Donkey asprin

Rita and Jill

Not long after we arrived in our lovely rural idyll, we were joined by two donkeys: Jill and Rita. These are a lovely couple of girls. Jill is 20 years old and a gentle soul who literally goes weak at the knees when you brush her cheeks. Rita is 16 and has a great personality, liberally laced with large dollops of bossiness.

Both donkeys suffer from a nasty condition called laminitis. Laminitis is a sadly shining example of why it is better to treat the whole rather than just an isolated problem.

On the surface laminitis looks like a foot condition. Which it is – but, the condition is caused by what the donkey, pony or horse is eating and how they digest it. In simple terms, laminitis occurs when the animal, in this case our lovely donkeys, eat too much of the lush spring grass. As they digest the grass they breakdown all those springy sugars in their gut, which in turn sets it up to be a breeding ground for a bacteria. Not content to party on in the stomach, the bacteria works it way throughout the system and then attached the delicate laminae in the foot. These are the little connectors (I think of them as tiny threads or spider webs) that hold the pedal bone of the foot against the hoof wall. The bone then drops and the poor donkey is now walking right on the bone. It can be excruciating.

To treat laminitis you have to really take an holistic approach. You need to sort out the pain, restrict the diet, get the gut working better and make sure the hooves are trimmed in a way that can start to support the pedal bone again. This takes time.

So back to the lovely Rita and Jill. We have owned them for about two and a half months now. I got the vet out to see them when they first got here and he put them on a 3-4 day course of Bute, which is a painkiller, which was a good short term option in their very acute state, but hey ho, of course, Bute messes with the digestive tract, so in the long run that is not going to help at all.

When the vet came I also started them on a blend of herbal tinctures I made to deal to the pain and help the stomach. This included herbs such as Devil’s Claw, which is very effective natural pain relief. I gave this to them twice daily with a small handful of rice bran and matcha tea. Matcha is the ground bright green teas used for centuries in Japan. It is extremely high in antioxidants which can help to reduce inflammation so I figured that the girls might benefit from it. I damp down this mixture with a tea of rosehips and nettle – great sources of vitamin C and a multitude of minerals and vitamins. Needless to say they love it.

20141020_172737Nature has so much close at hand for us to use. I would cut willow for them. Willow contains salicin which asprin is made from. Willow is a valuable treatment for things like fevers and rheumatism. Often animals will self medicate with willow if they have access to it. Jill seems to enjoy munching on it!

The good news is that the girls have responded really well to treatment. Rita is practically skipping about like a spring lamb. I don’t think Jill will ever become a ballerina, but she is definitely much improved. The fantastic thing is that as they have got better, their personalities have blossomed and you can see them taking a lot more notice of what is going on around them. Delightful!

20141121_082722The other great aspect to all this is that they are serious poo factories, creating wheelbarrow loads of manure for our compost heap for the Archeus apothecary garden.

Donkey asprin

Birds, death, life


I wrote about my ducks Greta and Anka the other day. I wrote about their attack by a hawk. Well upon reflection it was a stoat.

I had written that I thought Anka had got away… and that I hoped she would come back. Her mother Greta was killed in the stoat attack; and my mother was seriously ill. I figured we needed each other.

My mother passed away a week ago today. The day before she died, three whites doves appeared in the garden and have taken up residence in the dovecote…much billing and cooing and hopefully eggs on a nest.

On the day after my mother died, I found Anka. She was dead. She would have died along with Greta in the stoat attack.Her body was hidden under the flax over hanging the pond. We have buried her next to Greta.

I cried buckets. Then I thought about what Nature is showing me. Death happens. Sometimes the things we want to come back just don’t… they have had their time. And life does go on… doves, that sign of peace, settle in the garden and create a nest for the next generation.

Birds, death, life

What’s this ‘ear? Collecting Mullein Flowers


At this time of year the Mullein are starting to flower. Mullein are the tall, soft hairy leaved plants you see growing on disturbed soil like on the side of the road.

Their flowers are a wonderful herb for treating ear problems. I have just been picking some Mullein flowers on a steep hill on our property and adding them to some sweet almond oil that I had already infused with calendula. Mullein seems to remind you as you pick the flowers that it is for ears as the small amounts of orange pollen looks like earwax in the small yellow flowers, kind of like wax in the curl and temple of you ear!


Mullein is a super-useful plant (like so many!). Its leaves are also a famed remedy for bronchial problems. The tall stems and dried flowerheads used to be dipped in wax and used as torches. The fibre of the mullein would also be used to make candle wicks.

I will keep adding the flowers to the oil as they come out over the next week or so..then I will have a beautiful, handcrafted treatment oil for ears.

Thank you lovely Mullein.

What’s this ‘ear? Collecting Mullein Flowers

Soggy Sunday turns to Sad Sunday

Puff the dog with her friend Greta the duck who was sadly killed by a hawk yesterday
Puff the dog with her friend Greta the duck who was sadly killed by a hawk yesterday

Earlier on Sunday I wrote about spring/summer tonics and the healing power of cleavers and nettle. Little did I know that as I was writing that blog, tragedy was occurring down by the pond.

