19 March, 2017
Our Gardening Year
Oh, the excitement of seeing the seeds you’ve planted start to poke through the soil! Every window sill in the house now has trays of seedlings, and an upright pallet covered in bubble wrap has become a makeshift greenhouse!
So far, I have lots of flower seedling coming up: sunflowers, lupins, calendula, marigold, nigella, stock, zinnia, etc, and carrots, broad beans and peas. Lots of the seeds are ones which I collected in previous years, so the frugal part of me feels satisfaction at having cheap planting material to fill our field. I’ve also been frequenting the local farm shop, which has lots of cheap plants for sale. Gradually the field borders will be filled with colour, I hope!
However, I must remember not to go too mad - a few mild days and nights can lull you into a false sense of summer!
We spent a couple of weekends building the (hopefully fox-proof) run for our 3 chickens which recently arrived and settled in, soon learning to recognise the provider of their tasty treats! They are still a little nervous, but seem to really enjoy running up and down, and scratching around for bugs in the dirt. Having spent the first few weeks of their lives in a barn, the sights, sounds and smells of the outdoors are all a bit strange for them (especially the wind!)
19 March, 2017
Our Gardening Year
Although we are aiming for a ‘no dig’ method, there seems to have been quite a bit of digging nonetheless! We discovered that there’s a culvert running into the field, taking surface water from the nearby properties. So after a period of heavy rain, much of the field was a marshy boggy area. We started to tackle this by planting trees which enjoy being in water, and will hopefully soak some of it up: Alder, Hornbeam, Goat Willow (the pussy willow kind), Aspen and Bird Cherry. We arrived at these choices by consulting the now well thumbed ‘Tree and Shrub Expert’ by Dr D G Hessayon, and taking advice from the tree nursery where we bought hem (Thorpe Trees near York).
We also planted a walnut tree, and some hazels in some of the drier areas. All the trees are saplings, so much patience needed to see them do their job!
We re-thought the very soggy vegetable beds, and after digging some trenches around them to help them to drain, we tried to raise them and level them off - so that they rise in steps up the sloping ground. Inspired by Monty Don’s pottager garden, we have started to frame the beds with box hedging. After planting 130 box hedge plants around the edges, they are beginning to look much neater, but what a lot of work! We need more box hedge plants, but they apparently propagate easily, so come the summer, I will try to double their numbers by taking cuttings.
In order to help retain the raised up soil, I used branches cut from pruning the overgrown hedges, to weave a rustic kind of fence around them! The neighbours were suitably impressed I think!
18 March, 2017
Focus on essential oils
Focus on Essential Oils: February
Eucalyptus is native to Australia, and can grow up to 100m high. when the leaves are young, they are rounded and blue grey in colour, and these are the leaves you often see in flower bouquets, which often have a distinctive smell. the leaves become elongated and more yellow green with age.
Eucalyptus radiata has a fresher, more lemony smell than eucalyptus globulus, which is a much more camphorous, medicinal scent. I like them both, but I'm more likely to use E. radiata in a massage blend, because the smell is more pleasant on the skin.
This oil has long been know to have antiseptic and healing properties by the australian aborigines, and its use has spread across the world. Groves of eucalyptus trees were planted in north Africa to prevent the spread of malaria, by deterring mosquitoes to breed and drying up the moisture of the soil. For this reason I shall be planting a eucaluptus tree in the boggy part of my field to help soak up some of the water! Eucalyptus mixed with lemon essential oil make a good insect repellent: tests have shown this to be as good as a weak solution of Deet: I have used it while abroad and it really does work!
The chemist Jean Valet found that a 2% eucalytpus airspray kills 70% of local airborne Staphylocci, and I can vouch for the ability of this oil to rid the air of mould spores. Having recently moved into an old house with a bit of a damp problem, we found that a glass of water left by the bedside, soon tasted of mould, and mould started forming on the bedroom wall. So, I put some drops of eucalyptus globulus in my aromastone every day, and this problem went away, after about a week!
