A Herbal Life
By Wendy Kendall
Creating natural potions was one of my favorite childhood pastimes. Whether it was from various plants, flowers, leaves and seeds from my mother’s abundant garden, or from various items in our bathroom (my mother never kept anything toxic there!), I loved mixing natural substances together to make something “magic”. I was a flower child of the late 1960’s, and being close to nature was the theme of the times. My favorite dress-up costumes were a nurse’s with my own first aid box, and a witch’s with a black velvet dress sewn with silver stars – plus a broom stick, cardboard hat and starry black handbag for keeping my potions in. I felt transformed into a character with the power to change things around me for good or mischief when I put those outfits on.
These childhood passions have remained with me all my life: I am making potions for healing or health to this day! My love of plants was undoubtedly influenced by my parents and grandparents who were all keen gardeners, and had fabulous “Gardens of Eden” from where we picked and nibbled fresh organic vegetables, or fruit. We had enough fruit to harvest for bottling. I loved all our garden activities, watering in summer, playing on the grass in winter, helping my mother plant or weed the flower gardens, always barefoot so I could feel the earth under my feet. I often picked flowers for my mother or my grandmother who had the most glorious rose garden winding along the path to her brick house. We would stop at every rose to smell the sweet perfumes and admire the glorious colours as I walked along together.
After I left school I applied for an apprenticeship in photolithography. I had never heard of photolithography when I applied, but the advertisement asked for someone who was good at Maths, English, Science and who had an artistic ability – and that sounded like me! I worked at this job for 10 years until I had my first baby.
However, my real interest was natural therapies – but as the field was so broad I just didn’t know what modality to choose so I studied natural therapies as a hobby at night-school classes, weekend workshops or by correspondence.
My interest in natural medicine was clinched by a doctor’s visit at the age of 17 for dizziness, which I knew was probably due to low iron, but for which my doctor prescribed anti-biotics! I vowed to steer away from orthodox doctors from then on. I studied iridology, homeopathy, reflexology, massage, aromatherapy, Bach Flower remedies, crystal healing, holistic pulsing therapy, and plant spirit essences to name a few, all of which I have used as a home practitioner.
However, the courses which inspired me the most were held by the Australasian College of Herbal Studies, established by Doreen Peterson, who, to my delight, operated the college from Waiheke Island – a place I had always loved. I began a correspondence course in Herbalism, Bodycare and Nutrition. It was an inspiring and empowering experience. I tried every recipe in the book, changed my diet to include more herbs, nuts and seeds, leafy greens, raw and wholefoods, and drew up elaborate charts presenting all the herbs and foods, their nutrients, and the body’s deficiency symptoms. I fervently felt that high schools should be including all the information I was learning to give students tools they needed to stay healthy.
The correspondence course also inspired me to attend two separate workshops organised by the college on Waiheke Island; the ‘Wild Weeds’ workshop and the natural cosmetics workshop. These workshops changed the direction of my life forever. The Wild Weeds workshop I attended was held during Labour weekend of 1988 at the Palm Beach Hall.
At this time of the year, the abundant plant life on the island is coming alive with spring energy, the air perfumed with wild honeysuckle, freesias and the ocean. We travelled to various locations on Waiheke Island, where we were introduced to a variety of native, traditional and wild herbs and plants. We were shown how to harvest them correctly – and it was impressed upon us how important it was to give thanks to the plant for sharing its qualities with us.
We took our “harvest” back to camp, where we learned to make tinctures, ointments, infusions and salads. I felt so enlightened from this experience, I knew how important it was going to be to use this new knowledge of the healing power of plants to improve the well-being of those around me. The other workshop, learning to make natural cosmetics, has given me the resources to create my own moisturizing crèmes and balms ever since, eventually leading me to develop a range of products that I now sell online.
Knowing that our skin basically “eats” anything you put on it, has made me very careful about only using ingredients classed as “food”. Many moisturisers, shampoos, toothpastes, deodorants, etc especially many expensive brands, promise ever more “miracle” ingredients with lists so long and unpronounceable, you need a science degree to read them!
Actually, most of these ingredients are toxic. I am sensitive to chemicals and my skin burns whenever I have used them. In this respect I am fortunate since I am not able to use them and thereby avoid the risks entailed in using toxic products. However it is so important for everyone to avoid synthetic products, in clothes, packaging, plastics, perfumes, dyes, cleaning chemicals and to not buy them, if possible!
Jumping forward a few more years to 2002, and I am now living on Waiheke Island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf with my partner and our three young children. Our home is an eco-friendly house we had built six years ago on a half acre section right above Onetangi beach facing North to the Pacific ocean.
We chose to live on Waiheke because we wanted to use rainwater, create a septic system which would benefit our orchard, and live with less traffic and air pollution. We installed an efficient fireplace attached to our wetback, and a gas stove to reduce our dependence on electricity.
My home contains only home-made herbal cleaning products such as lavender infused vinegar for cleaning the toilets, baking soda for cleaning everywhere else, and natural medicines such as a large collection of homeopathic remedies, essential oils including aniseed for teething and ulcers, and home-made tinctures such as chamomile for helping to calm the children if they get over-tired.
