Heavenly muscle soak bath bags

Heavenly muscle soak bath bags from Herbalist Scotland

To end a long day in the garden, why not soak tired muscles in a hot bath with Calendula and Epsom salts muscle soak bath bags, available from Herbalist Scotland.  Each bag contains 60g epsom salts for releasing cramps and muscle stiffness, 15g pink Himalayan salt for detoxifying, and a generous handful of Calendula blossoms, to heal and nourish the skin.  These giant draw-string ‘teabags’ can be just tossed in the bath or used in a foot bath as a healing treat for tired, aching feet.

Epsom salts contain magnesium, used medically for muscle cramps and aches, for relaxing mind and body, and for aiding sleep.  Taken in through the skin, magnesium works even better than taken in tablet form, which is why epsom salts baths are so popular.  Himalayan salt is a marvellous detoxifier, aiding muscles to release build-up of lactic acid and other waste products.  It leaves the skin feeling silky smooth.  Calendula has long been used for its anti-microbial and skin healing properties, and a handful of dried calendula blossoms is placed on top of the salts in each of the hand-made bath bags, to allow its healing properties to soak into the skin with the salts.

Easy to make yourself, I recommend placing the ingredients in bags, otherwise you will be coated with Calendula blossoms when you get out of the bath!

Get in touch with us at Herbalist Scotland if you would like to buy some (8 bags for £2.95).  They are also available with Rose petals or chamomile blossoms – my favourites are the Calendula blossoms.




Soothing salve for strains, sprains, bashes and bruises

Duck Poo is here again!  This healing, soothing salve contains no duck products at all, just Comfrey herb, also known as ‘bone knit’, for tissue healing, Arnica montana for bruising, and Gaultheria procumbens or Wintergreen for its anti-inflammatory salicilates, bound together with organic beeswax.  Available from Herbalist Scotland – just send me a message from this page or from the website.  For those who feel queasy at the thought of duck poo, this medicated salve is also lovingly known as ‘Arnagreen’.

Duck Poo salve

For strains, sprains, bashes and bruises from Herbalist Scotland

One of the loveliest things about being a herbalist is having the opportunity to make healing salves and creams, with a solid background of knowledge about what works and why it works.  This means I can combine my creative, crafty, hand-made yearnings with my solid academic nerdy side.  Bliss!

Duck Poo is used partly for its effect on bruising, helping tissue to remove debris from bashes or strains quickly, and restoring good blood flow to the area;  the anti-inflammatory effect of the Wintergreen combines with the Arnica to reduce pain and swelling, whilst Comfrey (Symphytum officinale), has been confirmed in numerous clinical trials to be an effective therapy option for topical treatment of painful muscle and joint complaints including pain, inflammation and swelling of muscles and joints in degenerative arthritis, acute myalgia in the back, and in sprains, contusions and strains after sports injuries and accidents.  Just one of those trials can be viewed here.

Best of all, Comfrey grows readily in almost anyone’s back garden!  This is no exotic foreign import.  Right now, I am looking out onto a patch of magnificent Comfrey shooting up by the compost heap, which will be giving me leaves to macerate in safflower oil for the next batch of Duck Poo.


Muscle, bone and joint salve

One of the best things about being a herbalist is that I can make my own salves, balms and ointments.  One of our best-sellers is the marvellously named ‘Duck Poo’ – it does really look rather greenish in the jar!  Its magic lies in the Arnica (for bruising), Symphytum (for healing tissue: it contains allantoin, which the body produces itself to aid tissue repair), and Gaultheria or Wintergreen, a very rich source of anti-inflammatory salicylic acid, similar to the acetyl salicylic acid in aspirin.  The fragrance is divinely medicinal.  Am rubbing this on my own sore back, helping to relieve muscle tension, and it works well on all muscle, bone and joint conditions, for soothing pain relief and healing.  Get in touch with me at Herbalist Scotland if you would like some yourself .  We still have a few jars left of this batch.

Green Gathering

Joolz and I are off to the Green Gathering this weekend, for me to be a volunteer first aider (all herbal, of course) and for us both to have general good fun around issues that draw us and with which we may like to become more involved.  Note the cautious approach.  I am primarily cautious about turning hippy, however that may look in my warped imagination.  My cardigan is weeping “I am so completely NOT hippy, man, I have not one hippy gene in me”.  However, I tend to be interested in the self-same issues that hippies of yore involved themselves with.  And here they are represented at the Green Gathering.  Awkward.  To overcome embarrassing U-turns on me and hippiedom, I have used the excuse of being a herbal first-aider to smuggle myself in with Joolz, who would probably have quite liked to have been a hippy before going all “professional”, as she is now.

