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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