Sunday, 7 December 2008

Learning about herbal vinegars

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a workshop on herbal vinegars run by Sarah Head at her home in Solihull. It was a practical session (lots of tasting... chopping... mixing...) and with much knowledge shared and enjoyed by all. I've dabbled with making tinctures, but what I learned is that vinegar can also be used to extract the goodness from herbs, and in some cases slightly different properties than alcohol. Apple cider vinegar is usually used as it is reputed to have medicinal properties even just on its own. (I tried it at one point with honey and water for hayfever, and found it refreshing and clarifying).

We tasted and learned about various different vinegars and honeys that Sarah had already made up, such as:
  • Bramble root vinegar which is good for upset stomach/ diarrhoea because of it's astringing quality
  • Rose petal vinegar for burns
  • Sage vinegar for fevers and infections because of it's cooling/ drying properties. And mixed with elderberry honey and ginger to stop coughing
  • Motherwort vinegar for period pain
  • Nettle leaf vinegar for osteporosis
  • Fire Cider vinegar (which I was convinced was called Fireside Vinegar until I read the notes afterwards - but actually I rather like mistaken name! :-) for viral infections
  • And lots more...
Then we got down to making our own Fire Cider vinegar. But first, Sarah strained off some she'd already made and we got to taste it. We were all expecting a bit of a blast, but it was actually very tasty - and mixed with some horseradish honey and hot water, quite delicious! Who'd had thought! :-)  The ingredients are: horseradish, ginger, garlic, onion, rosehip, cloves, paprika, turmeric, cayenne and of course apple cider vinegar. We tried it later on with some olive oil and bread, and it makes a tasty dip.

I just love this kind of kitchen table wisdom, so freely shared, and so happily received! After a shared lunch, we all ended up in the front room trying out different musical instruments. A big thank you to Sarah! :-) For now my Fire Cider vinegar has a home in the airing cupboard where it will keep nice and warm, and I look forward to trying it in about 6 weeks.

For more information about Sarah's workshops, take a look at the Springfield Sanctuary website or her blog, Tales of a Kitchen Herbwife.

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Monday, 1 December 2008

Getting excited about... community!

Since moving to Leamington a couple of months ago (it feels a lot longer!) I've been thrilled to discover some of the community initiatives going on here, and start to get involved...

Canalside Community Food, the community supported agriculture scheme, which I wrote about in a post last month.

Leamington LETS, or Local Exchange and Trading System, which enables local people to exchange time and skills. 

Transition Town Leamington (TTL), an initiative to become more self-sufficient as a local community in order to meet the challenge of Peak Oil. See more about transition towns here. I just read the TTL newsletter and looked up a mention of a video on how Cuba survived Peak Oil. Recommended viewing!
I find these initiatives inspiring. I'm not in favour of trying to escape or go back to some kind of past way of doing things. We're where we are - as humanity - for a reason, and we have to go "through the eye of the needle" to learn from it, hopefully evolve, and find a new way forward. What I find inspiring about these initiatives is that they're all about community, finding a way forward together, and becoming more self-reliant - a quality generally so lacking in our current society.

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Sunday, 23 November 2008

A warming winter tea

There was a real chill in the air today in Leamington (although not a flake of snow in sight!). As a warming tea after some work in the garden, I had rosehip and hibiscus pepped up with a (fairly generous) dash of elderberry tincture. Mmm, delicious! :-)
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Saturday, 22 November 2008

Winter workshops from Springfield Sanctuary

I've just been pointed to these winter workshops on the Springfield Sanctuary website, run in Solihull: I like the sound of the December one "lifting your mood" - it would be nice to know some herbs to help on those really dreary, grey days of winter. :-)
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Keeping up with herbal bloggers

There are some great herbal bloggers out there, but I don't always have time to keep up with of them. A good way to keep up with blogs and news sites is by using RSS feeds, like the one you can subscribe to on this site. If you're not yet familiar with RSS and how to use it to make life on the web a bit simpler, I really recommend the following short, person-friendly video called "RSS in plain English":

In the video they show how to use an online "reader" to follow the blogs you're interested in. That's one way of doing it, but personally I prefer to use my Email programs (Mac Mail and Microsoft Outlook) to follow my RSS feeds - meaning I can keep up with email and news all in one place.

But I follow a lot of blogs, both for my work and personal interests, and that can mean a long list of feeds to go through. Still not simple or quick enough for me! So what I've done is use a free online service called Yahoo Pipes to create a single RSS feed of all my favourite herbal bloggers. You can see it here:

And if you want to follow it then just copy and paste the above address into your online RSS reader or email program. 

Not all of the Herbal blogs I've visited have an RSS option on their site. I'd really encourage bloggers to add this option, which should be available on all blogging services, as it helps your readers to stay in touch with what you're writing about. 

You can see blogs I'm following in this feed at:

It would be great to hear from herbal-ish bloggers who I haven't included in the feed!

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Sunday, 16 November 2008

Calendula & St. John's Wort cream

My dad has been a long time user of Nelson's Hypercal (which they recommend for cuts and sores) and speaks very highly of it. I like a new cream challenge so I decided to take a look at their ingredients and make my own "home grown" version. They list their ingredients as "active" and "other" rather than just a single list - I suppose to highlight the main stars of the show: the calendula officinalis (marigold) and hypericum perforatum (St. John's Wort). So, here we have Hypercal:

Active ingredients:
  • Calendula officinalis tincture 0.45% v/w
  • Hypericum perforatum tincture 0.45% v/w 
Other ingredients:
  • Purified water
  • Glyceryl monostearate + macrogol stearate - an emulsifying & thickening agent
  • Apricot kernel oil
  • Theobroma oil - cocoa butter
  • Glycerol (humectant, i.e - helps the skin retain moisturiser)
  • Polawax GP200 (cetearyl alcohol, stearate) - stabiliser/ emulsifier (I think!)
  • Cetostearyl alcohol - stabiliser/ thickener
  • Cetyl palmitate
  • Glyceryl monocaprylate methyl parahydroxybenzoate (E218) - preservative
  • Propyl parahydroxybenzoate (E216) - preservative
There doesn't seem to be anything particularly nasty in their recipe - I wonder if the additional preservatives are needed though, given the use of the tinctures? In my version, 10% of the total ingredients are the tinctures, so no preservative is needed. Here's my version:
  • Spring water
  • Prunus amygdalus (almond oil)
  • Sodium stearoyl lactylate (vegetable-based emulsifier)
  • St John's Wort tincture
  • Calendula tincture
  • Glycerine (humectant)
  • Glyceryl stearate (vegetable-based emulsifier)
  • Butyrospermum parkii (shea butter)
  • Cetyl alcohol (stabiliser/ thickener)
  • Tocopherol (Vitamin E oil)
As with the previous creams I've made from Aromantic recipes using these emulsifiers, its a lovely consistency. I haven't added any essential oils, so it's just a really simple cream, which is what I wanted. Both the tinctures I bought from Baldwins. I'm not much of a guinea pig as I don't have any skin complaints to try it out with right now - so I'll have to wait for feedback from my dad!

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News: Learning and Living Organic Lifestyle with WWOOF

Just came across an interesting article on Natural about WWOOF, World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farms. Here's an excerpt:
Sue Croppard, founder of WWOOF, intends that through WWOOF people can get first hand experience of organic farming, give assistance to organic farmers, get into the countryside, strengthen the organic movement, form links between city and rural dwellers, and "facilitate inter-cultural understanding between people of different nationalities".

WWOOF is used by many to live sustainable lifestyles; living on a self-sufficient farm allows someone to live without driving and paying for food that was shipped from hundreds if not thousands of miles a way.

