Plants and their uses have always fascinated me.
I was lucky enough to grow up in a fairly rural area, surrounded by nature and always aware of the seasons. The woods, wild plants, berries and flowers were part of my everyday life. One childhood memory in particular has always stayed with me. I vividly recall one summer evening weaving a path through tall grasses woven with cleavers, or sticky bobs as we called them, the buds velcroed to my socks.
I remember asking an adult what the point of this sticky and annoying plant was and being given a vague explanation to its medicinal uses. I took one of the cleavers’ leaves, ate it and thought how much it tasted of freshly-shelled peas. It occurred to me that other medicine didn’t taste so fresh or natural. Even then I felt deep down that there was more to this plant’s story and it left me wondering how much around me was edible or healing.
These tiny sparks of interest never left me but, growing up, a career and the pace of modern life stopped me from pursuing them. Then in my 30s I became ill, life-changingly ill. Suddenly I had time to rekindle these old interests and I began to consider how I might make myself healthy again. Although I cope with the physical and mental limitations of my illness reasonably well, I do not intend to be this way forever. I have fibromyalgia which affects just about every part of my body and consequently my life. The doctors could only offer steroids and strong pain relief but I knew this would inevitably lead to a downward spiral from which I might never recover.
I’ve always been quite a resourceful person and so I approached my health in the same way I might tackle a torn dress or a piece of broken furniture – I would fix me, I would learn how to make myself well again. This might sound odd but I’ve always believed that if you research and teach yourself enough you can do pretty much anything you set your mind to, within reason.
In the quest to heal myself I began to find answers to the ailments of those around me and suddenly found myself making simple ointments and salves, medicines and teas. It all came so naturally it was as if I had known these skills all my life.
The very first concoction I made was for a friend with severe eczema. The pharmaceutical cream she was using had stopped working and her skin was very red and even bleeding in places. The itchiness was driving her mad so I trawled through the collection of herbal books I had picked up from various charity and book shops and discovered chickweed, also known as stitchwort. I realised I had seen this little plant on the edge of a small square in the village so I walked down and collected some.
There are many kinds of chickweed but the most effective for soothing eczema is easily identified due to the hairs growing on just one side of the stem. I gathered a bunch and together we washed and picked off every tiny leaf. At the time I didn’t have a food mixer so we took turns pounding them to a pulp with my pestle and mortar. With no clear idea what I was doing I decided to use some aqueous cream and mixed it with the pulped plant. The finished ointment was hulk green with little tiny bits of leaf in it but my very game friend tried it and was immediately relieved from the itching. Over the course of the next few weeks her eczema calmed down and her skin began to heal. We were both stunned by how quickly something so simple had worked.
This was the point where an interest became a vocation and for the last few years I have researched, experimented and learnt a great deal – but there is so much more to know. In this blog I hope to share some of my experiences and the amazing things I have found. With the rising cost of living and looming certainty that healthcare won’t always be free, it feels like the perfect time to re-learn what free food is out there and to revisit our herbal roots.
DISCLAIMER: These are some of my personal experiences combined with information I have researched over a number of years. I am not encouraging people to self-medicate – in the treatment of specific conditions it is best to consult a herbalist or your GP. If you should develop an adverse reaction to any of the herbs mentioned above please stop using them immediately. Always take care when identifying plants.