Category: Herbs

The Sages

S. patens Salvia madrensis

Usually when I am preparing to write an entry in this blog, I wander around the garden with my camera & take photos of various interesting or obscure things. This time I found our collection of Sages, (Salvias) all flowering merrily because of our mild Autumn. So I am putting in a selection of images, most of these are ornamental rather than medicinal, but are so colourful & lovely that they are well worth growing. In fact I think we should get a whole lot more planted in our garden.

 S. mexicanaS.confertiflora Boatman's Sage S. bethellii

Some of them, like S. confertiflora (flirty Flora to her friends)S. patens  & S. madarensis are frost tender, so we will need to take cuttings VERY soon if we want to have plants next Spring. Luckily they grow readily from cuttings, so it’s not a problem. As well as these beauties I realised we have Pineapple sage, Annual Clary, & Pink & purple varieties of S. superba, Grahamii Sage plus a plant with small grey leaves & lovely blue flowers, all of which survive from year to year, the Annual Clary self seeds.

s. guaranitica Clary sage S.sclarea  Black Knight Sage

We’ve lost our Tricolour Sage, as it sulks with wet feet, & one of our Red Sages looks to be succumbing too, luckily we have several Red Sages planted about the place, & one in a pot to thoroughly avoid  wet feet during the Winter. Funnily enough, the Golden Sage, which is right next to the dead Red is looking perfectly happy.

We find the White Sage quite tempermental, some plants thrive, & others fade away, & it’s almost impossible to grow from cutting. The seeds germinate well but often we lose at least 2/3, strange. However once it is established it grows fast & well handling both hot summers & wet, cold winters. We burn the dried leaves in a bowl to clear energies, mostly because I simply cannot master the art of making Smudge Sticks. We’ve also made Hydrosol with it, & this is a really simple way to cleanse. I often mist myself when I come back from town, just to shake off all the busy vibe.

White Sage S. apiana Gold Sage S. officinalis Icterina Red Sage S.officinalis purpurea



Kawakawa Ointment Macropiper excelsum

I’ve been wanting to make a photographic essay of our ointment making process for ages now. I’ve finally managed to catch all stages, of the hot maceration method, except the very first one, which was picking the leaves. We go up the range not far from here, but climbing into the steep gully where the Kawakawa grows is a fraught business, it is steep, tangled with vegetation & full of rocks & hollows, added to this there is a fair bit of Ongaonga (very mean native Stinging Nettle) growing there. Geoff & Giles have a modicum of ‘mountain goat’ in their genes, but I am an accident waiting to happen, & need help just negotiating the fence, hence no camera & no photos, maybe I’ll add some in later. Geoff thinks it’s quite likely that these plants were introduced to the area, many years ago by local Maori, who had a walking trail  crossing this area.  It was common for useful plants to be planted along the trails, for use by the travellers. We liked the idea of this, & thought of those people struggling across rough terrain, their knowledge & history, & we felt privileged to share in that cycle, & we made sure to thank the plants & let them know we planned to use them for healing purposes.

Kawakawa Toilets Kawakawa Toilets detail

We were first asked to make an ointment with Kawakawa leaves, to supply the Grass Hut in Kawakawa, the town in Bay of Islands where Friedensreich Hundertwasser lived & designed & helped build the amazing public toilets. Our next experience with the plant, was when we were away at Waipatiki Beach. Geoff trod on something sharp on the rocks, & within an hour or so his foot was red & swollen, & he was feeling feverish & shaky. Being some miles from town & of course we had left our first aid kit at home, not anticipating any need over a 3 day stay, we were feeling a bit panicky. I felt quite lost without our normal medicinal herbs, & went outside to wander the garden to see what plants I could find. There were some healthy Kawakawa plants growing, so I thought I’d make a poultice & see if it would help. I chopped some leaves up, & poured boiling water on them, binding it together with a slice of bread, & squishing it all up through my fingers. The mush was folded into a piece of kitchen towel & put onto Geoff’s foot, this was then held in place with a strip of gladwrap. Almost immediately Geoff’s foot started to feel better, & by bedtime he was all fixed.

kawakawa fruit (shrink)pieces of Kawakawa

So now Kawakawa is a plant we know & trust. we have planted a few plants under our established trees here, but as yet they aren’t thriving, funnily enough we have one in a pot in the kitchen & it is so happy, we may just have to fill the house with them! The domestic plant hasn’t been attacked by caterpillars, but the ones we gathered on the range were quite holey. This is a good thing apparently, as the chewed plants produce chemicals in response to the attack & this increases their medicinal properties.

