Australian Apothecary, Part One

by Lori Dwyer on June 6, 2012 · 15 comments

As part of my ongoing quest to save the planet– or at least sustainify my own little patch of backyard– and become a bit more hippy and in tune with the earth, I went along to a herbal first aid course last weekend. (And thanks to Spinkles who MMSed the cut out from local paper).

I was expecting lavender, cannabis, thyme and camomile. And there was a little bit of that. But the email I got two days beforehand was a bit more descriptive than the ad had been– read ’herbal’ to mean ’weeds’.

Which, quite frankly, is even better– much less of a financial investment (not to mention a chicken security problem).

The course, held at the local community nursery (which I never even knew existed), was six hours and seventy bucks of awesome.

The woman teaching was fifty years old if she was a day, but the essence of glowing good health– she seemed to radiate sturdiness and sunshine. Perfect skin without a wrinkle or a smudge of make up, hair allowed to grey gracefully and cropped short to be maintained with ease. Her name was Pat, of course, because Nancy or Sarah or Rhonda or even Elizabeth wouldn’t suit her (but if she was one of the latter, she’d be a Beth, without doubt).

And she speaks with passion. Speak with passion about anything, I don’t care what it is, and I’m yours– I will sit, enthralled for hours, and when I release my fascination it’s with a ghost of yours still intact, and I’m lost in a half dream of your world for days.


Pat speaks of plants most people regard with distaste as if they were good friends– clover, dandelion, thistle and nettle are all raised from the caste of lowly weed to foodstuff, medicine, crop and harvest. Someone inquires as to what we should plant to begin our own native and natural apothecary patch, and she seems confused by the question. She views her garden differently to what most people do– my mind print involving rows and sections and order, immaculate shrubbery tagged each with their name; it would be totally lost on her, and she would see far too much effort in restraining something that doesn’t need to be kept in check.

”You don’t need to plant anything at all”, says Pat, seeming to remember how differently most in the course see greenery to her, “your garden is probably already growing you everything you need… anything else can be picked from somewhere.

And she’s right– the basic herbs I need are, if not already in my lush green backyard, then sprouting proficiently in someone else’s.

I pick petty surge and native violet leaves from underneath my clothesline, and spot fat hen and chickweed growing in my neglected winter veggie patch– I’m tempted to fence them before Ethel and Lucy take feast, but, remembering it’s just beginning of winter and I’m soon to have two cold, hungry hens; I leave them be. I intrude into my grandmother’s beautiful cottage garden beds to find oxalis, seeded stinking roger and a stubborn mallow she has been weeding from amongst her geraniums for years, roots and all. My mum and stepfather’s farm has ample amounts of lantana since the last bushfire, veritable fields of tiny butter colored St Johns Wort, and like most farms, a riotous amount of spiky, thick blackberry bush. On the drive home through the local industrial area, I spot an unkempt factory frontage teeming with just–opened, bright yellow calendula; and I take home half a kilo, some to dry, some to steep in alcohol for an all–purpose, antibacterial tincture.

Pat discusses with us concepts that sing to the hippy in my heart– making do with what’s already there, allowing the earth to have it’s way with it’s own. We discuss farmers who plant apple trees in blackberry crops so their cows will act as groundsmen, the overuse of convenient mass produced medicines and the loss of traditional healing methods. I learn that so many of the weeds I’ve been helping my gran dismember since childhood, from dandelions to plantain, are useful for everything from anxiety to fevers to lip balm to salads and tea.

Calendula, tincturing in alcohol

I’m taught how to brew oils, elixirs and tinctures; make creams and ointments and fill capsules with ground ginger, garlic and slippery elm. The first aid kid we create contains dozens of tiny containers holding things such as Epsom salts to be mixed with water to treat burns and charcoal in capsules to treat food poisoning. I learn the simple magic of a poultice and that hypericum actually numbs nerve endings for a period of hours.

Something called ‘allostatic stress’ is discussed in detail, the herbs used to assist it’s alleviation produced. The symptoms are listed– fatigue, anxiety, exhaustion– I feel my muscles grow heavier. “Of course you’re not stressed”, says our healer teacher, speaking of the patients she treats at her clinic, “your body has adjusted to it. But the levels just keep building up.”

There’s no test, as such, for allostatic stress, which makes little difference to me, but I’m slightly distressed to hear the outright dismissal of psychiatric medication for the same reason. There’s no mention in the books I bring home– a weed identity book, and one filled with recipes for blends and brews– of ‘allergies’ or ‘welts’, and it takes me a moment to figure out why. Your skin is your third kidney, they say, and some people believe those conditions come from within, caused by emotional stress, overexposure or a build up nasty stuff in the bloodstream or the mind.

