Yarrow and Calendula Healing Cream

A new batch of precious Yarrow and Calendula Healing Cream has been hatched at http://www.herbalistscotland.com!  Healing raw skin, scratches and grazes with antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, skin-healing herbs and added Frankincense.

Herbalist Scotland Healing Cream

There is something wonderful about using creams and salves that have been made from beautiful organic ingredients and a minimum of preservatives.  The Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) comes from our garden and was made – fresh – into a fragrant hydrolat using the Alembic still.  Yarrow is antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, and used for wounds and raw skin.  Organic Calendula petals were steeped in safflower oil for two weeks to extract their skin-healing constituents.

Shea butter and rosehip oil make this a soft, luxurious cream that sinks in and feels wonderful.


Rich and light skin cream


Herbalist Scotland rich and light skin cream

Rich and light Rosemary and Orange skin cream from Herbalist Scotland

Everyone can do with some delicious skin nurturing from time to time.  This rich and light skin cream  from Herbalist Scotland is made from Rosemary infused safflower oil with rose hip oil, shea butter, and vitamin E.  Essential oil of bitter orange lends a heavenly scent.  Made in very small batches, it is moussy and yet rich at the same time, and disappears into the skin without leaving a greasy residue. Wonderful as moisturising body cream, or as face cream for mature skins.  £9 for a 60g jar.  Why not get in touch to order your jar from the next batch we make.

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.


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 🙂

Tidying up in the herbology kitchen

This morning, besides tweaking the recipes for the solid hand moisturisers I have become obsessed with, I decided to tidy up the long top of bookshelf on which sit preparations in … preparation.  This happens every month or so, usually when good weather heralds my venturing out to harvest the next batch of in-season botanicals with which to make my year’s supply of tinctures, creams, salves, soaps, dried herb store or useful (fun) artefacts.  Up here in Edinburgh it seems as if we are late with everything this year, and as I look out into our small garden, the dandelions are only just making a serious appearance.  This does now mean that I have to get underway and make next year’s Spring tonic from Taraxacum (dandelion), Galium cleavers) and Stellaria (chickweed).  More about that later.

Before any of that happens, however, there has to be order on the shelf, which was this morning a mass of pots of experimental creams, tinctures lovingly shaken twice daily, macerating oils and vinegars, and two small bottles of rather good gin in orange peel.  Trawling through the tinctures I find some have been there just over a month and need to be filtered, labelled and bottled, others need to push their way to the front as they will be ready in a few days, and the oils and vinegars all need to be filtered as they will otherwise embrace their chilies, ginger, garlic and sea buckthorn (not in the same jars!) in the presence of anything aqueous they can grab from them and make sweet, sweet mould!

I am going to combine a ginger tincture with a chili oil to make joint soothing cream, wonderful for arthritis – not for the first time, but I think the recipe can be improved upon.  It needs to be seriously ‘hot’ enough to draw circulation to the skin, in order to flush through the joint, but not so hot that I end up being hospitalised when I do the ‘I accidentally stuck my finger in my eye’ test.  These two little darlings (ginger and chili) are now sitting side by side on the shelf, filtered and rebottled, waiting to take up their starring roles in the Killer Cream production.  Next time I might try chili tincture and ginger oil…

The vinegars are smelling delicious, despite the fact that they have been there far too long.  Scottish raspberries in red wine vinegar and tarragon, red onion and garlic in organic cider vinegar.  Filtered and rebottled, sitting by the chili and garlic oils (we use enormous amounts of both of those), the shelf is beginning to look not overcrowded, but … smug.

At this point events begin to speed up and my ‘tidying up’ runs away with itself.  It often happens when the words ‘I’ll just do this…’ start flitting across my brain.  This morning ‘I’ll just melt down the soap whilst I’m sterilising the bottles for the gin’ were my downfall.  The sterilising machine hisses and spits, and today Phoebe the cat was observing my tidying from a not very safe distance.  She hissed back in defence and leapt over, or rather into a gin bottle ready for filtering – I couldn’t let go of the soap to catch it, so a good measure of delicious orange gin sprayed out over the kitchen and across the soap.  Gin soaked orange peel everywhere, and the soap beginning to get to its crucial sticky stage…

Ah well.  Things have been worse.  The combined smell of orange gin and lavender soap is strange, but not unpleasant.  The men here to climb about on the roof to give us quotes for the chimneys and balustrade repairs look faintly bemused when they come in, but Phoebe is unharmed (outraged, but unharmed) and I only lost a little gin.  The soap remains, as always, reticent to go fully mushy, so there is another alchemical experiment to be working on in the future.

