Green Wizardries: My Favourite Herbs


I have only been growing, preparing and using medicinal herbs for the last few years.  I have been amazed at how effective they are.  I believe anyone who wants to can reduce their reliance on expensive and dodgy pharmaceuticals by growing and preparing their own medicinal herbs.  

When you are making your own medicines, you will not be concerned with making a profit, only a good medicine.  Big Pharma does not want to produce cures, they want to create repeat customers.  There are a lot of articles out now stating that some European Governments are urging people to stock up on pharmaceuticals as they are expecting shortages.

I think the first herb for general usefulness must be comfrey.  It is a deep-rooted perennial plant that has big, fuzzy leaves shaped like a mule’s ear.  They grow a stalk of leaves and bell-shaped flowers in blues and pinks that bumblebees just love.  Bumblebees have a long tongue but short tongued species of bee also drink the nectar by biting a hole in the top of the flower and drinking the rich nectar from there.  

A couple of the common names for comfrey include ass’s ear and knitbone.  This herb has been used by the Ancient Greeks since at least 400 BCE.  The Ancient Romans and Greeks used the herb mostly for healing wounds and broken bones.  Comfrey contains the chemicals allantoin and Rosemarinic acid.  The allantoin accelerates the process of new tissue growth and the Rosemarinic acid relieves pain and inflammation.  Comfrey is used topically as a compress, poultice, salve or ointment.  

Some orchardists recommend making a salve with the crushed leaves of comfrey and putting that on injured areas of a tree and bandaging it on to speed healing.  It certainly works on human flesh so why not a tree?  You can also plant a circle of comfrey around trees to form a fence that will keep out encroaching weeds and grass.  

Comfrey flowers from May to August so it is a great resource for pollinators and the plant and flowers are very pretty, a nice addition to the back of the flower border.  The mature plants can be up to four feet tall. 

I use comfrey-infused olive oil to make my face cream.  A young Algerian man recently asked me how old I was and was surprised when I said, “Nearly sixty.”  The allantoin has a very soothing effect on the skin and keeps it looking smooth and healthy.  Besides that, commercially-prepared cosmetics and face creams contain synthetic scents and preservatives that upset the human endocrine system and are best avoided.   

Comfrey can be picked, chopped and steeped in a barrel of cold water for a few weeks until you have a barrel of thick, dark tea.  Dilute this natural fertilizer with ten times its volume in fresh water and water the hungry crops like pumpkins and peppers.  Comfrey is often used as a chop and drop plant as it makes a good mulch and a good fertilizer.  It acts as a compost accelerator and adds valuable nutrients and minerals to the compost.  Cut the plants down after they have flowered and before they have set seed.  The plants will regrow and flower again but do not cut them more than four times a year or you may kill the plants.  Comfrey is best propagated through root cuttings early in the year or plant divisions in the autumn.

Another tough customer that is a great healer is the yarrow plant.  It is a perennial and the best yarrows for medicinal use are the wild white-flowering Achillea millefolium.  There are other coloured hybrids that will look very pretty in a flower garden.  Yarrow flowers are especially attractive to butterflies, wasps, flies and bees.  

Medicinally, the plant is best gathered while in flower as it has the richest concentration of medicinal oils while it is in flower.  Both the leaves and the blossoms are used to make medicines.  I love yarrow  for its styptic properties which means it stops bleeding.  It is also strongly antimicrobial which is nice.  I make an ointment from olive oil infused with yarrow and comfrey and it is wonderful to clear the complexion of young people suffering from acne or pimples.   

I make an aftershave with yarrow and spices and it smells great and stops bleeding from shaving cuts.  I use this aftershave as a first aid treatment for any cut or scratch to clean it and stop it bleeding.  

The recipe for the aftershave is very simple.  Put two cups of vodka into a glass jar and add one sprig of fresh rosemary, one sprig of fresh mint, 1 cinnamon stick, 9 whole cloves, two strips of organic orange peel, two strips of organic lemon peel, ten drops of bitter orange essential oil, one tablespoon of finely-chopped fresh yarrow leaves and flowers and a pinch of blue vervain if you have it.  Steep two weeks and enjoy. Yarrow has many other medicinal uses. It is propagated from seed.