vendredi 8 octobre 2010


Françoise and I went to the UK Herbfest this year near Worcester. It was held on an ecological conference site run by a voluntary organisation called Green and away. The programme was dense and exciting with speakers from all over the world. Among others, David Winston, American herbalist talked about herbs and depression, Rocio Alarcon, ethno-botanist from Ecuador spoke about using local plants in simple ways to combat stress, she also joined HSF on the spot, well done Rocio and John Lockly from South Africa did some workshops based on his understanding of Shamanic practises. The food was vegetarian, pity we had to eat on our knees on benches, might have been more convivial to have had some tables.......but that is coming from French herbalists where food and eating are sacré! Francoise did an early morning chi-qong class and I did a late evening sweat lodge, we had the chance to listen to a great local band with folk/Indian influences 'Dragonsfly' . The bar and conference venues where all in large round tents or yurts, which really resonated well with subject of medicinal plants. On the Sunday afternoon we went on a herb walk with Christine Herbert, David Winston and Julie Bruton-Seal, which was very interesting but made us all the more determined to offer botany/medicinal plant courses in the Alps to UK herbalists in order to share France's rich flora. We made great connections with many of our fellow herbalists and this sharing and exchanging felt really important for the future.
We will definetly return next year.

mardi 5 octobre 2010

Dilston Physic garden

This spring I made the trip up to Northumberland with my father to visit Elaine Perry and the Dilston Physic garden. Elaine and the garden were very inspiring and the link for HSF was instant.
This contemporary physic garden is the inspired creation of Professor Elaine Perry, a neuroscientist at Newcastle University who directs research into plant medicines. It occupies a tranquil site above the Devil's Water at Dilston in the Tyne Valley. Herbs and trees with properties for health and healing grow in abundant quantities, clearly labelled with regularly updated information on their traditional uses and scientific, clinical evidence.
Elaine was at the beginning of setting up some herbal tea testing trials when we met and we decided it would be a good idea to work on them together as a HSF project, carrying out the trials in France and the UK. It is one of HSF's first concrete projects, if you are interested in being a volunteer please contact Elaine through her web site if you are in the UK or contact HSF if you are in France.

dimanche 3 octobre 2010

Herbalist in the North of France

This spring I went to visit Fanny Vasseur, a herbalist based in the North of France who is a member of Herbalist sans Frontières. Fanny's project was helped along by an association that helps young people with ecologically sound projects in all aspects of their installation. She has the use of two hectares of land owned by the association and a small workshop that she uses for drying her herbs and packaging them. Fanny grows most of the plants she uses for her herbal tea range but also wild crafts thyme and lavender in the south of France in her van, which is equipped with a solar run dryer. Fanny also runs family orientated activity afternoons around the them of medicinal plants.

vendredi 24 septembre 2010

A visit to the Cotswolds

Davina Wynne-Jones surrounded by Snake's head Fritillary.
Saskia Marjoram also surrounded by Snake's head Frtillary

The fairy circle at the bottom of Davina's garden.

In the spring I went to England to visit an old friend, in the 8 or 9 years that we had been out of contact our paths had been going along the same route, Davina Wynne-Jones is the owner of 'Herbs for Healing' (, where she grows medicinal plants for sale and runs workshops on transforming plants into natural cosmetics etc.
I was really excited about visiting her new venture, all the more for the fact that we had been close friends in the past and I had even lived in a yurt on the land where she now has her garden.
As I drove into the land, it felt good straight away and what a wonderful garden it is, in a rather magical way one is drawn in through the commercial plant selling area, down through the medicinal plants carefully laid out in long beds to the enchanting fairy circle, where the energy of the plants dominates. We had a great day visiting the garden, catching up with each other and the added benefit was meeting Saskia from "Saskias flower essences", Saskia currently lives on the garden site and as well as helping Davina run the garden she also has a flower essence business making really great flower essences ( ). So the three of us went off to visit the famous Snake's head frittilary meadow near Cricklade, I was lucky to be visiting at the moment that they were in flower. What an amazing site, thousands upon thousands of Fritillaria, both pink and white varieties, we sat ourselves down in the middle of it all and let it all soak in, three witches in a magical spot........until the warden turned up and asked us to keep on to the path.

I left the Cotswolds the following day full of herbal friendship and exchange....not forgetting that both Davina and Saskia will be among the first members of Cross-Cultural herbalism or Herbalisme sans Frontiéres!!! The UK section of HSF has seeded.


Elpm members on a medicinal plant course in the 'Haut-Loire' region of France.
Sabine, an ex-herbalist student proudly show off the Gentiana lutea (Greta Yellow Gentian) with its precious root, a great bitter tonic for the digestive system.
You probably thought I had disappeared and was never going to come back to this blog again......another blogger that started out with good intentions but then faded away into nothingness. Well no, here I am again or now I should say, here we are, as the blog is now going to act as a communication tool for Cross-cultural herbalism or "Herbalisme sans Frontières" as it is known here in France, until our website is up and running. Since getting back from south America, the setting up and putting into place of our new organisation has advanced. We have our first new members, the seed group has begun to take form with different people active in different countries and our first newsletter is in the process of being put together.
In the messages that I will post over the next couple of weeks , I will profile on members I have visited, the seed group team and our trip to Herbfest in the UK to get things up to date, after which I promise to update regularly. The group photo is an ELPM summer medicinal plant course in the "Haut-Loire" region of France and the other is Sabine an ex ELPM herbalist student proudly holding up a Gentiana lutea (Great yellow Gentian) with its precious root, a great bitter tonic for the digestive system.

vendredi 9 avril 2010

Plant médicinal of the week - Primula veris (Primrose)

The primroses are out in force here , it's lovely seeing the clumps of yellow flowers along the country lanes as one drives along. The Primula veris or commonly known cowslip is the one that is used in herbal medicine, it is often confused with Primula elatior or oxslip, which prefers the more shady environment of woodlands and has a clearer yellow flower with a much more open corolla. This confusion is not a problem as according to Pierre Lieutagli, one of France's most knowledgeable ethno-botanists, their properties are more or less identical. I do however prefer to collect the Primula veris, sometimes referred to as Primula officinalis.
The primrose is used mainly in relation to the respiratory tract as it is an expectorant and a good cure for catarrh, a decoction of the roots is used to help cases of pneumonia and whooping cough.
A herbal tea of the flowers is good for anxiety being slightly calming, recommended for children in the evenings
In France it used to be a common remedy when used externally for wounds, rheumatism and inflammations, an oil was made by macerating the flowers for some weeks and this oils was applied externally to the area concerned.
I personally collect the flowers and use them in my herbal teas, they also add a pleasant taste.

mercredi 31 mars 2010

Tapping Birch Sap

The beginning of spring is the time to harvest Birch sap, this winter was a long a particularly hard one here in France. I visited the birch wood a couple of times to find that there was no upward moving sap at all. Finally, three weeks later than last year the sap flowed. I had left a bottle ready hanging on one of the birch trees the last time I had visited the forest, so when Romain and I arrived we were greeted by a full bottle of birch sap. What a pleasure to drink this springtime offering from nature amongst the trees themselves.
In order to successfully tap the sap, there are surely many different methods but the one we use is as follows, drill a hole into the tree preferably with a small, hand drill, the hole should be a couple of cm's deep and directed slightly upwards (in order to help the flow of sap). If the sap is flowing, you will quickly notice some moisture forming, followed by drops of clear sap. Put a straw in the hole, tie a bottle around the tree with the straw inside and hey in fact not hey presto as it takes some time to fill the bottle, I usually leave them for 24 hours but it can take slightly longer depending on the speed of the sap flow. Do not forget to fill the hole with a stick the right size when you have finished so that the tree doesn't loose all its sap for nothing.
I have read that all birch trees can be tapped and I have also read that certain have a bitter flavour, the birches we have here in our little forest are Betula pendula or silver birch and as I have not tried any others I cannot make the comparison. All I can say is that the Betula pendula produces a fresh, slightly sugary and very tasty sap .
Why tap birch trees in spring you may ask...... well the cleansing and strengthening properties are very useful after a long winter, flushing out built-up toxins and helping in cases of rheumatism, gout, skin diseases and urinary tract problems....not bad eh!
A small glassful the morning for 7 days is a great way to spring clean a clogged up metabolism.
Be careful because birch sap is not a product that keeps for long, keep it in the fridge and consume within 3 or 4 days. It freezes well but freezing will change its molecular structure, so there is the question of whether this change also changes its properties. I personally like to use it fresh from the tree as a once yearly ritual, I connect with nature, from the inside...thanks to these wonderful trees. The symbolism of regeneration linked to the birch is very ancient, the Germanic/Scandinavian rune Berkana or birch represents re-birth, surely linked to this magical substance that flows from the earth through the birch itself and brings new life in the form of the awakening of spring.

lundi 29 mars 2010

Plant of the week - Sweet Violet

Viola odorata, member of the Violaceae family. There are many different violets but the one that really interests us for it's medicinal qualities is the sweet violet with its well-known, very individual scent. It is a small plant with oval,heart shaped leaves, 5 separate, irregular petals, the lower one is elongated at it's base by a long, hollow spur. The 5 stamens have very short filaments, when mature the ovary gives a dry fruit with three valves.
Violets are one of our early spring flowers, they often grow on the outskirts of woods, under hedges in fact they can be found all over the place.
In herbal medicine, we use both the flowers and the leaves, although we pick the flowers first and return for the leaves after the flowering period is finished. Violets are a gentle herb containing no dangerous substances. The mucilage that they contain make them a good pectoral remedy in a herbal tea mix, especially with dry coughs, when expectoration needs to be increased, also useful for colds and in cases of bronchitis. Many herbal books mention a violet syrup for coughs, I haven,t tried it yet so can not really say much about it, except if anyone has experimented with violet syrup ....let's hear about it.
The leaves have similar properties as the flowers but are more often used in internal inflammations (Digestive tract), talking of which their use in cases of constipation is quite common. Externally they are work well on the skin for irritations and eruptions.

jeudi 18 mars 2010

First signs of spring

In the woods today, the first flowers of spring have started to show their faces, Anemonee neorosa.L,Ranunculus ficaria and last but by no means least a beautiful clump of wild snowdrops, Galanthis nivalis. Wild wnowdrops are'semi-protected' here in France, you can pick the odd flower but it is illegal to dig up the bulbs.....goes without saying really.

vendredi 12 mars 2010

Back in France : Medicinal Plant of the week.

The plant of the week is Stellaria media or common chickweed(Caryophylaceae), it is in flower underneath the cherry trees in the garden even though the temperatures have been -6 in the mornings this week.
It is the fresh plant that is used for both medicinal and culinary uses. The young shoots and flowering tops are collected at the begining of the flowering period.
This is a very good wild salad, tasty and not at all bitter, containing a decent amount of vitamin C, calcium, magnesium and silice.
In terms of medicinal uses, it can be used fresh in a herbal tea or made into a tincture by seeping it in alcohol for a month before filtering. It's nourishing qualities make it a good plant for convalescence, Mathew wood (author of "The Earthwise Herbal") states that this nutritive force is this plants most important quality, it actually helps in the assimilation of nutrients.It is also a cooling plant, often growing in dampish, shady places, under trees for example It's cooling qualities can be used externally for skin problems such as boils, rashes, eczema etc and internally for all sorts of inflamations. It it also a plant linked to water, it acts on the liquids of the body, decongesting the lymphatic system, it is diuretic in terms of the kidneys and generally helps to balance the bodies water content.

dimanche 7 mars 2010

Photo gallery of South American flora that I haven't yet identified, suggestions welcomed!!

These three photos of blue flowers were taken in the area around Sorata in Bolivia (2400 metres). The first photo is a convolvulus commonly known as bindweed or mornng glory, there are over 250 varieties and I do not know exactly which one this is. The second photo looks like a Liliaceae, I think it is a wild iris from the Limniris subgenus, which means that they do not have bearded sepals.

This spiky plant is an Adesmia spinosissima, a native to Chile from the region between Santiago and Copiapo.

Perhaps a Liliaceae?

Looks like a violaceae to me?

This yellow flower with it's strangely formed flowers was photographed around lake Titicaca at an altitide of about 3800 metres.

Blue flower taken in the Pisqou-Elqui Valley, Chile.
Orange flower is a Alstroemaria aurantiaca from the Amaryllidacaea family, commonly known as the Inca's Lilly.

Tiny bush growing on altiplano, Bolivia.

Photo is a bit blurry, this plant was growing around lake Titicaca I think this is a Gentiana, but which one? Growing around Lake Titicaca, Peru at an altitude of 3800 metres

I photographed this flower high up in the sandy hills above Potosiin Bolivia (4800 meters), most proberly an Asteraceae looking at its involucre.

lundi 22 février 2010

Lake Titicaca 3800 metres above sea level

This is a primrose called Primula magellanica.
I believe this is a Gentiana sedifolia
This little yellow flower is very frustrating as it seems so familiar and yet I can not find it.....any suggestions?
This is a Austrocylindropuntia subulata, commonly known as Eve's pin cactus it is native to the higher regions of Eucador and Peru.

This tiny, grey plant was growing on the side of the rocks above lake Titicaca, it was covered with tiny scales that were only visible with my magnifying glass.....I do not know what it is, I even thought of a sort of lichen.
I think this could be a lamiacée, again seems familiar but I need more time to research, will keep you updated.

The cultivated lines in this photo are different varieties of potato, there are apparently over 3000 different pototoes in Peru, we were lucky to be there in the flowering season, lines of rose, purple and off white flowers were everywhere, being, alongside quinoa, their basic crop.

Don't talk to me about the next photo, at first I was sure it was a Papavaracaea, which wouldn't be difficult to determine with the help of internet, well I can not find it any where, although I am still pretty sure it is a member of the poppy family.
We visited the Lake from both the Peruvian and Bolivian sides, the fauna and flora are exceptional, many of the plants had similarities to French alpines, that is to say , they were samll, hairy and growing compactly.