Moisturisers without water

We were at an outdoor market last week and came across a skincare product stall with a very nice chap purveying hand made ‘natural’ hand moisturising bars without a water content.  We bought one, of course.  They contain a mixture of beeswax, coconut butter and sustainable palm oil, with essential oils as fragrancers.  These bars are interesting beasties, as they have considerable advantages and some crucial drawbacks.

Firstly, in their favour, they do not (well, hardly ever) go off.  Really.  It’s the aqueous content in creams and lotions that can get mouldy and foosty, requiring the use of preservatives if they are not to be used within a month or so, or kept in the fridge.  This is fantastic from a sales point of view as it means they can be made in large batches, sometimes months in advance of shows or fairs, and have a very long shelf life.  It also means that these products can be bought as Christmas or Birthday presents long before the great day.  And a bar is very appealing in its format.  I like the idea – just tip it out of its tin, no lids or squelch!

Furthermore, this means that, from a “What am I putting on my skin?” point of view, there are NO preservatives in it.  I would much rather not have to use these, but I have to use a preservative in face and body cream, when I am giving it as a gift and cannot be sure that it will a) be used immediately or b) be kept in the fridge.  There are several on the market, some less unpleasant than others, and there is a healthy debate ongoing about which ones are preferable.  One I have come across, which seems extremely effective in its killing of all live things, is called ‘Microkill’!  This is not the experimental visual arts and music group, it’s a substance that kills anything live in the product to which it is added, and presumably therefore, also in my skin when I apply it. Good against Gram positive and Gram negative bacteria, as well as yeasts and moulds but not sure I want that on my skin…

Having said all that, how does the moisturising bar feel on my skin?  Well, on the one hand it’s really nice to have a solid bar to rub into my hands, much like a bar of soap.  But, frankly, it’s not quite as good as one of my own creams, mainly because of the limitations imposed on it by its being solid.

The advantages of not having to make hand moisturiser solid are many, and they fall into the camp of having a light, readily absorbed product.  Basically, most of the oils and butters used in a solid bar, not to mention the waxes, leave a film on the skin which takes ages to soak in, if at all.  When I am making a cream, however thick, I have more ingredients at my disposal.  Firstly, I can use a ‘runny’ oil such as safflower which is absorbed very readily by the skin, leaving no greasy film.  I can add a little beeswax – lovely – but not in such large quantities as are required to make a solid bar at room temperature.  Too much beeswax leaves, not surprisingly, quite a waxy feeling on the hands.  Equally, I can use coconut butter (stays solid at room temperature) for its enriching properties, but, again, not so much that it leaves my hands greasy.  Some properties (constituents) of herbs are extracted in water, so I can take advantage of those in my cream if I am not worried about using aqueous ingredients that can go off.

I am going to experiment with solid bars, though – I really appreciate the way they are kept in a tin and (probably) won’t leak into my bag.  But they need to be less… waxy.

Gardening time

If you look at the photo above, you will see a corner of our tiny garden in Edinburgh.  It proceeds up the steps from the garden room and the library, around the corner to the first level where we have a table and a couple of chairs for al fresco dining, and up again onto the long triangular lawn.  This ends in a bricked point with a large cherry tree and a wrought iron bench.  All the gardens between the backs of two crescents are walled on all sides at chest height.  We are South-East facing, rather damp and don’t seem to get a lot of sun.

Here it is that we would like to grow some veg and more herbs.  We are having to get some professional and organically sympathetic help in as despite our best efforts to date, not much seems to grow except for a couple of helleborus and some honeysuckle.  We are up for raised beds and more dwarf fruit trees to join our apple and quince. The weather seems to be brightening, so we shall see.

Facial toner with cider vinegar update

I used it (see previous post) this morning and, yes, an hour later I still smell slightly of vinegar.  My beloved held her nose to kiss me goodbye as I dropped her off to listen to the incomparable Will Pickvance at St. Giles’ Cathedral on the Royal Mile.  Shall try it again with much less vinegar.  Will is playing at our “We’ve got married” party at the end of this month.  So exciting 🙂