the herbal medicine cabinet

Living with less is not just about decluttering, about getting rid of stuff.  It is about changing how we live, about adapting our lifestyles to leave less of a footprint.  I have long wanted to learn more about herbal medicine, to be able to treat ailments from the content of my garden and the surrounding fields rather than by prescription.  Before I am hounded out, I am married to a medic, I fully appreciate that conventional medicine is both essential and lifesaving. But as even the Boss acknowledges  aspirin, digoxin, vinca alkaloids, atropine, l-dopa and many hundreds more drugs upon which we depend are all derived from plants.

I have made some ointments (comfrey, calendula and lavender), I have dried some plants, made oils and decoctions but only using a handful of plants I knew and was confident to use.  So I was so excited to spend a day with Sarah Hughes at the woods owned by Chris and Rose Bax of Taste the Wild.  Sarah is a nutritionist and medical herbalist and not only clearly knows her stuff, she is fun, interesting and makes you want to know more.

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We walked through the woods, identified plants, learned about their therapeutic uses and laughed.

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Laughter is a great medicine.  Take if from me, somebody who has been in some dark and lonely places and has the dubious honour of being the subject of a police helicopter search, if you can laugh you are 99% of the way towards recovery, regardless of your ailment.

So we laughed, foraged and then we met Mr Plantain.  Some of you will know that I had a slight disagreement with the tram line in Edinburgh on Tuesday.  Net result a huge hole in my knee.  By the time I arrived this morning  the wound was frankly gooey and unpleasant.  Not yet infected but it wasn’t looking good.  Ah ha.  We were going to make a plantain poultice, a poultice which is good to draw our dirt and toxins and is best used before the comfrey I was used to using.  Using comfrey on a potentially dirty wound risks healing of the skin over an unclean wound = abscess.

So I was the class practical session.  Poultice applied mid morning.  It is now early evening and the redness has reduced and whilst it is still sore it no longer throbs.  I have replaced the poultice with a fresh one.  Here is the poultice covered knee.  I did think seriously about showing you the lovely clean wound, but I suspect that some of you might never come back again if I did.

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But you don’t have to have a hole in your knee.  Many plants can be taken orally as a tea, a decoction, a syrup.  You can make oils or distillations.  inhalations and powders. Foot soaks and hand soaks (have you tried ginger hand soak for osteo arthritis?)

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You do need to know what you are doing, just as you need to know what you are doing if you are foraging.  Make a mistake and you could kill yourself.  It isn’t a game.  But it is an alternative and one we ought to learn about and understand.  We now finally believe that it is time to teach our children how to code rather than how to use a software programme written by somebody else.  When will be believe that it is time to teach our children how to use the plants around them to cure and to feed, and even more importantly which never to touch?

9 thoughts on “the herbal medicine cabinet

  1. Great post. I started with making my own shea butter/sweet almond oil bars and using several herbal salves that I purchased on Etsy. I am interested in learning more about natural healing as I get more comfortable on our farm.

    • Do get yourself on a good hands on course with somebdy who knows what they are talking about. I am keen to look at our garden as well as the woods and fields around us and have plants that I can use for food, for medicine or for household use.

      • I know I have wild plantain, cultivated calendula, rosemary, lavenders and thymes, mint and bee balm, but I will find an herbalist before I go “wild” literally and figuratively:-)

      • I am so pleased I went on this course. I have had a boost to my own confidence about that which I already do, learned a huge amount and am fired up to learn more

  2. When I came to German-speaking Switzerland as a young adult, I was surprised how automatically the Swiss use herbal remedies without really thinking they are doing anything special, it’s absolutely normal to give infants fennel tea (rather than gripe water) or use calendula ointments, for instance, though I have since read interesting discussions as to the pros and cons – chamomile was always recommended as an eye bath but some sources say the tiny hairs are lethal to eyes…
    As I was interested in herbal medicine anyway, I have picked up various things over the years. However, we have been lucky enough to rarely need anything much (touch wood!) past the occasional cup of digestive herbal tea, though I do always have lavender oil to hand – it’s incredibly useful! Some very young children (aged 3-6) that were neighbours knew to use a broad plantain leaf rubbed on insect bites and the narrow-leaf kind is a popular remedy to soothe cold symptoms like sore throats, in syrup form.

  3. Thank you for sharing this! I’ve always wanted to learn more, making poultices is just gets messy. any tips? any products?

  4. I don’t know a way to make poultices less messy. I suppose it might be possible to make an extract and soak a cloth in the extract which would be tidier than the chopped plant!

  5. Pingback: Comfrey | one pair of shoes at a time

  6. Pingback: Wear the Wild | one pair of shoes at a time

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