Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A picture of the chicks that hatched.

After 6 weeks of sitting on eggs finally four hatched. The first batch of eggs were all duds, but this lot produced the four out of seven. Proud mum is taking no chances with them and has not ventured out in to the garden with them yet. I was a bit stuck as to which food to buy them because the chickens for some reason don't eat the chicken food. So I bought Italian Polenta and they love that.
While I was in the garden tying up tomatoes, I heard a plop behind me and turned to see a plum had fallen out of the tree. This was immediately followed by another plop and a fieldmouse fell on top of the plum! I wish I had my camera for that picture!! I would never have thought that a fieldmouse would climb a tree!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Artemisia afra - an extremely versatile South African herb

Artemisia afra

This wonderful shrubby plant is very generous with its foliage once it is established and can be cut back regularly and will sprout again with vigour. The leaves are quite delicate and feathery, and have a fruity aroma when crushed. A tincture made of the fresh leaves is fruity and deep dark green, whereas when made from the dried leaves it is dark brown, less fruity and more bitter. The fresh leaf is quite intensly bitter to chew, and interestingly will get rid of a headache as effectively as any pain killer. One might have to chew two leaves, but many a sissy will prefer to take a pill :)

Artemisia afra is complex chemically and in its actions. It contains complex volatile oils as well as terpenoids, coumarins and acetylenes. It is antimicrobial, antioxidant, analgaesic and antihistamine. It is a decongestant, and combined with the antihistamine action it is an excellent herb for upper respiratory tract infection and allergy. It can also be used to get rid of intestinal worms, so very good to add to dog food in small qualtities if worms are suspected.
It is also thought to be antimalarial. I have given the tincture to many people who are travelling into malaria regions.  As most antimalarials are anyway not 100% foolproof and come with sometimes hefty side effects, Artemisia is a good option.  Because of its thujone content, it should not be taken in excess. I always blend herbs to minimise the risk of side effects, and to maximise the synergistic action of a formula. Where anti malarial action is required I also give Echinacea.
I recommend that you see a practitioner for these tinctures. The tinctures or tablets sold in health shops are very often too weak to have a protective effect, despite what it says on the label!

Another important feature of any herb is its sustainability, and this herb is easy to propogate and very hardy.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

From my herb garden : Medicinal weeds - nature's pharmacy

Many herbs are nothing more than common weeds. Weeds that drive farmers and gardener's nuts are often excellent medicinal herbs. Examples would be couch grass and dandelion, not to mention my beloved stinging nettle. I'm only too happy that nettle and dandelion have made their home in my garden, and I have referred to nettle quite a few times in this blog.
Dandelion is an important herb for spring, when it can be employed to detoxify (how I hate that word) the body after the stodgy excesses of winter. All the warming foods like stews with starchy puddings to follow, are so comforting, but come spring it's a good idea to give the kidneys and the liver a little nudge with some herbs so that you can get the body in shape for summer as well as feel energised. A tea made from Dandelion leaf is perfect for this. Dandelion leaves are quite bitter and this bitter property is very important in stimulating bile flow. Traditionally dandelion leaves are eaten in salads in spring time, not just for the cleansing effect but also as they are a rich source of vitamin C

A herb that I like because of it's delicate appearance is shepherd's purse. This weed came into my garden by mysterious means, and has self seeded to add to the abundance and variety of spring foliage that is so delightful. It gets its name from the fruits which are shaped like a little purse. This picture shows the shadows of the fruits very nicely:


Shepherd's purse is best know for its astringent properties. Strangely enough it comes from the cabbage family. The leaves can also be eaten in spring salads and are rich in flavonoids which are good for your blood vessels. Medicinally it is used for bleeding in the kidneys, excessive menstrual bleeding and diarrhoea etc. It isn't used very much these days, but archeological records of its use date back to ancient times. One of my sources mentions that it has medicinal benefits for the heart. Looking at the heart shapes of the fruits that is hardly surprising. In the past, herbs were often used based on which body part they resembled. This was known as the Doctrine of Signatures. These days scientific research has confirmed many of these beliefs. Quite often herbs that are useful for the heart are also useful for the uterus which also could be said to have a heart shape.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Recipe for a healthy and scrumptious seed loaf


