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La Coumeille
wild and herby in the south of france
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  • While in the town today I picked up plenty of conkers in the park from the beautiful horse chestnut trees. When I was a child in England every autumn there would be a scramble to get the best ones for conker fights in the school playground, but here in France kids don’t play. Known as Marron d’Inde, it’sa much used herbal remedy for strengthening blood vessel walls, treating varicose veins, improving chronic veinous disease and oedema. Packed with anti-inflammatory and vaso-protective aescin, French athletes massage with horse chestnut to prevent sprains before competing. If like me you suffer from heavy, tired legs and poor circulation, gather yourself around 20 conkers (away from road pollution) and give them a good bashing. Put them in a large heatproof jar and pour over enough oil to cover them. I use 2 parts organic sunflower oil to 1 part organic olive oil. Using a double boiler or bain-marie, heat infuse them for 2 hours. I prefer to use my slow cooker on the lowest setting and leave them all day. After infusing, strain the oil through muslin and a give them a good squeeze. Put into a sterilised bottle and use for a daily leg massage. Your legs will thank you.

    This afternoon we climbed up the hill called La Coumeille to gather wild rosemary and spike lavender. Nourished by a summer of heat and thunderstorms the plants are strong, pure and clean and the volatile oils in them intense and aromatic. I will make Four Thieves herbal blend and tea with them, as well as a tincture for kicking winter sluggishness and heaviness into touch.

    My boy is getting bigger and more rascally every day. He must be eating his own bodyweight in sorrel, dandelion and clover. He loves a little sage in the mix too.

    Making mouthwash. I’m making this for a sufferer of recurring gingivitis that won’t clear up, despite antibiotics. I’m working with sage/sauge, mint/menthe and the roots of wood avens/benoîte. Sage is antibacterial, antiseptic and antimicrobial, the mint is also antiseptic and analgesic, helping make it more palatable. The benoîte/wood avens root is a traditional french plant for mouth problems, often used to treat mouth infections,  ulcers, abscesses and swellings. It’s astringent action reduces swelling and helps close the gap between the gums and teeth. It has a taste a little like cloves. I’m making both a strong decoction and a tincture form and adding a little Camargue salt to the mouthwash to act as a disinfectant.

    I’ve no idea how this Verbena bonariensis ended up in my garden; I’ve planted Verbena officinalis and Aloysia citrodora (lemon verbena/verveine) but I suppose this one’s seed was blown in by the wind or by a bird. I’m not sure if it has the same medicinal benefits of other verbenas, but it is hugely attractive to the bees and butterflies anyway.


    The pods of Nigella sativa, sometimes called “black cumin” or “onion seed.”

    Though gorgeous while in bloom, this flower is primarily grown for its flavourful seeds.

    You may have encountered these seeds in cuisine before if you’ve ever eaten Armenian string cheese, Peshawari naan, or majdouli.

    Barring that, after popping a few in my mouth today, I would say the flavour is remarkably akin to the way a grape Mr. Sketch marker smells, minus the sweetness. Weird, but also tasty.

    Many thanks to lacoumeille for the seeds that spawned this crop!

    Find seeds: USA / Canada / UK & Europe

    Photo 1: k yamada

    Yesterday my (very) old dog Arthur pulled a muscle in his front leg. As he has hind leg weakness anyway, hobbling on 1 good leg was difficult and painful for him. He doesn’t have much muscle left on his old bones and I felt the strain of a painkiller on his organs would be too much. I settled him down on a comfy cushion, gave him some St john’s Wort tincture for the pain and wrapped a warm plantain and lavender flower poultice around the swollen joint. He calmed down and drifted off, and by this morning he’s back to his normal self!

    St John’s Wort tincture is quite safe to use on dogs. It soothes frayed nerves and anxiety and helps them cope with pain. Dosage is around 12 drops to every 10kg bodyweight, twice daily.

    Massage oil made from St John’s Wort (Hypericum Peforatum) flowering tops from the French Pyrénées, nourished by pure, clear rivers and clean mountain air, solar infused in grapeseed oil.
    St John’s Wort when used externally soothes burns, including sunburn. It also eases all kinds of nerve related pain; neuralgia, sciatica and local injury. It can also be used for pulls, sprains, muscle damage and bruises, relieving migraine or period pain with gentle massage. 
    Grapeseed oil is a lovely light oil, easily absorbed by the skin and leaving no greasy residue, suitable for all skin types. 
    St John’s Wort can cause photosensitivity. Do not apply before going into the sun. 

    For external use only


    Yesterday we had a picnic in a beautiful olive grove, one of our favourite spots! I bought back some olive leaves and today started a tincture with half white rum and half glycerin. I used white rum instead of my usual amber rum as I’m interested to see what colour the menstruum becomes. I also made it a glycerin mix as it is intended for treating my animals. Olive leaf is fantastic for their immune systems, boosting their resistance to both fleas and internal parasites. It also has anti bacterial and anti inflammatory properties, so will be really useful when they are feeling under the weather.

    I have a new bunny! Can you imagine why no-one wanted him? But he was all alone and now he’s happy and loved, living with our 2 dogs, 2 guinea pigs, cat and rat.

    His name, appropriately, is Basil :)

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