Another rainy day and another course at Butser Ancient Farm but tucked away in the Saxon roundhouse, with a fire to keep us warm, we were content to let the British weather do what it may.
I was here to learn about medicinal herbs through time with Laura Uphill a Medical Herbalist and Teacher of Classical Chinese Medicine and I couldn’t wait to get started. I have attended a couple of foraging courses and I hoped that this course would consolidate existing knowledge and build on it further giving me more confidence.
The day started with a medicinal herb walk around the site where we learnt about everyday UK plants growing in the hedgerows: hawthorn, st johns wort, blackberry, dandelion leaf, comfrey, white dead nettle, elder flower, rosehips, red clover, yarrow, teasel, walnut leaf, sweet chestnut and plantain. Buster also has a Roman herb garden and here we learnt a bit about thyme, lovage and mallow. For such a small site there is a huge variety of edible plants that have health benefits or are just simply yummy in a salad.
As the rain started again we returned to the Saxon round house and after lunch Laura showed us how to make herb tea and the difference between a standard cup and a medicinal dose. We all tried a cup of plantain tea, a plant easy enough to find and identify and is good for sinus infections as it strengths the mucus lining. Decoctions were next up and theses are usually made from seeds or bark. They are small amounts of strong herbs and water boiled down and used for medicinal purposes such as a sore throat.
Laura showed us how to make a basic soap next and this is so simple I’m definitely doing this myself from now on! Tinctures were discussed and how to make an extremely basic one. Hawthorn berries make a good tincture for the circulation and I think I’ll be trying that one this autumn if I can get out and collect the berries when they are ripe.
Finally a salve made using bees-wax, almond oil, calendula, honeysuckle, elderflower and camomile to soothe the skin. We each had a piece of soap and a salve to take home with us and they both smell wonderful.
The message I took away from the course is that seasonal eating, healthy digestion and diet are the key to good health and that medicinal herbs can be used to complement this. Get your diet right and everything else will follow. Herbs can be used to help with ailments and to maintain a balance but not as an alternative to seasonal eating and a balanced diet. It’s also important to say that this is not homeopathy. It’s herbal medicine using raw ingredients .
If you are just starting out and want a general overview with some ways to identify basic plants, that you can start using yourself, pretty much straight away, then this is a great course. My confidence has grown as previous knowledge was compounded and I learnt new things about the plants and nature around me.
Laura’s style of teaching is conversational, lively and accessible. She is often doing three things at a time in order to get everything covered in the day, however she is more than happy to stop and explain or answer any questions you have along the way.
You can find Laura’s website here for more information. Now I’m off to check the hawthorn berries.
Apologies for the slightly fuzzy photos, the light in the Saxon house was not the best. Have you been on a herbal medicine course? Have been on one of Laura’s course? What did you think? Don’t forget to let me know below.