all operations are a shock to the system. Returning from the anesthetic was an unexpectedly “interesting” experience. Chanting a deeply ingrained Sanskrit  mantra from the Upanishads on and on and on, whilst drinking in delicious oxygen did the trick – after a while. Mantras are very powerful, whatever they are and wherever they are from. Choose a powerful one and a positive one and one for which you know the words well. It helped me to focus and to shut out worrying thoughts. It brought me back down to Earth and made me breathe slowly and steadily. Thank you Ranju for teaching it to me all those years ago!

Arnica gel was also a useful remedy at this stage. I rubbed a little on my temples to lessen the shock to the body. Here in Amsterdam I buy a homeopathic Arnica gel called Eerste Hulp Gel. It is a combination, containing also Calendula and I find it very useful for shock.

Moving on
So that’s my Wise Woman style summary of my recent healing experience. Now my biggest issue is recounting the events each time I meet friends for the the first time in a while. They want to know and I want to tell but looking back is not always beneficial. My new response is simply to be – I am healing well.

Now that’s a nice mantra!

Rose petal and Mugwort Elixir

rose and mugwort elixir

This morning was an Oak Apprenticeship meeting and this afternoon, a walking-cooking magazine interview. Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) was a welcome participant at both gatherings. This common urban herb offers a plethora of uses and is currently flowering here in Amsterdam.

Mugwort has a strong aromatic taste and is not the easiest herb to eat raw. The leaves are full of a strong fibre which is almost impossible to chew through when eaten raw. These fibres are used to prepare the Moxa of Chinese Traditional Medicine. In summary Mugwort is a warming herb, a women’s ally, encouraging menstruation, may ease period pains and is a warm soother or muscle tension and pain. It makes a simple and useful infused muscle rub oil and even simpler, a foot soak, when infused in water. The tea is unusual to some but is tasty and not unpalatable. It can be used to deter insects. A protective herb. This is the abundant urban herb of dreams, scrying and prophecy. Seek it out in flower, to enjoy the peak of it’s spiritual powers. In bud and in flower, it is also easier to prepare for cooking (although this is not the best time to harvest for cooking). You can simply push the little flowers from the stems and sprinkle them into cooking.

Mugwort is in the Asteraceae family.  It is sister to Wormwood (Artemisia absinthum), Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum) and Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) to name but a few. Mugwort is thought to unsafe during pregnancy and should only be used in small culinary quantities, watching for sensitivities, by others. Here’s a link regarding some known side effects and drug interactions.

Mugwort and Rosepetal Elixir

Today I harvested plenty flowering tops of Mugwort and used them to make tea and a simple savoury dish. I then hung some on my willow rack to dry for out of season use and made the rest into this delicious elixir…

Mugwort and Rose petal Elixir
1. Harvest a few flowering tops of Mugwort, gather about the same amount of clean, unsprayed Rose petals (I used dried purple petals today, from Jacob Hooy). Lay out any fresh herbs for a while to allow resident bugs to crawl safely away.
2. Chop the Mugwort and if necessary, separate the rose petals from their flowers (if using fresh roses).
3. Place the prepared herbs in a suitable clean glass jar, where they will take up approximately half the space.
4. Cover the herbs with runny honey.
5. Use a chopstick to distribute the honey more evenly over the herbs.
6. Now fill the remainder of the jar with Brandy (or another strong spirit of your choice).
7. Cover the jar with a well-fitting lid, label and leave the contents to infuse for four to six weeks or more.
8. Strain, bottle and label the resulting Elixir.
9. Use in very small quantities, as an occasional alcoholic, heart and spirit warming elixir.

Photo credit: Van Gogh Museum
Photo credit: Van Gogh Museum

You will have a chance to taste this Elixir at the second of my Friday Nights at the Van Gogh Museum, on 30th August. The honey for making the preparations at these events, was generously donated by deTraay and the dried herbs by Jacob Hooy. If you have Facebook or not, check out this link to see Van Gogh Museum photos from the event on Friday 2nd August – it was a lot of fun! More information about the plants and where they will go here.

