Tag Archives: leaves

It is conkers season!!

I am not sure if my North American correspondents are aware of what conkers are?  In case you are scratching your collective heads,  conkers are the nut of the Horse Chestnut tree, Aesculus hippocastanum.

horse chestnut

According to my current favourite herby planty lore book, a recent purchase when we were on holiday in Canada, it is an introduced ornamental tree.  But luckily the parts of it have lots of healing properties.  In fact it is used in 2 Bach Flower Remedies.

The tree itself can grow up to 130 feet tall, and has palmate leaves and huge white candelabras of frothy white-pink flowers in the spring.  The conkers, an auburn coloured nut, form and fall in the autumn, and generations of schoolchildren have played a school yard game using them strung on a piece of string to see whose conker was strongest.  Sadly Health & Safety rules have got in the way of them these days, which is a shame because my husband has many happy memories of playing conkers.

Horse chestnut tree

So what can horse chestnut trees be used for?  Their good looks mean they have been a municipal tree of choice for planting on streets and avenues, and apparently their bark makes an emergency quinine substitute.  The flower buds can be used to flavour beer, and conkers produce a good soapy lather for shampoo and to clean clothes, and into the bargain they stop mould and repel moths. If you have been plagued by those enormous garden spiders that are around this autumn, then putting conkers by the door and hung up in corners can help dissuade them from taking up residence in the first place.


In this year of First World War commemorations, it was interesting to find out that conkers were also used for explosives.  Apparently they are a source of acetone and it was that chemical required for the explosives.  Schoolchildren collected over 3000 tons of conkers which all went to the war effort.


So, medicinally, what can this anti-mould, anti-creepy crawly, potentially explosive stuff do for your health?  It is a leading herbal treatment for weakened veins, including varicose veins, haemorrhoids, and acne rosacea.  It might also be an alternative to Botox as it tightens the skin and reduces fluid retention and Oedema.


My little book provides a couple of recipes for using conkers to make tinctures, oils and even a lotion for the treatment of varicose veins, thread veins and fragile capillaries.  I don’t think I am going to provide them in this blog post though… I might bring it back as a topic another time.


Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…


And annoying neighbours burning wet leaves and effectively smoking you out of your own garden.  I tell you, if I wasn’t so tired from all I have done today, and interested in rotting my leaves down for soil improvement purposes… I would return the favour.  When their washing is on the line.  Just saying.

Anyway… Autumn is officially here.  The nights are drawing in, the leaves are turning brown and falling off (they don’t really turn pretty colours in the UK… they just go brown and hit the deck), and in theory, the garden should be full of stuff to harvest and store for the winter.  Obviously, this year we haven’t had a chance to really get our garden producing anything much because we haven’t been in it long enough.  I can tell you we have had a lovely crop of tomatoes, our chilli peppers are looking great, we have some aubergines (eggplants) coming on in the greenhouse, we have had 6 cucumbers from 1 plant, which I think is pretty awesome… Over all, I am really happy with what we have managed to produce.

pretty veg patch

But… ooh the plans that I have.  First of all though we need to dispose of a box hedge which is in the way, and then I am going to dig myself a veg patch.  We are going to grow those veggies which we love to eat – peas, beans, courgettes, pumpkins, onions, lettuce, radishes, potatoes (but in bags, not in the ground), carrots (the same as the potatoes), beetroot, spinach, maybe I will try some brussels sprouts (though maybe not… cos they can be tricky little blighters.)  The patch is going to have a border of dwarf fruit trees (which we already have and which are currently in pots) and a little fence as well – with strawberries growing by the little fence as well.  Can you picture it?

One of the beds which currently houses a whole load of fuschias (shudder – I loathe the things) and other assorted items which have self seeded there, will be cleared and it will become my medicinal herb bed, with a backdrop of the most gorgeous peonies.  Lots of lovely things will grow there… and will no doubt feature in future blog posts as well!


All of the specimen plants which can be moved, will be transplanted across the lawn to the perennial border.  That needs a serious haircut on all fronts.  And I have some bay trees which have got all wild and wooly this year and need significant taming.  (I wish it looked half as nice as the one in the picture at Sheringham Park!!  Maybe in a few years time…!)

