How to make… Basic Herbal Ointment or Salve Recipe

How to make …

Basic Herbal Ointment Recipe

Herbal ointments or salves differ from creams and lotions in that the basic ingredients are oil based. Ointments or salves are simpler to make than creams and lotions as there is no requirement to emulsify water and oil.

Ingredients-for-Calendula-Ointment
Beeswax, Lavender essential oil, Calendula infused oil

The simple basic herbal ointment recipe below is vegetarian but, due to the use of beeswax, it is not vegan.

For the purposes of this particular herbal ointment recipe we will choose a calendula infused oleum (oil) as a base.

This recipe will not work with aromatic waters or infusions but will work very well with oils such as sweet almond and wheatgerm or an infused oleum (oil) of comfrey or marigold. A few drops of essential oils can also be added.

Ingredients:
  • beeswax
  • calendula infused oil
other items:

saucepan, bowl, measuring scales, measuring jug or container, clean sterilised jar with lid and label

Method:
  • basic herbal ointment recipeMeasure out the appropriate beeswax and infused oleum in relation to the size of the jar(s) for the finished product i.e. approximately 2½ g beeswax and 20ml of oil for a 30g jar.

As a general rule of thumb you use one part beeswax to 8 parts oil. If your ointment sets too firm you have used too much beeswax.

  • Melt the beeswax using the bain marie method (a bowl over a saucepan of water will work well). Beeswax granules are easier. However, if you have a large piece of beeswax it is quicker to break it up first by chopping or grating.
  • Once the beeswax has began to melt, stir in the oil(s) slowly and turn off the heat. Note: you don’t want to boil the oil and risk losing the medicinal properties.
  • Add any essential oil(s) if desired.
  • Decant into clean, sterilised jar(s) with screw top lids.
  • Allow to cool, seal, label and date.
Some other ideas:

Once you have mastered the basic ointment you can elaborate on this by adding in essential oils simply for aroma or for therapeutic and/or cosmetic properties.

An ointment could also contain a combination of two or even three infused oils. For example a combination of infused oils of Lavandula (lavender) and Calendula (marigold) as a healing skin ointment. Infused oils of Zinger (ginger) and Symphytum (comfrey) for arthritic aches and pains. Using an infused oil of Hypericum (St John’s wort) makes a great simple lip balm for chapped or cracked lips.

Adding wheatgerm oil and/or essential oils can help preserve an ointment or salve.

As a basic preparation ointments or salves are generally soothing and healing. They can also be used as a protective barrier.

Plant Medicines for Mothers-To-Be and New Babies

Simple Herbs for Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and Baby Care

The following five herbs are easily obtained either from the garden or your local health food store or medical herbalist.

Money is frequently tight at this time. All that saving for baby accessories! The remedies listed are free or at slight cost should you choose to purchase.

Urtica dioica – nettle

Pregnancy

Urtica dioica is indicated for iron deficiency anaemia and useful for women experiencing this problem in pregnancy. There are no contraindications to the use of this herb in pregnancy. The herb is best taken as a tea (one teaspoon of herb per cup of boiled water infused for up to fifteen minutes) and drunk three times a day. Alternatively take the fresh juice from leaves in a dosage of one to two teaspoons or cook the leaves, like spinach, or include them in soup.

This herb is highly nutritious as it is extremely efficient in extracting minerals from the soil. It contains minerals (including iron and calcium) and vitamins (particularly vitamin C). These vitamins and minerals are absorbed into the blood stream and transported around the body. Urtica dioica was known traditionally as a ‘blood cleanser’.

Breastfeeding

Urticia dioica stimulates milk production in nursing mothers after giving birth. This is believed to be due to the herbs hormonal action. Drink as herbal tea.

Note: nettles – collect fresh (best in spring), though watch out for sting (free) or purchase dried herb

Calendula officinalis – marigold

Baby Care

Pregnancy Breastfeeding Baby Care medicinal plantsCalendula officinalis is a gentle wound healer and is useful for nappy rash. In this situation the calendula is best applied topically in a cream. The easiest way to do this is to make an infusion (herb tea) or an infused oil of Calendula officinalis and add this to a natural cream base.