Wwoofing is also a method for low-cost traveling - since it is a volunteer arrangement, a person does not need a visa to work in a foreign country. Staying at hotels and hostels can be very expensive especially for long periods of time.

Also, those who wish to work in environmental advocacy may have trouble finding adequate work that pays enough for city-life. Through work-stay programs individuals do not have to concern themselves with rent, food, and may even improve their health through the hours of exercise under the sun.
Great idea! Read the full the article here.

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Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Sharing veg at Canalside Community Food

Wow! Just look at that! :-) That's my first veg share from Canalside Community Food just outside Leamington Spa. I know this is pushing the topic boundaries of Apotheblogary but I did say in the description that it's all about "self reliance and creativity" - Canalside definitely fits that description!

It was really exciting this evening to go down to Leasowe Farm and collect my veg - the best veg shopping experience ever, and not a vacuum pack in sight. I joined the Canalside Community on Saturday for a work day and social. We planted broad beans (my favourite!) and then did some weeding and pulling out of old runner beans. The wind was seriously chilled by the company was warm and friendly, and I enjoyed getting my hands dirty while meeting new people. I can only look forward to how rewarding it will be to eat those broad beans next spring after partipating in a tiny piece of their journey. The work was topped off by a roaring fire, good things to eat, and a tour of the farm.

Canalside are advertising at the moment on their website, offering veg shares: I think it's a brilliant idea, hats off to all those who run it! I can't imagine why anyone, paying a subscription to a gym to keep fit wouldn't exchange it for joining a few work days and getting lovely veg in return for their investment. And now, there's a cheeky little beef bourgignon bubbling away in the kitchen and just waiting to accompany a helping or two of my first veg share. ;-)

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Aromantic's Autumn/ Christmas newsletter is out!

Kolbjorn Borseth at Aromantic has just published their autumn newsletter, and opens with some great encouragement for all those of us thinking of setting up a small business to sell our products:
The recent news is mostly about hardships economically in the world. Right now we can say that we haven’t felt the downturn. I also have contacts in Europe in the natural cosmetics area and some report that sales have even increased! At least the beauty industry seems to be somewhat recession proof. Beauty sales total about £27 billion in Europe! It seems that people need to treat and pamper themselves. It may be that in these times, it is a good opportunity for people to start small businesses that have low overheads and greater flexibility, as they will have an advantage over the larger companies with fixed overheads.

As Henry Ford said: “Obstacles are the scary things you see when you take your eyes off the goal”.
It's packed full of information about Aromantic's latest raw materials, courses, recipes... and lots of knowledge - I look forward to reading it cover-to-cover! And of course, I'm very happy to see a mention of our Aromantic Students forum, which hopefully means that we'll get some more people joining in the discusson we're having on experiences of making the recipes and starting out in business.
Aromantic customer and course participant, Elizabeth Marsh has set up an online private discussion group for people who have attended Aromantic courses and who would like to talk and network online. According to Elizabeth, a few members who have joined so far have enjoyed talking about their experiences making creams. I think this is a great idea and Elizabeth asked me to put the details of the group in our newsletter, so here’s the address: The criteria for membership is that you must have attended at least one Aromantic Course.
Happy reading! :-)

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Sunday, 19 October 2008

Welcome to my new laboratory!

I took a few pictures of my new laboratory this afternoon, while making rosemary and nettle shampoo!

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Saturday, 18 October 2008

In tougher economic times, make your own surface cleaner!

In fact, why not do it anyway? It's cheaper, fun and smells great. :-)

I've been using a homemade surface cleaner for well over a year. It's not quite as tough as a chemical one of course, but for most stuff it's fine. The only time I've used a chemical one is when I moved out of a property and wanted to give it a really good final clean (and was pressed for time), and when I spilt propolis tincture on the cooker (that stuff is a devil to get out!). 

Next time you finish a bottle of surface cleaner, keep the bottle, and get ready to refill it with your own mixture. There are loads of recipes out there for making this stuff, the one I've been using comes from the book 'Better basics for the home' and is called: Basic Formula for antiseptic all-purpose cleaner.
  • 1 teaspoon antiseptic essential oil - I used 50:50 lavender and tea tree, but it also suggests: thyme, sweet orange, lemongrass, rose, clove, eucalyptus, cinnamon, rosemary or birch). From a cost perspective, I think orange is the cheapest. I think lavender and tea tree make a really good combination and smell great.
  • 1 teaspoon of washing soda
  • 2 teaspoons of borax
  • 1/2 teaspoon liquid soap or detergent
  • 2 cups of hot water
Shake it all up and it's ready to use! Now to see how much we're saving... there are some ingredients to be bought upfront, but once you have them they last a long time because of the small amounts. I used Soap Kitchen for most of these (postage about £1.99), so let's see:
  • Essential oil (lavender 10ml for £1.75 and tea tree 10ml for £2.35)
  • Washing soda (52p a KG from Asda)
  • Borax (0.99 for 250g)
  • Liquid soap (£2.15 for 250ml)
So for the amount we made in the recipe (which just about fills an average spray bottle):
  • 2.5ml of lavender = 44p
  • 2.5ml of tea tree = 59p
  • The rest of the ingredients together are at most a couple of pennies
That comes to £1.05, but using sweet orange oil (10ml for £1.20) you could get it down to about 62p. Of course, shopping around for the ingredients, and buying them in slightly larger quantities, will also bring the price down. It's great to be able to make up a bigger batch and then just top up your bottle as needed.

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Health news: Dr. Crescence Allen Reveals Why She Chose Alternative Breast Cancer Treatments

A very interesting article on Cresence Allen's approach to cancer:
I can only speak for myself. I viewed having breast cancer as a wake up call to look at my own life, lifestyle and personal psychology rather than it being a terrifying assault. I viewed it as a growth opportunity. Of course I had to force myself to view it that way, but I would rather take that position than view myself as at the mercy of randomness...

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Monday, 29 September 2008

Lime flower, nettle and gotu kola tea

I was in Neal's Yard at the weekend buying some lime flowers. The lady recommended a mix of lime flowers, nettle and gotu kolu which I've followed and am enjoying as a warming/ stimulating daytime tea. Very tasty!

Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) figures in most Eastern religions and medical systems and has a reputation for longevity. It is a mild adaptogen, and is used as a cerebral tonic and circulatory stimulant. It was this last use that the lady in Neal's Yard mentioned, and what attracted me to trying it as I feel that things to stimulate circulation are beneficial for me.
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Sunday, 24 August 2008

Elderberry tincture

Busy or no, I wasn't going to miss the chance to make my first elderberry tincture this year! As the rain cleared up to a warm afternoon I've been out picking! I got bag of elderberries which have now been washed, plucked off the stalks, and covered in vodka. I'll syphon them off in a couple of weeks ready for any winter colds.

After a look in our (very overgrown) background I also got a bonus of some blackberries and cooking apples. I can feel a crumble coming on... :-)

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Industry news: moisturisers 'raise skin care risks'

My posts have been non-existent lately as I'm busy with lots of changes at the moment... new life, new home, new car! It's exciting but doesn't leave much time for blogging. I did just want to post this article I came across recently in the Independent:
Moisturisers used by millions every day may be increasing the risk of common skin cancers, scientists have warned.

Most such creams have never been tested for their cancer-causing effect on the skin. Now scientists have found that they increase the carcinogenic effect of sunlight in mice.

The skin cancers involved are common in humans. Although mostly non-fatal and easily removed, deaths do occur, especially from squamous cell cancers. These are distinct from melanoma, the less common form of skin cancer, which causes over 1,000 deaths a year in the UK but was not the subject of the research.