So, autumn might be the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness… but it is also the time for fervent planning and plotting, as well as dreaming of future produce.  So tonight I shall dream of full cornucopia… and a medicine cabinet full of home made remedies.

Bay Leaves… any uses other than stew?

One of the features of my new garden is a number of formally clipped Bay trees.   They provide beautiful evergreen structure in the borders, but are also useful in the kitchen.  The only think I know they can be used for is as a flavour in stews, but according to my research, Bay is actually really useful in herbalism as well.

Bay trees

Laurus nobilis is also known as Sweet Bay and True Laurel.  If you have ever seen the sculptures of the ancient rulers with leaves on their heads in a crown shape, they were made of Bay.  These crowns were not just for kings but for heroes as well.  Apparently Delphic priestesses also made use of bay leaves.  Not being a priestess of much, I am interested in more down to earth uses.

Bay berry

Oil of Bay, which is a fixed oil expressed from the berries of the Bay, is full of warming chemicals which make it idea for treating arthritic aches and pains.  It can also be used for lower back pain, earaches, sore muscles and sprains.  It sounds immensely useful, but it also needs to be treated carefully.  The oil should never be used by pregnant women as it can cause miscarriage, and the oil should not be taken internally.  If using the oil from the bay berry it needs to be diluted and used in very small amounts indeed.

bay leaves

The Bay leaves are also useful.  Obviously, you can pop them into stews and soups for a Mediterranean kind of flavouring, but the bay leaves are also a source of an essential oil with the same analgesic and warming properties that you find in feverfew, which could help to treat migraine headaches.


Bay Leaves can be used in tea, or herbal baths, or infused in oil to take the benefit of the essential oil in the leaf.  The oil from the berries should only ever be used externally, topically, to relieve pain.   I think if I use Bay Leaves for herbal remedies, I will be using the leaf only, and perhaps as a part of a topical warming ointment to help sore muscles.


Probably the same muscles which got sore from looking after all of the Bay trees!  There is a nice circularity with that!


Rhubarb, Rhubarb, Rhubarb…

Thank Heavens!  That horrid “hungry gap” over the winter appears to be over, and one of my favourite foods is making a welcome return to the shop shelves and the garden as well.  Hello lovely pink, lip puckeringly tart, rhubarb.  I really love the natural sourness of it, and I really adore it when it has been topped with a crumble and smothered in custard, but it also a really useful addition to the garden.


Healthwise, rhubarb is used in Chinese Medicine as an effective aid to digestion.  It certainly contains lots of lovely fibre, and in addition it is highly nutritious containing loads of calcium, manganese, vitamin C and Vitamin K.  It also has a whole host of those lovely antioxidants.

rhubarb crumble

If you are eating rhubarb, you need to take off the leaves of the magenta, celery like stalk.  The leaves can be used though – so reserve them to one side.  You then chop up the rhubarb, add sweetener to taste (I don’t add too much myself, I prefer the tartness) and then cooking it.  You can either boil it in a pan, in which case you will end up with a heap of fraying shreds of translucent fibre, perfect for jams, chutneys and compotes.  Or, you can put it on a baking tray and put it in a hot oven.  Quick heat results in tender and cohesive rhubarb pieces.  Delightful!

rhubarb leaves


So, what do you do with those leaves?  You can make a garden spray.  It is great for controlling aphids and other sucking insects.  You do have to be careful with it though, as it can also kill beneficial insects like bees, if you are not careful.  Only use it if you have an aphid problem on your roses.  It works, by suffocating the little blighters, and to be honest, that is fine by me.  Get off me roses you nasty beasts.


You will need 1 kg of rhubarb leaves and 2 litres of water.  Place the rhubarb in a large pot.  Try and use one that is not a metal pot because the acid in the rhubarb leaves will react with the metal in the pot.  Bring the mixture to the boil and then simmer for 20 minutes to half an hour.  Strain off the leaves and then dilute the solution 1 part to 9 parts water.  You need to use this mix as soon as you can and certainly within 24 hours.   If you use this on plants for consumption, make sure you leave at least 48 hours and obviously wash the items very well as the rhubarb leaves are potentially very toxic to humans.


I can’t wait to get into my own garden and grow some of my own rhubarb.  I think I might forgo the rhubarb crumble and make some rhubarb and ginger jam.  Yummy.  I might even let some of my friends have some!