Eucalyptus acts as an expectorant, and also has antibacterial properties: it enhances breathing by increasing the uptake of oxygen by red blood cells. Threrefore it is a great oil to keep n the medicine cabinet for a steam inhalation at the first sign of a cold or sore throat.
This powerful oil also has benefits in a massage blend, because it has anti-inflammatory properties.
8th Jan, 2017
Focus on essential oils
Throughout the the year I will focus of a different essential oil each month.
January's blog looks at Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi):
The grapefruit derives from a cultivated tree, a hybrid of the sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) and the pomelo, or shaddock (Citrus maxima). It is very high in limonene (90%), much higher than lemon in fact (which has 70% limonene).
Grapefruit oil is a lovely, sunny oil, which comes from the rind of the fresh fruit. I use it a lot with clients during the winter months: it is said to be good for SAD (seasonal affective disorder). It is an antidepressant: emotionally uplifting, refreshing and reviving. It is also good when one has overindulged and for those in states of stress and nervous exhaustion. I think it helps to promote a lightness of spirit, and when clients smell it, their faces often brighten, and the aroma is instantly recognisable.
Physically it has beneficial effects on the skin, circulation, muscles and joints. Like lemon, it is cooling, cleansing, decongesting, and detoxifying. A mild diuretic and a stimulant of the spleen and lymph, grapefruit oil helps the body to eliminate excess fluids and break down fats. As it is an astringent, it is good for oily skin, acne and stretch marks, and I often mix it in a blend for my clay skin cleanser, when my skin looks a bit dull or lifeless.
It is moderately phototoxic, which means it may react with the skin if you go out in the sun, but that is not a problem during our winter!
For all these reasons it’s a good choice for this time of year. It blends really well with heavy floral aromas such as rose or jasmine, and woody aromas such as frankincense, cedarwood or sandalwood, all of which would make up a wonderful skin blend.
The health benefits of eating grapefruit seem to make it pretty appealing as part of your diet too!
7th Jan, 2017
Our gardening year
We started the year by planning and preparing the field: deciding how we want to use the field and where the different areas for these will be. The plan is to set aside certain areas for flower meadow, woodland, lawn and shrub garden, chickens and vegetable patch.
We know that the flower meadow is a long term project: the grass area needs to be properly managed to reduce the strength of the grass growth by mowing it hard during spring and summer, before planting plug plants of wild flowers the following spring. One of our near neighbours on Huntington Road is a botanist: I’ve already been to visit him to pick his brains!
So, the veg patch is the first priority: we’ve already marked out an area about 6m x 25m, and cut the grass down. We’re using a ‘no-dig’ method based on permaculture principles, not just because we’re too lazy to dig (although it should save a lot of potential back pain), but because this is a very sustainable and effective way of producing a well-turned soil full of rich nutrients. This part of the permaculture ethos uses sheet mulching - a method that mimics natural forest processes:
The area is flattened by trimming down the grass.
Then the area is covered by a weed barrier (we used cardboard boxes - handy, because we had a load left over from the house move). This suppresses the weeds and grass by blocking sunlight, adds nutrients to the soil as the weed matter decays beneath the cardboard. We dug up some of the turf in one area, turned it over and laid it down on another area, figuring that this would mean some of our veg patch would be ready to plant quicker without having to wait for the grass to rot down. So not exactly ‘no-dig’, but there we go. We covered the whole area with cardboard.
A layer of manure and compost is added on top of the cardboard, and the worms get to work on breaking down the cardboard and turning the soil. After a few months you end up with lovely crumbly soil ready to plant!
We had trouble getting hold of manure though: it seems no one wants to give it away these days, and one farmer told us that its now against the law to do this. I’m not sure if that is true, but it may be the reason we couldn’t get any. We managed to get some fresh horse manure, but I was a bit worried about this as the hay that was mixed in with it was full of seed heads - we may end up with a grand crop of barley or something!
We ended up paying for two bulk bags of well-rotted horse manure from an internet company, which was an expense we could have done without, but figured that if it got us started, from now on, we would be generating so much more compost ourselves with our compost heap and chickens that we wouldn’t need to buy any more.
