gowns, gardeners and gongs

70246620_2664239586919701_8430608970518888448_o

Advice I was given yesterday.

  • Don’t eat the black pudding (ignored that already at breakfast today)
  • Be nice (excellent tenet)
  • Don’t work for anyone you don’t like (I will add a codicil of “unless you have no choice”, rent and food are not luxuries)
  • Say yes (presumably unless you don’t like the person asking)

Notwithstanding the fact that these are huge generalisations and there will be plenty of exceptions to prove the rule, I have added some of my own already, as far as advice for graduates as well as mere Certificate holders such as me they are more succinct and more relevant than much of the stuff that has been doled out to me over my many years in many very different educational institutions.

I rather wish I had a video of the man in question during his talk / speech / stand up routine, as James Alexander Sinclair , reknowned stand up comedian, garden designer has a wicked twinkle in his eye that belies his sober appearance and is an accomplished choreographer, taking control of the stage that we, the graduates had merely marched across, certificates in hand, only moments earlier.  However, pop over to his website for a photo – he looks rather good in a floral headress, and perhaps read his blog to get a little taste of his way with words.

My journey to the lecture hall at RBGE on 12th September began something like this.

Me (observing husband deep in contemplation of expensive fishing tackle on a well-known on-line auction site):  Do you remember how helpful you found the herbal healing salve I made you?

Him (not looking up from piscatorial porn): Hmmmm

Me: I wondered if I should apply for that course at the Edinburgh Botanics I was telling you about.

Him: Hmmm

I signed up on the spot.  And so I morphed from Mum to Professor Smellie Sprout and have never looked back.  Regular and observant readers will know that in October 2020 I take the next step in my herbal journey and start training with Nicki Durrell at The Plant Medicine School in Cork with a view to becoming a fully fledged medical herbalist.  I certainly didn’t see that coming when I told my school careers advisor (in all seriousness) that I wanted to be a spy, or as a fall back, an actress.

And so,  almost a year later Stuart and I arrived at Edinburgh airport from ten days in northern Spain at some silly o’clock hour and crashed out in our Airbnb, chosen to be within walking distance from RGBE, we didn’t think we were going to be up to much travelling the following day!

2019-09-12 16.29.42

Dress (suitably botanical) ironed, hair tamed as best I could I presented myself for registration.  Gosh, there were a lot of people, and they all looked as if they were very knowledgeable.  I was in awe of those that held little tickets that declared they had completed a course in botanical illustration, what witchery is that?!  But lo, I spied a handful of my fellow Herbalogy Certificators (?) and then there we were, clutching our order numbers seated alphabetically by course ready for the off.

69787953_10157697581268833_433884068757635072_n

I have been to a number of graduations of my own and more speech days and prize givings than I care to remember.  There were three speakers …..

But the Herbology Gods were smiling, nay they were laughing. First up was David.  If ever there was a perfect example of why Garden Design (new career) is better for the soul than Banking (previous career) it was David.  Pim followed with a wonderful pictorial summary of the MSc in Biodiversity and Taxonomy of Plants which left me wondering if there was room for a Colombian field trip in the Herbology Certificate too!

Next up was Mr Sinclair above and then suddenly it was all over and we were being marshalled for photographs.

2019-09-12 15.20.03

Health and safety alive and well – this was our photographer in the aptly named cherry picker.

It perhaps says something about our particular group that we had all noticed that there we had two drink tokens per person for the reception, and there was rocky road.  I believe there were other nibbles but champagne and rocky road did it for me.

And now  …. ?  Well who knows but for the time being I shall keep saying yes and see what happens.

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

professor smellie sprout

2019-08-22 16.37.35

I have several nicknames, my husband endearingly calls me the Septic Ferret, this has nothing to do with my personal hygiene but was a result of his response to me calling him a lazy old goat at precisely the moment during an episode of Blackadder in which Baldrick had clearly done something unspeakable.  Such billet doux as we send each other (please remember to feed the dog/electrician arrives at midday/we are out of  milk) are invariably signed off sfx or luvlog.   Beat that Cyrano de Bergerac.

