workshopDuring our annual camp, where we band together and share workshops,  I provided a workshop on creating our own home made cleaning products and skin products that we would be using during our camp. Instead of giving out notes I promised to put them up on our blog with links for everyone. A little later than promised but just in time for spring cleaning here they are:


Washing Powder

1 cup of Baking Soda
1 cup of Washing Soda Ash
1/2 cup of Borax (Optional)
Essential Oil – Lemon or Lavender would be nice.

Add Baking Soda to a bowl. Add a 1-2 drops of the Essential oil of your choice and mix in. Once mixed, add the Washing Soda and Borax if you are choosing to use. Mix up, or shake up once put into a container of choice. Use a full scoop for a full load.

Borax acts as colour brightener. All 3 ingredients can be found for cheap at Binn Inn. I have also used Trade Me and Moore Wilson’s to find them. If you wanted to you could also make your own soda ash from baking soda. I have not tried this so I can’t say how useful it is.

Washing Soda Ash is used to help removed stains, without leaving stains. It also works as a natural fabric softener. When doing this recipe make sure you use Soda Ash not Washing Soda Crystals. They are a similar thing but I found that when using the crystals, it hardened with the baking soda over time making it unusable.


Orange Vinegar Cleaner

Orange Peels (or lemon or grapefruit)
White Vinegar
A jar
A spray bottle

Save your peels and put into a jar. Fill with the vinegar. Put into a cupboard and leave for a couple of months. When you feel it looks ready drain the vinegar into a spray bottle. You can then use as a spray and whip. You can also use it mixed with a little bit of baking soda to create a cleaning scrub.


Dish Washing Tablets

1 1/2 cups of Washing Soda Ash
1/2 cup of Borax
1/4 cup of Citric Acid
Orange Vinegar Cleaner
Silicon moulds

Mix the powders into a bowl and spray with the Orange Vinegar spray until it is like damp sand and it starts to hold shape. The Citric Acid and Vinegar create a chemical reaction so the mixture will fizzle a little and become a little warm. Once the mixture is holding its shape, press into the moulds and put into a dry warm place to dry for about a week. Use as you would a normal Dish Washing Tablet. If mould is bigger than a normal washing tablet you may want to half them.


Hand Sanitizer 

2 teaspoons of Xanthan Gum
250 mls Distilled Water
1/2-3/4 cup of Vodka (40%)
15 drops of Citricidal C
150 drops of Essential Oil

This recipe makes 750 mls of Hand Sanitizer.

  1. Add Xanthan Gum and Distilled Water to a bowl and whisk until it looks like snot. We used an electric whisk to make this easier and faster.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients. The Essential Oil’s we used were Lemongrass, Star Anise and Thyme. All of these oils have anti-bacterial properties. You may need to add a little bit more water to make it a thinner texture.
  3. Put into a squirt bottle. I get my bottles from Arthur Holmes. I know that other members of our Grove also use this site so maybe give a shout out on our Facebook page when placing a order as others might want to order with you, sharing the shipping cost.



Shaving Foam

We didn’t make this. But you can add Castle Soap to the Hand Sanitizer above then you can create a shaving foam.


All of the above recipes I learnt to make when I did a course with Donna from Cottage Hill Herbs. She is a wonderful lady and her website has lots of awesome recipes and she sells a lot of ingredients used in them. Donna also needs help as the local council is wanting to put large sewage drains through her farm which would ruin her business. You can find the petition here. She does amazing work and it would be a huge loss to the community if she was to close down.

– Mary



Roots of any medicinal plants are usually harvested in Autumn when, just like humans, plants turns inwards for the winter. Leaves of various plants are picked at different times of year when their active constituents are at their highest.

Comfrey is one of my favourite herbs to put in ointments or healing oils. Comfrey contains allantoin which is a substance known to promote new skin cell growth. At the end of this article are a couple of websites that will help you understand the benefits of using comfrey for bruising, pulled muscles, inflammation and even broken bones. They will also explain the potential dangers of using comfrey internally. Some say the leaves (but not the root) are safe internally, however the leaves contain the same potentially dangerous alkaloids that are in the root, even though in lesser concentrations. Comfrey preparations for internal use are banned in New Zealand (as in the US).


