Sunday, April 19, 2015

Medicinal Plants to Grow at Home

As young children myself and my sister spent hours playing, what we called, Mucky Crumby. This was basically collecting muck, flowers, leaves, stones and other garden debris and making into little meals and mixtures. Somewhere buried in the backgarden of the house we moved from when I was six is a lucozade bottle filled with water and mashed up sloes in my attempt to make a some sort of an elixir.

This delight in making potions and lotions never left me and it really pleases me to add medicinal plants to my collection. Here are some plants I am growing at home that can be used as natural cures for an array of complaints.

1. Plants To Reduce Stress


Possibly one of the most recognised floral scents, lavender is synonymous with encouraging better sleep. It produces calming, sedative effects when inhaled.

The lavender plant is quite hardy and will withstand dry conditions but a good watering before the flowering season will promote healthy blooms. It spreads, so don't restrict it too much. Place it in a sunny spot as it will not thrive without 6-8 hours of sunshine a day.

Harvest the flowers just before they come into bloom (late June-July) and to maximise the scent, collect in the very early morning. Cut the flowers at the base of the stem and tie into bunches. To retain as much colour as possible, hang in a dark place that is dry, with low humidity. A garage or shed would be ideal. You want to dry them gently. Keep space between the bunches so the air can circulate. The process can take up to a month. You can dry them quickly in the sun, but the purple colour will fade.

To lift your mood, try a homemade lavender tea. Place 1 tsp of dried lavender leaves in a cup and cover with freshly boiled water.  Leave to steep for three minutes and drain before drinking. It can be sweetened with honey.

2. Plants for Cuts, Grazes and Minor Burns

Aloe Vera

Aloe can be grown easily as a house plant. It is a succulent plant, which retains water in its leaves, so it doesn't need too much watering, particularly in winter. It likes a warm, bright location but not totally direct sunshine.

If you break the tip of a leaf off, you will be able to squeeze out the thick green gel from inside the plant. Apply the cool gel directly to a minor burn or graze. Equally you can use like a compress by slitting the leaf down the rib, open it out like a book and apply it, gel side down, straight onto the burn.

I recently used aloe vera on a graze on my toddler's head, and it was gone the next day. Maybe it was his small-child powers of healing the countless bumps he gets but I like to think my efforts helped.


Onions contain sulphur and quercetin (an anti-oxidant that has anti-inflammatory properties) which help sooth the pain and heal the burn. To help prevent a blister forming, finely dice a raw onion and apply to the burn, wrapping in a bandage to secure.

Sore Throats and Colds


Another use for onion is to help sooth an irritated throat. You can make a simple cough syrup using raw onion and honey. Make in small batches as it only lasts a few days. Simply add half a chopped raw onion to a clean jar, add enough honey to cover the onion and store in the fridge. Eat a two spoonfuls every few hours.


The pungent aroma alone is a great decongestant when you are suffering with a head cold and garlic is also reported to have anti-viral and antibiotic powers. If you are partial to garlic, try eating a whole raw clove a few times a day until the cold passes. A gentler way of ingesting might be to mince the clove and spread on buttered toast, creating a simple garlic bread.


Raw potato

I can attest to this one too. Chew a small cube of raw potato to fight indigestion. Not the nicest texture to invite into your mouth but it does the job, quickly.

So there you have it, a few simple remedies for common complaints.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Perfect Pancakes Every Time

This pancake recipe is perfect for two reasons - firstly, it produces flawless, thick pancakes and secondly, it requires only half assed measuring. These pancakes can be used in savoury as well as sweet dishes. It is very satisfying to make something out of three simple ingredients.

Ingredients makes 3 pancakes

1 cup of plain white flour
1 cup of milk
1 egg

Oil for frying


Carefully mix the ingredients together with a whisk until nicely combined. If some tiny flour lumps remain, don't despair. They will cook away, and won't leave nasty little lumps in the pancake.

Heat the oil in your best frying pan until it is hot and runs freely when you move the pan.

Pour the excess hot oil from the pan into a cup and put to one side

With the pan at a medium heat, pour in 1/3 of the mixture. When small bubbles start to appear in the upside, use a fish slice to loosen around the edge of the pancake. If it looks nicely browned on the underside, scoop it up and turn over. You can probably flip it, but I use too heavy a pan. Cook until the other side is browned.

Before you add more batter to the pan, pour back in some of the excess oil from the cup and allow to heat back up for a minute.

Tip: for a sweet pancake, add 1tsp of vanilla essence to the batter.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

First Ladybird of 2015

I couldn't get a better photograph without disturbing it, but here is my first sighting of a ladybird this year, nestled in my purple sprouting broccoli, hopefully feasting on any pests that the plant might be harbouring. It really seems apt to see this spotted beetle on the sunniest day of the year so far.

