Monday, 30 March 2015

Herbs in the Castle

Last week I attended a brilliant talk in Drimnagh Castle on The Healing Power of your Garden by Fiann O'Nuallain, see his website The Holistic Gardener here. He talked us through the connection between gardening and mental and physical health, gave lots of information on immune-boosting herbs to have growing in your garden, how to use them to heal ourselves and our plants from illnesses and pests. He also answered lots of questions and really made me understand the mind-body connection with plants that we can all enjoy. It was perfect timing for me, coming out of a few months of illnesses at home, and now I'm feeling inspired to grow and use more fresh herbs rather than expensive supplements from the health food shops.

Over 40 of us attended the free talk, sitting around in the sunshine in the courtyard of this beautiful castle which pre-dates Dublin Castle and has the only flooded moat in Ireland. Thanks to Dublin City Council and the Drimnagh Castle Restoration Project for organising it, and the tea (herbal in my case) and biscuits were a lovely touch. Drimnagh Castle really is a hidden gem, even locals don't know it exists, or think it's just a ruin. But the restoration project is bringing this beautiful place back to life, both the building and the grounds are definitely worth a visit. I love bringing my boys there and spending time with the fount of knowledge Anne Ellis, horticulturalist, who shows us the organic garden, tells us all about the herbs and their uses, and usually sends me home with a seedling or some gorgeous fruit of her labours to enjoy at home. Last summer we organised a visit to the castle for a group of home educators, and we had a guided historical tour of the castle, a picnic in the grounds and a walk around the gardens. They had a great Christmas Wonderland there which we really enjoyed last winter. This is also the place we held the naming day of our youngest boy a few years ago, and I only wish we'd had the chance to get married here too. Even if you're not going to an event there, try to get to Drimnagh Castle and ask for Anne to show you around the beautiful parterre garden which she has taken years to cultivate. It's planted with medieval herbs just the way it would have been hundreds of years ago. The Drimnagh Castle Restoration Project's Facebook page is here, and it's situated off the Longmile Road in Dublin 12.

Last August there was a similar fantastic talk by Diann Fletcher Jones of the Wild Raw Witchen, see her Facebook page here, another amazing knowledgeable person who introduced us to the ideas of making healing oils, ointments and teas. This talk was held in the beautiful main banqueting hall of the castle and she demonstrated making an ointment in a slow cooker, adding shaved beeswax to a herb-infused oil (calendula) to make an ointment to use for skin healing. Samples of herbal teas were there to be enjoyed, and she talked through the medicinal properties of so many herbs and wild flowers I'm really glad I took notes! She also recommended some great books which I ordered and am loving, Juliette de Bairacli-Levy's Common Herbs for Natural Health (a lady who transcribed all the folk remedies she learned living with the Gypsy people) and Judith Hoad's Healing with Herbs (an Irish herbalist). I wish I could download all this information into my brain, but I'm still thumbing through them looking for headache, wart, fever remedies. Someday I will know it all.

So after today's talk I hit up my local garden/DIY centre and bought four fruit bushes, potting compost, some small pots, seeds, then got to a supermarket and invested in a plum tree (absolutely no space in which to plant it at the moment though, it'll have to live in a large pot for a while...) a small greenhouse (plastic over small shelves, kids were mighty disappointed it wasn't one they could play in!) and my local Polish supermarket for the following herbal honeys and currant syrup:

Aloe on the left, nettle on the right, unpasteurised honeys, all of Polish origin, none of your non EU blends. 

Some kind of currant syrup, 80% fruit, 20% sugar, might be good for us...
This has all really inspired me to build up a home remedy chest of sorts (on a shelf in a kitchen cupboard), as well as the myriad vitamin and food supplement pills I'm collecting. Last year I made a healing balm of olive oil, beeswax, lavender oil and honey, which I use on my hands if they're dry, or as a lip balm if one of us has chapped lips. I haven't tried the macerated oils yet but I think I'll do one of lavender and one of rosemary to have on hand as antibacterials. I'm now throwing twice as much garlic into our foods as before since I learned all about its healing properties. I recently made a rosemary tonic wine of which I am only taking a thimbleful the odd time as I'm pregnant, but I do feel a mood-boost when I do. And I want to first grow calendula flowers then macerate them in oil. I also bought some herbal tinctures from a herbalist's stall in the Dublin Food Co-op last week when the children's coughs were at their worst, one for a wet cough and one for a dry cough, and they contain thyme and a whole load of herbs I've never come across. I'm looking forward to collecting elderflowers to make a syrup to beat hay fever and summer colds, and I really thank myself for making so much elderberry syrup last autumn which boosted us over the winter. Yeah, the minute that ran out we were all struck down by 6 weeks of the Lurgy.

Diann mentioned that the best way to learn and practice herbalism is to choose a few herbs, learn all about them and use them regularly before moving on to new ones. I already had lavender (and dandelions!) growing in the garden, and after her talk last summer I bought rosemary and lemon balm plants and used them regularly for teas and cooking. Finn's talk has inspired me to buy thyme, chamomile and calendula seeds, so I think I've enough to be studying for now with a baby on the way this summer too.

What herbs do you use regularly? Do you grow parsley or chives for cooking? Parsley is a powerful cancer-fighting herb, I must get some myself to keep healthy long-term. And I learned from Fiann that gardeners live 15 years longer than non-gardeners, because of the cumulative effects of the serotonin boost of the soil, fresh air, sunlight and blood pressure lowering effect of being surrounded by all that green. Win-win!

Tomorrow I plan to visit my allotment and get some shape on it after the winter, or at least make a plan. At home we'll build our mini-greenhouse and hopefully sow some seeds with the kids, and find pots for the fruit bushes. I'm thinking the humungous never-used plastic playhouse has to go, to make room for more plants. It's taking up a sunny portion of the garden where I'd love to have a little patio to sit in the evening sun... so many plans, so little time!

I'll keep you posted on our efforts!
Nee x

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