800g  Stone ground brown flour
200g  Stone ground rye flour
1 sachet dried yeast
75g sunflower seeds
75g flax seeds
75g pumpkin seeds
2 tspns salt
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 egg
500ml warm water


Put all the dry ingredients including the yeast into the mixing bowl. (I use a Kitchen aid mixer with the dough hook). Mix well. Add the warm water, olive oil and egg and knead until the liquid is well incorporated and the dough does not stick to the sides of the bowl. (Sometimes one needs a bit less or more water depending on the flour.) Knead for at least five minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Cover with a large plastic bag and allow to rise for a couple of hours.
Once it is well risen, turn it out onto a floured surface and lightly knead it until smooth and shape into two loaves. Place into floured tins and allow to rise again in a warm place (this usually takes about 30 minutes).

Bake in a very hot oven 200 deg for 30 - 40 minutes. I turn the temperature down to 175 deg for the last 15 minutes to make sure the inside is well baked.

Turn the loaves out onto a wire tray to cool down. The texture of this bread was moist and spongy. Very nice for a seed loaf, not heavy at all. Good for sandwiches or toast.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Protecting my garden from my two bantams

My two bantams are much loved, and truly free range. They have at least 500sq metres to scratch about in, and they do a very thorough job. It does seem that they could do with 2000 sq m and maybe even that wouldn't be enough, because they go over the same ground twice or three times in a day.

I get upset when they dig up freshly planted seedlings or eat my lettuces, so after much previous heartache, where they've ruined a bed of newly planted seedlings (raised from seed), I have learned!! Nothing gets planted without adequate protection. My garden is draped with enviromesh, netting and I make use of lots of chicken wire.
Heavy mulch in the herb garden.

This does look a bit odd; for instance I planted bush beans and they all emerged through the holes of chicken wire, which I put down to stop the chickens from scratching off the heavy mulch I had put down. The beans look great so far! Thanks to the chickens I have very few insect problems on the ground. Cutworm, snails and most leaf eating bugs are hardly evident. Because the chickens turn the mulch continually, it can't be accused of harbouring unwelcome pests. At the same time their poops are very useful fertilizer, which is spread evenly over the garden, and is firm enough to pick up if it lands on the pathway. (I remember trying to keep ducks at one stage, and their squirts were a pain.)
Enviromesh is wonderful stuff for the organic gardener! It not only keeps the chickens off the vegetable beds, but also cats, dogs and birds. It is designed to keep insects off (such as the cabbage butterfly), while allowing light, wind and rain through. Unfortunately I don't think one can get it in SA - I've always bought mine in the UK. Once you have it, it lasts for years and years. I also bought fine green netting this year (also in the UK) to drape over my youngberries. It has also been employed to keep the chickens off certain beds which I had covered with straw - and they were most determined to scratch that off!!

Another way of protecting my newly planted seedlings and small plants is by placing slate or bricks on either side. The chickens like moist areas and tend to go straight for where one has just watered the new plant. So the garden is dotted with stones and slate or bricks which not only keep the plants in place, but also trap the moisture for the plants and give them a better chance of getting established.

Before I had chickens it was quite easy to collect a bucket full of snails at a time in my garden. Now it is difficult to find one. They do their best work eating slug and snail eggs, but will eat small snails and even big ones, when there is an insect shortage. As I've said before they are good at catching mice too! This does force me to keep my mind on the delicious egg at breakfast time, and NOT how it was produced!!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Butternut and pumpkin seed bread

Baking always perks me up if I'm in need of a bit of a boost. I developed this recipe and it makes a lovely loaf, light in texture and an interesting yellow colour. Yummy.

Butternut and pumpkin seed bread

I Kg stone-ground brown flour

1 sachet dried instant yeast

2 teaspoons sea salt

500g cooked butternut squash (steamed or baked)

¼ cup olive oil (25g)

1 egg

100g pumpkin seeds and some for decorating the top of the loaves

300ml warm water


In a bowl, mix the flour, salt and dried yeast together. Add the pureed butternut, olive oil, egg, and warm water and mix thoroughly. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead well until the dough is smooth and elastic. (You can use a machine to do this). Add the pumpkin seeds and knead them into the dough. Allow the dough to rise for a couple of hours in a warm place.