Marigold ointment works well as a barrier to help protect the skin from nappy rash. For a recipe to make an ointment click here.

Recipe for infused oil…

Make an infused oil using 250g of dried herb to 500 ml of oil such as olive or sunflower. Personally I prefer sunflower here as it is a lighter oil. In addition it extracts the beautiful orange colour from the marigolds. Simmer on a low heat for approximately an hour to allow the oil to absorb the constituents and healing properties from the herb. Strain and bottle.

An alternative method of making an infused (or macerated) oil is to place the herbs and oil (cold) into a jar and cover over. This solution is shaken daily until the oil is saturated. This takes longer than the previous method. Infused oils made with this method take approximately two to three weeks, depending on the herb used and the warmth of the location of the jar. Some sources recommend straining and replenishing with fresh material.

The herb contains resins, flavonoids and mucilage. Resins seal the tissues against the effect of further damage. They can also be astringent meaning they will help dry a wet weeping wound. Flavones are typically found in flowers. The word ‘flavus’ means yellow. They are more often antiseptic in their action and will reduce any inflammation. Mucilaginous plants are typical would healers and will soothe pain, irritation and itching and aid in binding damaged tissue.

Pregnancy

Haemorrhoids are common during pregnancy. They are caused by an overload on the liver. The body is producing many additional hormones during pregnancy which the liver has to filter and deal with accordingly. Apply Calendula officinalis ointment, cream or oil to the anal area to promote healing.

Breastfeeding

Sore, inflamed nipples from breast-feeding are soothed by infused oil or cream of Calendula officinalis. An alternative treatment would be to infuse a handful of herb in boiling water for fifteen minutes. The herb is then placed in a muslin cloth (or handkerchief) also pre-soaked in the herb water and placed over the area.

Note: marigolds – grow in garden and purchase sunflower oil to make your own infused oil (cheap) or purchase pre-prepared infused oil or cream

Salvia officinalis – sage

Post-Breastfeeding

Pregnancy Breastfeeding Baby Care medicinal plantsSalvia officinalis is contraindicated by many sources during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The herb contains the constituent thujone within the volatile oil. It is antiseptic, but is also thought to stimulate smooth muscle and has an oestrogenic property giving this herb the traditional reputation of an abortifacient. Its contraindication in breastfeeding is due to the unknown affect the herb may have on the baby.

However, the herb can arrest lactation when breast-feeding has ceased. Use the essential oil externally at a three percent dilution in a vegetable carrier oil and massage into the skin. Alternatively, or in addition, drink an infusion of sage tea three times daily.

Note: sage – grow in garden and use fresh leaf (free) or purchase essential oil or dried herb

Zingiber officinale – ginger

Pregnancy

Use Zinger officinale for morning sickness in pregnancy. The anti-emetic action is possibly due to the constituent shogaol. Some sources suggest caution in pregnancy at a maximum daily dose of 2 g of dried herb. Make a tea from the powdered dried root or grated fresh root or decoction from sliced fresh root.

Note: ginger – grow in a pot in kitchen (free) or purchase root

Tilia europoea – lime-flower

Note: This is a European tree. It is not related to the lime fruit tree.

Pregnancy

During pregnancy some women have problems with high blood pressure. In such cases, it is extremely important to have regular monitoring of your blood pressure by your GP, obstetrician or midwife.

Rutin, a flavonoid in Tilia europoea in research was effective in lowering blood pressure. Lime flower also has diuretic properties and an ability to replace potassium loss making this a good all-rounder for high blood pressure. This is best taken as a tea three times daily. There are no contraindications or cautions for using this herb during pregnancy.

There are other benefits to drinking lime flower tea during pregnancy. Oedema (fluid retention) is helped by the diuretic property of the herb.

Another bonus, it can help ease headaches or migraines, if related to high blood pressure. Also it relieves anxiety, restlessness, insomnia and palpitations.

Varicose veins may also occur during pregnancy and taking Tilia europoea tea during pregnancy may prevent this. Saponins are believed to be helpful in vascular disorders.

