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

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

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