So, I was unreasonably excited about our manure delivery, ready to get started on making our veg patch! A day of turf digging and muck spreading sure helped to burn off a few mince pies!
22nd March 2016
Common health issues
I often get questions about sleep, and I have come to realise this is an issue for many people. We are often told how important it is for our health and longevity, which itself creates a pressure to pursue the magic 8 hours of sleep each night! Last year I listened to a lecture by a paediatrician specialising in the sleep problems of children and he emphasised that since early human times, the normal sleep pattern has been:
sleep for 3-4 hours - be awake for 2 hours - sleep for a further 3-4 hours
Before the invention of electricity, this was a usual pattern, and it allowed for people to do important things during the night: maybe feed the animals and babies, keep watch for intruders, have sex, etc. In certain African countries it is perfectly normal for people to have no more than 4 hours sleep at a time, and of course, in hot European countries the siesta is still an important part of daily life. I suppose it depends what we are used to. If we allow ourselves to view this pattern as normal, then this may take away some of the anxiety around sleep – worrying about getting enough sleep is the first thing we perhaps need to resolve.
Some tips for developing a more restful sleeping pattern:
Remember that everyone is different – if you are getting less than 8 hours sleep, and you don’t feel tired, then what you are getting may be enough. As we get older, we tend to need less sleep.
Have a regular sleep routine, and try to avoid falling asleep in the chair in the evening.
Keep your bedroom free of clutter and electronic gadgets (no TV, etc). The blue light produced by some electronic gadgets can be over stimulating for the brain, and dealing with social media, emails, or anything work related is definitely a bad idea if you want to get a good nights sleep!
Keep the room cool and dark, with fresh air. Low light levels before going to bed stimulate the brain to produce melatonin, the sleep hormone.
If worrying is keeping you awake: try having a worry book and a worry time – say half an hour at a certain time each day – make a list, and close the book well before you go to bed. (Make sure the worry time is not too close to bedtime). If you can, try to deal with the source of the anxiety, and this may help to resolve the sleep issue.
Keep an hour or so before bedtime for relaxation – do yoga, read, have a bath, etc: whatever it is that relaxes you.
Think about your diet – vitamin B is good for the nervous system and there are certain foods which are naturally high in melatonin – eg oats, bananas, monterency cherries, hot milk, and herbal tea containing chamomile and lavender can help.
Avoid stimulants, such as caffeine, alcohol and tobacco.
Exercise – preferably in the fresh air, but not too close to bedtime. Research shows that regular exercise (anything which gets you puffed out) has a beneficial effect on sleep. It tires you out physically, raises endorphin levels and it helps to alleviate anxiety. Its best to do it in the morning or afternoon, but not the evening – too close to bedtime and it wakes you up.
Have a massage with essential oils, of course!! There are lots of essential oils which have a sedative effect: lavender, frankincense, sweet marjoram, sandalwood, bergamot, jasmine, ylang ylang, neroli, clary sage (pictured), and there are several more. If you have any of these essential oils at home, you could try putting a blend of them in your bath before bed, or on your pillow at night.
8th Feb 2016
Dealing with pain
Many people mention that they have stiff or aching shoulders and neck, when they come to see me, and there may be several causes.
It is a very common symptom of stress. When we are stressed this is a part of the body that tends to hunch up. There’s a good reason why we say that we are carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders, when we are worrying about something!
Our lifestyles, and the way we work often plays a big part too. There are lots of things you can do to help this issue, apart from coming to see me for a lovely back, neck and shoulder massage, of course!
Usually, pain and stiffness in this part of the body gets better after a few days, but it is best to avoid the issue in the first place.
Here are some tips to help you do this.
1. Set your workstation up properly
It’s important to set your workstation up properly. For example, your computer monitor should be located roughly at eye level or slightly below when you’re seated and your knees should rest just below your hips.