However, it is  my most recently acquired nickname that is relevant today.  Professor  Smellie Sprout.  Again this has nothing to do with overcooked Christmas vegetables.  This name was given to me by my knitting group on hearing that I had recently completed a certificate course in Herbology at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh.  .

[Oh and I got a distinction by the way] 

Much mirth ensued until I cured a very swollen ankle with my sore muscle salve , and offers of beatification followed.  Sainthood is not my thing, I couldn’t keep up the good behaviour for a start,  but herbs most certainly are.

[Did I tell you I got a distinction?]

So in October 2020 I start fours years of training to become a fully fledged, officially registered Smellie Sprout at the School of Plant Medicine in Cork.  In the meantime I need to keep my hand in so I have been writing up  my Materia Medica.  I imagine most people write up theirs electronically.  I don’t, not least, because come the apocalypse when the internet is but a dimly lit memory my Materia Medica will still be going strong.

2019-08-22 18.07.30

Even its box is a thing of beauty, and apparently an office appliance no less.

On one of the first mornings when I could wander around the garden without the need for wellies and waterproofs I began to take photographs to attach to the notes.  It’s surprising how much medicine you can plant in your garden.

2019-08-23 08.41.28

Verbena officinalis  Vervain.  The subject of my first monograph.  One of the oldest sacred herbs for the Romans, Greeks and Druids.  Useful for tension headaches, migraine and may also have a role, in conjunction with some antibiotics, in the control of MRSA.

2019-08-23 09.47.56

Hypericum perforatum  St John’s Wort.  Well known as an antidepressant it is also an important external wound healer.

2019-08-23 08.43.16

Tanacetum parthenium Feverfew.  Best known for the treatment of migraine (and its ability to self seed with gay abandon) it is also an anti-inflammatory and is used in the alleviation of arthritis pain.

2019-08-23 08.43.28

Borago officinalis  Borage.  One of my favourite garden herbs, so pretty and a delicious addition to summer drinks.  A cooling herb it was once called “cool-tankard”.  “Borage for courage” is an oft-quoted expression indicating its ability to restore life and vitality to the  downhearted and those weighed down by mental exhaustion.

2019-08-23 08.43.54

Artemisia verlotiorum  Chinese Mugwort.  One of the many medicinal Artemisia, one of the digestive bitters and strongly linked to the female reproductive system.

2019-08-23 08.44.17

Artemisia absinthium  Wormwood.  Forever to be linked to the era of Toulouse Lautrec and the apparent hallucinations brought on drinking copious amounts of absinthe.  The hallucinations were believed to be the result of the high levels of thujone in the plant, although that has now been debunked.  Today its extreme bitterness makes it a valuable member of the digestive bitters group of herbs and may also help the body cope with infection and fever.

2019-08-23 08.44.41

Verbascum thapsus  Mullien.  Unsurprisingly also known as Aaron’s rod, it provides dramatic structure in the garden both when flowering and as a dry autumnal stem.  Primarily a respiratory remedy, reducing inflammation and increasing fluid production. During a long and nasty viral infection this summer I drank mullein tea every day and can confirm that it is an excellent expectorant and soothing plant.

2019-08-23 08.45.08Leonurus cardiaca  Motherwort.  A member of the mint family, the clue is in the common name, motherwort has a long association with the female reproductive system and motherhood.  Its Latin name indicates its use as a cardiac tonic.

2019-08-23 08.45.30Foeniculum vulgare Fennel.  Almost ready to harvest the seeds.  A carminative, aiding digestion, antispasmodic and often used to relieve colic.

2019-08-23 08.41.17Matricaria chamomilla  Roman Chamomile.  This isn’t doing quite as well this year since the husband “weeded” my original plants earlier this summer.  These are the replacements and with only two flowers thus far my  harvest will be very low this year!

2019-08-23 08.49.22

Lavendula sp Lavender complete with friend.  I’ve been cutting and drying all summer, we have about six bushes which have been very productive this year.

EC95EE7F-F236-4FE9-AE29-3281E7B8CD59

And here it is drying in the kitchen.

Time to write up all the notes now.