When it is well risen, punch it down, knead briefly until smooth, and shape into loaves. Press them onto some pumpkin seeds and place on a floured baking tray to rise again. When they are about double in size, bake in a hot oven 450 deg C for about 35 minutes.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Water matters

We've just had some very welcome rain here in the Cape. From now on every shower is a blessing because soon we will reach summer and three months of possibly no rain at all with a dry month or more added on, depending how kind the rain Gods are!
For the veggie patch, herb garden and the olive trees I have water tanks which give me 4000 litres of rainwater. This just about sees me through the dry season. I'm hoping to add another tank in the future, depending on how kind the money Gods are!

It can be quite a struggle to ensure that the garden doesn't die off as it did in the severe drought we had a few years ago. In fact the herb garden has never really recovered and I am trying to establish a secure microclimate by planting hardy shrubs like Artemisia afra around which I can establish softer herbs. This is a work in progress.

All around the garden are bird baths (often used by the dogs on a hot day, returning from a walk!) It's lovely to see the birds enjoying the water on a hot summer day and there are many birds that love the herb garden because it is lush and shady, with plenty to eat as they either share the chickens food or help themselves to fruit or even, in the case of mousebirds, eat spinach.
Under the dripping geyser overflow from the roof there is a water feature which at present houses some very fat tadpoles! The chickens like this water and make a beeline for it when they leave the coop in the mornings.

In one section of the garden is a fish pond which attracts dragon flies - always a lovely sight in summer. I have heard that pond water is nutritious for plants, so I periodically water the olive trees with bucketsful of pond water, and fill the pond with clean water. It doesn't have a pump so keeping the algae levels down has to be done manually (or should I say womanually).

All the water from the kitchen sink is directed into the herb garden. It was very easy to modify the system. I am very careful that no strong detergents or very hot water go down the sink. Luckily the dishwasher and washing mashine are in the laundry room, so the water from them drains away separately. In summer there is a bucket in the shower which fills up nicely from a shower or two, and is then carried out to help subsidise the watering. Lots of extra weight bearing exercise!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Lemon balm - herb to soothe

I was amazed to see my two chickens have a feast of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) the other day. The one started chomping at the leaves, and the other soon copied her after first trying a bit of Verbena which was growing intertwined with the lemon balm - and obviously not liking that! I have never seen them eat this before and am extremely curious to know whether they eat it regularly or whether they both needed a "pick me up" for some or other reason.

This is the time of year (Spring here in SA) when the lemon balm is at it's most lush: later it gets straggly in the summer heat. It goes without saying that this is also the time of year to harvest it, when it is at it's peak. The leaves need to dry as quickly as possible, and be kept whole until use. In this way the essential oils are not released and you will be able to smell the lovely lemony perfume up to a year later when you crush the leaves. I like to make a tincture of the fresh leaves. This captures all the elements of the luscious fresh plant.

Lemon balm is remarkably complex in its medicinal actions. Two of the most important actions for me are its anti-viral and its anti-anxiety functions. I put it in my anti-viral mix for the treatment of viral infections or post viral conditions. It is especially rich in rosmarinic acid, which has anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties. Apparently this has been tested on mice suffering from encephalitis with excellent results.
Historically lemon balm was believed to be a great remedy for the nervous system and was infused in wine to make a tonic for the nerves and the heart. (Rosemary has been similarly used.) It is excellent for anxiety and depression. It is also a very pleasant tasting herb which when used to make a tea, is very good for fevers and will calm a restless feverish child very nicely! No need for drugs to lower the fever - the lemon balm causes perspiration which breaks the fever.