Green Gathering will be preceded by three days of first aid training for both of us, then induction day for me and then four days of Gathering.  It used to be called the Big Green Gathering, but has probably shrunk since Joolz last went.  All in all this entails 9 (nine), as in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 days of camping.  That is also something for which I cannot locate one single gene expression.  However, Joolz is adept at making things very comfortable and we are taking Pilates mats and a duvet for me.  I can’t sleep with my legs trussed up in a sleeping bag.

I have baked one large fruit cake, and a very large tray of nutty flapjacks as essential emergency victuals.  There was talk amongst ‘friends’  about there only being vegan fare available, but I think they were trying to wind me up.  I also have 6 bottles of Bin 50 in their very own little wine carrier with plastic (just don’t say anything at all) glasses.  Joolz is talking about lentil soup, which, whilst I really like it, is taking on a hippy hue in the context.  When I was a student at Sussex University in the mid-late 70s, there was a vegetarian restaurant on campus called “Pulse”, which, I SWEAR actually did use sawdust as a major ingredient in their recipes.  There were no hippies at Sussex, we were all revolutionaries.  The restaurant closed.  I digress.  She is also talking about fried egg rolls, so I breathe again.

The cats have, as usual, cat sitters and cat worshippers, cat adorers and cat groomers, cat feeders and cat entertainers at their beck and call during our 9 (nine) days away.  I am going to be a cat in my next life.

Wound-healing ointment


I’ve been thinking about an ointment that can be put on wounds, cuts, scrapes, grazes or ulcers.  Dedj’s Duck Poo contains arnica, so can’t go on open wounds.  It works amazingly on bruises, bashes, sprains, strains and the like, though.  Now, if I had an ointment or a cream that worked as well as that for open wounds, that would be a fine thing.

I tried two ideas, using the Duck Poo ratio of oil parts to aqueous parts, and making it slightly less hard, so using less beeswax.  Here you see the results.

I had made a deep decoction of Achillea millefolium, a wonderful vulnerary, which smells deep, dark and delicious.  This I used as the aqueous component for both, and I used organic Symphytum officinale, also an extremely effective wound-healer, in the form of infused oil in both, with organic beeswax.  The ratios are roughly 30 oil, 10 aqueous, 2 beeswax.  Then add whatever you think will give it a little extra something.

IMG_1524I had recently acquired some Shilajit capsules – Shilajit is supposed to be a wonder-healer, developed, I think, from some kind of resin. It’s difficult to get reliable information on it – the one leaflet I read (and bought!) was written by someone who made up spelling, syntax and grammar as she went along, so I didn’t even begin to trust her research.  Hey ho.  Anyone who knows more about this substance, please get in touch.  I cracked open 15 capsules, which on my scales did not add up to even 1g, and added that to 10g Achillea, and put them in a bain marie to heat.  29g of Symphytum oil were added to 2g of beeswax, and they were also heated to melt the beeswax.  The Shijalit expanded immediately in the deep decoction so the mixture became very stiff, and stuck to spoon and glass, hardening quickly.  It took some stirring when the oil and beeswax were added, to break up the consistency and scrape it off the walls of the glass.  When it felt as if the Shijalit had been suspended sufficiently not to ruin my coffee frother, I frothed until the mixture turned gleaming and fairly smooth.  Here is the result:  a wonderfully dark ointment with “bits” of Shijalit in it.  Shall try it out on an unsuspecting (grown-up) child (of mine) this evening.  He has a big scrape on his elbow from heroically avoiding a suicidal run-out in cricket.

IMG_1526The second batch was made with double the quantities of everything and 10g of Commiphora molmol (Myrrh) powder instead of the Shijalit.  It looked about double the Shilajit  in bulk, and I am wondering whether my scales were having a sulk when I was weighing the Shilajit.  I usually put Myrrh powder on open wounds, so this may be a more efficient way of doing it.  This time the powder didn’t bulk up so much in the deep decoction, but the result is still grainy.  Frothing it was fairly easy as you can see here.  Again, I shall experiment this evening for results.

IMG_1529Here you can see the finished Commiphora molmol nestling gleamingly in its tin, and if you look carefully you can see flecky bits residing within.  Both these ointments will suit the “It looks so disgusting it must be doing me good” tribe, closely related to the “No pain, no gain” family.