Love Gillie x

sore muscle salve

I can bend my fingers in weird ways and and despite my deceptively large size am quite the bendiest person in my yoga class.   While once, when I was much younger, this was something of which to be proud and to show off, now I am still bendy but a lot wiser, and have a pilates personal trainer to work on building muscle strength to hold those joint in place.

Being hypermobile has many disadvantages from a tendency to be flatfooted and twist over on one’s ankle (tick), to gut and bowel problems (those connective tissues just aren’t up to the task)  (tick),  thin skin that heals poorly (tick) to full scale Erlers Danlos Syndrome (fortunately for me no tick as this can be pretty horrible).

As I have got older some joints flake out more than others.  A recent development has been my shoulders.  Quick anatomy lesson, shoulder joints the most shallow and most mobile joints in the human body and is essentially held in place by ligaments, which in my case are long past their sell by date.  Net result, gravity has a tendency to pull the ball out of the socket (subluxation) and not surprisingly it hurts!

As one of the assignments for the Herbology Certificate and the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh  was to create a herbal remedy so it didn’t take long for me to chose something that I could use on my very sore arms and shoulders.  Here is a précis of my assignment, I do hope it is of help to someone else too.

 

2019-04-12 13.41.36

GINGER, CAYENNE AND TURMERIC SALVE

Ingredients 

  • 15ml Ginger root infused oil*
  • 15ml Red chilli (cayenne) infused oil*
  • 15ml Turmeric root infused oil*
  • 6g Beeswax granules

Method

  • Melt the beeswax granules in a bain marie over a low heat.
  • Add the infused oils and mix thoroughly.
  • Remove from heat and pour into clean jar.
  • Wait until salve is cooled and solid and then secure jar lid.

(Storage 6 months)

* To make infused oil

  • 50g Chopped/grated plant material
  • 500ml Sunflower oil

Method

  • Place oil and plant material in a bain marie over the lowest heat possible.
  • Cover bain marie tightly (tin foil is excellent)
  • Leave for 3 hours (check water in bain marie regularly)
  • Remove from heat and leave still covered in a warm place overnight (I use the shelf above the aga)
  • Strain through a muslin and decant into dark glass bottle.

(Storage 6 months)

2019-04-12 13.42.11

At least 115 constituents have been identified in ginger, of which the highest percentage are gingerols. Research has shown that some gingerols exhibit analgesic and potent anti-inflammatory effects.  This is achieved through a variety of actions: 

  • Thermogenesis (heat production), partially attributed to –
  • Vasodilation increasing blood supply to the afflicted area;
  • Modulation of calcium levels affecting heat-pain receptors.

There have been some inconsistencies in clinical trials and the use of ginger in alleviating inflammation, osteoarthritis, and rheumatism. However, the positive results, particularly in double blind, placebo controlled trials have prompted further research and there is a theory that ginger acts in a similar way to non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) by inhibiting cooxygenases (COX) production and thus the production of prostaglandins which in turn promote pain, inflammation and fever.  However, prostaglandins are also vital in the protection of the stomach lining and long-term use of NSAIDs can lead to ulceration of the stomach.  Most NSAIDs inhibit both COX1 and COX2, however it is COX1 that is required for stomach and intestinal lining protection and it would appear that ginger falls into the selective inhibition group and inhibits only COX2, therefore acting as an effective anti-inflammatory but not having an undesirable effect on the gut lining.  Clearly this is of relevance when comparing remedies that are taken systemically rather than topically (as this one is) however it is a valuable property of ginger compared to most NSAIDs on the market.

There is also some evidence to suggest that ginger can have a role in the reduction of pro-inflammatory cytokines which promote inflammation in body tissue, of relevance here in their role in the promotion of joint inflammation.

Cayenne is a very powerful systemic stimulant, regulating blood flow and energising and stimulating the heart.  In this respect, it encourages blood flow to the peripheral areas and is an effective remedy for peripheral muscular pain and cramps.

The active ingredient in cayenne is capsaicin, a pungent alkaloid with analgesic properties through the release of neuropeptides which control the peripheral neurons. There has been extensive clinical research in the relationship between capsaicin, Substance P, serotonin, somastatin and the pain pathway.  One theory is that it produces a rapid release of Substance P which is required for the production of pain, but the release is so concentrated and rapid that Substance P is depleted from the neurons and the pain threshold released.

