Gypsy Wisdom around Blackberry and Eczema

Blackberry - famed as a key eczema healer by gypsies
Blackberry – famed as a key eczema healer by gypsies

Eczema. It just seems to be everywhere. Fortunately I don’t suffer from it, but as a herbalist I am increasingly obsessed with it. A lot of people have been finding that the Vital Balm I make has really helped ease their eczema symptoms. As a small (but lovingly formed) company handcrafting all my lotions and potions, I can’t afford to do masses of advertising. At present I am relying on word of mouth, the internet and then stalls and markets to get the products known and ‘out there’. Word does seem to be spreading which is just wonderful. And one of the key issues that comes up time and time again is eczema, and another pot of Vital Balm heads off in the post.

Earlier in 2014 my partner’s daughter Kate told me that her children suffered from eczema and/or itchy skin issues. The Vital Balm really seemed to be helping them which was great, but Kate mentioned that she had run out of it.

Just before they turned up to come and stay over the Christmas period, I had been reading about how the gypsies rate blackberry (the plant NOT the gadget!) leaf as a prime plant to use when treating eczema. Cue – Kate arriving and showing me a couple of patches of eczema her gorgeous daughter Zoe had on her face and her arm.

Ah ha, me thinks. Here is an opportunity to try out a bit of good gypsy thinking. So I went and picked some luscious blackberry leaves and then infused them into camellia oil. I thought about other wonderful coolers and clearers such as cleavers, calendula and chamomile and set about creating a salve from these and other natural ingredients.

There really is something particularly wonderful about going out and harvesting the herbs you use for healing. I think it deepens the connection with the qualities of each herb you use and adds to the intent of the final product. I also love how herbal knowledge changes the way you look at the world around you – I mean, blackberry is usually looked upon with frowns and gritted teeth as it is regarded as a bane, cleavers is cursed for growing all through the garden and sticking to your socks…. yet these and other ‘weeds’ are some of the key healers – and guess what, they are all around us! Nature has a knack of putting things you need in reach, if you just know how to look for them.

Chopping the blackberry as I prepared to make the infused oil
Chopping the blackberry as I prepared to make the infused oil

So, back to the salve. I really focussed on the healing aspects of each of the ingredients, and the healing intent of the salve. I gave all this an extra boost by putting a quartz crystal in my glove while picking the blackberry leaves! I am not sure if this is the most elegant of quartz healing rituals, but it did seem the most practical for the occasion! For those that may not know, quartz is regarded as a ‘master healer’. Kirlian photography has shown that when held in the hand, the strength of energy fields is at least doubled. It is said that quartz clears blockages and balances the spiritual, physical, mental and emotional planes as well as giving clarity and bestowing energy.

Zoe and Kate loved seeing the herbs gently infusing over a very low heat. I then strained the oil and added some beeswax and finally some vitamin E and essential oils before pouring the warm salve into aluminium tins. Et voila!

Kate started using the salve on the weekend. After 2-3 days of use, Zoe’s face had completely cleared up and looked positively cherubic. The patch on her arm had almost disappeared as well. Kate couldn’t believe it. Zoe was happy and I was elated.

Zoe's Blackberry Eczema Salve #1
Zoe’s Blackberry Eczema Salve #1
Gypsy Wisdom around Blackberry and Eczema

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

Thinking about the lionhearted

The lovely Hawthorn (Crataegus) tree


Today I am thinking about the lovely Hawthorn. We are lucky enough to have three or four on our property.

This trees offers up its leaves, flowers and berries as medicine for the heart, matters of the heart, and the circulatory system. Even the physical presence of the Hawthorn suggests protecting and helping the heart – it is quite a densely growing tree and has (as the name suggest!) thorns to protect its own interior space.

It is making its presence felt for me at the moment because my mother is seriously ill and will die very soon. So this is a time of grief, and to be honest a fair bit of courage is required.

I take a Hawthorn tincture everyday now to help give me courage and strength to get through this phase. I have blended it with Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) and St John’s Wort (Hypericum) which is a wonderful combination. Motherwort means lionhearted and is a wonderful herb and ally for women. Among its many attributes, it eases emotional swings, it is calming and strengthens the heart. St John’s Wort is well known for its help in banishing the blues. I have made my blend according to the greatest emphasis on healing I am wishing for, and I add around 30 drops to water and take it 3-4 times a day.

But when I am out in the paddock, by the pond talking to Anka and Greta the Muscovy ducks who are sitting on eggs at present, or walking through the glade of beautiful trees we have – including my friend Hawthorn, it is very hard to feel down. Contemplative – yes. But down, not so much. Just take 5 or 10 minutes to lose yourself in Nature – listen to the sounds around you; look at trees and plants, and then look a little deeper – you may be surprised at the extra details you see that normally would pass you by, and how much better you feel.

Nature is an amazing healer. Be kind to her, listen to her and she will be kind to you – Nature gives the biggest bear hugs you will ever get.

Thinking about the lionhearted