 

Putting my feet up

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About 8 weeks ago I strained my foot, lugging a heavy suitcase upstairs, in worn out shoes. Clearly not a good idea as I’ve been annoyed by a sore foot since then. I gave in and headed for the doctor on Friday, suspecting something worse than a strain. Thankfully nothing else seems to be wrong, apparently just more time is needed and some pain killing anti-inflammatories to settle things down. Fed up with limping and not being able to do yoga, I slicked two of the pills. After a 12 hour psychedelic sleep and then a day feeling like a space cadet, it seems I’m allergic to the tablets. So back to the herbs and surprise surprise, they are working a treat and my brain feels clear again.

Here’s what I made to speed the healing and ease the inflammation (if you dislike the idea of lard, use ghee or a quality vegetable oil – which you can later thicken with beeswax). This healing lard based ointment feels silky smooth, cooling, calming and takes the pain away.

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1 block of lard (250g)
9 medium Comfrey leaves (Symphytum uplandicum x)
9 Elder leaves (Sambucus nigra)
Handful Ground Ivy stems (leaves, flowers and all) (Glechoma hederacea)
3 Wormwood leaves (Artemisia absinthum)
3 Ribwort leaves (Plantago lanceolata)

1. Chop all the fresh herbs and place in a heavy based saucepan along with the lard.
2. Heat over the lowest possible flame to melt the lard and then to simmer it for approximately 40 minutes (stay with it and stir every minute or so, obviously the lard is highly flammable if left unattended).
3. After 40 minutes the herbs should be just turning slightly crispy, as all the moisture leaves them. This is a good time to stop, turn off the heat, move the pan from the stove and allow the mixture to cool for a few minutes.
4. Strain the herbs from the infused lard by carefully pouring through a muslin/super clean tea towel and sieve.
5. Add the spent herbs to the compost bin and pour the infused lard into a sterile container or two.
6. I keep this ointment in a fridge and use it freely on sprains, strains and skin irritations that benefit from cooling.

365 Frankendael day 184

The Amsterdam marathon is taking place as I write this. We caught a glimpse of the leading group as they sped along Hugo de Vrieslaan this morning.

Tomorrow morning I shall be up before the lark, to join the English Breakfast Radio show in Amsterdam. Presenter Cathy joined one of my September herb walks. I look forward to meeting her again, along with her team. To tune in and here us at around 8am tomorrow, tune in to 99.4FM, look at http://www.englishbreakfast.nl or watch the show (7-9am) on Salto 1 TV. I hope they are gentle with me at that early hour!

Haven’t had time to take many other photos today but did spot this beautiful clump of Hollyhock (Alcea rosea) foliage. It is often realised that Hollyhocks look like Marsh mallow plants and sure enough, the two species are very closely related. In western Europe only the flowers of the plant were used medicinally and the leaves were used as pot herb. All parts can be used however, for many different ailments. It is best known as a nice remedy for sore throats and minor chestiness. Most simply, you can steep the flowers in honey to make such a soothing remedy or drink tea, made from any part of the plant.

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At this time of year, few flowers remain on city Hollyhock plants so we are left with the foliage. To use it, be careful only to harvest a small proportion of a plant, perhaps one medium sized leaf in every five.

Here’s my Recipe for Hollyhock Leaf Ointment

Clean your harvest, surface dry it thoroughly (clean tea towel and a warm place) and chop it finely.  Add it to some warm ghee in a small, heavy based saucepan. Add enough ghee to allow for free movement of the chopped herb in the melted ghee.

Simmer really gently, stirring constantly, until the foliage starts to crisp up. When this happens, remove from the heat and strain the infused ghee through a cheesecloth or similar super clean fabric.

Store in an airtight container and use on rough skin. Amongst other things, Hollyhock is an emollient, it has the ability to soften skin.

Remember to return the used herb to the land. Hollyhock infused ghee should keep well for a year or so, I prefer to refrigerate mine. Discard (to the land) if it begins to look or smell peculiar.

Hollyhock Love!

If I was forced to have just a single herbal mission in life, I think it would be to teach city people just how useful Hollyhocks are and to encourage their proliferation and use (is that two?). Hollyhocks are a perfect urban herb, in my opinion! They have a multitude of uses, many linked to soothing or maintaining a healthy respiratory systems. They grow really well in sandy soil, especially with the support of a building beside them, they look spectacularly beautiful for months long and they are so easy to harvest, store and use.