Maybe my chickens were feeling off colour and instinctively knew that the lemon balm was the right medicine?? I wish I knew!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Weeds as medicine

I was reading somewhere about a woman who said that as a child growing up in South Africa, her mother never took her to a doctor, but used the local indigenous plants to medicate her and her siblings. Sadly as people move away from their cultural heritage and become drawn into the modern way, traditional medicines are used less and less. As a herbalist I make the fullest use of the weeds in my garden which have medicinal properties. I've mentioned stinging nettle before, which is a tonic as well as a cleanser of the system. Yesterday I picked a bag full and put it in the freezer to make a soup at a later stage. I also packed 25 litre drums with nettle and added water to make a nutritious tea for the summer crops later on. So stinging nettle is very welcome in my garden!! As a medicinal herb it is rich in minerals and vitamins, and helps to raise blood pressure in people who suffer from iron deficiency anaemia and have low BP. I like to give it to women who are planning a pregnancy.

Urtica urens

Another weed which I value and love to use is Plantago lanceolata or Ribwort. If I have enough I like to make a few litres of tincture from the freshly picked leaves. This herb is invaluable for drying up moisture in the ears ( doctors like to put grommets in to drain the ears), and very useful for upper and lower respiratory tract inflammation. I use it quite a lot for seasonal rhinitis and find it helpful for general catarrhal conditions. It is a herb that seems to soothe mucus membranes so I use it in GI tract inflammation as well as bladder infection.

Plantago lanceolata
Dandelion is a weed that many people despise, but again I am only too happy if it comes up in the garden. The leaves are bitter and can be added to salads. As I said before we just don't eat enough bitter leaves! A tea made from the leaves is a marvellous diuretic and a liver cleanser. A well balanced leafy green salad is so much more than nutrition - it is a tonic for the liver and kidneys too. This in turn will help skin problems. Our food is always our medicine if we eat correctly!!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Working dogs and working chickens

 The dogs are very adept at catching mice and rats and keep themselves busy on the lookout. The odd dove has also succumbed!
Luckily they respect the fact that the chickens are mine and ignore them. Rocco the brown one with the long tail, is just two years old, and I don't quite trust him yet so if I go out for the day I make sure the chickens are safely locked up. The chickens of course volubly protest about this and grumble for most of the day - but then I'm not able to hear that. I hate having to keep them away from the garden - but rather safe than sorry! Now the chickens would you believe it, (and if you own chickens you will know this) also are very capable of catching mice. It is quite a sight to see the tail hanging out of the chickens beak. These chickens of mine are bantams, so a mouse is quite a struggle for them to swallow!

self seeding in action

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Eat and medicate from your garden

Have you ever wondered how you would survive if you couldn't get to any shops or if supplies ran out and there was no food available? In the area where I live there is very little to be had by the way of edible plants in the surrounding countryside. Most of it is in the form of vineyards and wheatfields. There's also very little to eat in areas where indigenous bush is, apart from guinea fowl and francolins.
If I have to play "survivor" in my garden, number one priority would be laying hens. With a few eggs and some greens you can prepare a very nice meal. I make the most of the greens in the garden that seem to thrive during the cold of winter, before the summer veg is available. Rocket and nasturtium leaves are so abundant that I don't need to buy lettuce. They are packed with vitamins and minerals and have very good antibiotic properties too.
I think the leafy greens make up for the lack of fruit in winter. I do have a lemon tree and now a kumquat tree which bears fruit, but the other citrus tree bears a very sour little orange, which is only good for marmalade.

Greens are not very filling, so it's important to have a good lot of root vegetables. What can be easier than potatoes and sweet potatoes? Another very generous root vegetable is the Jerusalem artichoke. The yellow flowers are so beautiful and striking. The leaves have slight antibiotic properties and the bulbs are very abundant.
Red cabbage does well in my garden. It's hardy and less prone to disease than white cabbage. It makes a good staple for cooked or raw meals. I make a nice meal with cabbage and mixed greens from the garden with linguini.

Quite a few weeds are perfectly edible, often having a slight bitter flavour. It's worthwhile getting a book on weeds to identify edible ones. I tend to have a nibble to see whether they are tasty or not. So far I've survived!
The bitter flavour of dandelion and chicory leaves is very healthy for the liver and adds a nice flavour to a meal as long as it's not overpowering. We westeners tend to be real sissies when it comes to bitter flavours, which is very sad because bitters are so good for health. I reckon if we were starving taste would not be so important!

