Calendula flowers infused in a sweet almond oil makes a wonderful cooling, healing and soothing blend.
Herbs like Calendula have constituents that speed up the formation of new connective tissue and blood vessels within a wound, as well as anti-inflammatory properties making it a valuable vulnerary
Constituents in plants are the chemicals that we sometimes refer to a phytochemicals. Theses plant constituents are created by the normal metabolic processes of the plant as it goes about its daily living. Without getting to scientific , some of these metabolites are the movers and shakers in herbal medicine. While it is really fascinating to look at these individual plant chemicals and how they act upon the body, it is also really important not to get to reductionist in our work with herbs and the body. There is still so much we don’t know or understand. Herbs acting as whole plants often act upon our bodies in individual ways, and are often greater than the sum of their parts. I for one really appreciate some of the mystery that Mother Nature still retains.
A Vulnerary is a herb that is used for the healing of wounds.
Calendula with its vibrant deep orange and sometimes summer yellow petals originates from the Mediterranean countries. Its name comes from its propensity to flower in accordance to the calendar months or with the new moon. There are parts of South Wexford where I have seen Calendula in flower almost all year round.
It has an ancient history in herbal medicine in particular for its ability to treat skin conditions. It has astringent, anti-inflammatory, wound healing, anti-viral and immune stimulant actions among many others.
James Duke mentions the immune action in relation to skin disease
“Calendula also stimulates white blood cells to gobble up harmful microbes and helps speed up wound healing” (1)
How to Make Herb Infused Oils
1.Duke J. The Green Pharmacy.UK: Rodale; 2003.p390
2 American Botanical Council. Website available at:http://abc.herbalgram.org/site/PageServer?pagename=Terminology#top ( accessed 29/08/19)
3. Hoffmann D. Medical Herbalism.Vermont:Healing Arts Press; 2003
Traditionally the hips are boiled with sugar and water, but I discovered this ‘raw’ syrup on the Woodland Trust blog recently and it appealed to me. (1)
I added a few pieces of cinnamon bark to each of the jars and it has given it a delicious and warming flavour. Also there is a lot of sugar in the recipe and I am hoping the blood sugar lowering properties of cinnamon may go a little ways to modulating the sugar impact on the body. (Hope springs eternal)
Both Rosehips and Cinnamon have antioxidant properties
Antioxidants are molecules that fight free radicals in your body and free radicals can be very harmful to your body if their levels become too high. High levels of free radicals are linked to heart disease, cancers , diabetes and other serious disease.
Many fresh fruits and veggies contain antioxidants which is one of the reasons its important to get as much of these foods into your diet as possible.
This raw method, in theory because it doesn’t involve heating should preserve the Vitamin C and antioxidant properties.
Sugar will preserve the syrup for longer preventing bacteria and mould from forming too quickly.
Avoid using roses that have been sprayed with pesticides. Almost all florist roses will contain traces of pesticides, as they are not meant for consumption.
My intention is to use it at the first sign of flu/coughs or colds this winter.
1.Woodland Trust blog, Available at: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2019/07/raw-rosehip-syrup/
Hawthorn ( Crataegus laevigata)
Trees were worshipped in Ireland long ago and many of us continue to honour them as part of our daily lives. Many were and still are believed to have magical properties. A prime example of this is our beautiful and familiar Hawthorn found all over the country, which even today is both feared and respected. The respect and care for these wise and generous beings reminds us of a time when people lived closer to the land and are also a direct link to our ancient ancestral beliefs.
The Hawthorn is sometimes known as Whitethorn, or The Fairy Tree or simply “The May” due to its flowering time. There does appear to be differing opinions on whether it was disrespectful to refer to the little people or the fair folk of this island of Ireland as fairies, or their tree as a fairy tree. However my Grandmother spoke often of “fairies” as did her friends and she used to mention writing a book about her experiences with them, and my Mother said she did start it but we have never come across it, therefore I was brought up calling them fairies and little circles of white mushrooms as “fairy rings”. I feel it is what is in our hearts that is important as we approach the mysteries of the world and its beings we cannot directly see.
It was not only in Ireland that the Hawthorn was revered. The Greeks and Romans saw the hawthorn as symbolic of hope and marriage. The Roman goddess Cardea, mistress of Janus, keeper of the doors (or hinges to be more accurate),had a bough of Hawthorn as her symbol.Hawthorn is long associated as a doorway to the other world so this connection make sense to me. In central Europe however, it was regarded as a symbol of witchcraft with witches performing their rituals underneath and it was generally considered unlucky.