Money is tight, but our garden is full of vegetables and young fruit and nut trees, plus delicious herbs and edible weeds which I make into a healthy “wild weed” spread for my young children which they love eating! My aim has always been to build up their immune systems naturally, as we decided not to vaccinate our children when they were babies after reading about the poisonous ingredients and potential complications that might harm their developing immune systems. (Our boys received some limited vaccinations from the age of 12 years.) Our choice as parents to emphasise a healthy lifestyle and good nutrition worked and they have now all grown into very healthy teenagers and young adults!
Being a home herbalist has been empowering in the knowledge that symptoms of common childhood illnesses can be so successfully alleviated. The treasured handbook which helped me first diagnose and then choose the right remedy if I was unsure was “Healing Your Child” by Francis Darragh and Louise Darragh Law, particularly for homeopathic remedies.
However, my favorites were my own herbal remedies. I used aniseed essential oil for teething, since it was sweet, mild, anaesthetic and very safe, drops of lavender essential oil in the bath and bedrooms for keeping children calm and happy, and drops of arnica oral tincture to alleviate shock after accidents. I also made up a variety of potions for common ailments. I made chamomile tinctures by seeping flowers from my garden in brandy. Just 2 drops would instantly calm the children when they were overtired and help them fall asleep. I made up an ointment made from essential oils of eucalyptus, lavender, rosemary, kanuka, in arnica and olive oils with beeswax and coco-butter which had a wide variety of uses; from helping them to breathe when they had chest colds or congested sinus, to easing bruises, sore muscles or headaches. (I have since named it “Winter balm” and it has become part of Waiheke Herbs skin-care range.)
I was introduced to colloidal silver by a neighbour in 2000, and it has been a useful anti-bacterial/anti-fungal remedy in our medicine cabinet ever since. I soon purchased a colloidal silver generating machine so I could manufacture it myself for home and business use.
To help reduce fevers, I used “Silver Mist” (a spray I developed that includes colloidal silver, aloe vera, witch hazel, and lavender essential oil) for cooling, and gave the children lots of fresh water or herbal teas with a little honey to drink. Fevers are designed by the body to “burn”off the invading germs, so a 24 hr temperature often resulted in the kids being completely better the next day.
I found fevers which went on longer very worrying. I made herbal teas using fumitory and speedwell, but the mixture was so bitter, my son felt even more ill! Red Yarrow was more effective and pleasant to drink. When my daughter was 8yrs old, she contracted a temperature which was still up and down after 2 days, so I took her straight to the doctor. Pneumonia was diagnosed – correctly fortunately! and antibiotics prescribed. For a serious illness like that, conventional drugs were extremely effective, particularly since she had never had antibiotics before. She was much better just hours after her first dose.
Her next dose of antibiotics was at age 18 when she contracted measles whilst travelling overseas. Fortunately she was back in London by the time the infection broke out, and living with caring flatmates close to a doctor, so I wasn’t worried. I told her to drink lots of peppermint tea to help flush the infection out of her system, and she applied my colloidal silver creme with chamomile and geranium which she said really soothed the itching and helped heal the spots – she has no scarring so that worked really well. She was up and about after 6 days, but was pretty fragile for a couple of weeks afterwards.
When my children were still young I made a wild weed spread with olive oil, apple cider vinegar and garlic to aid their health. They enjoyed it so much I made some for a luncheon with girlfriends. They thought that it was delicious and asked for some more because it gave them energy, suggesting I should consider producing it for sale.
I spent the next year observing which herbs grew all year round so I could always source fresh herbs. I tried chickweed (too seedy and seasonal), cleavers (too spiky!) fumitory (too bitter!) Finally, I locked down the recipe with 12 of my favorite traditional and wild herbs including parsley, rosemary, oregano, thyme, sage, nasturtium flowers and leaves (high in sulphur and vitamin C), NZ spinach, dandelion, plantain, and calendula and lavender flowers. I spent all day making a dozen jars to take to the market on Labour Weekend, (a significant weekend!) and sold every jar within an hour, making enough money to buy a few groceries for the week.
And so Waiheke Herb Spread was born. Over the next few years I established large herb gardens from my own cuttings and seeds on a girlfriend’s new lifestyle block on a North facing hillock surrounded by native bush in Onetangi. It is interesting how opportunities come your way when you are on the right path. Nourished by mounds of seaweed from the beach after winter storms, and initially horse manure (which we stopped using because of horse worming medication) the gardens still supply a large portion of herbs for manufacturing. Plantain and dandelion are wild-harvested from a large organic fruit orchard just three minutes drive from our home. We are now making up to 100 litres per week at our own kitchen set up at Rangihoua Estate’s olive oil factory and sending regular orders to most of the organic shops around New Zealand, several boutique food shops and a handful of supermarkets. We also have a few overseas buyers who are interested and we are working towards supplying them.
I hear stories of young children who are allergic to so many foods, but can eat and love our spread. Raw foodists, vegans, those with allergies to nuts, dairy, gluten, as well as those who just eat it because it tastes so delicious and makes them feel good… have all told us that they love our herb spread. My dream of bringing health and a little Waiheke Island herbal magic to people of all backgrounds and ages everywhere has become a reality. And it’s all thanks to herbs.
About the author: Wendy runs Waiheke Herbs on Waiheke Island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf which provides her famous Waiheke Herb spread. She is also the author of the book Wind Driven: Barbara Kendall’s Story. For more information please visit: http://www.waihekeherbs.co.nz/