Clinical trials have also shown that capsaicin has anti-inflammatory properties at a level to that of diclofenac, and like ginger, it does so without affecting the gastric mucosa, in fact it has been shown to have a digestive stimulant action and aid in the uptake of micronutrients through the intestinal wall.

The anti-arthritic effects of turmeric include the inhibition of joint inflammation and bone erosion.  Clinical trials have shown that turmeric has a positive effect on tissue inflammation and pain control in osteo-arthritis, in post-operative molar tooth removal, in rheumatoid arthritis, 

The main ingredient in turmeric is a volatile oil containing tumerone and a number of agents producing the vivid yellow colour called curcuminoids which are found in natural anti-oxidants.  It is the curcuminoid curcumin which is the main active ingredient in turmeric.  Precisely what the mechanism of action of curcumin is has not been fully determined.  However, it is believed to be a similar COX2 blocking mechanism as demonstrated by ginger.

However, the question is does it work?  Well for me yes it did.  Pain relief within 30 minutes which lasted for approximately 4 hours.

NB:  I am not qualified herbalist, for further information regarding the constituents please consult the references below

  • Bode AM, Dong Z.  The Amazing and Mighty Ginger in Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors.  Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects.  CRC Press/Taylor and Francis 2011
  • Grieve, M.  A Modern Herbal.  Tiger Books 1992
  • Griggs, B.  The Green Witch.  Vermillion 2000
  • Hoffman, D.  Holistic Herbal.  Thorsons 1990
  • McVicar, J.  Jekka’s Complete Herb Book.  Kyle Cathie 1997
  • Prasad S, Aggawal BB.  Turmeric the Golden Spice: From Traditional Medicine to Modern Medicine in Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors.  Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects.  CRC Press/Taylor and Francis 2011
  • Wong, J. A Year with James Wong.  Collins 2010
  • Wood, M.  The Earthwise Herbal Volume I.  North Atlantic Books 2008
  • Wood, M.  The Earthwise Herbal Volume II.  North Atlantic Books 2009
  • Wood, M.  The Earthwise Herbal Repertory North Atlantic Books 2016
  • Dinarello, CA.  Proinflammatory Cytokines.  Chest Vol 118, No 2: 503-508
  • Srinivasan, K.  Biological Activities of Red Pepper (Capsicum annum) and its Pungent Principle Capsaicin: A Review.  Crit. Rev. Food Sci. Nutr.  2016 Jul 3;56(9):1488-500
  • Karlapudi V, Prasad Mungara AVV, Sengupta K, Davis BA, Raychaudhuri SP.  A Placebo-Controlled Double-Blind Study Demonstrates the Clinical Efficacy of a Novel Herbal Formulation for Relieving Joint Discomfort in Human Subjects with Osteoarthritis of Knee.  J. Med. Food.  2018 May;21(5):511-520
  • Maulina T, Diana H, Cahyanto A, Amaliya A.  The efficicacy of curcumin in  managing acute inflammation pain on post-surgical removal of impacted third molars patients: A randomised controlled trial.  J. Oral. Rehabil.  2018 Sep;45(9):677-683
  • Haroyan A, Mukuchyan V, Mkrtchyan N, Minasyan N, Gasparyan S, Sargsyan A, Narimanyan M, Hovhannisyan A. Efficacy and safety of curcumin and its combination with boswellic acid in osteroarthritis: a comparative, randomized, double-bline, placebo-controlled study.  BMC Complement. Altern. Med.  2018 Jan 9;18(1):7
  • Comblain F, Barthélémy N, Lefèbvre M, Schwartz C, Lesponne I, Serisier S, Feugier A, Balligand M, Henrotin Y.  A randomized, double-blind, prospective, placebo-controlled study of the efficacy of a diet supplemented with curcuminoids extract, hydrolyzed collagen and green tea extract in owner’s dogs with osteoarthritis.  BMC Vet. Res.  2017 Dec 20;13(1):395
  • Amalraj A, Varma K, Jacob J, Divya C, Kunnumakkara AB, Stohs SJ, Gopi S.  A Novel Highly Bioavailable Curcumin Formulation Improves Symptoms and Diagnostic Indicators in Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Two-Dose, Three-Arm, and Parallel-Group Study.  J. Med. Food. 17 Oct;20(10):1022-1030.
  • Srivastava S, Saksena AK, Khattri S, Kumar S, Dagur RS.  Curcuma longa extract reduces inflammatory and oxidative stress biomarkers in osteoarthritis of knee: a four-month, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial.  Inflammopharmacology. 2016 Dec;24(6):377-388
  • Asha J, Ronggian W, Mian Z, Ping W.  Mechanisms of the Anti-inflammatory Effect of Curcumin:  PPAR- µActivation.  PPAR Res.  2007; 2007: 89369
  • https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Capsaicin
  • https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/substance%20P