In Ireland it forms an important part of our hedgerows.However it is the solitary hawthorn which instils fear or respect and even if its position is inconvenient it will generally be left alone. The warnings have been passed down through the generations. Other world beings are said to either live in or nearby the tree and it has often been recorded how passers-by would hear music or see a bright light coming from the vicinity of the hawthorn.
Tales of misfortune befalling those who damage the hawthorn in any way are legion. There are accounts whereby the tree started to bleed when branches were cut away, which was a warning of things to come. This may be a legacy from a time when certain hawthorn were considered sacred. (2)
A story gathered by The National Folklore collection in UCD gives us some insights into the beliefs centred around this little sacred tree
Across the lake, opposite the lake hill grows a hawthorn bush. In spring and summer it is just an ordinary hawthorn bush but in the autumn when other trees are preparing for the year’s rest and their leaves are turning brown and withering and in winter when the other bushes are bare and leafless, then this hawthorn is certainly remarkable, but its leaves are still as green and plentiful as they were in the month of June.
All the year round it preserves its leaves green and fresh and the local people say it marks the burial place of fairy gold. On this account it is guarded by the fairies and so must not be touched anymore than trees or bushes growing in a fort.
Several stories are told locally of the people who interfered with this tree and were punished for it. Those who did so unwittingly got such slight warnings as sore hands or legs caused by scratches from the tree and these got all right again. But others who injured the tree through bravado were more seriously punished – by broken limbs caused by falling on the way home, some of which resulted in permanent injuries (1)
The Penalty for felling the Sacred Tree
In the Crith Gablach, an eighth century Brehon legal poem it is stated:
A danger from which there is no escape
Is the penalty for felling
The noble sacred trees
you shall not cut sacred tree
Perhaps the most famous hawthorn is the one located at Latoon in County Clare. In 1999 the motorway from Limerick to Galway was delayed and eventually rerouted to avoid damaging the fairy tree there. It is not clear whether the local authorities did so out of respect for the solitary tree or the international media attention that was drawn to it by the folklorist Eddie Lenihan, author of Meeting the Other Crowd- the Fairy Stories of Hidden Ireland. He claimed the tree was a meeting point for the fairies of Munster when they did battle with the fairies of Connacht.
He argued that Other World forces would take revenge and the road would be a source of accidents if the tree were to be removed. In 2002 the tree was vandalised by an unknown person who slashed away its branches. The assailant failed to kill the tree and true to form the branches grew back. As the culprit was never identified it is not known whether any misfortune befell him
“Earlier in this century, a construction firm ordered the felling of a fairy thorn on a building site in Downpatrick, Ulster. The foreman had to do the deed himself, as all of his workers refused. When he dug up the root, hundreds of white mice – supposed to be the faeries themselves – ran out, and while the foreman was carting away the soil in a barrow, a nearby horse shied, crushing him against a wall and resulting in the loss of one of his legs.
“Even as recently as 1982,workers in the De Lorean car plant in Northern Ireland claimed that one of the reasons the business had so many problems was because a faery thorn bush had been disturbed during the construction of the plant. The management took this so seriously that they actually had a similar bush brought in and planted with all due ceremony!”
“Hawthorn (Crataegus species) has been used to treat heart disease as far back as the 1st century.( I suspect a lot further back than that ) By the early 1800s, American doctors were using it to treat circulatory disorders and respiratory illnesses. Traditionally, the berries were used to treat heart problems ranging from irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, chest pain, hardening of the arteries, and heart failure. Today, the leaves and flowers are used medicinally
Due to the enormous increase in the incidence of coronary heart disease in the last century, Hawthorns longstanding reputation as a heart tonic gained it much attention in the research community. Research has validated this herbs historical uses and shown it to be especially useful in treating congestive heart failure, helping in preventing heart attack, normalising blood pressure, regulating heartbeat, and protecting the heart from oxidative stress.
Hawthorn berry jam and using the thorns as sewing needles are some traditional and ancient uses (2) .
Dr M explains its mechanism of action in a nice video available at (4)
He explains that Hawthorn increases the hearts ability to convert food into energy. This means that the heart makes more energy and thus heart muscle gets stronger the way it was when we were younger. This is how it may help to prevent heart failure.