kawakawa ready to be cooked (shrink)kawakawa cooking in olive oil (shrink)Filtering cooked leaves (shrink)

Adding beeswax (shrink)filling jars (shrink)kawakawa ready to go (shrink)

We make our leaf oils using this simple method,1) pick & sort leaves,2) cover with oil & simmer, really, really gently. We cook the leaves until they feel barely crisp, then we let them cool. 3)Once they are cool we pour the brew through an oil filter to remove all the bits & pieces. We store the base oil in large bottles, in the dark. when we  need a batch of ointment we measure out the oil,4) & put a little in the saucepan with beeswax. Once this is melted we add the rest of the oil, & stir to make sure its all amalgamated. 5)Pour into clean jars &6) label. This is a basic herbal ointment, easy to make, keeps well & is wonderfully effective.

It is most important to identify your plants accurately, & if you are gathering from the wild make sure you are picking in an area that has not been sprayed, also don’t strip the area, always leave enough plants behind to keep growing.

We generally make our ointments in batches of 20 or 30 at a time, & give them an 18 month best before date, although they last a lot longer than that.

If you are not feeling up to making your own Kawakawa Ointment we now have it available from our online shop, both in our standard amber jars & in a fancy tin!!

I haven’t made Soapwort Shampoo for years, mostly due to a reluctance to go digging around in the garden for roots, but I have made a great discovery!!

When we were weeding in the herb garden the other week, I noticed that the Soapwort had gone under the paved path & popped up in another bed. Knowing that it can be very invasive, I got Geoff to lift up the paver, lo & behold a great clump of roots ready to use. (We think we might be onto something here, as a means of harvesting roots & controlling the more rampant plants at the same time.)

Double Flowered Soapwort Mashing up Soapwort Roots

I love the economy of weeding & harvesting at the same time. The roots were pretty clean, & only needed a quick rinse, then I chopped them up,  finally pulping them in a large pestle & mortar. Once the roots were finely broken up I put them into a saucepan & covered with cold rainwater, leaving them to stand for 30 minutes or so. After standing I heated the mix up & simmered gently for 20 minutes on low heat. I left this to cool & then strained it through a sieve & then a tea strainer to get out any very fine particles.

The brew has a silky feel & quite a strong, earthy smell, which I like. I did add a few drops of Bergamot Essential Oil, & 1% Naturaguard Ultra, which is a natural preservative.

This has worked well as I read that the tea only keeps for 10 days or so, or needs to be stored in the fridge. I thought if I kept it in the fridge, I’d never remember to get it out until I was sopping wet in the shower, & also after going to the effort of making it, I wanted to be sure I could use it all up. I’m storing the shampoo in a sealed plastic bottle & I know that if it starts to ferment the bottle would puff up.

I’m loving using the Soapwort Shampoo, it doesn’t lather much, I put about 1/4 cup in a jug with 1/2 cup of warm water & rub it through my hair, using the run off to wash the rest of me. I don’t need any other rinse just clean water, & my hair feels soft & smooth, (quite an achievement for me, as my hair is tough & quite coarse, not like Geoff’s fine locks!).

Soapwort Shampoo

I’ve also noticed that since using the Soapwort less of my hair is coming out when I brush it, that’s got to be good, even for my horse hair.

As I mentioned, it is a very vigorous plant, so you need to think carefully about where to plant it. It’s very hardy & seems happy in fairly dry spots & semi-shade. We have the double flowered variety which is very pretty.

Plants Not To Get Confused

We went for a walk along the river bank in Waipawa. There was masses of Hemlock growing there, so we took some photos, & I thought it would be a good idea to put them in here, along with some other ferny plants, that often get confused. Many people were told as children not to touch Fennel because it was poisonous, but I think that their parents were worried about the Hemlock & covering all bases. On Masterchef Australia the other evening there was a chef cooking with Fennel Pollen, stalks & stems, perhaps there’s a new market opening there?

Meantime I’ve put together photos of:

1) Hemlock, (Conium maculatum) note the purple stems, which can be streaked or spotted, & the leaf tips are serrated. A biennial. It grows on the edges of waterways, railway tracks & neglected land, preferring moist loamy soil & it is a nitrogen indicator. It can grow up to a lush 2 meters tall & has white umbel flowers. The plant contains a very poisonous alkaloid, especially in the unripe seeds. Socrates met his end with Hemlock & it’s toxic affect is to paralyse the body but not the mind leading to asphyxia, very sinister.  The oil it contains has a very bitter taste & smells like mouse. I didn’t get close enough to check that out.

hemlock-1 hemlock-fern hemlock-note-stem-colour

Other plants I’ve included for comparison are:

2) Chervil, a biennial, with it’s sweet anise smell & flavour, looking a lot more demure & delicate.