Comfrey in my garden in early May. The leaves are starting to die down a bit but there are some new leaves appearing still. The flower heads have seeded and died back.

If you grow comfrey May is the time to pick it. You can use the leaves and/or the root for external preparations. Obviously only harvest the root if you have plenty of plants or know how to divide roots and still keep the plant alive.

To use the leaves, pick them in the afternoon after all the dew has evaporated.  Leave to wilt for 12 hours. The less moisture the better or your oil may go mouldy.

Place 2 cups of chopped comfrey leaves into a large jar and cover with 4 cups of olive oil. Leave in a warm place for 2 – 3 weeks. This makes an infused oil that can be rubbed on dry skin and on sprains or strains. It can also be used to counter skin inflammations like eczema. Do not use on infected wounds.

Any medicinal plant extraction is best begun at a new moon and then bottled at the full moon. So for the comfrey if you pick and chop the leaves at the new moon you will have had it sitting in the oil for 2 weeks by the full moon. A few days either side is okay.

You could also pick the comfrey leaves and leave them to dry until needed. Pick and dry on flat non absorbent surface (like an oven tray) until crunchy dry. Bottle in air tight bottles. In the Middle Ages ‘comfrey baths’ were often used for dry or inflamed skin and for aching muscles. The dried leaves would be ideal for comfrey baths over winter.

In general it is uncommon for a herbalist to use one herb alone so once you have a comfrey oil extract it can be combined into an ointment with other herbs that you have extracted, or you can extract several herbs with complimentary properties into one oil. If you are just beginning to use herbs I suggest you do single herb extracts and use them regularly for a while until you fully understand how they work for you. Remember that we are all different and will respond more or less or not at all to various herbs. Just as our bodies differ as to which foods or smells we respond to.

WellnessMama has a great comfrey leaf herb profile, and Mountain Rose blog has a list of oils that you might like to try infusing and a short description of their uses. Richard Whelan’s website is also a great New Zealand website to check out uses of herbs and also any safety concerns.



Herbs in your Lawn: Yarrow

Yarrow (1)

Some legends say that Achilles – that hero of Greek myth – was dipped in water containing yarrow juice when he was a baby – and that was the source of his immortality. Unfortunately his mother was holding him by the heel so it was left untreated; a fatal mistake! He also made great use of the herb to help cure the wounds of his fellow soldiers.

This story explains why the scientific name of yarrow is Achillea. Yarrow’s scientific name was given to it because in Greek mythology Achilles used  yarrow to heal. Every time we see yarrow growing we can remember it’s legendary power to heal wounds. There is more information here, or here, on the link between yarrow and Achilles.

Yarrow (2)

The full scientific or binomial name for Yarrow is Achillea millefolium. In Latin, mile is a thousand, and folium are leaves (think of foliage). The leaves are very distinctive. They are soft, fernlike and finely divided.

Yarrow has been used by many cultures for thousands of years. Evidence has been found in the teeth of a 50,000 year old person from Spain.

Yarrow is important in Chinese culture and medicine. The stems of the flowers are trimmed, dried and used with the I Ching.

Traditionally it is used to stop bleeding – both internally and externally. It is also used to control infections() and reduce fever. It is good for for many other things too! There is a much deeper explanation, and some warnings against excessive use, here.

As  a gardener, I love it for the small flowers that attract the predatory wasps, lady birds and hoverflies that help control pests in my garden. Bees like it too! The common variety has white flowers, but pink and red varieties are also cultivated and can be bought from garden centres.

I regularly add leaves and/or flowers to herbal tea mixes for their beneficial effects.

Yarrow is also used as a component to pasture mixes on farms. It does not have the dry matter production that plantain or ryegrass has – but it does have help keep livestock healthy! Here is some information from Massey University.

One of the old names for yarrow is ground hops. It was one of the herbs used to flavour beer before hops were commonly used. Grut, or gruit, was the name of the beer, and is reputed to have euphoric and aphrodisiac effects!