Experiments on mice had shown that when caffeine was given orally or applied direct to the skin, it appeared to inhibit cancer. Scientists at Rutgers University, New Jersey, planned to test caffeine as a cancer preventive in humans by adding it to a common moisturiser, Dermabase. Before starting the study they decided to test Dermabase's carcinogenic activity.

To their surprise, they found that it increased the production of tumours in mice that had previously been exposed to ultraviolet light. They then tested three other common moisturisers, all of which increased the production of tumours by an average of 69 per cent.

The significance of the findings for humans has still to be established, the team reports in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.
Hmmm! Another example of the "wonders" of the cosmetic industry.

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Thursday, 31 July 2008

Skin food!

What do you get if you cross Gordon Ramsey with skin cream? No! Not f****** skin cream! In fact, what all of this is really about is me buying myself to a very swanky Bamix hand whisk as endorsed by Mr. Ramsey, for use in making my skin creams. Not, I imagine, what he envisaged using it for. LOL

As well as enjoying the smooth, fluffy results of the new whisk it also got me to pondering just how much making skin creams is a form of cooking - a way of nourishing myself and others. The skin is the largest organ of our body and, at a physical level at least, it forms a boundary line, where a two-way interaction takes place between us and the world around us. In this sense, it is all about our relationship with life. Through it we reach out and touch the world around us - so many things we touch in the course of a day! Other people, a plant, a steering wheel, an apple, a rubbish bag... And also through it, we can be touched by the world. Just writing this reminds me to pay attention to the sense of touch!

And of course, as we interact with life the skin undergoes wear and tear and may suffer from disease just like the rest of our being does at all levels. And so it needs nourishment and care. What I've been learning this year is just how appalling some of the ingredients are in mainstream cosmetic products, and of course that is what we are feeding our skin, ourselves, when we use them. And on the other hand, the feeling of both making and using a wonderful product with beautiful oils and extracts, and the 'best of the crop' from the available chemicals to preserve and stabilise the product.

But as with the food we eat, I don't believe in becoming obsessed about what we eat or put on our skins. What I mean by this is that we are so bombarded by diets and regimes that tell us what we should and shouldn't eat, the exercise we must do, and the evils all around us! In my experience this only breeds a lack of discrimination and self-reliance in us, which takes us ever further from our own sense of what we truly need, making us ever more dependent on the big cosmetic companies to tell us what we need. A sad truth indeed, and one visible in all walks of life. But I suppose that the trend towards people seeking out a more conscientious alternative is a step in the right direction.

So next time I use my skin cream I shall think of it as an experience in fine dining and see how well nourished I feel at the end. Knowing me though, I'll end up wanting pudding as well... ;-)

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Thursday, 24 July 2008

Emulsifiers and preservatives for creams

I was asked last week about some of the ingredients I use in my creams - such as preservatives - and I could only remember a little bit about them! So this post is for purposes of my own revision (maybe it'll stick in my head if I write about it) and anyone reading who asked the question!

I use a preservative supplied by Aromantic called "preservative 12" - or phenoxyethanol ethylhexylglycerin if you like long complex words - in all of my creams. I recently did a course with Kolbjorn about raw materials, and learned that this is the most natural preservative on the market, although it isn't certified by the the soil association as organic because it isn't biodegradable. I used about 12 drops in 100ml of cream. A search on phenooxyethanol ethylhexyglycerin (Ok, that's it I'm going back to calling it Preservative 12 now) brings up a number of natural cosmetic sites listing it in their ingredients, so it looks like I'm in with the right crowd. LOL This is what Aromantic say about it:

A new, innovative, more natural Preservative, which has just come out onto the market. The addition of ethylhexlglycerin affect the interfacial tension at the cell membranes of micro-organisms, improving the preservative activity of the phenoxyethanol. This blend a has a broad-spectrum effect on bacteria, yeasts, and mould fungi. Excellent for all types of Skin Care products, except those which contain Detergents. This Preservative is not pH sensitive and can be used in pH ranges up to 12. Recomended dosage is 0.5%-1%.
There are then a number of different emulsifiers available to use. Mostly I've used the duo of VE (glyceryl stearate) and MF (sodium stearoyl lactylate) emulsifiers, which are easy to use. VE is the fat-loving emulsifier that goes in with the fat stage ingredients while MF is the water-loving one! Both VE and MF are produced from coconut and palm oil.

I just recently tried out using a single emulsifier, that goes in with the fat stage: vegetal (cetearyl glycoside) which Kolbjorn describes as

...a modern emulsifier made according to ecologically friendly principles as its production does not involve the use of chemicals or organic solvents
Sounds good. It also makes very light creams. All good so far! The downside is that it's harder to work with - my first attempt was a runny, separated out mess. :-( My second attempt is much better, but I think it's going to take some practice!

So next time someone asks me about preservatives, I'll be able to say... "Oh, phenoxyethanol ethylhexylglycerin! Didn't you know?" LOL That is, if I haven't forgotten it again - but that's what blogs are for. :-)

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Mint and hibiscus tea

I'm just drinking mint and hibiscus tea - like it! :-) It feels like a quite yang, energising and refreshing mix - a bit of a taste sensation. Probably nice drunk cool as well on a warm day like today.
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Saturday, 12 July 2008

Discussion forum for Aromantic Students

This is a post to everyone I've met at Aromantic courses this year! At the course last week I said I would set us up a forum where we can connect and learn from each other as we continue to make up Kolbjorn's recipes. I've set us up a private Google Group to do just this - all you need to do is click on the link below to go to the group and request to join. You'll see that you get options to receive emails as a daily digest, individually, or not at all.

Aromantic students - Google Group:

I'm away for the next week so I'll accept any join requests when I get back. I look forward to seeing you online! :-)

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Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Essiac - the herbal cancer treatment

A friend has just brought to my attention the story of Rene Caisse and the herbal treatment called Essiac with which she treated cancer patients. Dr Gary Glum tells of her lifetime battle to get recognition from the medical establishment for Essiac in his book Calling of an Angel. I have found this book available online and it is a gripping, at times heart breaking, tale of one woman's fight against a medical profession that shamefully tried to suppress Essiac. The book opens:
"This is the story of a woman named Rene Caisse. For more than 50 years, until her death in 1978 at the age of 90, she treated thousands of cancer patients, most of them written off by doctors as terminally ill, with her own secret herbal formula. She called it Essiac - Caisse spelled backwards - and she brewed the tea herself, alone in her kitchen."
He goes on to say:
"I don't claim that Essiac is a miraculous panacea, capable of curing all cancers in all people, nor do I believe that. Rene Caisse didn't even believe that. She didn't claim Essiac as a "cure for cancer". Her former patients were the ones who put forward that claim, strenuously and over many decades. What Rene maintained was that Essiac caused regression in some cancerous tumors, the total destruction of others, prolonged life in most cases and - in virtually every case - significantly diminished the pain and suffering of cancer patients"
You will have to read it yourself to experience testimonial after testimonial of patients treated by Rene Caisse and either cured or significantly helped by Essiac. 

So why has this cure, or at very least helper, been suppressed? The answer seems to be pretty straightforward: money. On the website Healing Cancer Naturally, Dr. Ralph Moss is quoted:
"[Conventional cancer treatment is] big money. You have to understand that cancer is 1/9th of the overall health budget in the United States. The last figures I have seen from the American Cancer Society of money spent on cancer indirectly or directly at 107 billion dollars... Chemo is tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars. A bone marrow transplantation which is basically another way of giving chemotherapy or radiation can run to about 150,000 dollars per person, and is almost never effective. It kills about 25%..."
Revealing indeed! Especially when you consider how cheap Essiac is. According to Dr Brusch in Calling of an Angel:
"It's very inexpensive. You can get a gallon of the stuff for about $40, transportation and all. Just try and get radiation and chemotherapy - and see what that'll cost you"
Again from Healing Cancer Naturally, this time from a Dr. Warner (and there are many more on the site):
"Chemotherapy is an incredibly lucrative business for doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies... The medical establishment wants everyone to follow the same exact protocol. They don't want to see the chemotherapy industry go under, and that's the number one obstacle to any progress in oncology"
Lastly, I have found a site that claims to have the original formula for Essiac, and there is a also a book available called Essiac Essentials with the original formula. I will be making some in the near future.