In my mind Hollyhocks are an urban blessing. They cohabit with the people who most likely live in pollution and can solve many of the ills which air pollution brings upon us.

Here’s a link to a colorful post about Hollyhocks from a blog called Choosing Voluntary Simplicity.

Here again is the Plants for a Future link, about Hollyhocks. Prepare to be impressed by its uses around the globe 😉

365 Frankendael day 150

Thank you to the group of Urban Herbies who joined me For the Elder Workshop today. We harvested Elderberries, Elder leaves and Elder branches. We learned about and concocted Elderberry syrup and numerous other Elder based remedies. I had a lot of fun with you all, and the plants!

I was so busy enjoying the time that I forgot to take an Elder photo so here’s one of the syrup that we made together, from freshly pressed Elderberry juice and honey… It’s a clean but scrappy looking jam jar. That doesn’t matter as my portion of the syrup will be wolfed down very quickly!

As well as Elderberries, there are heaps of ripe Hawthorn berries in the city hedgerows at present. I did remember to take a photo of one such tree. It’s time to try out the Hawthorn recipes, kindly sent to me by one of the Amstel walkers earlier this year.

Here’s a link to the recipe for the Banana bread I baked for the workshop. I added a finely chopped 20cm Ginger plant leaf and I forgot to add the dates. All fine though!

Here’s a link to that information about recent scientific research supporting the use of Ghee and Honey impregnated wound dressings for serious wound recovery.

Thanks Nathaniel and Jade for sharing with us how the Native Americans revere their local Elder species. Here’s a link with a little information about that (at the end). Here’s a link with lots of information about Elder, particularly the US growing species. Not much about the indigenous people but lots of useful stuff.

Here’s a link to one of my mentors: Glennie Kindred in Britain. She wrote the hand sewn books I showed you today. We looked at the one called Sacred Tree in which Glennie lays out her interpretation of the Tree Ogham.

As we talked about honey, Katja shared her latest concoction – fresh ginger infused honey with lemon juice. Yum! I’ll be trying that very soon and will post some photos to brighten up the autumn. Maybe Katja has a photo of hers already?

Cindy, I don’t think you took your portion of ointment and certainly not the syrup. I also forgot to give you the Kombucha so let me know when you have time to collect them.

Thanks again everyone. See you again soon! xx

365 Frankendael day 149

I’ve been busy preparing for the Elder workshop tomorrow and enjoyed a little walk in the park looking for ingredients for ghee based Elder ointment.  Elder leaves are very medicinal but contain a chemical which, when digested by the human body, turns into cyanide so it’s obviously not a good idea to eat it.  The ripe berries and flowers don’t contain this chemical although the seeds within the berries do.  Here are the herbs in my ointment, plus a couple of other plants which are also looking and tasting great at the moment…

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Elder (Sambucus nigra) growing close to the base of an old Cedar. Here’s a lovely Elderberry syrup recipe, from Mountain rose herbs, which uses honey for sweetness but doesn’t heat the honey – good news and unusual!

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis agg.)  making a stand for itself in a field of Plantain (Plantago major)

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)

Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacaea)

Herbs & Honey Workshop

I’m running one more workshop this summer. It’s about ways to use honey with herbs, in simple, unusual and delicious ways.

There are two spaces left and as ever, the maximum number of participants is small.

Cost €15, upon booking (but fully refundable upto 24 hours before)
Tuesday 14th August,
Oost Watergraafsmeer
14:00-16:00

If you would like to book a place, please do so through the meetup group.

Herb by Herb part 4 – Elder


My favourite herb, it grows as happily in cities as it does in the country. Generally overlooked, this herbal treasure chest is steeped in ancient folklore and has a long long history of use. You can use parts of it, harvested at certain times, to make simple safe remedies for the whole family.

This workshop is timed to (hopefully) coincide with the Elderberry harvest time in Amsterdam. Elderberry syrup will be on the remedy making menu, as will other useful concoctions. Sambucus  nigra is a herbal gem!