Love Gillie x

 

herbal loose ends

At this time of year you can usually find me either grubbing around in the garden and hedgerows collecting herbs or in the kitchen infusing, decocting and generally making remedies for the year ahead.

BE743ACC-EA8C-447E-ACA9-985178134EE1

Today was a catch up day.  I have several tinctures that are ready to be bottled up.  A tincture is a simple method to harvest the medicinal qualities of a herb.  All you need is the herb itself and base solvent.  The most common solvent is alcohol as it has the ability to dissolve almost all the constituents of most plants and acts as a preservative at the same time.  If you prefer not to use alcohol then vinegar or glycerine can be substituted.  Vodka is my preferred tincture solvent, a minimum of 37-40% proof.  I have bought much stronger vodka in Romania and Latvia where is was quite reasonably priced compared to the UK.

The common home method for making a tincture is to fill a small jar with the chopped herb and cover with the solvent liquid.  There are guidelines for different ratios of herb to solvent (see Hoffmann or Bartram for details).  I tend to use the common method but I do make a note of the strength of alcohol used.

6873F15A-687C-4AD6-8557-AAE55FF4BD26

Earlier this summer I had put aside :

  • Turmeric
  • Ginger
  • Chilli
  • Chickweed
  • Lemon balm
  • Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
  • Hawthorn leaves
  • Motherwort
  • Dandelion leaf and root
  • Lemon balm and basil in witchazel

So  much of this morning was spent bottling up and labelling.  I add the plant (Latin name if there is a risk of confusion), date of bottling, solvent and place the plant was harvested.

The first three (turmeric, ginger and chilli) are part of my personal treatment for muscular strain in my upper arms/shoulders as a result of hypermobility.  I’ve made a very effective salve using these three ingredients and was interested to see if the tincture taken internally was as effective.  I’ll do a post on the salve later this month.

Chickweed and lemon balm are both exceptionally good for skin irritations.  Mugwort is bitter tonic and helps with digestive disorders, stimulating bile production whilst also providing a carminative action reducing gas in the digestive system.  Hawthorn (more commonly the berries but also the leaves, I shall harvest the berries later in the year) and Motherwort are both cardiac tonics and whilst everyone knows dandelion as a diuretic few also know that it is an excellent source of potassium thus negating the need for potassium supplements required when synthetic diuretics are prescribed. (See Bartram or Hoffmann for detailed information on the herbs listed).  Finally some of you will remember the lemon balm and basil witchazel tincture as the basis of my first attempt at home made insect repellent.  I’ll let you know how it works!

The lemon balm infusion was ready to be turned into a salve.

  • 60 ml Lemon balm infused oil
  • 6 mg beeswax granules

Add both ingredients to a bowl over a pan of gently simmering water and stir until the beeswax is melted.  Pour into clean jar and leave with the lid off until the salve is solid.

C064F386-63F0-4C0E-A4AC-E64D29CB76F2

Now, I have to bottle up the rest of the tinctures and get out in the garden and do some more harvesting, the sage and verbascum are vast and the mint needs my attention!

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

mint and roses

At last, we have sun!  I have been itching to harvest the herbs and flowers in the garden and hedgerows but it has been far too wet.  So today I am in overdrive and the house smells divine.