(Note: on the online version of Calling of an Angel I found that the chapter links at the bottom of each chapter do not always work. I found that the easiest way to progress through the chapters is just to change the chapter number in the URL.)

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Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Nourishing hand cream

I wasn't too happy with the first hand cream I made, so I've just done a re-take. This time I really am pleased, it has a lovely consistency and a delicate smell. :-) The oils used were jojoba, olive, avocado, thistle, vitamin E and shea butter. And the essential oils of rose, lemon, sandalwood and geranium.

I'm thinking it would be good to start using some infusions for the skin creams, in the way I've used them for the shampoos. An infusion of rose petals, for example, would give the cream a lovely colour and also have a softening effect on the skin I think.

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Sunday, 29 June 2008


A lovely big feverfew plant (tanecetum parthenium) photographed today at the National Herb Garden at Warmington. Feverfew is said to be good for headaches, although I've never tried it.

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Red valerian

This is a picture of red valerian (centranthus ruber) which is prolific just about everywhere at the moment! It's lovely to look at but unlike true valerian, does not have any medicinal properties.
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Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Natural insect repellent

In the last week a few insects have taken a fancy to the plants I'm growing on the window sill and doorstep. First of all it was the marigolds which got black fly (apparently it attracts them). I found a recipe for a natural insect repellent online. It involves boiling a pint of water, taking off the heat and adding the rind of one lemon. This is then left overnight and strained off into a spray bottle. For extra measure I added a drop of tagetes essential oil into the mix.

This seems to be working. I've sprayed a few times over the last week and the marigolds are looking happy and healthy. Last year I tried a recipe involving vegetable oil, water and baking soda (or something like that) and it didn't seem all that effective, so I'm glad this one looks to be doing the job. I also discovered that it's a very refreshing drink, LOL! (That is, before I've added the essential oil).

Then today I looked out at the lovely lemon balm only to find that some of the leaves look like they're getting mold. In fact it's mealybug. Who'd have guessed! I've tried using the same spray and it's cleaned them up for now, so we'll see.

Then (!) I looked at the mint plant and it's got some weird looking patches on some of the leaves. I looked it up in my RHS Gardening book and it had a name that sounded something like the Cruciatus spell from Harry Potter! I know, it doesn't sound promising. Anyway, the recommended banishing spell was to remove all the affected leaves and burn them (I hope throwing them in the waste bin in a plastic bag will suffice!).

So for now it's me and the plants 1 - the insects 0!

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Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Propolis cream

I've finally made that propolis cream! :-) I siphoned off the tincture last weekend after two weeks of being lovingly shaken a few times a day. And now this evening I made a base cream and added in the tincture (it's about 8% of the total ingredients). What I realised when I'd made the tincture is that it has a very distinct smell of rum, which is fine when you're taking it internally (especially if you happen to like 80% rum!) but not so good for a skin cream. In fact, in the final cream the smell is quite faint. I also added some rosewood essential oil at the end which helps, but next time I'll remember to make it with an odorless alcohol.

I decided to use a base cream that is for sensitive skin - it uses apricot kernel oil, borage, vitamin E and vitamin A palmitate - with the idea that this will be a gentle formula if it's being used on irritable or unhappy skin. It also gives it a lightness that feels really nice on the skin.

I don't have any skin conditions to treat with this cream but I'm sending it off to a friend who has used commercial propolis creams, so hopefully I will get some feedback and comparison!

An afterthought... even though the idea of using a sensitive skin base is good, I think next time I will make it with a slightly heavier base. The reason being that the alcohol in the tincture is in itself drying. The cream has thickened to a good consistency though.

And some feedback... I spoke to the friend I sent this today today. She said that it is better than the propolis cream she's bought in Holland & Barrett previously, and that the smell of propolis is more prominent (meaning they use a weaker tincture and/ or put less in).

Other propolis posts:

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Saturday, 7 June 2008

Propolis for hayfever

Following from my last post this is a quote from James Fearnley's Bee Propolis - Natural Healing from the Hive:
"Consumer research indicates that a number of users found relief from hay fever when taking propolis. In 1980 Dr Remy Chauvin, the French physician noted for his championing of propolis, treated a number of patients with ha fever. The patients were treated with with a alcohol extract of propolis in soluble starch. Each patient received 7-8 doses daily for eight days, each dose containing 250 mgs of dry propolis extract. The patients' symptoms were almost completely alleviated. Small doses were given in the following two years with continuing positive results"
So I've just made tincture with 60g of propolis, that would make 240 of the above doses from this amount (60/0.25=240). As there's 240ml of alcohol (probably a bit less once it's strained etc.) that would mean 1ml of my tincture 7-8 times a day to repeat the above experiment. I'll have to wait 2 weeks before I can try it though...

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Propolis tincture

All the ingredients have arrived - propolis from Bulgaria and (80%) rum from Austria - so this morning it was time to finally make propolis tincture. I used the measurements in James Fearnley's Bee Propolis book which are 1:4 propolis to alcohol. I'd actually frozen the propolis (which I don't think was really necessary) to make it easy to break up. I chopped the 60g up into small chips and then topped up with 240ml alcohol. Now it sits for 2 weeks, with a few shakes everyday, until it's ready to strain off!

Now here's the really interesting part! :-) I've had a bit of hayfever this week and last night I couldn't sleep and was streaming with it. I was still sneezy and a bit streamy this morning so while making the tincture I decided to chew on a piece of propolis. I've seen it mentioned for hayfever but not really tried it. It's a bit like chewing gum that's lost it's flavour, but who cares because I've stopped sneezing and streaming just as if I had taken a fast acting anti-histamine tablet! I've been chewing it for about half an hour now so I've stopped and I'll see how long the effect lasts...

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Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Elderflower cordial - results!

I've just filtered off the elderflower cordial through muslin and then, yes you guessed it, we had a photo shoot in the garden! :-)
The taste of the elderflower is lovely (even though I've short changed it by about 1 day of brewing time, as I'm going away tomorrow). I'd maybe use a little less sugar next time as it's a bit on the sweet side.

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Sunday, 1 June 2008

Herbs for female balance

I mentioned in my post about Herbs for painful periods that I wanted to find a generally balancing and nourishing tea for the whole female cycle. Here's my research so far!

