Having enjoyed James Wong’s “Homegrown Revolution”, I thought I’d have a look at his “Grow Your Own Drugs”. This too, is a good book but seems to have some dubious advice, such as making tea from passion flowers and leaves. Passiflora flowers and leaves contain significant amounts of cyanide and is not to be recommended, according to some posts on the internet. Have a look at this link: www.passionflow.co.uk/passion-flower-passiflora-toxicity.htm
James Wong suggests we eat borage leaves in his Homegrown Revolution yet has contradictory advice in his Grow Your Own Drugs. Borage (Borago officinalis) is similar to comfrey (Symphitum officinale) in the same family, Boraginacea. People eat comfrey leaves because they contain a lot of protein, but I have read reports where comfrey is considered toxic in high quantities and prolonged use can lead to liver damage due to pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Perhaps the same problem applies to borage. Jekka McVicar in her wonderful “Jekka’s Complete Herb Book” also advocates eating young borage leaves, so I think it’s probably a matter of degree, with occasional consumption being fine. As I’m not keen on cucumber I’m not sure I will be eating either borage or comfrey. Indeed, I find the smell of comfrey leaves off-putting.
One thing I found quite disappointing with James Wong’s “Grow Your Own Drugs” is the amount of wasted space on many pages which could have been used for additional identifying photographs of the plants in question. The photographs of the plants are often quite small, and not that clear. There’s a lot of emphasis on photographs of James looking happy with herbs, but there are few labels for the photographs, and though James is very photogenic, I would like to see more photographs of the plants themselves as well, and labels on all the photographs so we know what we’re looking at. With is Homegrown Revolution there are more illustrations but a lot of them are paintings and not particularly good ones at that because they don’t show the growth habit correctly and look amateurish. If James Wong is growing these plants I would far rather see photographs of them, or a stroll round a botanical garden would yield plenty of specimens to photograph.
I have been drinking sage tea because I have a stinking cold, but overuse of sage is toxic. There is a recipe in James Wong’s book for sage honey, supposedly good for sore throats. I made some of this a few days ago, using cheapo supermarket honey. I was rather miffed that the honey seemed to lose volume by about a fifth. Now I have a cold I can’t smell the sage in the honey but presumably it’s doing some good. Mindful that prolonged use is toxic, I won’t use either the sage tea or the honey for any length of time.
I also fancied making some ointments. James uses a macerated calendula oil in one of his lip salves, but it’s the wrong time of year to make that, nor do I have lots of lemon balm in my garden at the moment. Those salves will have to wait for summer, and I must remember to sow some calendula. (If I can find any room in my overstuffed garden.) I thought an antiseptic lip balm would be quite handy just now.
I picked a couple of sprigs of sage (Salvia officinale) and several of thyme (Thymus vulgaris), and shredded these into a bain marie. I covered these with just enough rapeseed oil to submerge the herbs, and heated the oil for about an hour. I used rapeseed oil rather than olive oil or sweet almond oil because that’s what’s in my cupboard. Once the herb oil was ready, I filtered the herbs out of the oil using a coffee filter paper, which is easy to use and disposable. I measured the amount of herbal oil produced; about 30ml. Previous playing with potions has shown me that the best ratio of oil to beeswax is about 1:5 so I weighed out 6g of beeswax provided by beekeeping friends (thanks Val and Roy) and dissolved the beeswax in the herbal oil, reheating it in the bain marie. Then I cheated by adding 6 drops of rose geranium essential oil (Pelagonium graveolens) because this is great for skin complaints and smells lovely. I’m not sure if the herby and floral smells will go together and at present can’t find out because my nose isn’t working. I put the finished lip balm in a couple of very small jars. Old 20ml jam jars are good. One book I read years ago recommended pouring the balm mix into foil and greaseproof paper moulds to them put into old lipstick tubes. I’ve been intending to try this but never got round to it.
Jekka McVicar says in her complete herb book that thyme oil should only be used under medical supervision, and this is good advice as the essential oil is toxic in high quantities, but in this salve, the amounts of thyme used are quite small, as small as the amount in a casserole, for example. Thyme is antiseptic and antifungal, so I hope this salve will keep chapped, infected lips at bay. This recipe is not as complicated as James Wong’s salves, as I don’t have any vitamin C powder and forgot to add any honey. I hope it will have a reasonable shelf-life.
I find that inorganic salves, such as made using petroleum jelly, last a lot longer than organic ones, where the oil can go rancid quite quickly. Several years ago I made some elderflower ointment by steeping elderflowers in petroleum jelly in a bain marie, which still has that lovely heady scent, but I don’t much like petroleum jelly on my skin. I often add essential oils to aqueous cream to make a body lotion, but if I want to use home-grown herbs I think I will have to use macerated or steeped oils and beeswax.