It seems to me it's a real luxury to have just an ornamental garden, and I like things to self seed in amongst ornamental plants because self-seeded plants always seem so healthy and happy. I had cherry tomatoes in between shrubs of all types last year, and they produced loads of tomatoes without any disease.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

From the garden

Returning to my garden after two weeks in Europe was like being in a European garden - stinging nettles and Alexanders up to my shoulders - rather lovely. The vegetable seeds I had sown before I left had all germinated nicely and will soon be ready for planting in the veggie patch. The olive trees that I pruned so severely in July are loaded with blossoms - it will be interesting to see if they turn into olives. So far only the mission tree has ever had olives. Also the apricot tree and plum trees are in bloom. While I was in the UK, shopping in my favourite places - the garden centres, I came across plum maggot traps and codling moth traps as well as grease bands for the fruit trees. These were rather expensive when one converts the currencies, but in my pursuit of an organic fruit harvest, I bought them. This means that if I have a harvest it will be the most expensive organic fruit I've ever had. But I've found it almost impossible to grow fruit organically. I have never tried any other way because poison is banned in my garden, but all the fruit is affected by one or other grub or bug. So far I haven't found any organic traps for fruit trees here in SA, and have tried making my own with no success at all. I tied sticky fly paper around the barks and filled bottles with a molasses and vinegar mixture to trap the various moths. I used a non toxic glue around the barks as well, all in an effort to stop the coddling moth grubs from getting up to the flowers. Nothing has worked. Let's see what these latest efforts yield!!
This is the time of year where the quick growth of weeds brings a welcome lot of greenery to the compost heap. Later on it gets so dry that there is little to offer, so I make the most of this abundance. The wonderful nettles are looking extremely healthy and will be used to make smelly but nourishing nettle tea ( I just soak the fresh nettles in water for a few weeks and then use the "tea" to fertilise the vegetables), and I'll be using some in soups too. Nettles are extremely good nutrition as well as medicine.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Herbs for holidays

As I'm on holiday at the moment, and just beginning to unwind from the stress of the preparations, I was thinking  of how invaluable herbs are to me when I travel. I literally couldn't manage without them. You won't find any other medicine in my luggage than herbal medicine. Naturally we all take the type of medicine we think we are going to need when we go on holiday, and this depends on what we are most prone to get when away from home. In my case the most likely problem would be getting a cold after the long flight from Cape Town to London. I never get a cold, but I'm guaranteed one if I don't take my own immune booster which contains Echinacea and a couple of other South African herbs which act synergistically. This I take before, during and after the flight. Stress and anxiety were a problem for me this time so I added a good dollop of Valeriana. This worked very well.
I took a couple of tea bags for the flight, one of green tea and one peppermint tea, both herbs are good for the digestion and refreshing in comparison to the teas on offer. It's good to have a supply of your preferred tea for hotels too.
Tummy upsets can be a problem for many of us. The change in diet as well as travel itself can wreak havoc with one's digestion. For me Ginger is an excellent remedy to take along, either in tincture form where it can be added to green tea for a soothing digestive remedy, or in the form of ginger sweets. I like Gingerbon sweets. They are really strong and can even help for travel queasiness. For those who suffer from migraine headaches, they may be very helpful for the nausea too.

Most people take water with them where ever they go, as it is very easy to dehydrate when on holiday. However, even with the best precautions dehydration does sometimes occur, and can trigger a nasty bout of cystitis in those who are vulnerable. A bottle of Buchu tincture (Agathosma betulina) is a very good medicine for this and can be used prophylactically if dehydration occurs and you want to nip things in the bud.

Obviously there is no jet lag between Cape Town and London, but as this is about herbs for travel, I'll include  the medicine I formulated a few years ago when I travelled to New Zealand. I used Valeriana and Vitex agnes castes in equal parts and filled the last bit of the bottle with Liquorice root tincture. I took this mixture before, during and after the flight and had no jet lag whatsoever on either journey (there or back). Maybe it just worked for me, but it's worth a try. I'd love to hear from others who try it.