3) Yarrow, a perennial which has much more ferny leaves that grow on wiry stalks. The  flower stems & white flowerheads are very stiff, and the whole plant smells a bit like pine. It has creeping rootstock & can spread over a wide area.

4) Fennel has much finer leaves like seaweed,  with a strong aniseed smell & flavour. Being a perennial it forms sturdy clumps, woody stalks & yellow flower heads. It’s common on roadsides & waste areas. There are cultivated  varieties which are grown for the thick basal stalks, which are delicious.

Next 2 pics are Chervil, then Yarrow (L) & Fennel (R)

chervil chervil-in-flower yarrow fennel

While I’m at it, I want to include photos of Foxglove, Comfrey & Borage. When they flower it’s easy to tell the difference, but before that  Foxglove & Comfrey can be confused. Foxglove is a biennial, which grows in a tight rosette. The leaves are soft, with softly scalloped edges & a grey underside. Following top 2 photos are Foxglove, middle row is Comfrey & bottom pic is Borage.  Comfrey being a perennial forms a more robust clump, the veins on the leaves are very noticeable, the leaf edges are smooth, & the texture is bristly. Borage is an annual, so it flowers very quickly, it’s leaves are even more bristly than Comfrey & you can see the bristles around the leaf edges. Of course, as soon as it’s beautiful blue flowers appear, it’s totally recognisable.

foxglove foxglove-leaf comfrey-plant comfrey-leafborage

Foxglove seeds are  a source of some heart medicine, or the precursors of them, & of course there too lies their poisonous effects. Years & years ago, I worked in a vet’s in England & one of my jobs was to count out pills of Digitoxin for dogs with heart problems. I was always intrigued by the tiny, dark red pillules, which looked like they’d been hand made.

Hawthorn Fruit Leather

We have found the best herb book ever, it’s called by two titles, Backyard Medicine (USA) or Hedgerow Medicine (UK) byJulie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal. It’s great because it uses a lot of the wild plants we are familiar with, & also uses  Wise Woman methods which don’t require a lot of faffing about. Hawthorn is an amazing plant, especially good for heart & blood pressure problems. I get a lot of arrythmia or erratic heart beats, & was prescribed Beta Blockers, but the list of potential side effects was very scary, so I started to look at natural remedies. Hawthorn has come up trumps, but anyone who is on heart medication needs to be supervised by a herbal or medical professional.



Hawthorn can be turned into a tincture, by chopping the berries up with vodka, & leaving in a cool dark place for several weeks, you can also start with a tincture of flowers & then add that to the berries. A cheaper method is to make fruit leather. Pick through the ripe berries, discarding any discoloured or mouldy looking ones, rinse in a colander & measure. Put in a saucepan with slightly less than  half their volume in water, bring to the boil & simmer for 15 minutes.

Mash the pulp & rub through a sieve, we add a tablespoon of raw sugar per cup of berries. If the mix is too sloppy evaporate a bit more moisture before spreading onto the dehydrator sheets. Lightly oil the sheets, & spread the mix, setting the temp at  about 60 degrees C. Run  the dehydrator until the leather is dry & comes away from the sheet, ours takes about 4 hours.  If you don’t have a dehydrator you can dry the pulp on a baking sheet in a warm oven. The dosage is one square inch a day!! Sometimes I take 2 or 3 if my heart is particularly bumpy.


This acts as a heart & circulatory tonic, & also calms the spirit, easing anxiety & restlessness.

I’ve also made a tincture with the fruit, whizzed up in a blender with vodka. In October I made a separate tincture with the flowers, now at the end of Nov, I’m planning to mix the two together to use when I run out of fruit leather. Here are some photos of the Hawthorn flowers & leaves, it’s a lovely plant.

hawthorn-flowers hawthorn-leaves

dscf0706 dscf0708

Chickweed Stellaria media

It’s latin name means ‘in the midst of little stars’ but you do have to look closely to find the stars.

Chickweed Stellaria media

Chickweed is one of my favourite weed/herbs. I like it’s unassuming ways, which bely a plant of many talents, for medicine, food, & soil health. It’s a hardy little plant, apparently found all over the World, including Asia, Europe & even Northern Arctic regions.

It’s common names include Kohukohu, (Maori) Chick Wittles, Mischeivious Jack, Skirt Buttons, Adder’s Mouth, Mirren & Starweed.