The following seem to come up a lot as being important herbs for a healthy female cycle:
  • Dong quai (angelica sinensi) is described in Bartram's Encyclopaedia as "the most popular 'female' herb in the East". The dried root is used for amenorrhoea, dysmenorrhoea, menopause, and cramps.
  • Chaste tree (vitex agnus castus) is said to help with a variety of conditions including pre-menstrual symptoms, amenorrhea, and menopause - it is known to have a "normalising" effect on the female hormones. Both the leaves and berries are used. It goes back a long way (as well as going up a long way - about 22 feet) and apparently featured in Homer's Illiad capable of warding off evil. Despite it's name, it seems to have a split personality with the leaves reducing sexual desire and the berries being aphrodisiac. I haven't tested this theory, LOL! I saw this herb for the first time on my visit to Wisley, but it wasn't in flower like the one in this photo from Flickr.
  • Raspberry leaves (rubus idaeus) are recommended for pain or excessive bleeding during menstruation, to tone the uterine muscles in the last 2 months of pregnancy as well as alleviating sickness and nausea, and to promote milk production.
  • Motherwort (leonurus cardiaca) is said to help with absent or painful menstruation as well as pre-menstrual tension and menopausal flushes. In Bartam's Encyclopaedia one suggestion is to combine it in equal parts with black cohosh and cramp bark. It is also said to combine well with vervain. It is also used for angina. 
The following herbs seem to come up a lot as supporting herbs to mix with the above:
  • Dandelion
  • Nettle
  • Lemon balm
  • Rosehip
  • Chamomile
  • Ginger
Here are some tea formulas I've come across on the internet or in books:
1. Dong quai, nettle, dandelion root, juniper berry
2. Dandelion leaf, nettle, rosehip, agnus castus, red clover flowers
3. Dandelion root, oatstraw, chamomile, raspberry leaf, rosehip, ginger root
4. On Henriette's Herbal there is suggestion of raspberry leaf tea, with lemon balm or peppermint for flavour, and valerian if you have time to rest as well.

As for tinctures I'm trying out cramp bark, and I've also seen the following suggestions:
1. Passionflower and valerian
2. Motherwort

I also came across a suggestion for a herbal bath for menstruation consisting of 1/2 cup each of lavender, rose, chamomile and hops - brought to the boil then left to stand for 15 minutes then poured into the bath. I wonder about using a herbal decoction along these lines the next time I make foam bath! :-)

Pictures from Flickr with thanks to Flower85 and Kenbalkow.

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Saturday, 31 May 2008

Elderflower cordial

It's elderflower mania for me today! :-) I've just started off some elderflower cordial using the recipe on - it should be ready in 5 days. I made a different version last year which included oranges and was tasty. I'm planning to put in a preservative as I won't get through all of this before it goes off. Again last year I used Campden tablets which are commonly used in wine making and preserve the cordial for about a year. If anyone has any better suggestions for a preservative ingredient then I'd love to hear.
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Lemon balm

I've got a new friend on my windowsill which I brought back from Wisley yesterday - it's a lemon balm (melissa officinalis) plant, the "All Gold" variety with it's vibrant yellow-green leaves. Sitting on my window sill it look and feels like a cheerful guardian, and the light through it's leaves catches my eye as I'm at my desk working. The International Herb Association voted it Herb of the Year for 2007!

It is said to have a variety of medicinal uses including migraines, insomnia, indigestion, and nervous excitability. So far I've used the dried herb in a tea with vervain and chamomile for calm and sleep. Here are some quotes and links for other uses... I'll add more as I find them.
"Balm is sovereign for the brain. It strengthens the memory and powerfully chases away melancholy" ~ John Evelyn
"Cultivated in the Mediterranean region for the past 2,000 years, this perennial herb was prized for its catchall curative properties. During the Middle Ages, King Charles V of France was said to drink lemon balm tea daily for his health. Paracelsus, a Swiss Renaissance physician, called lemon balm the 'elixir of life'. And in the 17th century, the French Carmelite nuns made their famous Carmelite Water with lemon balm and other herbs to treat nervous headaches and neuralgia. Today, lemon balm is gaining acceptance as a useful herb for modern stress-related maladies" ~ Stephanie Bloyd
As a remedy:
In cosmetics, home and garden:
In cooking:

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Drying elderflowers

I'm having  a go at drying some elderflowers as they're in full bloom and very abundant where I live. As I don't have a particular warm place (unless the heating is on) I've just spread them out on a large plate on some kitchen towel and sat them on the table. They're nice and dry so I'm just moving them round every so often.

As it happened I had a couple of sprigs spare. I made a nice strong infusion with these then strained it off, added some honey and a couple of slices of lemon. Chilled overnight in the fridge, this is a really refreshing drink for an (almost) sunny day! :-) I'm planning to make some cordial this week as well.

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The gift of beauty - a visit to RHS Wisley

Yesterday I visited RHS Wisley gardens with my father, Robert. What a wonderful privilege to be surrounded by so much beauty throughout the gardens - colours, scents, and the texture of so many different leaves abound! We went, primarily, to visit the herb garden and "put faces to names" as it were for the various herbs we've been studying and starting to use in a dry or tinctured form. 

After some of the grand plants and vibrant colours - like the rhodedendrons or the tropical plants of the Glasshouse - the herb garden is a humble looking space. But with so many hidden secrets and qualities! The experience of being able to touch, smell and in many cases, see for the first time the herbs was very inspiring. I find myself starting to remember their uses and names, not so much through linear study but through reading up on them as I use them.

I forgot to take my camera, but here's the one shot I did take using my mobile phone. It's the chaste tree (agnus castus) which I'm currently researching as one of the key herbs for the female cycle:

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Sunday, 25 May 2008

Rose and lemon hand cream

I've been cream cooking! :-) This is an Aromantic recipe for hand cream which we learnt on the course. Among the ingredients are the oils of jojoba, olive, avocado and thistle - a protective and nourishing formula. As the scent I added rose and lemon essential oils, a combination that I find refreshing and lovely.

I was a bit disappointed with the consistency and had to use a thickener towards the end. I'm not sure exactly why but I will confess to talking on the phone at the same time as weighing the ingredients (blush!). Even if it was about elderflower picking, there's no excuse. LOL!

The final consistency is acceptable, but I will need to try it again at some point. Despite the consistency, this is a really lovely hand cream to use. I've been in need of one for a while, so my hands are happy. :-)

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Herbs for painful periods

I lay in bed a couple of nights ago, unable to sleep - my mind seeking and successfully finding things to worry about. After a while I decided to get up and make a cup of tea - a relaxing blend of chamomile, vervain and lemon balm - and sit up in bed for a while. It was then I realised that the first dull ache of period pain was what had kept me from sleep.

The pattern for me, for quite some years, has been that the first 24 hours of my period can be quite painful - such that I'll take paracetemol solidly through this period in order to sleep and deal with whatever demands of modern life are happening at that moment. I'd decided in the last month that I wanted to start to try some herbal remedies to help treat this naturally. 

I've read that cramp bark (viburnum opulus) tincture can be helpful with the cramping pain, and also read in a book a recommendation for a tea of black haw bark (viburnum prunifolium), cramp bark and pasque flower (anemone pulsatilla)  - 2:2:1 parts. I tried these yesterday and, it's hard to say after just one day trying them, but I think they helped a bit. I only took one paracetemol. The tea is a bit of an awkward recipe though, in my view, as the black haw and cramp bark need to be made up as a decoction, whilst the pasque flower I just added at the end as for a tea. Not ideal if one's busy or on the move. All three of these herbs are antispasmodic and nervine, and particularly recommended for dysmenorrhia (painful periods). Other herbs that are particularly recommended are: agnus castus, black cohosh and helonias.

While alleviating the symptoms - ideally by natural means, but if necessary by a modern medicine like paracetemol - I also want to get a deeper understanding. In this way, an illness or physical condition rather being a "problem" to be solved, is rather an opportunity to dig deeper, and learn about myself. Sitting in bed the other night sipping tea I got to thinking about the process of menstruation within the female cycle - it is like a time of release, breaking down the old, and preparing for the new. Why should it be painful to release, to let go of the old? It is a natural part of being female. 

So as well as trying out herbal remedies, I'm looking at what I find hard to let go of, and particularly in relation to my femininity. In the meantime, if anyone has any herbal recommendations, they would be much appreciated! I'm thinking it would be nice to drink a regular tea that is balancing for the female cycle.

Picture of Viburnum Opulus with thanks to Yarrow Corner.

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Sunday, 11 May 2008

More free salad!

