Herbs for Health

To speak an obvious truth, the pandemic is affecting all our lives and most certainly not always for the best. At the same time, it would be remiss of me to suggest that my life has come to a complete standstill over the last eight months. In fact, because of so many events now being online, I am perhaps busier than ever. Whilst it was frustrating that I wasn’t able to network effectively at the Permaculture Convergence last weekend, I enjoyed many of the talks and learned a number of interesting facts, some of which I am going to impart to you in this post.

I’ve written before about eating wild food and the health benefits of herbs, so I will refrain from regurgitating what you can read elsewhere on this blog. Instead, I will give you an account of information which was new to me until last Saturday evening; and tell you about something I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to tell you for over a year.

Herbs for Health was a talk given by Helen Kearney, Jo Webster and Anne Stobart at the Permaculture Convergence. Helen is a medical herbalist, Jo is training to be one and Anne is another medical herbalist, who is the co-founder of a medicinal forest garden in Devon. As an aside, my mum started to train to become a medicinal herbalist and I am sure she would be as interested as me in taking a visit to the garden but these things will have to wait.



This herb was named after Achilles the Warrior because of his use of its leaves to stop bleeding during warfare. Crushed-up leaves can be applied as a wound dressing or placed in the nose to stop a bleed there.

The flowers are also useful for the skin. After being dried and steeped in oil, the resultant mixture creates a salve which is good for dry skin

The plant is classed as a ‘bitter’, which means that it is good for digestion – it aids the absorbtion of nutrients in the food we eat with it and it may soothe gut issues such as IBS.

Equal parts yarrow, peppermint and elderflower when dried make ‘flu’ tea. In other words, if you are under the weather this drink could perk you up. As Anne pointed out in the talk, it is important to stress that this is not an alternative to government guidance to keeping two metres apart from people outside your household, washing your hands on a regular basis and wearing a face covering. And, as Helen said, if you do not get better or your symptoms deteriorate, contact your GP.


Apart from shop-bought dandelion coffee (made from the roots of the plant), I have not yet experienced the culinary delights of this ubiquitous perennial. Autumn being the best time of year to harvest the roots, though, I think I will be digging up some soon and popping them in the dehydrator.

The leaves and flowers will have to wait till next spring. Dandelion is another bitter and thus aids the absorbtion of nutrients in the meal we are eating. The flowers are rich in lutein, which is good for our eyes and thus our vision.

Incidentally, as you may already know, vegetables in the past used to be bitterer than they are these days. So, we have lost this benefit from commerically grown vegetables, making it more important to eat those foods which still contain the bitter element.

Stinging nettle

Now, while I have written about this wild plant before, I did not know before the talk that it contains antihistamine and is therefore good for hayfever sufferers. Apparently. I suffer from hayfever and eat nettles – but would my hayfever be worse if I didn’t eat them? Certainly, this year I had expected to suffer really badly, being at home surrounded by pollen rather than in the city and several storeys up, where the pollen doesn’t seem to reach. And all things being equal the hayfever this year was tolerable. But then, as the grass was flowering all winter due to the rain, it could well be that my body had developed some resistance. The jury is out.

Vinegar and our micobiome

There are many ways of improving the microbiome in our gut, including eating fermented foods, such as homemade apple cider vinegar. This is because of the microbes it contains. However, vinegar is also a solvent and when herbs are steeped in it, their nutrients become more accessible to the body.

If you click on the title above, it will take you to Jo’s website, where she gives you recipes for making a variety of gut-improving products. In the meantime, here is a photo of the apple cider vinegar I have been making at home over the last year.

Ignoring the collection of artefacts at the back of the photo, the fancy bottle in the foreground contains the vinegar I made some months ago and next to it is some that is on the go now. The solids in the container with the teatowel over the top are the mother of vinegar. I’ve got quite a lot of the mother of vinegar now, so should anyone ever give me a bottle of wine, some of it might go in there to make a different type of vinegar.