Crataegus also causes the blood vessels to dilate thus increasing blood supply to the heart muscle through the coronary arteries. Oxygen supply is also increased and so the risk of heart attack is reduced.
The vasodilation effect is also the mechanism by which it reduces blood pressure. (3)
Hawthorn is a safe herb to use. It may act in synergy with digitalis glycosides and beta blockers so if you are taking digoxin or a betablocker you need to speak to your doctor or pharmacist about using Hawthorn, a modified dosage may be acceptable but check this out first. Hawthorn is best taken daily over a long period of time as in years. A cup of Hawthorn tea every day should be part of everybody’s daily diet.
A little bit of science
Whilst its important to consider herbs under an holistic gaze and to avoid a reductionist perspective as we understand that each herb is greater than the some of its parts. It is also sometimes really intriguing to look at some of the key active constituents behind the magic of our plant allies.
In the case of Hawthorn it is OPCs ( Oligomeric procyanidins) , Flavonoids that include quercetin glycosides ( hyperoside, rutin) and amines,catechols are some of the active ingredients. (5)
The OPCs are found mainly in the flowers and leaves , OPCS are generally antioxidant, anti inflammatory , anti cancer , cardio tonic and have antimicrobial properties. Other sources of OPCs are green tea, grape seed pine bark and ginko.
The hyperoside acts as a cardioprotective anti oxidant and anti inflammatory agent.
Rutin strengthens the capillaries and is a veno- tonic so beneficial in varicose veins.(6)It is the berries that are rich in flavonoids though they are present in the leaves and flowers also.
It makes sense that making a hawthorn medicine would be most active if it includes the flowers, leaves and berries.
Some other interesting resources
I have tried many times to grow Rosemary and failed, frustrated and confused by black and brown charred leaves and brittle stems. I researched position and soils for optimum growth. I thought I had planted her in the correct amount of Sandy soil and in the right position and yet I was continuously faced with a crispy skeletal silhouette at each the summer’s end.
I pass two lush deep green Rosemary plants near the entrance of my estate almost daily; here they survive the endless traffic and the passing children who absent-mindlessly pull at branches and snap twigs. They live despite teenage brutality and dogs marking their territory. These aromatic plants display clouds of pale blue flowers in the late spring and mid-summer and even sometimes in winter. For me Rosemary had never flowered, never quite survived. However, that has all changed now.
Around this time last year during my reading of Mary Reynolds “The Garden Awakening” I completed a meditative walk around my garden the small space I am blessed to be sharing my life with. It was during this connection to the little pieces of land around my home that I became acutely aware that the little chessboard patio and a large concrete compass both with inches of foundation cement had to go! I knew I had to unblock my back garden, decongest concrete from the roots and soils, remove all barriers to Mother Nature herself and allow the life force of the garden to flow freely and to animate life once again and unencumbered.
Initially I was completely overwhelmed. How on earth was I going to honor my gardens request? A friend suggested just getting a lump hammer and “just start” and see where the “Universe” guided me. So, I phoned my father who is in his late 70s and during our conversation said he just happened to have a jackhammer hanging round his shed? I didn’t ask any questions. (This is just slightly weird as he is a Doctor and not in the building trade) And he was gracious enough not to laugh too much at my strange request. Between the two of us we managed to shift tons of cement patio and concrete and bit by bit I felt like my garden could breathe again. We lifted large railway sleepers, shifted massive stones and debris. It took a few months, but I did it thanks to help from my father and my son and my wheelbarrow and an inner belief that this was all going to come right.
It felt like a labor of love and with every lump of concrete that I put into the skip I was also liberating a part of myself. As I unburdened the roots of my great Oak tree allowing the land to breathe once again, I also found myself breathing a little more easily. As I removed small fences, dismantled barriers and boundaries that compartmentalized my garden I found that my life to became less divided and it flowed a little easier.
I was able to decide to leave a job that required me to be getting up at 0430hours and get home at 2200 hours. I was burned out and exhausted, so was my garden. I made small steps that later became larger in terms of a deep dive into self-care over this past summer (more on this in another post)
I was also inspired by Mary Reynolds activism on part of our wild earth. “We are The Ark” is a movement created by Mary http://marymary.ie/
“This is a call to step up and re assess our management of every individual tiny patch of the earth possible. It’s a call to the guardians of the earth to step forward and make themselves known, to raise their voices. We need to help the natural world and not hinder it. We have to invite nature and wildness back into our gardens, parks and every tiny patch of this earth we can. To create sanctuary, food and habitat for the creatures we are supposed to share this planet with and who in return will help us survive here within a truly natural and beautiful environment.