Tree Study: Hawthorn

One of the loveliest things we have to do in the first year of our Herbal Medicine degree at Lincoln College is the Tree Study.  As far as I can tell (and there are actually very precise instructions for completing this assignment) this involves adopting, or, rather, being adopted by, a tree which is local and medicinal;  we sit with it and get to know it, its energy, its ambience, its nature, its tree personality, in all weathers, throughout the year.  I’m not anthropomorphising here, trees have quite different personalities from humans, and it is not only humans and animals that have personalities.  We draw it, talk to it, listen, (sorry Karl – a fellow student of mine may have apoplexy at this interpretation of the Tree Study) exchange gossip (if she is talking to me, and if I am listening), and in my case, harvest leaves, flowers and berries for teas and tinctures.

I present to you here, the most lovely Hawthorn (Crataegus oxycantha or C. monogyna):


She lives along the Waters of Leith and when I visited her this morning, the conservationists were tidying up the area and doing a bit of hand mowing with scythes.  She is usually quite difficult to get to, but for a few weeks, at least, she will be more in the open.  She is quite a small tree, about 10m or so, and underneath her she has Ramsons growing in the Spring and Summer, nettles and various umbelliferae (apiaceae now?) – anyway, the plant family with the flower heads that look like parasols or umbrellas, e.g. Hemlock, Sweet Cicely, etc.  This particular Crataegus seems to have less frilly leaves than some of her siblings, and has never seemed to have very prominent thorns – but I have been pricked often, so I know they are there.  when I looked carefully today, I found them on the end of little twiglets, not coming off the main branch or twig itself.  That dark thing you can see sticking up is in fact a thorn on the very end of a twiglet, from which leaves are sprouting.  You can see them sprouting at the tip, where the thorn begins, and at the base.


Crataegus is of the Rosaceae family and she is also called variously ‘English Hawthorn’, ‘Mayblossom’, ‘Whitethorn’, ‘Quickthorn’ or ‘Bread-and-Cheese’.  Her biochemical constituents, which probably account for a great deal of her power, include flavonoids (incl. rutin and quercetin) oligomeric proanthocyanidins (amazing how that trips off the tongue these days!) and triterpenoid saponins.  She has a regulating, soothing and tonifying effect on the heart and is used in congestive heart disease and cardiac insufficiency, cardiac arrhythmias and other ailments and dysfunctions of the heart.  As a peripheral vasodilator (she opens up the arteries towards the surface of the body, thus decreasing pressure towards the inside of the body) she helps lower blood pressure.  She improves the efficiency of the heart’s functioning, meaning that the heart is able to contract more strongly without much increase in effort.  It’s quite complex, so consult a medical herbalist for how and whether to use her yourself.  The biochemistry of this is currently doing my head in.  Hence a break for the blog post.

Traditionally, Crataegus has not only been used for physical / physiological problems of the heart, but for the soothing and nurturing of the emotional heart.  Our tutor Robyn made us tea of Crataegus leaves, to experience the taste, the qualities and their effect on us.  This is not a practice to be trifled with.  Slowing down to experience the effect of what one is ingesting has an effect in itself;  we didn’t know what the tea was – that’s trust in a lecturer for you!  Crataegus tea seemed thick, soothing and slowing (other teas had perked us up, physiologically and mentally).  It seemed to open me up, but provide a structure at the same time.  Softening, nurturing, gently stimulating.  So welcome.  She is supposed to be sour… I found her sweet and woody, green.

I spent half an hour or so looking, touching and sketching, taking a few photos, and then talking with the conservation volunteer who seems to esteem her greatly, too.  She still has lots of berries on her – what this means about the coming weather I don’t know, but there are plenty left for the birds.


Bruises and Bashes Salve

The subtitle for this post has to be


The recipe (classified) for this wonderful preparation comes courtesy of the delightful Dedge Leibbrandt who lectured us on herbal first aid a couple of weekends ago at Lincoln College.  As hinted, it is designed for bashes and bruises, sprains and strains, fractures and swellings, and combines a speedy anti-inflammatory action with bone healing and soft tissue repair, as well as being analgesic, or pain – lindering.  The magic ingredients are Symphytum officinale (Comfrey), Arnica montana and Gaultheria fragrantissima (Wintergreen).  The magic lies largely in Symphytum having large amounts of allantoin, the substance that occurs in the body itself wherever healing is required, Arnica having proven bruise-healing ability, and Gaultheria having very large amounts of salicilic acid, the stuff in aspirin. It smells fantastically antiseptic and medicinal, courtesy of the Gaultheria, and it would be fair to say that I am chuffed with it.