My lovely ducks, Greta and Anka, who have been sitting on eggs together under a flax bush down by the pond, were attacked by a hawk. I found Greta floating dead in the pond, along with one of the big ducklings from Mathilda’s brood. She and the duckling both had one single wound to the back of the neck.  At least it would have been quick. Anka was nowhere to be found. Their eggs were cold and one had been eaten. I cracked open one of the other eggs to see what stage they were at – they were probably about a week away from hatching. It would have been Anka’s first brood of ducklings.

I know that living in the country means death as well as life. I grew up on a farm and so have been exposed to all that since a child. But it still makes you sad when a special animal goes.

I really loved the gentleness of Greta and the bossiness of Anka. They were a delightful pair of characters to have around. They would feed out of my hand and trusted me around their precious eggs. They were a lovely part of the Archeus family. Today I will bury Greta, the duckling and Anka and Greta’s eggs.

But there is also another dimension to this story. Greta was Anka’s mum. My mother is very, very ill at the moment and it is very likely she will die in the coming days. Somewhere, Anka may be grieving for her mother and I am grieving for mine. I hope Anka comes back. I think we are going to need each other.

Here is a video I took of Greta the other day as she took a break from her eggs. R.I.P. Greta.

Soggy Sunday turns to Sad Sunday

Spring tonics

Raindrops in the Archeus garden

It’s raining here today at the rural idyll. Warm, spring and early summer rain. The kind of rain that makes gardens grow with vigour and lust for life. Cleansing rain. Rejuvenating rain. The kind of rain to be thankful for.

This is also a time of year for cleansing and rejuvenating body and soul. I have been enjoying drinking infusions of fresh nettle and cleavers that are growing here on the property. I just put a handful of cleavers or nettle (or both) in the teapot and cover with boiling water and leave to brew for 5-10 minutes.

Nettle is a wonderful and misunderstood plant. Nettle is a fantastic blood purifier and increases the efficiency of liver and kidney function. Nettle nourishes and rejuvenates all systems in the body. It is energising and also stabilises blood sugars. It is extremely rich in vitamins, minerals, proteins, lipids and other micro-nutrients. I infuse organic camellia oil with nettles for the Vital Oil I make which is a gorgeous nourishing facial oil (I use it everyday!). I like the way such a prickly, stingy plant is actually such a beautiful, enriching friend for our systems. If Nettle were a person then I think it would be someone who is all gruff and prickly on the outside but actually has a heart of gold.

Cleavers (Galium aparine)

Cleavers is another plant that is regarded as a menace, but is actually a wonderful healing plant. You might also know it as goose-grass or biddy-bids. It is a fast growing ‘weed’ that creeps up through other plants and grasses and sticks to things. Its seeds are covered in little hooks (think Velcro) which make them stick to everything: clothing, socks, dogs…

To me, that ‘stickiness’ is part of its healing strength. It’s a fantastic blood purifier and for centuries has been a very popular herb for spring tonics. I envisage that stickiness, those little hooks, catching all the toxins in your system and gathering them up to expel them from the body.  It tastes nice and refreshing as an infusion as well! Apparently the ancient Greeks used to roast the seeds and grind them to make a coffee type of drink. Glass makers would use it to make glass because of its silica content; and if you are camping and need to give the billy a good scrub, then get a big handful of cleavers and use them as a scrubber.

So I think that I am going to go and make a pot of Cleavers and Nettle blend brew, find a comfy chair to curl up in and watch the rain falling on the Archeus garden on this soggy, Sunday.


Spring tonics

What ducks can teach us about expectant mothers

Greta and Anka are sharing egg duties

Greta and Anka are mother and daughter. Greta is the white duck and Anka, well she’s the black and white one. They were given to us by friends of ours who had hand-reared them but were, quite frankly, a little fed up with them using their front door as a loo. So, they arrived at the idyll in Poraiti not long after we did.

After an initial moment or two of nervousness about being somewhere new they soon settled in nicely (and nowhere near our front door) and started to feel quite at home.

Their arrival was quickly and duly noted by Lorenzo the Drake who thought all his Christmases had come at once and a florid and tangled menage ensued.

By the time Lorenzo had the audacity to turn up for breakfast with a new bird (we called Flossie) in tow, the proverbial seeds had already been sown and well, Greta and Anka were both up the duff.

But these girls are thoroughly modern women. They went off down to the pond, made a fabulous nest under a flax bush by the water’s edge and both sat down together to get on with the serious job of making sure those eggs, all ten of them, were going to hatch. They egg-pooled. One nest, two birds, ten eggs. I love it!

Generally they take turns to come up to the chook shed for breakfast and supper. But knowing a soft touch when they see one, they have managed to convince me that really, the best thing is that I should bring the food to them and hand feed them on the nest, or as the photo shows, on each other. And of course, I do just that. Every day.

It has gone pretty well so far, but I have to say that Anka has been spectacularly hormonal and has bossed us all around. She is very exacting in her nest standards and berates Greta if a downy feather is out of place. She pecked me so hard the other day I got a blood blister, and then she chased Puff the dog. She’s a baggage (right now she could do with some Beech remedy for intolerance) and she’s adorable.

I love watching the way these two ducks, mother and daughter, work together. The co-operation between them so one can have a break, get a meal, have bath, stretch her legs and so on, is well, it’s amazing. I am really interested to see what happens when the eggs hatch… there is so much we can learn from Nature.

Greta and Anka with Lorenzo the Drake
Greta and Anka with Lorenzo the Drake
Anka taking a break
The pond
What ducks can teach us about expectant mothers