  • Chickweed has small, oval leaves, with pointed tips, in opposing pairs. Soft green.
  • It grows from a central, fibrous root.
  • Young plants grow flat to the ground, as they mature they grow in a more vertical manner, often using a neighbouring plant for a leg up.
  • The tiny white flowers, consist of 5 deeply cut petals, which appear at first glance to be 10 petals. These are backed by large, green hairy sepals, which enhance the starry effect.
  • The flowers are borne, singly on slender stems,arising from the leaf nodes, & in small clusters at the growing tips.
  • The oval seed pods hang down, surrounded by the sepals. The pods have little teeth, which close up in wet weather & open in fine conditions to release the seeds, which are dispersed by the wind, or simply drop to the ground.
  • Chickweed has bare stems, except for a single line of fine hairs, which run from node to node, moving around the stem 90 degrees at each intersection. This is a great way to confirm that the plant you have, is indeed Chickweed, so take the time to have a good look.
  • Rain & dew surplus run down the hairs, to the next pair of leaves & so on, just like water, down a chain hung from the spouting.
  • Chickweed exhibits, what is quaintly called ‘the sleep of plants’ ie. it closes it’s upper leaves protectively around the young buds at night.

Growth Habits: Chickweed is an annual, usually completing it’s life cycle at the beginning of Summer in warm districts. It’s seeds lie dormant until cooler, damper conditions prevail. The exception being areas of permenant shade, where it will grow all year round.

Soil Conditions: Chickweed indicates a good amount of working organic matter on the soil surface, but less at deeper levels. Perhaps an area that gets covered with grass clippings, which patially break down. It is found in abundance in market & home gardens, & in a wide variety of soil types.

Properties: Chickweed is rich in a number of elements including: copper, iron,magnesium,manganese,aluminium, silicon,zinc, calcium, cobalt, phosphorus, & potassium. Also vitamins B6 & B12

Medicinal uses: Described as cooling & demulcent, (soothes & protects the digestive tract,) carminative (relieves wind,) expectorant (loosens coughs,) & laxative….you know what that is!

A herb tea or ’tisane’ made by pouring a cupful of boiling water over a handful of fresh leaves, taken over the course of a day, will help to relieve fevers, infections & inflammations, lung, kidney & bladder problems. This is not to say you should stop taking any medication you may be on.

Externally the same tea can be used as a poultice to draw out splinters & infected wounds. A pad of cottonwool, soaked in the brew will help to ease sore & tired eyes, styes, conjunctivitis, & inflamed or irritated eyes.

Bathing with the tea will soothe itching from bites & stings, allergic reactions & the misery of chicken pox & measles rashes. An ointment made with Chickweed will  have the same uses. See our Plantain & Chickweed Salve. Below ; a basket of Chickweed ready to be turned into oil.


Aloe vera

We grow 2 types of medicinal Aloe, (both of which are called Aloe vera) Aloe perryi & Aloe barbadensis. A. perryi is the smaller of the two, & is most commonly found for sale in markets & garden centres. It has soft, spotted leaves which grow in a fan shape (below left). A. barbadensis (below, centre & right) is harder to get established here in Hawkes Bay, it is grown commercially under plastic or shade cloth. It grows up to about 70cm, the leaves form a whorl rather than a fan, & it has sharp points at regular intervals on each side of the leaf.

We over winter both types in the greenhouse, & have some trial plants out under the natives. It’s noticeable that both plants prefer a little shade, the leaves have a pink tinge in too much light.(the central photo illustrates this) They both grow happily in pots, in fact A. perryi prefers to be squashed up, so much so that it can easily get top heavy.

Today we have been processing one plant of A. barbadensis for oil, this includes washing the leaves, (preferably avoiding injury from the sharp points)  cutting off the base of each leaf, & then filleting the gel out. It’s a very satisfying process, esp if you are not squeamish about getting covered to the elbow in slime!

As I’m sure everyone knows, Aloe vera is renowned for it’s soothing properties on burns, apply the gel from a fresh, cut leaf, directly to minor domestic burns & sunburn, as often as necessary. It’s surprising how often burns that you would swear would blister, have virtually disappeared the next day. It’s healing properties extend to wounds, ulcers & varicose veins. We use it, macerated in Olive Oil in a number of our ointments, we make a simple Aloe vera ointment, the oil is also used in our Eczema Cream & Lip Balm.