Of course, I had to tinker with the recipe as given, as if this tried and tested preparation has not already been road-tested to dynamic perfection.  So I have added some emulsifying wax to the beeswax, and some glycerin, as it looked more like a cream on paper, than an ointment.  Why I think that I can improve on the recipe, never having actually made it, eludes me.  Next time I shall make myself do it as per instructions and it will undoubtedly be even better.

Many decades ago, Joolz’ grandfather, ‘Grandpa Flynn, the chemist’ developed and used a preparation called ‘Grandpa’s Healing Cream’ which Joolz says smells very similar to Duck Poo.  However, whereas Duck Poo has the colour and consistency of, yes, duck poo, Grandpa Flynn’s Healing Cream (GFHC) was orangey – black in colour and very ointmenty.  Sadly, Joolz dropped and smashed the very last jar of GFHC many, many, many years ago, and Grandpa Flynn went to his grave with the recipe, despite his son and daughter-in-law both being doctors… or maybe because… and there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth since, as it did work extraordinarily well.  The latest gnashing and wailing has obviously come from me, as I would have been MOST interested in getting my grubby little paws / brain cells on that recipe.

Herb garden

Oh my word, the excitement at 2GC!  We have had our garden rejuvenated by the wonderful Hamish at The Secret Herb Garden in Edinburgh. No website as yet for them, they are brand new, but we have visited their herb nursery, with thousands of plants and incredibly tidy poly tunnels (enormous!) and lots of quirky sheds.  Hamish handles the plant side of things, everything organic, tenderly cared for, albeit with a brisk, no-nonsense manner, and LOVED into thriving health.  That loving plants has an effect on their growth, well-being and potency may sound derisory for those of the cult of Scientific Proof, but is a well known fact for the herbal community.  Few of us would use herbs that had not been loved and cared for.

Hamish’ wife Liberty runs the other side of the business, antique and vintage gardening tools, furniture and gardening and home accessories.  These are mainly housed in the scattering of sheds and outbuildings.  She has a marvellous eye for what feels good to live with.  She has also just given birth to a beautiful daughter (a couple of days old now) so their official opening may be delayed a couple of days 🙂  Watch this space for more info on their opening.

Our garden inhabitants, however, are now swaying gently in the Edinburgh breezes, with newly settled herbs giggling their way into the freshly enriched soil, getting to know their neighbours.  They went in last Friday and are already growing considerably.

I’m sitting in the Scotch Malt Whisky Society rooms on Queen Street as I write this, so I am touring the garden from memory.  Photos to follow, but here are the herbs gracing our quirky plot.

As we come out of the garden room, the bed on the left side of the steps houses Lilly of the Valley, and lots of smallish pink geraniums – they are established inhabitants, and look a little like American Cranesbill, but the leaves are slightly larger, I think.  There is a large clump of tall buttercups looking magnificent behind the L of the V.  A couple of drifts of Hostas and some lovely silvery green furry leaved beings – what are they called? Behind all these is a wonderful Camelia against the wall.

On the other side of the steps are the Wild Strawberries – masses of them – and lots of small leaved ivy drifting over the wall. I have to curb this one’s enthusiasm as she wriggles her way into the wall, in the familiar ivy-like way.  Alchemilla mollis loves it here – I think she is also called Lady’s Mantle. At the back some Welsh poppies, self seeded, and drifts of self seeded Geranium robertianum.

In pots climbing the steps are Salvia officinalis (Sage),  Thymus vulgaris (common Thyme),  Rosmarinus officinalis (common Rosemary), a large black Peppermint – this is a Mentha piperita vulgaris – two large Melissa officinalis (Lemon balm) and another very leggy Rosmarinus.  This is a wonderful pot, as under the Rosmarinus there has appeared another self seeded healthy, straggly, ebullient Geranium robertianum – Herb Robert.

At the top of the steps the new herbs have taken up residence.  In the narrow bed on the right we have planted a couple more Rosmarinus, and two beautiful Aloysia citrodora (Lemon Verbena), with a strong lemony scent.  Lots of medicinal properties, and we use it in tea.  I haven’t looked at alcoholic extraction as tincture yet.  Next in the bed Hamish has separated a length by pushing slates deep into the soil – this is designed to provide at least some kind of containment … this is to keep our wonderful new peppermints in check, as they tend to take over every available reachable inch in their joie de vivre.  The other side of P mint is a large Tarragon – I use it in cooking, haven’t ever heard of its medicinal uses.

