Healing treasure trove

ANCIENT ARTS: For centuries, the healing properties of plants have been used to treat a wide range of illnesses and injuries.

ANCIENT ARTS: For centuries, the healing properties of plants have been used to treat a wide range of illnesses and injuries.

It wasn't that long ago that when someone fell ill the only source of help was from the medicinal herb garden.

Our great grandparents were familiar with the benefits of plants, but sadly, much of this lore has been lost, yet many modern drugs have been derived from these medicinal herb gardens.

With very little effort, your garden can become a treasure trove of natural, inexpensive remedies used for most minor ailments and first aid situations. Include plants such as aloe vera, calendula (pot marigold), sage, lemon balm, thyme, feverfew, peppermint, yarrow, Echinacea, German chamomile, lavender, rosemary, parsley and spearmint.

These herbs are by no means the only ones, but they will give you an excellent start.

Aloe vera, for instance, can be used to treat burns, scalds, sunburn and minor cuts, because its oil rapidly penetrates the skin carrying nutrients deep into the epidermis where they are needed.

Its volatile oil contains allantoin, minerals, vitamins A, B1, B2, C, E and K, and 18 amino acids, all of which give the aloe its unique healing properties.

To use, break off a lower leaf, slice it in half lengthways, squeeze out the gel, apply it to the affected area of skin and allow to dry.

Cuts and scratches should be thoroughly cleaned before applying aloe vera gel.

Calendula is by far one of the finest remedies for scratches, grazes, cuts and all open wounds and is easily made into a healing ointment which is a natural antiseptic. Immediately it is applied the healing process begins and it can also be used as a healing balm for insect bites.

To make calendula ointment, put four tablespoons of dried petals or one handful of fresh petals and 100mls of an odourless vegetable oil in an enamel or stainless steel saucepan, bring to the boil, then simmer for ten minutes.

Remove the herbal oil from the heat and strain out the flower petals. In a double saucepan, melt 5g of beeswax and 10g of anhydrous lanolin (wool fat) over a medium heat until completely liquid, then add 70mls of the warm herbal oil, 5mls of wheat germ oil, 20mls of distilled water, and 20mls of aloe vera juice.

Stir until well blended, then remove from the stove and add six drops of tincture of benzoin (friars' balsam), which is available from most chemists. Beat with a wooden spoon or electric mixer until cool and of a creamy texture. Store in a tightly capped, sterilised glass jar until needed.

Lemon balm has antibacterial properties, and a handful of fresh leaves rubbed onto an insect bite will help remove the irritation.

Peppermint as a tea, drunk with a slice of lemon and honey is excellent for nagging headaches while equal parts of peppermint, elder flower and yarrow are a time-tested cold remedy.

A well-established herb garden is not only a wonderful source of natural remedies, but a great starting point to learn more about the healing properties of plants.