Comfrey Plants For Sale

For the next few months we will have  Comfrey plants for sale. These are bare-rooted, & cost $1.00 each, minimum order of 5. Freight will vary a bit depending where you are & how many plants you order, usually about $5.00 up t0 30 or so plants & $10.00 for more, extra again for Rural Delivery. We can let you know freight cost before you confirm your order. You can email us an order at or phone us on 06 878 1511

Comfrey, Symphytum officinale is a perennial plant which grows up to 1m in height in the summer. It goes completely dormant for the coldest months. It has deep root systems & brings up valuable nutrients from the sub soil. It’s rich in potassium, calcium, phosphorus & potash. As the gardener’s friend it makes a powerful liquid fertiliser, this can also be used to activate your compost heap. Iit can be wilted & used as a mulch, & it can be planted around fruit trees as part of a mixed herb ley. It’s also a useful supplement for livestock. Put plants in at 60cm spacing, if you are planting in rows.Two things to remember when you use it, chose where to plant it carefully, as once it’s in the ground you won’t get rid of it, every little piece of root will grow when broken. Secondly, don’t do as we did & put flowering stems & unwilted leaves into potato furrows, as they will grow too, that’s why we have an abundance of plants!The common name for Comfrey is Knitbone, & it has a well earned reputation as a healing plant. We use it in our Comfrey & Calendula Ointment, Haemorrhoid cream & Baby’s Bottom Salve. The plant contains allantoin, which speeds up cell repair. It is a brilliant herb to use as a poultice or wash for injuries, bruises, sprains, grazes etc. & is used homoepathically for bone injuries.


In between the freezing winds & squalls, we’ve had some beautiful sunny spells. Taking advantage of one such ceasefire, we tackled planting our Alliums: Garlic, Elephant Garlic, Shallots, Tree Onions, Californian Red & Pukekohe Longkeepers. We’ve put them in the bed that was used to grow spuds last summer. I looked up in a book, (after planting them) to see what was needed, & surprisingly we got it dead right. The Allium family like well fed soil, but not fresh manure, (we put compost on after the spuds,) & a scattering of wood ash. They would like seaweed if we had any too. The other thing is that they like firm soil, so it pays not to dig before you plant, leave the soil compacted. We kneel on a plank to plant the rows, & this helps to firm the soil too.

Alliums: Garlic, Elephant Garlic, Shallots, Tree Onions, Californian Red & Pukekohe Longkeepers

Traditionally all these veges are planted on the shortest day, there’s a fair bit of leeway but bear in mind that onions grow leaves in the cooler weather & bulbs in the warmer, so you want to get a good head start with the leaves. We get motivated when we notice that the garlic is starting to sprout. We don’t buy seed garlic or shallots, just save the best ones for the next season. We buy bundles of onion plants, from the garden centre or supermarket, & just trim off any damaged leaves. The other thing with onions is not to plant them too deeply, apparently it encourages ‘bullneck’, which is where the necks of the onions are fat & don’t dry off properly, this means they don’t store very well.

We’ve been looking at the King’s Seed catalogue, & think we’ll have a go at starting our leeks & onions from seed for next year. I think that means sowing them this Spring. That’s really thinking ahead. Below is our onion bed partially planted, all up it takes up about 5 square metres, & should see us through the next year, plus some for our family & to give away.


The first pic above is the allium bed planted early July, the second is the same bed 11/9 so roughly 2 months later, in the foreground are the elephant garlic.

The giant onions we harvested in the autumn were a bit of a disappointment, they didn’t store well at all, & many went mushy. They weren’t Pukekohe longkeepers, but were all we could get at the time, so shall be more careful in future. They were great for making pickles & bulk curries etc.

Marshmallow Althea officinalis

We moved our Marshmallow plant this Spring, into a sunny, moist spot beside the shadehouse, where it gets regular watering. It is obviously very happy there, as it is towering a good 3m. tall, & looking very lush, it’s original habitat was damp meadows & salt marshes.

It’s latin name derives from ‘altho’ to cure, & officinalis is an indicator that it has a long history of use as a medicinal plant. It’s roots can be harvested & dried in Autumn when the stems die down, they are best cleaned by brushing rather than washing. Slice them finely & spread in a thin layer, in a warm, shady place to dry. Check that they don’t go mouldy. Once dry, they can be stored in an airtight container, out of the light.

A tea made from the roots is soothing for digestive problems, including acid stomach, gastritis & irritable bowel syndrome. A tea of the leaves soothes cystitis, & relieves dry coughs, catarrh & other lung complaints. I once made tea from the roots but it was the consistency of wallpaper paste & I couldn’t swallow it, no doubt if I’d been sick enough I would have persevered! I do use the leaves of Marshmallow or WildMallow in a tea mix whenever I get a sore throat or cold.

Marshmallow Althea officinalis

The lovely flowers can be crushed, or used in a warm tea to soothe skin irritations, & inflammation. A peeled stick of root is a traditional teething remedy.