‘Text neck’ Recent research has indicated that mobile phones and tablets are the source of a whole new generation of neck pain sufferers, simply because we hold our head down to look at the screens. So use a stand for your tablet/iPad to hold it in an upright position. See my ‘Bourne Again Bags’ Etsy page for some nifty little stands to use for your phone or tablet, made using locally sourced wheat and re-used fabrics.
See this article for further information on text neck:
Other activities like sewing (embroidery and cross stitch, particularly) are also terrible for the neck, its not easy to change your working position for these activities so ……..
2. Take a break
If you’re doing activities for a long period of time that require you to sit in the same position, make sure you take regular breaks. For example, if you’re driving long distances, it’s a good idea to stop from time to time to stretch your legs. Similarly, if you often sit for prolonged periods at your computer, make the time to stand up and move around every so often.
Have a good stretch when you’re inactive for a long time. Simply shrugging your shoulders up and down, pulling your shoulder blades together and leaning your head from side to side can help to loosen your muscles. Roll your neck from side to side holding at each side for 15 seconds, and the middle for 15 seconds. I suggest rolling your neck for at least a minute. This will release a lot of tension and pain.This will help you to correct your neck position, as we can easily forget that we are holidng our neck in the wrong positionuntil it starts to hurt.
4) Self massage
Roll a warm or regular towel into a “braid” Hold it behind your neck tightly, slowly move the towel braid up and down, after 3-5 minutes the muscles should start to release. With your fingers, massage the sides of the spine on the back of your neck. Rolling your fingers up and down the neck. There are pressure points on the back of your neck. The pressure points if pressed and held, relieve pain and tension.
5) Invest in good quality seating
When you’re choosing seating, whether for your office or your home, make sure you get good quality items that offer full support.
6) Avoid the shoulder tuck technique with your phone
Many of us are guilty of using the shoulder tuck technique when answering phone calls. However, pressing your handset between your ear and shoulder when you talk can cause neck problems, particularly if you’re on your phone a lot. If you need to use your hands while you’re making and receiving calls, consider getting a headset.
7) Protect your neck from draughts
Exposing your neck to draughts from windows, doors or air conditioning systems can lead to stiffness and discomfort. With this in mind, try to get out of drafts or protect your neck with clothing or bedding.
Also, using a lavender/wheat pillow heated in the microwave, is great way to ease neck pain. I make these too!
8) Think about how you sleep
If possible, you should avoid sleeping on your stomach because this position puts added strain on your neck. Also, make sure you select a pillow and mattress that provide the right level of support.
See this for more advice:
9) Lift correctly
Whenever you’re lifting heavy or cumbersome items, make sure you follow the correct procedures. For example, keep the load close to your waist, adopt a stable position, don’t bend your back or twist, keep your head up and ensure you have a good hold on the object. Also, know your limits.
10) Tackle stress and anxiety
Many people don’t realise this, but excessive stress and anxiety can contribute to neck pain. Think about what is causing your stress, and try to reduce it. By addressing these problems through lifestyle changes and other means, you can reduce the risk that you’ll suffer discomfort in your neck.
11) Lead a healthy lifestyle
More generally, it’s important to lead a healthy lifestyle. By staying fit and maintaining a suitable weight, you will ensure you are at a lower risk of experiencing problems with your neck.
17th November 2015
It seems like a good time to post this article!
Steam inhalations are a good way of relieving congestions in the respiratory passages caused by coughs, cold and catarrh.
There are quite a few essential oils which can be helpful with a cold: they may help to reduce the discomfort of a blocked or runny nose, and also help to reduce the risk of secondary infections, because of their antibacterial properties and also stimulate the body’s own immune response: you can try eucalyptus, lavender, tea tree, peppermint, rosemary, pine or thyme. Thyme is good inhalant for sore throats, and bathing with marjoram can help to reduce shivers and aching.
(Reference: Davis, P., 1999. Aromatherapy, an A – Z. Essex: The C.W. Daniel Company Limited)
15th November 2015
Focus on essential oils
It seems to be that the essential oils that have the strongest properties come from plants growing in the most inhospitable climates. Lavender is one example of this, and Rosemary is another. In fact, the rosemary plants we saw growing in desert areas in Corsica were huge, over 6 feet tall. Lots of essential oils are produced here: the hot arid climate seems to be ideal for these plants!