The story of the introduction of hops into beer, and the exclusion of other herbs is fascinating! One version is that the church wanted to introduce hops into beer, because they reduced male “performance” and tended to make people sleepy, and therefore less likely to sin. This was much preferable to the to the effects of the herbs in traditional gruit!

Here is  quote about Linneaus contained in the link above: “Linneaus called the plant galentara, ‘causing madness’, and this plant ‘which the people of Lima sometimes use in their ale stirs up the blood and makes one lose one’s balance.’. . . Yarrow is in no way innocent when mixed with ale.”

So how did the old witches of Europe use it? One description I have heard of is to boil it up and eat it as a green vegetable before visualisation and other journey work. One of the blogs linked to above very clearly warns against eating boiled yarrow because of the possibility of  “dangerous hallucinations”!

A quick check of the internet shows a range of magical uses in spells and its use as a tea before divination. And its use in love spells. I can’t help but wonder if there is a link to the supposed aphrodisiac effects of gruit?

So yes – yarrow is an amazing herb that deserves more attention, instead of trying to eradicate it from our lawns!


– Richard

Herbs in your lawn: Plantain

Plantain : Yarrow : Dandelion : Self Heal and others


For me, part of being a Druid is to become more aware of the things around us. The plants we walk past everyday – the herbs beneath our feet…

Many of these plants have been eaten and used by our ancestors for thousands of years. Over the next few months we will discuss some of these wonderful plants.

In New Zealand there are two common varieties

Plantago major – which has roundish leaves and is a little less common.

Plantago lanceolata – which has long leaves with parallel veins.

Both varieties are equally useful for nutrition and health. The ancient Saxon name was ‘waybread’, because it grows everywhere and it is so good!

There would be few sown lawns in New Zealand that do not have P. lanceolata growing in them. Kikuyu is probably the only grass that is sometimes used as lawn that can outcompete it!

I use it in two ways: as an ingredient in herbal teas, and as a wound dressing.

Taken internally, it can be added to salads, herbal teas or cooked as part of a bunch of greens. It helps the functioning of our kidneys and urinary tract. It has also been used for respiratory problems – coughs, colds and bronchitis. Here is another  link with more information.

Even our farmers are being converted to the benefits of this great plant! It is high in minerals, and I have even been told that cows eating it have less nitrogen in their urine!

When I was researching this blog – I even found this bit of “interesting” research into breast cancer in mice. Most of the mice that were injected with plantain juice got did not get cancer (18%) – and most that were not injected did get cancer (93%). Now I am not recommending we inject plantain juice – but here is a link to a plantain smoothie recipe 🙂

As a wound dressing I have applied it to grazes (road rash) and cuts. I put a piece of the leaf, topside down, onto the wound, and hold it in place with a plaster or bandage. The wound has always healed perfectly. (Disclaimer time: this is a recount of my personal experience – not a recommendation, and any use that is made of the herb is totally the reader’s responsibility. )

The leaves are described as having antibacterial, antifungal and antihistamine qualities. Plantain was one of the nine herbs Woden used. Woden has been said to use its help against snake bite – in this 10th Century charm recorded in Malcolm Cameron’s book Anglo-Saxon Medicine:

A snake came crawling, it bit a man.

Then Woden took nine glory-twigs,

Smote the serpent so that it flew into nine parts.

There apple brought this pass against poison,

That she nevermore would enter her house.

My preferred way of using this herb is to go out to the garden (or lawn) and pick a leaf or two to put in an herbal tea – it is almost tasteless and makes a healthy addition.

Before I finish, I should also mention the fibre psyllium is in the seed and husks. This is sometimes sold as metamucil – and is used as a laxative and can help irritable bowel syndrome. The psyllium that is available commercially comes from other plantain species, such as Plantago psyllium, but the plants we have here in New Zealand also contain this water soluble fibre in the seeds and husks.

Several websites contain cautions against nursing mothers using plantain – especially the seeds and husks because of the psyllium.

So next time you walk over a piece of lawn – look for this wonderful herb!

– Richard