Monday, March 9, 2015

I Finally Employed A Gardening Apprentice

One of my proudest moments this year was seeing my toddler try out his new pair of wellies for the first time. During the summer, he would crawl around the grass barefooted but the winter has been an awkward time with a newly walking child. He has a great waterproof suit (bought in Lidl a few years ago and passed down to us from my sister) but was not ready for shoes until recently, although I do admit that I let him ruin his soft pre-walker shoes a few times in the wet grass.
This week I unleashed the beast into the wild [garden] fully suited and booted to get messy and wet. I think we've rummaged around every corner and puddle at this stage. I never knew so much pleasure could be got from dipping ones fingers in the water that collects on the lid of a bucket.  Another favourite game is to carry the biggest lump of coal we can find in our hands as we explore. And even when we fall down, the lump of coal cannot be dropped!
I look forward to teaching my son about gardening and hopefully in the near future I can post some useful advice on gardening with toddlers. He has already experienced the joy of growing your own food - last summer he would crawl to my tomatoes and devour the fruit straight from the plant. This year he might be able to help me pinch out the side shoots!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

My Garden: 4th March 2015

So we had snow this week but Spring has definitely arrived because I got my first seeds planted this week. It's too early to put anything in the ground uncovered but there are plenty you can start off indoors. It's a good time to sow your tomatoes inside on a sunny window (if you have a propagator or heated pad, you could sow as early as January). I sowed a mix of Sungold Select, Black Cherry (both cherry varieties grown locally in Skibbereen by Brown Envelope Seeds and some leftover Moneymakers from last year.

Outside under plastic, I sowed two trays with a mix of spinach, rocket, pak choi, coriander and dill, all hardy enough vegetables. I neglected do any salad greens last year, concentrating too much on brassicas, but I won't make the same mistake again. Brocolli (calabrese and purple sprouting) and brussels sprouts are the only brassicas I'll bother with this year.

Speaking of purple sprouting broccoli, we are currently eating those pretty little florets. Sown last April, it is a long maturing vegetable but a welcome one during the otherwise unproductive months of February and March. Brasssicas really are the champions of the winter months. They withstand the cruel winter temperatures and actually flourish after a bit of frost.
I have two broad bean plants under plastic but I've started to harden them off by putting them out during the day. One is looking quite healthy but the picture below shows the other plant has started to blacken around the edges of the leaves. I think it is a case of leaf burn. I remember the last time I overwintered broad beans under plastic, I had the same problem of blackened leaves. The plants still thrived once they were planted out, so I'm not too worried.

I'll leave you with a photo of pretty narcissus brightening up the battered swing frame.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Community Spirit and Buying Local

I've been thinking a lot about "community" the last few years - the almost unseen efforts made by ordinary people to keep a town or village alive. Suddenly I realise those pretty flowers in the middle of the roundabout didn't grow wild, those educational talks didn't organise themselves and that farmer's market didn't appear out of thin air. Did you ever wish a certain group or class was operational in your area without realising that maybe you should be the person to make it happen? Many of us are now living away from our family and the friends we grew up with. We have to create our own community support, and this can be difficult. A mutual hobby is an almost effortless way to meet like minded people. I've always held the belief that a single hobby goes a long way to enriching a life. It gives you something to feel useful about, something to talk about and something you can teach others about. Overall, it can give you confidence and that spills over into other aspects of your life.

How can you find out what is happening in your area?

Think small. The library is a good place to start, the local area/church newsletter or the noticeboard in the local supermarket. An internet search probably won't be the most effective way but maybe your town or village has a Facebook page that keeps up to date with local goings-on. The amount of [often free] interesting events organised might surprise you.

What prompted this post? Well I was in my local library recently and the librarian, on seeing that I had checked out a book on healing gardens, gave me a flyer for an upcoming talk in a local hall. The event was organised the GIY fraction in Passage/GlenwoodMonkstown and the speaker was Madeline McKeever of Brown Envelope Seeds, an organic seed producing company that operates out of Turk Head, near Skibbereen. The subject was seed saving - something I have started experimenting with. It couldn't have come at a better time for me. Having a young nursing toddler I am happily limited in my socialising. If given the choice, I'd much rather meet people at something interesting and educational and be home before ten! There was a great turnout of at least 50 people, much more than expected, we donated a few euro each, got tea and cake and were able to buy locally produced seeds after hearing from the grower herself about her history and methods.

It's one thing going to your local garden centre or co-op and buying a bunch of seeds - the choice is overwhelming and the prices can be cheap - but to listen to someone speak about how they choose, grow, nurture, harvest and clean the seed in your local environment is far more inspiring to be a part of. It makes sense that the seed should thrive in your back garden as it was reared in the same conditions. I'll let you know in a few months!

So what did I buy? Firstly I bought two varieties of cherry tomato - Sungold Select and Black Cherry. Since I am still obsessed with beetroot, I had to expand beyond the comfort of the popular Bolthardy and bought a pretty breed called Chioggia which is pink skinned with pink and white flesh in a concentric circle design. Lastly, I looked ahead to the winter months and bought seeds for a salad leaf that any reader of Joy Larkcom will be familiar with - Winter Purslane. By all accounts it grows like a weed and is frost hardy, making it sound like an ideal source of vitamin C. Putting them into my seed box and seeing all the cheap multi packs of seeds I've bought over the years made me slightly wish I was starting off again so I could buy local as much as possible. I'd buy less but hopefully increase the quality of my seeds.

If you want to start buying Irish produced seeds, check out Brown Envelope Seeds and Irish Seedsavers. If you know of any others, let me know!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Thoughts on the Winter Garden

I have to share a wonderful quote I heard today that expresses perfectly how a gardener feels during the long winter season:

From December to March, there are for many of us three gardens - the garden outdoors, the garden of pots and bowls in the house, and the garden of the mind's eye.

Katherine S. White

If only I could get real life to reflect the lavish creation of my mind's eye.