Rosemary, like Lavender, has been used for centuries for culinary, medical and spiritual purposes. Sprigs of rosemary were burned as ritual incense at shrines in ancient Egypt, and it was placed in tombs of the pharaohs to help them recall their former life. For the Greeks and Romans it was a symbol of loyalty, death remembrance and scholarly learning. It was burned in French hospitals until recently to prevent the spread of infection and is still used today for commercial production of detergents and cosmetics.
It is often used in aromatherapy to help overcome mental fatigue and nervous exhaustion, and can be helpful if driving long distances or to overcome jet lag. A recent BBC report highlighted some research, which suggests that those early civilisations may have been on to something:
An experiment in which volunteers were given vaporised lavender or rosemary infusions found that rosemary was associated with an increase in performance on memory test, but lavender caused a significant decrease in performance. Lavender is traditionally associated with sleep and sedation. Dr Chris Van Tulleken reported that:
“It turns out that there are compounds in rosemary oil that may be responsible for changes in memory performance. One of them is called 1,8-cineole - as well as smelling wonderful (if you like that sort of thing) it may act in the same way as the drugs licensed to treat dementia, causing an increase in a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine.” And he went onto say:
“These compounds do this by preventing the breakdown of the neurotransmitter by an enzyme. And this is highly plausible - inhalation is one of the best ways of getting drugs into the brain. When you eat a drug it may be broken down in the liver which processes everything absorbed by the gut, but with inhalation small molecules can pass into the bloodstream and from there to the brain without being broken down by the liver.”
You can read the full article here:
I would usually use it with clients who report poor circulation or muscular aches and pains, but it should be avoided if you have high blood pressure or epilepsy.
1st November 2015
Focus on essential oils
Lavender and Marmite: two words you don’t normally see in the same sentence! But Lavender does seem to be an oil that people either really love or hate, and they are thinking of the smell when they tell me this. Smell is something that evokes deep memories and emotions, and many oils can bring back reminders of events and people long forgotten, which may not necessarily be pleasant ones. this is why a very personal approach is used in creating a blend for someone.
Lavender is a multifaceted oil: it has many uses, and the aroma can vary depending on where it is grown. The soil and the altitude, for example, can affect the properties and the aroma. There are also different varieties of lavender plant which can give varying properties. For example, Lavandula angustifolia (english lavender) has sedative properties and aids sleep, but Lavandula x intermedia (known as lavandin) is less sedative than true lavender, and I would use this in a blend when the client needs to stay awake and alert after their massage. Spike lavender is a variety grown in mediterranean countries and has particularly strong analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.
Lavender is a very safe oil, and it is one of only two oils which can be used directly on the skin (the other is tea tree).
The history of lavender use goes back many centuries, but it has great importance in the history of contemporary aromatherapy: the chemist Gattefosse was inspired to study its therapeutic properties after burning his hand and placing it in a bowl of lavender water, and finding how quickly the burn healed.
Which leads me to Lavender uses No.1: Treatment of minor burns and scalds. A few drops on a piece of cotton wool placed directly on the burn will ease the pain, and speed up healing.
Lavender uses No.2: Lavender is widely used as a sleep aid, and I often use it in a blend for someone who has difficulty sleeping.
Putting a few drops on your pillow, or on the soles of your feet can be helpful to aid sleep.
Lavender uses No.3 Lavender’s great skin healing properties are partly down to the way it can promote cell renewal, but also there are anti-fungal and antibacterial properties within the oil. I would use it neat on the feet to clear up a fungal infection really quickly, or within a carrier oil, for dry skin or cracked heels (I would use it with Avocado oil, which is also brilliant for your nails by the way!!)
Lavender uses: No.4 The analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties of Lavender make it very useful in a blend for a sports massage; stiff or aching muscles after strenuous exercise really benefit from a good rub down with an appropriate blend!