I'm working towards a salad made wholly of leaves picked from the hedgerow. Last week I found that I had Jack-by-the-hedge (or garlic mustard) growing in the garden, and I've also seen it in many places. I added a few tasty leaves to a salad. It's not until their bruised that the leaves give off their garlic aroma.

Here are some other edible hedgerow plants that are on my list to add to my existing salad repertoire of dandelion leaves and garlic mustard!
I'll add to this list as I find more...

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Saturday, 10 May 2008

Elderflower and Yarrow tea

This is another herbal tea that isn't going to make the taste buds jump for joy. Yes, another acquired taste I'm afraid (or one aided by honey)! LOL 

I've added this one to my repertoire with the advent of the hayfever season, although I'm happy to report that I've only had the lightest, weeniest bit of hayfever so far. (Is that all the nettle tea I've been drinking the last 4-5 months?) Anyhow, elderflower and yarrow tea is reported to strengthen resistance to hayfever, and it should be drunk ahead of the season.

Yarrow (achillea millefolium) has a wide range of uses including temperature reduction in the early stages of fevers, flu and colds. It's a mildy bitter herb that can help with digestion. I've seen the suggestion of mixing it with elderflower and peppermint for colds and feverish conditions. Historically, it was used as a vulnerary (meaning it helps in the cleansing and healing of wounds, cuts and ulcers) and was known as "soldier's wound wort".

Elderflower (sambucus nigra) as a tea is recommended for sinusitis, colds, running nose, hayfever and flu. It is also said that eating the fresh flowers can relieve the symptoms of hayfever. It is advised that the tea should be drunk 3 times a day, starting 2 months before the hayfever season.

A good addition to this tea would be eyebright (euphrasia) - which is on my shopping list! :-) All of these herbs can be purchased on the internet, I usually use Baldwins and I've been recommended Grey's Herbal Supplies. And to make it... I just recently got a lovely glass teapot with an internal filter for loose herbs (it was reduced to £10) from BHS.

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Thursday, 1 May 2008

More laundry powder research

I'm still on the quest for a homemade laundry powder that works, but I must admit my chemistry knowledge is lagging far behind the chemicals used! LOL

From what I've learned so far looking at some of the eco-laundry powders out there, these are the bare essential components that I need in my laundry powder:
  • Surfactants (soap and detergents)
  • Water softeners (e.g. - zeolite, sodium carbonate)
  • Bleaching agent (e.g. - sodium perborate)
  • Perfume (e.g. - linalool)
Most of the commercial products also include a "filler" but I can't see much point in this - leave out the filler and just use less powder in the wash, no?

Hmm - for the soap and softener I can try using castile soap and washing soda. I'm not too sure about the detergent though, or about the right amounts of each component.

I'm now waiting for a flash of inspiration, a very good chemist, or (more likely) the next batch of research! Out of my depth? We'll see... ;-)

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Monday, 28 April 2008

The Herbal Research Engine

I've just set up a bespoke herbal search engine on Google for herbalism and related sites. At the moment, it only has a few sites in - but as I come across sites that are good information resources I will keep adding them to the list of sites. This will be great for research purposes as you can get really tailored results without sweating over what you put in the search query.

You can use the search engine from the link above, and I've also added it to my Resources list (further down on the right hand column).

If you know of any great herbalism sites with lots of good information, please let me know and I will add it to the list, so that as a research resource it will get better and better. :-)

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Dandelion pesto

Well! Why not? You get rocket pesto, red pepper pesto, aubergine pesto etc. So I've just made up dandelion pesto, adapting a Jamie Oliver recipe for normal basil pesto (I bet he didn't see that one coming! LOL):

3 handfuls of fresh, chopped dandelion leaves
1 handful of lightly toasted pine nuts
1 clove of garlic

Whizz the above ingredients up in the blender (or by hand using a pestle and mortar) and then gradually stir in 1 handful of parmesan and some olive oil until it's the right consistency. Season it and (if you want) add a squeeze of lemon.

And the verdict is... I've just had it with spaghetti and it is of course quite bitter tasting, but it's not bad. Pesto is just about one of my favourite sauces, and this is never going to replace it - but for a change once in a while, and when the fridge is a bit empty (but the garden is full), I can eat this! ;)

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Sunday, 27 April 2008

Vitamin A & Calendula cream

I'm excited! :) I've just made a very healing cream - an adaptation of Kolbjorn Borseth's Vitamin A cream, and thanks to a suggestion from him on the course last week. The purpose of this cream is for my father who has damaged skin on his fingers from many years working with strong chemicals in the printing trade. The tips of his fingers crack in cold weather or after intense usage (e.g. - playing his lute). It is also a generally therapeutic and regenerative cream (the base recipe is one for eczema). 

Amongst it's ingredients - and in addition to the Vitamin A and Calendula oils which you've probably already guessed! - are shea butter, borage oil, vitamin E oil, aloe and little lavender.
So if I may present the cream, in three stages:

1. Getting both the fat and water stages to 75-80C

2. The finished cream - very well whisked!

3. Bottled, and ready to go :)
Update! I've made a few other healing creams since this post:

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Free salad!

Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinalis) leaves can be picked and added to salad, cooked like spinach or drunk as a tea. The leaf has a slightly bitter, tangy taste. There are a number of health benefits:
  • Good for the health of the liver
  • An alkaline food helping the body to redress too much acidity in the body
  • Purifying and cleansing for the blood
  • Good for digestion
And what's more, they're free in our gardens and hedgerows! :)

PS - they need to be picked just before eating as they wilt quickly (as I just found out).

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Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Researching propolis cream

A friend from Bulgaria introduced me to propolis in the form of a cream purchased from Holland & Barrett. She recently gave it to another friend who has eczema on his hands and had tried many other creams without success, but found that the propolis cream provided relief. I decided to research it and have been reading James Fearnley's book 'Bee Propolis - Natural Healing from the Hive'. Propolis is a sticky substance made by bees from plant resins to protect the hive, and is reputed to have quite a wide variety of therapeutic uses. James Fearnley, on the back of his book lists a few:
"Worldwide research has found that propolis is effective:
  • in the alleviation of joint and muscular pain, arthritis and rheumatism
  • as a treatment for skin complaints such as eczema and psoriasis
  • in relieving asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory problems
  • as a healing agent for wounds and burns
  • in treating gastro-intestinal problems and blood disorders
  • as a stimulant for the immune system
Most importantly, propolis contains powerful antibacterial properties which are capable of destroying strains that have become resistant to conventional antibiotics. Could it be the natural antibiotic of the future?"

I've just been looking at some of the propolis creams that are available on the market:
  • Bee Health propolis cream is available online at £3.45 for 30ml or £4.95 for 60ml. However the first things in the ingredients list are "Petrolatum" and "Paraffinum Liquidum" which act as suppressants. So yes, the condition the cream is being used for may appear to get better but it has only been suppressed. It is also over-protective, so the skin becomes dependent on it. Not a good start!
  • BeeVital propolis cream is available online for £5.25 for 50ml. There are lots of ingredients that I'm not familiar with, but there is no petroleum - the oils used instead are almond and coconut. It uses a 90% propolis tincture which is very high (I've bought some propolis tincture from Comvita which is 26.3%). The company is actually run by James Fearnley and they have a good website with lots of information.
  • Earthbound Organics propolis cream sounds really nice and is available online for £7.55 for 50g. I can't see the whole ingredients list but it uses sunflower oil, St John's Wort, orange blossom water and Welsh propolis!
As raw propolis seems to be quite hard to get hold of in the UK, I decided initially to just buy a tincture to experiment with. However, having seen the strength of the tincture in BeeVital's cream (and even the tincture they sell is 50%) compared to the 26.3% I have from Comvita, I've decided to persevere in trying to get hold of some propolis to make my own tincture, and then make the cream. I think it will be an exquisite and therapeutic product by the time I have taken care of each and every step! :-)

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Monday, 21 April 2008

3 wonderful days of Aromantic courses!