It’s up to each of us to re-wild our world, piece by piece until we have a patchwork quilt of sanctuaries that wraps its way around the globe.” Mary Reynolds
So I allowed my garden, back and front to just do its thing and return to the wild. The only thing I do is to trim back the brambles that would completely take over if I didn’t.
My front garden looked beautiful during the summer with abundant selfheal and clover and plantain and dog daisy. Now it’s a bit rangy and hay like.
All sorts of mysterious happenings have occurred in my back garden. I have Comfrey popping up everywhere allowing me a small harvest for healing salves. Saint Johns Wort is also making its presence known as is Lemon balm and Ladies Mantle.
But back to my Rosemary plant; My Rosemary for a few years had barely survived, lurching half scalded from one year to the next suddenly this year has burst forth, festooned this summer in pale blue she has rocked the wild garden in deep green plump needle leaves and she has stretched her strong branches out to her sides and risen her head high. I see her free, taking up space and allowing the life force of the garden to live through her. I see her rise and thrive and fill the space that is her birthright.
With Rosemary I truly remembered.
A salve or ointment is made from herbs , vegetable oils and beeswax ( soy-wax if you are strictly vegan). The vegetable oil acts in a solvent capacity dissolving out the healing constituents of the pants. The bees wax is protective and soothing and acts in a solidifying manner.
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
Comfreys folk name ,knit-bone gives us some insight into its potential applications. There is a lot of controversy about the use of Comfrey internally and as a licensed herbalist I cannot legally recommend it or prescribe it for internal use.( Please scroll to the bottom of the page for a little more information on this topic) however a Comfrey salve for external use is a really excellent addition to your own herbal first aid kit.
Comfrey contains allantoin, which encourages rapid cell regeneration. For this reason, your comfrey salve is going to help wounds heal quickly. bones to “knit” rapidly and it will help with sprains and bruising. ( A strong word of caution here, don’t use it if there is any risk of infection in the wound as its rapid tissue healing ability means it will form a layer of skin over an infection and potentially cause an abscess to develop underneath. The same caution goes with broken bones, only use if you know the bones have been properly aligned )
Allantoin is also a very effective moisturiser and will help remove dead skin cells and facilitate the growth of healthier tissue. It can be used on scaring and dry scaly skin. It is in both the roots and leaves of comfrey.
The oil infusions take about three to four weeks using the sun method and they can be tricky to get right as the oils go rancid really easily or mould will develop on the top if there is too much moisture in the herb and I have lost more batches that I have gained.
However I am never deterred by mere mould and funky smelling oils and I continue to make them as it feels like such a precious achievement when they turn out correctly.
I always use a high quality organic olive oil for my infused oils , as a fruit oil it has a longer shelf life and adds another layer of healing to the salve. Olive oil is an antioxidant and has antibacterial properties . ( More on infused oils in another post)
Making your herbal salve
Ingredients : 8 floz (1 cup) of herb infused oil ,1oz Beeswax or soy wax, 1 teaspoon of essential oil if adding it.
CAUTION :Don’t use comfrey root internally, never use comfrey root or leaf if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
In their book Hedgerow Medicine (which I highly recommend) Julie and Matthew Seal discuss some of the controversy around the internal use of comfrey. Many folk herbalists have been using Comfrey for years with no ill effects. One of the possible issues underlying the problem is that it was Common Comfrey ( Symphytum officinale) that has been traditionally used in herbal medicine. Russian Comfrey ( Symphytum x uplandicum) is now widely used as a fertiliser and compost accelerator especially in organic gardens and is now the comfrey most of us have growing in our gardens. Russian Comfrey is a hybrid of Common comfrey and Prickly comfrey. The pyrrolizidine alkaloids ( the plant constituents that have been linked to cases of liver toxicity and thus the problem with taking comfrey internally) are much higher in Russian comfrey than Common comfrey. Russian comfrey and prickly comfrey contain echimidine which is the most toxic alkaloid and should only be used externally. As this species hybridises easily it can make the comfrey’s difficult to tell apart. I still cannot be sure what type of comfrey I have growing despite intense inspection.
Herb Mentor : Available at :https://herbmentor.learningherbs.com/
Gladstar R. Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health,Storey,2001.
Bruton-Seal J, Seal M. Hedgerow Medicine,Merlin Unwin Books, 2012.