Monday 17th September 2012
Frankendael (bus stop Hugo de Vrieslaan)
10-11.30
€10 each, 5 max
(Fully booked (6/8/12) – waiting list available)

Aloe Omelette Shampoo

A little while ago Frida Ahrlin, who co-runs a good blog called Duurzaamjezelf.nl (literally, make yourself sustainable), joined one of my herb walks. I don’t usually take much notice of my walkers hair condition but Frida’s is quite wonderful and when the topic of Aloe vera arose in conversation and she told me that she makes a shampoo using it, I had to take notice. Frida kindly sent me the recipe that she uses once every week or so, for her thick wavy hair. Today my scalp was in great need of some TLC so I decided to give the recipe a try.

My little girl thought I was putting omellete on my hair and I had to agree that it looked very like it but the results were well worth it. I now have a calm scalp and clean, bouncy, shiny hair! My hair is nothing like Frida’s, it’s pretty fine and straight but the recipe worked none the less.

I used a nice fat Aloe leaf from my Aloe mama who lives on the roofterrace. I filetted out the gel as described below, discarding anything green or yellow, as this contains an acrid chemical that will irritate the skin. But then I chopped the gel with scissors as I was in a rush to try the recipe. I think I’ll blend it more thoroughly in future as I had big blobs of aloe gel filet falling into the bath as I rubbed the mixture in, but other than that I wouldn’t change a thing. Perhaps a vegetable masher would to the trick for the blending? Maybe there’s also scope for a single drop of a carefully chosen essential oil? Or even using a suitable herb infused oil rather than plain olive oil? I’m planning on a drop of Chamomile infused olive oil and a good session with the masher, next time I make this.

If you try this recipe please let us know and do have a look at Frida’s website as it has some very useful ideas and you can see her lovely hair!

Frida previously posted the recipe in Dutch on her website last year. Here is her message to me about the shampoo…

Frida’s shampoo recipe

1 egg
1 tablespoon oil (I often use sunflower oil or olive oil)
1 tablespoon vinegar
Aloe vera gel

My aloe vera leaves are usually quite small, around 15 cm long and one thumb wide. Mostly I only use one but sometimes two. I use a small sharp knife to open the leave and scrape out the gel. I just mix everything together in a cup and it’s ready to use.

After trying out different methods, bending over the shower/tub/sink works the best. I rinse the hair and scalp first and then add the egg-mix. First massage in at the scalp and then combing it with my fingers out in the lengths. The longer I leave it in, the softer my hair gets. Usually I leave it in (with a towel around my head)  around an hour. Then rinse it with COLD water. Warm water with egg is not a hit in this case. To give the hair a nice and fresh shine I do a last rinse with 1 cup water with another tablespoon vinegar. The vinegar smell goes away as the hair dries.

Thanks again Frida! I was so excited to try this that I forgot to photograph the omelette mixture, next time…

365 Frankendael day 59

Today was the first Urban Herbology Herb-by-Herb workshop, introducing Mugwort to a small group and helping them to experiment with making tinctures, infused oils and other herbal preparations. So my photo for today is simply of the remains of our Mugwort (and Wormwood) harvest!

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) which is dark green on the top leaf sides and silver grey beneath, is very closely related to Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) (silver-grey all over). Mugwort is a very common scrubland herb and Wormwood is currently quite rare, here in the Netherlands at least. The Wormwood we harvested today comes from my front pavement garden and the Mugwort comes from behind my local bus stop, alongside Frankendael Park.

Both are edible but both who should not be consumed in quantity. At this time of year, the active chemicals within the plant are at their most potent so only small amounts are advisable for consumption but both do give a wonderful and unique savory flavour to cooking. Mugwort is considered a powerful dream herb but as the workshop discussed today, this is most likely due to the fact that it is a slight irritant. It is thought to simply keep the Mugwort “consumer” in a slightly lighter sleep state than normal and so they are more likely to remember their more vivid dreams. Whatever the reason, I really like both of these herbs and use them for various applications throughout the year. I’ll post the Mugwort Tea bread recipe, as requested, seperately in a moment.

Thank you again to the lovely people who joined me for the Mugwort workshop today!