The upper part of the garden has widened beds either side of our ‘lawn’, which is now a happy playground for dozens of Taraxicum officinale (Dandylion) and rather a lot of moss.  I even found a diminutive Plantago major (broad leaved plantain, the one you get on well trodden paths).  We mow every now and again, and pick Taraxacum leaves often.  On the right, there are against the wall a Buddleia (good for butterflies, don’t know anything else about it except that it gets pruned vigorously every year as we fear being consumed by it as it grows to gargantuan proportions).  Two apple trees give us a little fruit every year, and a hydrangea and a rose (all I know is that she is red and climbs well) spread themselves along the wall.  In front of the Buddleia we have our first new Dipsacus fullonum (Teasel), which is already growing vigorously.  A half moon in front of that is home to a drift of Achillea millefolium (Yarrow), with their unbelievably beautiful leaf structure.  Next along are six Armoracia rusticana (Horseradish) – Hamish’ tip for harvesting and preparing follows below.  before the compost box we have planted a large rhubarb clump (Rheum) behind a Myrrhis Odorata (Sweet Cicely) – which you can tell from the extremely poisonous Hemlock (Conium maculatum) by its markings at the base of the leaves, which have a milky white mouldy look (not mould) and its wonderful aniseed scent.  At the front we have Pulmonaria officinalis (Lungwort?) gifted from our neighbours on that side.  Edging that whole bed at the front we have a wiggly drift of Allium schoenoprasum – Chives – waving their purple heads over the Taraxacum.  The other side of the compost bin we have Symphytum officinale another Dipsacus and some more Pulmonaria (Comfrey, Teasel and Lungwort).

On the left we have two lovely species of Tropaeolum (Nasturtium), one bright orange and one red, tipping over the little wall onto the tiny terrace with our table and chairs.  Tropaeoli edge the bed all the way round to the end, interspersed with and eventually taken over by Achemilla mollis and of other Alchemilla species.  At the back we have a lovely white rose, a Japonica, about whom I know nothing – I thought she was a quince tree until Hamish put us right!  – then a big plum tree (with loads of plums coming.  Last year we hardly had any but the year before she produced enough for several pounds of jam).  Next to these along the wall we have a white and a red Camelia, some Lonicera purpusii and another pretty, common climber, whose name I have forgotten, big pinkish flowers… Gone.

In the front we have leading on from the terrace a swathe of Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm) and in front of that Tanacetum parthenium (Feverfew), one a very gold coloured species and one the common one, which seems to have the same name.  Amongst these and in front of them we have some Thymus vulgaris and Thymus citriodorus (Common and Lemon Thyme), and on from there a couple of lovely Scutellaria – not sure which species, must check with Hamish – some Agastache foeniculum (Aniseed Hyssop) and a small drift of amazing Lemon Bush, who Hamish sourced when he went to South Africa.  As far as I can tell this is the Lippia javanica.  It has an incredibly strong lemony, medicinal scent – think antimicrobial, antiseptic, cleansing.  Hamish uses it for flu and bad colds.  It is obviously very rich in essential oils and I shall try producing a hydrolate with my home-made still.

Big breath, as this is a very exciting bed.  Further along, we have our old Foeniculum vulgare purpureum which is sprouting purple fronds with gusto, beside an enormous Inula helenum (Elecampane).  In front of these, Hypericum perforatum (St. John’s Wort), in which the amazing red glow under the leaves is clearly showing through.  Finally, Artemisia vulgaris (Mugwort) – woo hoo!

Now, at the far end, the garden raises a step and then tapers to a point.  At the step we have a new box hedge at either side, and beyond the ground is covered in soft bark.  On the left there is our gigantic cherry tree, opposite our Yew, and left and right half circle vegetable beds, raised with willow walls which we wove ourselves (bizarrely, very proud of that).  At the moment the veg bed on the right houses our Digitalis plants, some self seeded Geranium robertianum, rescued from a patch that was to be the the home of someone else, and a couple of Helleborus niger, which were quarantined as they had a bad case of white fly.  We clean them off every day, hopefully we can save them.  The other veg bed is awaiting inhabitants – not sure yet what we shall plant.

Right at the end, under more boughs and branches, we have our woodland triangle, with Galium odoratum (Woodruff), Teucrium scorodonia (Wood Sage), Allium ursinum (Ramsons) and another beautiful Dipsacus at the end.  A couple of the Allium look as if they have been lunch for someone – I suspect Phoebe or Cleo as much as slugs and snails – but given that she is expected to elbow her way gloriously into all that space and will have to be gently restrained, I am not too fearful for her fate.

Did I say photos to follow?  There will be.

Nearly forgot Hamish’ tip, entirely serious for harvesting and preparing the root especially of Armoracia rusticana (Horseradish):  wear a snorkel with goggles, snorkel well up.  This goes a long way to preventing injury and distress 🙂