If you have a sensitive stomach and easily get diarrhoea on holiday then it makes sense to take along a bottle of Potentilla tincture. This will settle a case of diarrhoea. Take Echinacea with this for fighting any infection that    may be causing the problem. And some chamomile tea for soothing the GI tract.

Don't forget to pack your tinctures in the main luggage and have just one for the flight in your hand luggage. And do get your medicines from a phytotherapist. They have the best tinctures. Those you buy in the health shops are often not very potent and come in very small bottles. Bon voyage!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Herbs for fever

Most of the mums who bring their children to see me for the first time have been indoctrinated with the concept of suppressing a fever. Apart from giving medicine I see my job as one of helping people understand their bodies and how they work. Understanding fever is very important, because suppressing it is working against the body's defence mechanism. Fever is there to help kill the bugs that have invaded the body. I'm often asked why the child has a fever. Quite simply any pathogen which enters the body can cause a fever, and it's often difficult to diagnose. The main thing is to work with the body and not against it.

I encourage my patients to phone me if their child has a fever and I'll help them through it. We allow the fever to rise as much as possible (this would depend on how healthy the child is and how well I know him or her) and then give certain herbs to "break" the fever which induces sweating. Keeping the child warm is part of this process. The herbs help the body to eliminate the problem by encouraging kidney and liver action and promoting perspiration.

Herbs that I commonly use are Melissa (lemon balm) which is soothing as well as a good herb for fever, Elder flower, and Yarrow. I like to add some Echinacea, Chamomile and Peppermint. I might use all or some of the herbs mixed in a tea, and encourage as much tea drinking as possible!

A child with a fever will commonly have no appetite! Again many mothers ignore this and try to get the child to eat. This is also going against natural instincts, and will slow down the healing process. Fluids are most important at this time. Once the child starts to improve, the appetite will return ( a sign that the child is recovering.)

A child's immune system needs help to develop in a healthy way, and modern medicine mostly suppresses the body's natural responses.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Getting ready for Spring

We have had a very warm July (which is essentially the middle of winter) which has fooled quite a few plants into thinking that it's Spring. Recently I got stuck in to pruning the olive trees, opening them up like a "vase" as I saw on several videos on You Tube. Some of the sites one can visit, transport you into another world, like a mini holiday.
Anyway, no sooner was the pruning over, when the trees burst into blossom. And there's a lot of winter weather on the way ..... I"ll hope for the best. But if the manzanilla trees have olives this year, it will be a miracle. They have never borne fruit yet. After the pruning I gave them all a good feed - organic of course, and today we had a wonderful lot of rain to seal the deal.

In the veggie patch I've put a thick layer of home made compost on the beds and covered these with thick straw in preparation for planting in a couple of month's time. This should give the earthworms time to do their stuff, not to mention the microbes. The soil in this garden was once so hard you could not get a pick into it. It has taken 30 years of loving care to get it friable and nurtured. I like to see the soil teeming with life, and am still not happy that there is enough of it yet. Ants and centipedes are not the sort of life I want to see.

This weekend has been earmarked for seed sowing, so hopefully it will be sunny later. Tomatoes, peppers and brinjals must be sown now, otherwise they won't have a long enough season later. I learned that the hard way last year, when the brinjals and peppers only started bearing in autumn.
It's time for my Sunday lunch. I've cooked lamb and orange sweet potato. Some of those sweet potatoes will go into the soil (not the cooked ones obviously), as I really like them, and I'm sure they have better nutritional value than the white ones.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Probiotics at the vet

My dog Rocco developed haemorrhaegic diarrhoea. Normally I treat my dogs with herbal medicine, but in this instance I decided a diagnosis from the vet would be necessary, because I needed to be sure that it wasn't biliary causing this. Luckily it wasn't biliary but the faecal swab didn't help with a diagnosis. The vet offered me antibiotics and probiotics. I tried to explain to him that I was going to treat him myself, but I think he was very alarmed at this. He thrust the box of probiotics at me and urged me to at least take them! Unfortuantely for him, I was firm in my refusal, but I promised to let him know how Rocco was doing the following day.