Breastfeeding and Baby Care

As a mother take the tea to treat a breast-feeding baby. Tilia is beneficial for a baby having developed a cold or for a restless baby. Baby would receive a proportionate dose of any remedy mother takes due to the high perfusion of lactating mammary glands.

Note: there are many lime-flower trees growing in parks and green spaces where you can gather leaves and blossom (free) or purchase dried herb.

Trouble Sleeping? Natural Methods to Aid Sleep

Trouble Sleeping?

Natural Methods to Aid Sleep

Most of us require between 6 to 8 hours sleep a night. For some people this is far from their ‘normal’. Trouble sleeping is no fun!

An inability to sleep or chronic sleeplessness is known as insomnia and can, unfortunately, be quite common.

Sleep is a necessity to maintain a healthy mind and body. Poor quality sleep or lack of sleep can lead to ill-health.

Causes of Insomnia

Insomnia can be caused by stress and tension but there are many more causes.

Difficulty breathing perhaps due to a cough, cold, catarrh or asthma can all have an effect on sleep.

Other causes of poor sleep can be digestive problems such as heartburn or even hormonal problems such as hot flushes in menopausal women. Itchy skin conditions or pain may also affect the quality of our sleep.

Natural Solutions
trouble sleeping natural aid
Lavender – Lavandula angustifolia

Some people find drinking warm milk to be a relaxing sedative before bed. Others find a bath helps them unwind. A bath with epsom salts eases pains. In addition an epsom salt bath will soothe itchy skin.

Certainly avoiding stimulating drinks for several hours prior to going to bed is essential. This includes caffeine containing drinks such as coffee, tea and some fizzy drinks. It would also include alcohol.

A regular routine is important. Choose a specific time, and keep to it, for going to bed at night. For an hour before bed avoid watching TV or using any electronic devices which have potential to stimulate the mind. Unwind with a bath or a book or sip herbal tea or hot milk instead.

… Insomnia? What is the cause…

The most effective way to treat insomnia with plant medicine is by ascertaining the cause. There are many causes for insomnia and a wide range of plant medicines to choose from depending on the cause. The following are a few easier to obtain herbs.

Feeling tense …
chamomile Aude France
Chamomile – Matricaria chamomilla

Many people find the use of lavender to be particularly helpful where the cause of insomnia is stress or tension.

Lavender is useful in many ways. Try aromatic water as a spray on bed linen. A few drops of essential oil on a handkerchief beside the bed or on the pillow helps some people relax.

I love to add aromatic waters or essential oils to bed linens. Lavender is one of my favourites for this. The smell instantly relaxes me when my head hits the pillow.

Try a warm evening herb bath using either a strong infusion of lavender tea, aromatic water or diluted essential oil to ease tension.

Stressed or digestive upset ?

However, lavender is not a favourable smell to everyone. Chamomile is one alternative. Chamomile is available as aromatic water and essential oil too. Both Roman and German chamomile are available. Roman chamomile is usually cheaper in price. The German is slightly more anti-inflammatory. Use as lavender above or take dried herb as an evening cup of tea.

Heartburn or indigestion has a natural habit of intensifying at night! Try drinking regular chamomile tea.

Make a chamomile tea for children with an upset tummy and trouble sleeping.

Dry or itchy skin

Adding epsom salts to the bath helps soothe an itchy, dry skin. Alternatively place oats in a muslin cloth or cotton sock and add to the bath. Gently squeeze the oat filled sock or cloth over the itchy, dry skin to soothe.

Hormonal trouble sleeping
trouble sleeping natural aid sage
Sage – Salvia officinalis

Drink a cooled infusion of sage tea to help reduce night sweats in menopause. Take a cup before retiring to bed. Leave a cup or glassful in the bedroom to sip during the night if needed.

An old traditional remedy?

It is! However, efficacy of fresh sage for the treatment of hot flashes during menopause was proven in clinical trial.

Colds and flu and viruses

Troublesome cold? All you need is a good nights sleep to feel better. But you have trouble sleeping due to a pesky sore throat, cough or sniffles.

linden blossom or lime flower
Lime Flower – Tilia sp.

If a sore throat is disturbing sleep try gargling cooled sage tea. There are several studies documenting the antibacterial properties of sage.

Sweet violet is a pleasant, soothing tea for an irritating cough.

Lime flower is relaxing. If restlessness is a problem, then try relaxing with a cup of lime flower tea. A comforting tea and helpful in recovery from cold or flu particularly with trouble sleeping.

You can also utilise the healing benefits of essential oils to help you breathe more easily.

Make a herbal blend

Often a combination of some of the above selections will work best. For example for an achy flu with a cough take an epsom salt bath. Sip a herbal tea with sweet violet and lime flower combined. Add some antiseptic lavender to a handkerchief beside the bed.

A restless child with an upset tummy try a relaxing bath. Add two or three drops of mandarin essential oil to a tablespoon of olive oil or full fat milk and pour in a night-time bath. Alternatively add a strong infusion of chamomile and lime flower to the bath water. Make a soothing cup of tea to sip with chamomile and lime flower combined.

Chamomile is anti-inflammatory and a beneficial addition to a bath with oats for itchy, dry skin.

Finally there are many more herbal blends to help aid sleep. I particularly enjoy combining a small amount of lavender flowers with chamomile and lime flower in a tea. I find this blend very comforting and pleasant tasting.

The above are a few simple suggestions you can try out yourself to help aid a natural sleep.

Favourite Flower Poll: Which is Your Favourite?

So which flower is your favourite?

Back in July I posted the following four flower images on Facebook asking for a favourite. It was really interesting to read the responses.

Favourite Flower Colour-for-Facebook

and so which is the favourite flower ….

At the time of writing Red-Dead Nettle and Borage are leading equally with three votes each. Marshmallow has one vote.

Okay so it’s a small number and this is just a bit of fun. However, I was pleased Red Dead Nettle was popular in this poll. This little beauty is regularly pulled out of gardens as a weed. I wonder how many people actually look at beautiful flowers pulled out believing them nothing more than common weeds!

All four are medicinal plants. I love them all. Each flower brings a smile. Elecampane with the yellow rays of sunshine. The bee landing pad of the Red Dead Nettle. The almost ethereal colour of Borage and the sheer delicacy of the Marshmallow flower.

The top left yellow sunshine is Inula helenium. A member of the Asteraceae family and more commonly known as Elecampane. A great respiratory herb. Elecampane grows to a considerable height. My own garden plant is 5ft tall. Quite striking.

Lower left (pink) is Althea officinalis. The root from this medicinal plant was traditionally used as a sweet. The common name is Marshmallow! Unfortunately, the sweet is now artificial flavouring. Medicinally Althea is soft and soothing. The root and leaves are used in herbal medicine.

Top right is Lamium purpureum. Commonly Red Dead Nettle. A cousin of thyme and mint. You can see the similarity in the flowerhead.

Lower right is Borago officinalis. Beautiful Borage is a member of the Boraginaceae family along with comfrey and lungwort. A herb of courage!

Please feel free to add your favourite in the comments section.

So which is your favourite flower?

Herbal First Aid with Garden Herbs

Herbal First Aid

There are any number of herbs that would work very well in a herbal first aid kit. The following simple everyday uses are for some more well-known garden herbs. These include lavender, sage, peppermint and marigolds.

Lavandula angustifolia – lavender

herbal first aidThe healing effect on burns for lavender essential oil was discovered by French chemist Gatefosse quite by accident. He was working in his laboratory. When his arm caught fire he quickly plunged his arm into a vat of neat lavender oil. To his amazement, not only was the fire extinguished, his burns healed without scarring.

We may not all have a vat in our kitchen but a bottle of lavender essential oil is a herbal first aid necessity in every home for burns. It is also very useful for sunburn, bites and stings.

Salvia officinalis – sage

herbal first aidSo many of us have sage growing in our gardens. We love it to accompany our Sunday roast potatoes or roast pork dinner. A wonderful culinary herb but a great medicinal ally too.

Infuse sage leaves as you would making herbal tea. Allow to cool for use as an antiseptic gargle for sore throats or as a mouthwash for mouth ulcers.

Sage leaves chewed help alleviate the pain of a tooth abscess until you reach the dentist.

Mentha piperitapeppermint

Peppermint plants often take over the garden. Definitely best grown in a pot! Make a refreshing herbal tea, great for digestion, from the leaves.

Peppermint leaves added to a foot bath ease tired, hot feet after a long day at work. The essential oil provides a temporary anaesthetising action. A few drops of peppermint essential oil added to a basic or plain lotion or oil for aching muscles is a welcome, and cooling, relief. Ideal for post exercise use.

Calendula officinalismarigold

herbal first aidAn ointment, infused oil or cream made with marigolds is a useful household remedy for rashes, wounds, cuts and grazes.

But what if you run out of cream or oil? Not enough time to make a new batch?

Bartram recommended adding a handful of petals and florets to a pint of boiling water and leaving this to infuse for 15 minutes. Use as a poultice on broken skin to aid healing.

A few drops of tea-tree essential oil added to the marigold cream or oil is useful for cradle cap and ringworm.

Oops we sneaked in another plant there. Okay the Melaleuca alternifolia tree isn’t likely to be in your garden. Unless you live in Australia! The essential oil is easy to come by though and relatively cheap.

Understanding Aromatic Waters, Hydrosols, Hydrolats and Floral Waters

Compare and Contrast: Aromatic Waters vs Hydrosols and Hydrolats vs Floral Waters

Aromatic Waters

aromatic waters hydrosols hydrolats compare contrast
Chamomile – a gentle aromatic water

First of all an understanding of aromatic waters. These are produced by water distillation. Therefore they are the primary product of the process.

Plant material, immersed in spring water, is gently brought to the boil. This releases a steam, the water soluble volatile components of the plant material. This cooled steam/volatile component mix produces the aromatic water.

Water distillation is a prolonged, gentle distillation. Hence in this process the essential oil is the by-product.

Hydrosols or Hydrolats

Hydrosols are similar to aromatic waters. However, they are produced without submitting plant material to water. These are basically a by-product from steam distillation of the essential oil. This process is usually large scale. As a result, producing the essential oil is the primary objective.

Consequently this hydrosol, or ‘by-product’, was previously discarded on completion of the distillation process. Such a waste. A vast amount of plant material is necessary to produce many essential oils.

Hydrosols may not have a floral aroma depending on the plant.

Floral Waters

Some beauty cosmetic stores sell what they often term floral or flower waters. Usually made by adding an essential oil to distilled water. Occasionally alcohol is added. The alcohol helps preserve the product and floral waters will usually have a longer shelf life. Often recommended as facial toners. Lavender water, rose water or orange flower waters are the most commonly available using this method.

They may also be sold as room sprays or linen sprays. Sometimes the floral component is synthetic rather than natural i.e. from an essential oil. Floral waters have a floral aroma.

Note: these are nothing like aromatic waters and/or hydrosols and are not suitable for internal or therapeutic use.

Internal Use
aromatic waters hydrosols hydrolats
ancient rose water bottle

Aromatic waters are extremely gentle. As a result internally they are utilised to treat a wide range of ailments safely and effectively.

Used very effectively for many centuries particularly in Mediterranean countries.

This photograph is from a visit to an ancient pharmacy in the Ariège. The Ariège is a department in the south of France bordering the Pyrénées.

The pharmacy has array of antique aromatic water bottles on display. Sadly empty. However, it highlights the popular bygone use of these waters. This particular example is, of course, rose water. One of my personal favourites.

The featured image above ‘eau de suréau’ is elderflower water from the same former pharmacy.

External Use

Aromatic waters are also ideal for external applications. Use for cuts, grazes and rashes. Many aromatic waters are particularly gentle for use on children. Add to base creams (usually up to 20% of the cream). Use in sprays, inhalations, mouthwashes and gargles or add to therapeutic baths.

I include use of aromatic waters in some posts. For example, I mention using lavender, rose or peppermint as a refreshing sprays for menopausal flushes. I also discuss using lavender or chamomile as linen sprays on the bed or in a bedtime bath for trouble sleeping.

Dosage

For internal use a usual adult dose* of aromatic waters is 10ml three times a day. Often diluted in a little water. Alternatively add the full daily dose of 30ml to 500ml of water and sip throughout the day. There are exceptions to this regime. This dosage range is variable depending on the plant used. Naturally dosage for children is lower.

Storage

Often, though not always, the pH is a good indicator of stability. Those with a pH of 5.0 or less usually last longer. Most waters have a shelf life of 18 months. Some waters will keep for much longer than this i.e. Rosa spp. (rose). Others have a shorter life i.e. Matricaria chamomilla (chamomile).

Keeping aromatic waters in glass is a must. Store in a cool, dark place. There are conflicting views on the use of plastic containers. Plastics will generally break down with contact. There are phenol-resistant rigid plastics available which are apparently non-hazardous to the waters. Personally I prefer dark glass bottles. Certainly judging by those ancient bottles our ancestors choose dark green!

*Please note: doses listed are general guideline only. Some aromatic waters i.e. Matricaria chamomilla (chamomile) may be taken at a higher adult dose in some cases. For others, i.e. Calendula officinalis (marigold), dosage should not exceed 15mls a day. Please consult with your local medical herbalist or supplier for correct dosage for individual products.

My Personal Preference – aromatic waters hydrosols hydrolats …

My personal preference is naturally for aromatic waters particularly for internal use. However, I like that there is no waste with essential oil distillation and the hydrosol is an extremely useful ‘by-product’!

Floral waters are fine for the cosmetic industry. They certainly tend to have a longer shelf life. However, I would strongly recommend using aromatic waters or hydrosols for those with problem skin. The alcohol in the floral waters could be damaging and drying to more sensitive skins. Better quality products will always prevail.

Further Reading – aromatic waters hydrosols hydrolats …

The above summary provides a basic understanding of aromatic waters, hydrosols, hydrolats and floral waters. Finally if interested in learning more about Aromatic Waters or Hydrosols the following publications might be of interest.

  • CATTY, Suzanne, 2001. Hydrosols – The Next Aromatherapy. Vermont: Healing Arts Press
  • COATEN, Daniel, 2006. Make Your Own Essential Oils & Skin Care Products. Bucks: LILI
  • NASR, Joe., 2004. Avicenna’s Aromatic Waters – Capturing the Healing Essence. Wales: Avicenna

Choosing Wildflowers Identification Keys or Guide Books

Choosing a Guidebook to Identify Wildflowers and Medicinal Plants

Wildflowers Key Guide Book ReviewsI have been asked a few times on herb walks for the best guidebook to help identify wildflowers and/or medicinal plants. What a difficult question!

I have accumulated quite a vast array of wildflower guidebooks and identification keys and have to say it would be impossible for me to pin it down to one ‘best guidebook’.

The following is a brief synopsis of a ‘few’ of the books I personally own. I have included some potential positives and some potential negatives. However, this is obviously somewhat subjective. I have finished, each individual review, with a brief summary – in a nutshell.

I hope this will give you some help in your quest to purchase your own wildflower, or herb, identification key or guidebook. The books are alphabetically listed by author, not in order of my personal preference.

Please use the comments below to add your own personal favourites, or even those you would avoid!

BARKER, J., 2001. The Medicinal Flora of Britain and Northwestern Europe. United Kingdom: Winter Press

Wildflower Key Guidebook ReviewsPositives: I particularly love this book. Written by a medical herbalist and so is entirely based around botanical identification of medicinal plants. If you are a trainee herbalist or a herbalist I would thoroughly recommend this book. Laid out by botanical plant family. Ideal if you have a basic knowledge of key features of botanical families. This is one book I would be quite distraught if I lost.

Negatives: It is somewhat large and heavy for a field guide being about a kilo and a half in weight! Certainly not a book I would choose to take on a walk. It has a few line drawings of plants. If you like colourful photographs or images then it is not for you – not a pictorial book.

In a nutshell: A must have for a trainee herbalist or herbalist. Perhaps not ideal for the layperson looking for a wildflower identification guide. Not a lightweight ‘field guide’.

BREMNESS, L., 2000. Dorling Kindersley Handbooks – Herbs. London: Dorling Kindersley Ltd.

Wildflower Herbs Key Guidebook ReviewsPositives: If you like photographs then this little book has over 1,500 colour images. Family name, Latin and common names are given. It also lists habitat and the plant parts used. Quite good if you are looking for a book with basic medicinal uses too. Divided into six sections: trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, annuals and biennials, climbers and other herbs (which includes some fungi). Each individual plant is nicely laid out. It is bright and colourful. It is not expensive.

Negatives: Includes some plants you are unlikely to find growing in nature in Europe e.g. Ananas comosus, better known as pineapple!!! Though, should the Ananas survive, I would be quite happy to have one growing in my garden!

Also, some ‘herbs’ could easily overlap in two sections e.g. Thymus vulgaris is under Shrubs but would also fit into the Herbaceous Perennials section. A little difficult to search through on a walk. Although not the largest book I have, it is perhaps a little large for a field guide.

In a nutshell: Useful information. Nice book. Not an ideal field guide but worth having as an extra.

FIELD STUDIES COUNCIL (FSC)., 2002-2014. FSC Guides – Fold Out Charts. UK: FSC Publishing.

Positives: There are a vast array of fold out charts from the Field Studies Council. They have collections for birds, fish, fungi, habitats and of course, wildflowers!

Wildflowers Key Guide Book ReviewsI don’t own them all, there are many! My personal collection includes Grassland plants and Woodland plants. I think they are great. They are very light, so easily portable on a walk. Lovely and colourful and also because they have a sort of glossy, wipeable surface you can drop them (accidentally, of course) in a muddy puddle and wipe them down easily. Not that I recommend dropping them in muddy puddles! They tend to include the more common plants you are likely to come across. Another nice thing about them is you get a little mini botany lesson. Also they won’t break the bank. They are generally no more than £3 a piece!

Negatives: You’re not going to find everything on them but they don’t claim to be inclusive.

In a nutshell: Easy to take out field guides and you get to learn a little bit of botany too.

FLETCHER, N., 2005. Easy Nature Guides: The Easy Wildflower Guide. London: Duncan Peterson Publishing.

Wildflowers Key Guide Book ReviewsPositives: This book works by comparing two similar wildflowers that you may confuse on a field trip. The plants are compared over a double page for ease and the similarities/ differences outlined.

As an example Rosa arvensis (field rose) and Rosa canina (dog rose) are compared. With the field rose the flowers are always white. However with the dog rose flowers are usually, though not always, pink. The dog rose can be found throughout Europe whereas the field rose is usually found in southern and western Europe. The field rose clearly enjoys a slightly warmer climate! He also explains the subtle differences in the rosehips to help identify between the two species.

Negatives: Not enough plants included. Not ideal if you want to focus on learning botanical features within plant families.

In a nutshell: A simple, jargon-free, book. Ideal for the lay person not wishing to get lost in complicated botanical lingo!

HENSEL, W., 2008. Black’s Nature Guides: Medicinal Plants of Britain and Europe. London: A&C Black Publishers Ltd.

compare contrast plant identification guidebooksPositives: I confess I chose this book because of the title. The positives, for me, medicinal plants and it covers Britain and Europe. It has nice images. Both common and Latin name are included. Habitat and a brief botanical and medicinal description are also included. It is reasonably small (just over 20cm) and could be taken out as a field guide.

Negatives: Colour coded book. I am sorry but this type of book frustrates me! Imagine you see a beautiful little purplish flower out on a walk. So what colour is ‘purplish’ under in the guide? Is it blue or is it red? Half an hour later still flicking through the book and none the wiser what the beautiful little flower actually is!

In a nutshell: Lovely pictures. Nice size for field guide. But, frustratingly colour coded!

KEBLE MARTIN, W., 1969. The Concise British Flora in Colour. Norwich: Jerrold & Sons Ltd.

Positives: This has 100 plates filled with plant images and each plate includes several species within a plant family. Plates are all categorised into botanical family making it easy to navigate if you know the plant family. For example there are approximately ten plates for the Compositae family. So you’ll find the Carduus species next to each other for ease of comparison on one plate. A brief description of each is included and a plant image (see image below for layout).

Thyme Breaks Book ReviewMy own copy was a find in a secondhand bookstore some years ago and the front protective cover was missing. I believe the front cover reads ‘1486 species illustrated’ so lots of plants.

Negatives: Old, you may have already noticed ‘Compositae’ now known as Asteraceae. Large hardback book (nice but not as a field guide). You would want to know botanical families. It could be a long search if you find a plant and have no idea of the botanical family. Particularly based on British flora so, for me personally, not as useful in France.

In a nutshell: I think this is a lovely book and worth having if you can find it cheap enough secondhand. However, it is a bit on the large size for a field guide if that is particularly what you are after. Great for reference.

PODLECH, D., 2001. Herbs and Healing Plants of Britain and Europe. United Kingdom: Harper Collins.

Positives: Really cheap, covers Britain and Europe and medicinal plants. It is small and lightweight and ideal for taking out on a herb walk. Including common and Latin names, habitat and brief uses with nearly 300 plants with images listed. Both inside back and front covers have rulers and drawings of leaf shapes, margins, fruits and flowers.

Negatives: Aaaaggghhh, colour coded! [see Hensel above]. You get what you pay for

In a nutshell: Cheap to buy and ideal size for a field guide. Good as it does cover healing plants. But, colour coded!

ROSE, F., 1978. The Observer’s Book of Wild Flowers. London: Frederick Warne

Positives: I bought this book in a secondhand bookstore so it was cheap. I love secondhand bookstores. I can get lost for hours…. Actually I love ALL bookstores and huge libraries… Okay, I digress…

It is the smallest book I have (huge bonus for a walk). Laid out by botanical family. Each plant includes Common and Latin name, botanical family, distribution and habitat. There is a good botanical description too. Each page has the common and Latin name at the top with an image below and the remaining information at the bottom. I actually really like this little hardback book (picture of book at top of post, one with poppies on front). It pops in a pocket or my herb basket and I find it easy to use.

Negatives: It doesn’t include many plants, perhaps only 150 at most (but then it is really only a pocket book). You would want to have basic knowledge of botanical plant families to use it. It is old so lists older botanical family names; Labiate, Umbelliferae etc.

In a nutshell: What’s not to like if you can find it somewhere secondhand! Cute little pocket book.

ROSE, F., 2006. The Wild Flower Key. Warne New revised and expanded by Clare O’Reilly. England: Frederick Warne.

Positives: The description reads “A guide to over 1,600 wild plants found in Britain and Ireland……The only field guide that combines comprehensive keys and colour illustrations”. It is, unsurprisingly, quite a chunky field guide, but do-able! It certainly does have a range of comprehensive keys and colour illustrations. A useful illustrated glossary of botanical terms is at the back. Much needed for non-botanists! There is a guide to the structure of flowers to aid in use.

A section at the front is laid out with keys to help find the correct plants in the book. Habitat keys include Woodlands, Roadsides, Grasslands, Heathlands etc. Essentially after following these keys you should reach a botanical family and, hopefully, an answer. Remainder laid out by botanical family.

Finally it has a waterproof, wipeable cover – so we’re back to muddy puddles again!

Negatives: The book prides itself on “Designed for beginners, conservation volunteers and amateur wild flower lovers but also invaluable for professional ecologists.” However, you do need to have a decent amount of botanical knowledge to use this book effectively. I would also add, ideally, a hand lens. There are a lot of abbreviations and symbols so I find myself flicking back and forth quite frequently as I am not a botanist and don’t know all the terms. I tend to use it with lots of bookmarks!

Would I agree with “beginners”? Probably not unless you are willing, and have time, to learn a bit of botany first and purchase a hand lens. It is also quite an expensive book. I think I paid £25 for it.

In a nutshell: So Francis Rose to the rescue again! I do like this book. The more I use it the more this book resembles mistletoe. And me, well the host tree. Or perhaps it is the other way round! If you can afford it, go for it.

July Images from the Garden

Medicinal Herb Garden Images

July 2016

A selection of some of my favourite photographs of the flowering plants from my own medicinal garden in the Aude. Nature in all her beauty. These photographs have been taken over the last couple of days.

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