I've just spent three wonderful days on Aromantic's courses in Natural Skin Care run by Kolbjorn Borseth. Here is a man determined to share as much of his knowledge and experience of complementary health and cosmetics as he can - and with such a passion and love of what he does. I have come away not only with lots of ideas for my own products, but also with the 'tools' to be able to materialise them!

The first day certainly felt like stepping onto a roller coaster as the fast pace of the course combined with Kolbjorn's sometimes-difficult-to-grasp accent (I'm sure it gets more Scottish in the afternoons?) and the sheer amount of information to be absorbed. I think it took me this first day to get into 'rollercoaster tempo'. This is cookery classes for cosmetics!  And with the sessions alternating between learning about the recipes and ingredients and then rolling up our sleeves and making them! 

One of the really rich aspects of the whole experience is the wide variety of skills, interests and knowledge that the participants bring - aromatherapy, herbalism, conventional cosmetic science, bee keeping, kiniesiology... to mention but a few that I bumped into! 

By the end of the three days, my coffee table was covered in pots and bottles of all the wonderful products we made! So, if I may introduce the potions...

Day 1 - Beginners. I'd already made some of these products, especially the shampoo which I've already blogged about. Nevertheless, there were lots of useful 'little' tips and tricks that I picked up and which you just don't get from a book. There was also an introduction to some of the oils and some general information about the cosmetics industry. For example - cosmetics companies only have to list the ingredient name on their products, but NOT the (undesirable) source of the ingredient. As for the lip balm... it's really gorgeous, definitely better than anything I've bought from a shop before. I sheepishly threw away my Vaseline based Lypsyl when I got home (after learning about the negative impact of petroleum based products on the skin). :-o

Day 2 - Intermediate. In the morning Kolbjorn gave us detailed information about treating eczema holistically, illustrated with stories from his experiences with Lily Johanssen (I love stories! :-).  This included how to get an acid-alkaline balance in one's diet (Ok, ok I went out and bought some carob today and it's not bad! LOL), how to apply compresses, and use herbal baths/ teas. I only know one person with eczema right now but I know the knowledge will come in useful, and the recipes can also be adapted for other therapeutic purposes. For example, I'm going to make a version of the Vitamin A cream with added Calendula for skin damage on my father's fingers from exposure to strong printing chemicals over many years. (I'm also planning to try making a propolis cream - but more about that in another post!).

Day 3 - Advanced. In the morning we looked at a holistic approach to treating psoriasis. I understood that some of these treatments can also be used for scabies (I only wish I'd known this a while back as my brother's dogs were suffering badly from it). The compress demonstrated was with green cabbage, which is used to draw out infection/ impurities from the skin.

By lunchtime of day 3, when you enter the room it's like walking into a wall of essential oils! And by the end of the day, information overload is setting in as we try to absorb every last bit of the course. I'm not sure how coherent I was by the end of the day, but for sure I went away ready to make some new recipes. And I'm happy to announce that I've now replaced everything in my bathroom with my own products! :-) (Well, apart from the toilet cleaner - but that's on the list! LOL)

When I think about all of the knowledge involved - I mean Kolbjorn's knowledge, all the knowledge of the participants each from their own field or country or walk of life, and all of the new knowledge that will be generated as we each make up our own recipes and experiment... that's something quite amazing! :-) But I believe it could have a much wider reach if we all have a means to share this knowledge on an ongoing basis. Some kind of online forum for all those who have participated in at least one course (for example) would be brilliant. In this way, we can share our ideas, ask each other questions, network etc. etc. Something like Ning or YahooGroups, which are both free, would work.

And lastly, a simple but very big THANK YOU to Kolbjorn, Benj, Aromantic and everyone I met at the course! :-)

PS - for anyone reading from the course in the UK. I found that Lakeland sell those curly whisks in their online store (a bit pricey) and also Dunelm Mill (99p) if you can't make it to IKEA.

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Saturday, 19 April 2008

Perfume that lasts all day!

I recently purchased Perfumes, Splashes & Colognes - a simple book that provides an introduction to making your own perfumes at home. As I'm not looking to get into perfume in a big way it's just the right level of knowledge for me. 

I've made up a few of the recipes in a base of jojoba oil. I've used fragrance oils (from Soap Kitchen) where the particular scent doesn't exist as an essential oil (e.g. - amber) or where it's very expensive (e.g. - jasmine). Once I find a scent I really like, then I'll use essential oils as far as possible.

The perfumes now need to sit for a couple of weeks while the oils get to know each other and agree on the final scent. But I decided to try on one of them today, after only a couple of days. Ok, I know it was a bit impatient! ;-) It's a lovely simple recipe that blends gardenia, jasmine, rosewood and amber. After a few days it's already a subtle, feminine scent that doesn't overpower the senses. Anyway, I put it on at about 8am and I could still smell it - albeit more faintly - at 8pm this evening, after a busy day out in London! This is the first time I've experienced such a long lasting effect. The Lemon Musk that I recently made up was a lovely smell, but only lasts 3-4 hours. 

So, even before the perfume is officially "ready" - that's a result! :-)

As an addendum to this post... the whole world of perfume making is such an industry secret, so I find it wonderful to discover more "open" information about it. And if I was looking to go into it further then I would be very excited by the mention of a "professional Perfume Course of international standard" in Aromantic's Spring Newsletter. It's a 6 day course that AromaSciences are planning to run later this year (and back-to-back with an Aromantic Skin Care course). It's not cheap but it does sounds like popping your clogs and going to heaven - from which you come home with a scent kit of 300-500 scents!!

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Swedish Bitters - Addendum

Today I've been on an Aromantic course (more about that - lots more - to follow!). I brought up my use of and interest in the therapeutic benefits of Swedish Bitters. Both Kolbjorn Borseth (who delivered the course) and a qualified herbalist who was attending expressed the view that Swedish Bitters is too aggressive, and that many of the herbs it contains are no longer used in modern herbalism for this very reason. All of this was a revelation to me! I can't dismiss the positive results that I and my friends have experienced, but at the same time it's given me a new angle to research. In particular, my sense is that a more modern and less aggressive formula would be very worthwhile uncovering - taking the best and most relevant from the "old" and blending it with the "new".

The conversation also brought forth the very useful reminder that one can never replace the hard-earned knowledge of a qualified herbalist with sheer enthusiasm (even though it does count for a lot!).

Updated 24.04.08
I posted about bitters on a herbal forum I belong to, which turned up some interesting information from the list owner, Henriette Kress. Senna in particular seems to be undesirable. Henriette sums it up in a straightforward way on her blog:
"The senna in the blend can be addictive: you won't be able to take a dump without it, if you've been taking it daily for long enough. Long enough being 2 weeks, give or take a few days."
Senna is a "contact" or "stimulant" laxative meaning that it stimulates the muscles in the walls of the colon to get things moving. The South African Medicines Formulary gives the following warning about this kind of laxative:
The use of irritant laxatives that stimulate colon motility cannot be recommended for other than special short-term indications. They can precipitate chronic colonic changes, and dependency, both physiological and psychological, can occur. Stimulate (or contact) laxatives include bisacodyl, senna, phenolphthalein, castor oil and cascara.
Aloe juice and rhubarb are also (milder) contact laxatives. In her post to the list on Swedish Bitters, Henriette sums up by saying:
"What you have there is not a liver formula. It's a cathartic formula (with a bit of aromatics thrown in) which will ream you out, and which will probably leave your gut addicted to contact laxatives. It's not something I'd give to anybody at all, nevermind daily "to make you healthy". A honest liver formula would consist of a load of BITTERS, with one or the other helper herb (like Silybum [no pun intended? LOL]) thrown in."
I've just been discussing all of this together with my father, Robert (who is studying herbalism), and we are going to work on a new formula for a digestive tonic together - which also sounds like lots of fun! :-)

Updated 26.04.08
A couple of gems from my research: a discussion about bitters on the Herbwifery forum and a professional formulation brought to my attention on Henriette's forum.