Now I've got this "thing" about probiotics. I don't think that they are going to be effective if the gut is raw and inflamed. So in my opinion it is preferable to soothe and heal the gut first. This I did with oats and slippery elm, which had the extra effect of binding the stool and stopping the diarrhoea. If the patient has seldom or never had antibiotics, the gut should repopulate with microflora very naturally, as long as there is a good base for them to adhere to. Hence first putting down the "soil" or prebiotic in the form of slippery elm and oats. Brewer's yeast is a valuable help in treating diarrhoea as it is anti pathogen and supports the good bacteria. Luckily dogs love it and once Rocco got the first tiny bit of appetite he ate some. And for those sceptics that read somewhere that brewer's yeast is not good if you have candida, according to reasearch it is actually anti candida. (German Commission E Monographs)

I recently read a statement in a health magazine that probiotics are essential - as if one will never recover without them. I am immune to such advertising and am very anti products in general. In my view it's all a money making racket. Unless one is severely immune compromised, the gut flora will recover nicely. But the diet must support healthy flora. A bad diet will support "bad" bacteria.

Anyway, bless the vet. He did his best. Rocco has made a good recovery.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Organic growing

Growing organically is so much more than not using herbicides and pesticides. I have about 1000sq metres of garden, of which about half is for herbs and vegetables and the rest is ornamental. There is also a lawn, which is as small as possible. Over the years I converted most grassed areas into low maintainance areas filled with hardy perennials. My one rule for the entire garden is that no poison whatsoever is used anywhere. The two chickens have done an excellent job over the years getting rid of most pests. And because I have several ponds, frogs have helped with this job. Occasionally there is a plague of something like hairy caterpillars or flea beetle, but I just wait until it's over. I have been making some sprays using tinctures like tincture of Tagetes minuta (otherwise known as Khakibos) and combining various left over or expired tinctures for stubborn things like scale and sooty mould, with some success. One does need to be regular with treatment!! And I'm not always good at that. Somebody developed a glue that is non toxic, which I use as a barrier on the trunks of trees to stop the ants from travelling up and down and adding to the disease problem. This glue is available at hardware stores (in SA) and is called vastrap. It's really excellent.

We have very few commercially available organic traps and devices to prevent coddling moth etc here in SA. I have tried home made bait, but have yet to pick a perfect apple from my tree! The glue will probably help, but the challenge will be to be regular with the application, as it does wear off over time.
So for me it's a balance between allowing nature to sort things out, and trying various herbal remedies. My aim is to leave this patch of earth in a good state when I finally move on. And hope that the next owners would do the same. But that I think is a vain hope. Most people seem to spray every little weed. When I go for a walk and have to smell the toxic fumes from someone spraying, they get a dark look from me. I haven't got to the stage where I evangelise yet.........

Sunday, July 18, 2010

In my herb garden

Here in Cape Town it's winter now and most herbs have died down. There is a carpet of leaves from the apple tree and generally the soil is well mulched. My two chooks tend to scratch the leaves away, but they are feasting on any insect eggs or larvae that would otherwise produce greedy monsters in the spring. This time of year the chooks do their best work and I allow them much more freedom. It is a bit annoying that they always poo on the pathways, but at least the poos are the sort that you can pick up and throw into the beds, not like duck poos which are just a squirt!
Herbs that are thriving at the moment are Marrubium vulgare, from which I make a cough syrup; Alexanders which have no remarkable medicinal value and which self-seed rather alarmingly, but look very nice when their seed heads form. One is supposed to be able to use the seeds like pepper, but I'm not impressed with them. The Southernwood is sprouting nicely after being cut back and stinging nettles are simply thriving. But they are so useful that I am very happy that they are in abundance. Not only do I use a lot of stinging nettle in my practice, but also as a green manure and a stinky liquid manure in the garden. One can never have enough. The chooks have stripped my yarrow. It must keep them very healthy because they love it and are both very healthy and lay well, despite being 8 years old at least. I've lost count of how many years they've been a very sweet part of my life. I really adore them both, unless they eat my seedlings. But that would be my fault anyway, and generally I use enviromesh to keep them and insects off my crops.