First was the rosewater (recipe here)

A436A3D5-DB49-4E65-8B88-1CBEBC1ECB7A

The roses are heavy with flowers and there are plenty more buds so I picked about 200g and the kitchen is filled with Radio 4 and the smell of rose petals!

Next was the mint.  I have peppermint, spearmint, apple mint and chocolat emint.  First was the peppermint

0878F5E0-D499-4B78-9281-0B1D512D2705

I have already made a large jar of mint sauce and have one jar dried.  But that won’t last the winter so in went another batch and I had a cup of tea as well.

C3D8DF66-15FB-423A-90B4-1FE377B62272

The meadowsweet it out, there are fresh nettles growing around the hen house and the lemon balm is going wild as well …

4189885E-3433-4D9D-83EA-1331C8AD9449

…but there is only so much I can get in the dehydrator.  However lemon balm is a good insect repellent, as is basil, which is also going rampant.    Their insect repelling action is due to the presence of citronellal (in lemon balm) and citronellal, estragole, limonene and nerolidol, all of which affect the pesky little biters’ sensors and their ability to find their target – namely us.

So while I wait for the mint to finish in the dehydrator here is my very simple insect repellent recipe:

  • jar
  • vodka (or witchazel)
  • Lemon balm leaves
  • Basil leaves

This is just a basic tincture recipe, and I would normally used vodka to make tinctures and make separate tinctures (simples) and mix later. However, as this is a predetermined mix which  will be sprayed on the skin and witch hazel has a soothing effect on the skin I have opted to used it instead of vodka and mix the herbs in the jar.

0379992C-AA45-4825-9EDA-D2F57F7C6E66

Pack the herbs into the jar, cover with witch hazel, seal and label and date (you will not remember what it is, I promise you) and leave for two weeks in a cool dark cupboard.  Then strain and keep in a dark jar.  When needed fill a small spray bottle half full with the herb tincture, top up with water, that is it!

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

 

 

 

albanian chai

I don’t drink coffee.  I used to, lots of it, strong and without milk or sugar.  But about 15 or years ago I fell out of love with it and hardly touch it now.  Occasionally, maybe once a month I may have a mid morning coffee with friends, but certainly no  more than one and it is a notable event.

However, tea is another matter altogether.  I start the day like this.  One pot of English breakfast tea (also without milk or sugar).  Always in  my chicken pot and always with my chicken cup and saucer.  I am a creature of habit.  I do vary the tea cosy!morning tea

However, on or around 10.00 am I switch to this.

2019-06-14 10.10.50

 

On our recent visit to Albania I saw somebody drinking a proper herb tea (i.e. the full plant not dried up bits in a tea bag – I HATE tea bags, but that’s another story). Curious, I asked what it was and ordered a pot with my lunch.  Actually I did that the other way around and drank it first and discovered what it was afterwards!

Sideritis raeseri (not to be confused with Sideritis scardica or any of the other wild Sideritis many of which are at risk of extinction and should not be picked or indeed purchased), also known as ironwort, mountain tea, shepherd’s tea  is the only Sideritis which is cultivated  and has been drunk as a decoction for thousands of years (even mentioned by Dioscorides). It has a pleasant taste and I had it with breakfast every day and frequently during the day as well.  It is a habit I have continued since I returned home.  I brought plenty of the dried herb home with me and though I can replenish my supply through various well known internet sales sites it is not clear that I can be sure that it is the raeseri I am buying rather than one of the endangered species.  So I am trying to track down some seeds.  Unfortunately all I can find from a reputable (i.e. I know that the seeds will be what they say they are) supplier is Sideritis syricia.  So I’ll have to try that out instead.

2019-06-14 10.05.09

The dried Sideritis raeseri

2019-06-14 10.05.29

Ready for the boiling water.

2019-06-14 10.07.04

Brewing.

It is traditionally taken as an aid to digestion and to strengthen the immune system.  Considerable research has been undertaken on this unassuming plant and it has been proven to have anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant action.  As we were travelling I restricted my tinctures to just digestive bitters and left the echinacea I usually take at home.  Whilst we were away Stuart developed a monster of a cold which went straight to his chest.  I drank my Albanian chai every day and remained entirely cold free despite all his coughing and sneezing 🙂

Love Gillie x