I'm learning about the psychological effects of bitters (can be anti-depressant, have a grounding quality, and shift the focus from the head to instinct), as well as the fact that they can be cold and therefore need to be balanced with other herbs, and the need to eat bitter foods and just use the medicinal formulation as and when really required.

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Friday, 18 April 2008

Swedish Bitters cream

I'm researching external uses for Swedish Bitters in preparation for a therapeutic cream I want to make that contains it. As with it's internal uses, it seems to be very diverse and was apparently recommended by Maria Treben for all kinds of skin problems. 

Uses reported for Swedish Bitters cream:-
  • Circulation problems
  • Pain relief (I've seen combined bitters & cayenne pepper creams for this as well)
  • Chapped or sore skin
  • Varicose veins
  • Eczema
  • Athlete's foot
  • General skin irritations
  • Relief from insect bites
Some of the above uses I found in testimonials from people who have used the cream on the website,

In all cases, the liquid could be used directly on the skin but this has the disadvantages of staining the skin somewhat, drying the skin (due to the alchohol), as well as being more difficult to apply. Not to mention missing out on the additional therapeutic and soothing benefits of the oils used in the cream. 

The only case I know so far where the liquid should be chosen over the cream is when it is being used to get rid of scars. I have to try this out as I have an old scar on my hand. In the "Old Manuscript" it says "They [Swedish Bitters] take away scars, even if very old, wounds and cuts if moistened up to 40 times with them". I only hope that it doesn't remove the scar and leave a stain. LOL

Talking of the "Old Manuscript", here are the external uses it lists that I haven't already covered above:
  • Inflamed eyes (a moistened piece of cloth applied to the closed lids)
  • Scabs
  • Blisters on the tongue
  • Earache (a moistened piece of cotton wool is inserted into the ear)
  • Haemorrhoids
  • Fistulas
  • Burns
  • Swellings and bruises
  • Frost bite
  • Rheumatic pain
Now, I just have to decide which oils I want to use for the cream and then... to the lab (kitchen)! :-)

Update! I've made some other healing creams since this post:

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Monday, 14 April 2008

Introducing Swedish Bitters

I don't know about you but I had never heard of Swedish Bitters until some friends came visiting with some very good things to say about this traditional remedy. :) Excited because of it's reputation for curing many different illnesses and for promoting general good health, it wasn't long before I was brewing my own. The after dinner ritual of passing round the bitters, seeing the expressions on people's faces as it greets the taste buds, and then feeling the warming sensation as it goes down, is a lot of fun - quite besides the health benefits!

Originally said to have been formulated by Paracelsius, the Swedish Bitters recipe was re-discovered and popularised by the Austrian herbalist, Maria Treben, in the late 20th century. If you read her wonderful book 'Health through God's Pharmacy' you will see that Swedish Bitters has many different curative properties, the most noticeable (to me anyway) has been to promote a healthy digestive system. I've also read elsewhere that our diets today tend to be missing a bitter component, while we eat more than enough of sweet, savoury, and sour foods. This preference for non-bitter tastes may explain the decline in popularity of bitters as a medicine?

As well as Swedish Bitters, there are a long list of other bitter recipes that have mainly died out. The remaining ones - such as Benedictine, Angostura and Peychaud's - tend to be known as cocktail flavours or aperitifs, rather than as remedies or digestifs. Interestingly, it is sometimes recommended that bitters is drunk before the meal as it stimulates the secretion of bile and therefore gets the digestive system going before eating. This seems to make sense! However, it somehow feels right to have it after the meal (perhaps because of the enjoyable ritual of handing round the bitters) and a friend recently told me that he actually finds it effective when taken after the meal, but upsetting to the stomach when taken before the meal. Hmmm!

The bitter recipes still available use a variety of different bitter herbs as their ingredients, with some of the most common being: angostura bark, cascarilla, cassia, gentian, orange peel and quinine.

Maria Treben's recipe for "small" bitters contains the following herbs:
  • Aloe (Aloe ferox) only grows in one region of South Africa and is used for it's laxative, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic qualities.
  • Myrhh (Commifora molmol) has a variety of uses - probably the most relevant here is it's effectiveness in lowering blood fats and therefore helping to reduce deposits of cholesterol and triglycerides (whatever they are). It is an ingredient in the Italian beverage Fernet-Branca, which is very popular in Argentina, and is drunk as a digestif and used to treat gastro-intestinal discomfort.
  • Saffron (Crocus sativus) is apparently one of the oldest herbs used for medicinal purposes, as well as being renowned as a spice, and an ingredient in dye. Medicinally it is used for coughs, bronchitis, insomnia, hysteria, menstrual disorders and depression.
  • Senna (Cassia angustifolia) leaves are used in cases of constipation (as are the pods).
  • Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora) seems to have been used historically for a variety of benefits (for which there are an equal number of arguments against them) from reducing sexual urges to cholera! Today it is mostly only used externally in stimulating lotions to increase surface heat (I recently added it the essential oil to a massage lotion for bursitis). I'm not quite sure what it's purpose is in Swedish Bitters - it's general effect seems to be warming, which is always a good thing as far as I'm concerned. :-)
  • Rhubarb (Rheum palmatan) roots have apparently been used as a strong laxative for over 5,000 years.
  • Zedvoary (Curcuma zedoaria) roots are part of the ginger family, and closely related to turmeric. Originating in North East India, it is widely used in China and Japan for medicine, perfume and liquor. As with other bitter herbs, it aids digestion by stimulating bile secretion. It is also said to purify the blood.
  • Manna (Fraxinus Ornus) resin is not, as I originally thought, the manna or "bread of heaven" to be found in the bible! LOL I wasn't too far off though as the name of this deciduous tree originated from a comparison of it's sweet resin to the substance known as manna in the bible (which is also tree resin that falls to the ground as a sort of pellet). In terms of medicinal use, it is supposed to be a gentle laxative (often being used for children or pregnant women) and tonic.
  • Theriac Venezian (Pimpinella saxifraga), also known as Burnet Saxifrage, is most often used as a remedy in cases of bronchitis, coughs, sore throats and stomach complaints. It is expectorant and antioxidant. The root is used. In Roman times, the physician Galen used theriac in his most famous medicinal formula known as Theriac Venezian (Venetian treacle) - a "cure all" for many diseases and antidote to poisons, that contained 64 ingredients.
  • Carline thistle (Carlina acaulis) is only occasionally used in modern herbalism - for digestive complaints, skin disorders and as an antiseptic for wounds. The roots are used in bitters.
  • Angelica (Angelica archangelica) roots are often included in digestive tonics, either with other herbs or on their own as either a decoction or tincture.
In researching the ingredients of Swedish Bitters, there is a sense of antiquity and going back to our roots - if you'll excuse the pun! I feel like I have journeyed through many a dusty old tome of folk and ancient herbal wisdom. A common theme I noticed, is that many of these herbs are little used in modern herbalism... I'm not sure yet why? But I do know that so far all of my friends who have been using Swedish Bitters have reported positive effects.

See also my Swedish Bitters - Addendum post, a warning about Swedish Bitters being too aggressive on the system, and which I'm still looking into. I've also written a post on Swedish Bitters cream.

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