Now, I didn’t know that ginkgo could grow in this country. Or rather I’d assumed that with such an exotic name, it must prefer warmer climes. Then again Devon is warmer than West Yorkshire, so perhaps I should not get too excited about getting one for my own forest garden.

Anyway, I have recently been suffering from tinnitus, brought on I suspect from wearing headphones whilst teaching online (I’ve stopped wearing them since the issue started and the tinnitus is subsiding). And it would appear that the leaves from this tree make a tea which helps those suffering from ringing in the ears.


Helen, Jo and Anne made it clear that it is important to bear in mind potential interactions with other medicines when using herbs and wild foods.

On that note, I would like to highlight the fact that I am not in any way qualified to say if any of the above are advisable for you personally. Something like homemade vinegar on your fish and chips should be fine (it is delicious) but wild foods can be quite powerful.

About Helen

I have always been interesting in living a more environmentally friendly lifestyle and used to do what I could. Now, I have come to realise that we have reached such a point in terms of environmental degradation that it is more important - perhaps - to focus on building resilience. I therefore do as much as I can to reuse, grow my own and encourage a supportive community, for example. I also keep reading and learning all the time.
This entry was posted in edible flowers, foraging, forest garden, Health, herbs, In the kitchen, Permaculture and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Herbs for Health

  1. Fascinating. Does the bitter observation apply to beer? ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I believe that hops also act as a preservative so the beer does not go off. Although we use the words beer and ale interchangeably ale was historically a drink brewed without hops, and beer was brewed with hops. There is a common wild plant used for bittering ale, but I can’t for the life of me remember it.

  3. Sorry, forgot to add. Gingko trees grow in Nottingham and are rated H6 by the RHS โ€“ Hardy in all of UK and northern Europe (-20 to -15). https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/7990/Ginkgo-biloba/Details

  4. Pingback: First attempt at homemade dandelion coffee | Growing out of chaos

  5. Nicole Jarman says:

    Thank you. This was super informative. Iโ€™m always looking for natural ways to boost my health. Learning the healing power of โ€œfoodโ€ is always fascinating to me.

    • Helen says:

      Thank you, Nicole. One of my students from China told me yesterday that there they also use dandelion to cleanse the body. According to them, because it stimulates the digestive system and it is diuretic, it stimulates the body to flush out toxins.

  6. Clare Pooley says:

    Very interesting post, Helen. Simon was talking about a plant used in the brewing of beer before hops were grown in this country. One of the plants used is Ground Ivy.

  7. gaiainaction says:

    Thank you Helen, I’m with you totally, plants and the use of herbs and wild plants is a fascinating subject that never ever fails to put a smile on my face and hence I am very busy too with soaking up information online while we are in a second lockdown here. I am sure we are the witches of old…reborn ๐Ÿ™‚ well actually all joking apart, these days, because we cannot totally rely on the medical practice while the covid is happening, and only having access to doctors via phone, it is vital that we learn as much we can about helping ourselves using herbs safely. It is so interesting too. Cheers.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, in view of our overburdened health services, it is very important to be able to look after ourselves as best we can. Making preparations is also such fun ๐Ÿ˜Š

      You know, I do have to smile when I think that in other times I might have been considered a witch. That episode in history when herbalists were prosecuted has had some long term repercussions – no doubt herbs are still not given the recognition they deserve because of the treatment of โ€˜witchesโ€™ in the past.

      How were โ€˜witchesโ€™ treated in Belgium, Agnes?

      • gaiainaction says:

        In Flanders there were roughly 95 mainly women who where herbalists or midwives accused of witchcraft during the 16th and 17th centuries and condemned. There are records of those people, before that time the records are scarce.
        On a brighter note Helen, there are some very helpful courses, websites, and information on the web about the use of herbs, medical herbs. Not to forget about the useful books that are on the subject. I am finding it such a very interesting subject.

I love to read about your own experiences and any other feedback you have, so look forward to your comments below.

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