Again, I’m just not sure… but the memory of both my children suddenly developing a ridiculously inflammatory skin allergy to mosquito bites within a month or two of their father dying scuffs it’s foot guiltily at the edges of my mind.

I love all these natural medicine ideals, and you can scoff all you like– I’ve found as amber necklace as effective as Panadol for teething, a neti pot
and ivy leaf extract better than pseudoephedrine for clogged sinuses (and now I’ve discovered the wonders of ink plant root as well), and I try not to mess with my body’s natural rhythm (lest I become a deranged axe murderer).

The thought of urban exploring takes on the element of a harvest as well. My mundane view seems to have shifted again– the corridors of TinyTrainTown are filled with medicines and beauty products amongst the scrubland.

(Fill my mind with things, as many as I can, so there’s no room for thinking, no space for being lonely at all…)


As I know, well and truly– hobbies, interest, endeavors– they can be literal salvation from torture. A reader of mine named Sarah had her life struck by tragedy not long ago, and she’s found a way to keep the core of herself in tact, too. Where I blog, she takes amazing photos.

Sarah’s in the running for a $5000 small business grant. If you could help her out by voting– one click, I promise– both she and I would much appreciate it.

Cheers, jellybeans. Catch you tomorrow.

post signature

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Lori @ RRSAHM June 10, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Hi Anon, There sure were- a healing cream and one called a wild weed ointment- my friend was using the healing cream last night on hers and says it was wonderful- it contains the hypericum oil which numbs the nerves endings temporarily as well as the various healing agents. You can buy them from THE Centre- everything we made it for sale there. I hope you find something- I can only imagine how irritating and painful it must be xxx


Anonymous June 10, 2012 at 7:10 pm

Lori were there any remedies for psoriasis?


Stinky June 8, 2012 at 9:12 am

ooooh this is right up my street, I love this stuff (but don't really use it) there's so much knowledge of plants thats been/being lost.
We met a guy who does bush survival (sounds rudey?) and showed us about plantain, how to use kawakawa leaves on bites, and a few other things I have forgotten. Rapt.

Did your tutor mention urban foraging by name? Probably. If not, I found a kind of google map for this area for where people had recorded where you could find naturally growing things to take – apples, damsons, elderflower, that kinda thing. Just had a quick look with no success – I don't know where TTT actually is so kinda moot! Take a gander though, if you're interested, TOTALLY fits in with your urbanny exploring


Sarah June 8, 2012 at 1:20 am

Thank you so much for the votes :) I appreciate it more than you know :) Thank you


Mich June 7, 2012 at 6:09 pm

my mum is a lot like you, we used to have herbs growing everywhere like Aloe vera, marigolds and comfrey to cook up and make ointments with. She used to make one ointment with all 3 herbs in it that was good for everything and basically a cure all for cute, bruises, burns etc.


Lori @ RRSAHM June 7, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Hey everyone- the course was run by Pat from THE Centre- you can check out her site here..


Anonymous June 7, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Where was that course at Lori? Am most interested. Thanx x


A Mom’s reviews June 7, 2012 at 1:37 am

That course sounds awesome! Of course the world grows all sorts of natural remedies, God made us everything we need, it was all just forgotten along the way.


Claire June 6, 2012 at 11:25 pm

That sounds awesome, and most instructional. I love listening to people like Pat talking!

I have voted for Sarah too.


Melissa June 6, 2012 at 10:28 pm



Miss Pink June 6, 2012 at 9:11 pm

I am a huge believer in natural healing. Your body can and will fight most things on your own, and if not then you can get help from a lot of things that you can grow. Like vitamin C from an orange…Much better to take what you can right from the source than some little pill.
But you can't fix everything this way…I'm glad for our advances medically, but I do think far too many people rely on a pescription. "Just pop a pill" mentality.
If I had a pill to help inside my head that worked, I wouldn't give it up. Simple. Mental health is very real. Maybe just because of our times, but it's still real.


Tez June 6, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Great info for natural healing. However, I wouldn't give up my mental health medication for quids – keeps me alive.

Voted for Sarah too. Seems I can vote once a day until the deadline – so I will :-)

You also get my vote for being a great blogger :-)


Sarah June 6, 2012 at 11:54 am

Great post! Thank you for adding me :) And thank you so much for voting, Jen.


Jen D June 6, 2012 at 8:42 am

Oh, and I just voted for Sarah. :)


Jen D June 6, 2012 at 8:41 am

I'd love to take a course like that! Most medicines just mask the symptoms, not heal them, so if a natural and safe alternative is available to do the same damn thing, why the hell buy the stuff in the store?!

I do feel differently about medications for more serious ailments, physical OR mental. Those medications were invented for a reason. But I am so glad we have options.


Previous post:

Next post: