Medicine Woman- Apothecary, Part Two.

by Lori Dwyer on July 23, 2012 · 7 comments

I find myself, after the herbal healing course I took, fascinated with all matter of weeds and shrub, seeds and greenery.

I begin with things so basic they’re not really medicine at all. Capsules of ground cayenne chilli powder mixed with ginger, to treat viruses and head colds. The same chilli powder in my shoes to keep my feet warm and toasty- my limbs are constantly chilled in the Highlands cold winter.

On the advice of Pat, the herbalist who teaches the course, I fill a small Tupperware container with Epsom salts and just enough water to cover them. I label it and place it high on a shelf in our storage cupboard. A week later when I scald my arm with boiling water while filling hot water bottles to take the first chill off my children’s bed sheets; I remember it’s there. I soak a clean cloth in the Epsom salts then wrap it over the red, thumping welt on my forearm.

Herbs drying on the TinyTrainHouse front porch.

The salts dry and crystallize, leaving a fine white powder on my skin. But the relief is immediate, and the long term effects astound me– within an hour, there is no mark, no pain, no evidence of a burn at all. Burning human flesh removes the magnesium from it– Epsom salts, almost totally magnesium themselves, replace it.

I make my first batch of tinctures and elixirs and hand them over to the few friends who have agreed to act as ‘tested on humans’ guinea pigs for me. There’s a reluctance as I hand them over, labelled with usage and dose; a lack of belief in a medicine that doesn’t come subsidized, mass produced and squashed into tiny pills. And so I surprise myself all the more when I discover they do work. Two weeks of steeping calendula blooms in alcohol, doused in the bright sunlight that comes through my kitchen window, and their healing properties had been transferred to this liquid.

A few weeks ago now, I happened to be in a piercing salon to get my eyebrow bar downsized and, being the highly suggestible type of person I am, I walked out with two new dermal anchor peircings on the left side of my chest, to match the ones I already have on the right. Long story, short; it was a case of a model that didn’t show up, two trainee piercers with no one to practice on, and an offer of very cheap piercings. It doesn’t take much to make me say ‘yes’.

Fast forward to a week or so ago, and one of those piercings had popped from the skin and was rapidly becoming infected. If you’ve watched this vlog you’ll know why I was reluctant to have a GP scalpel it out, and finding a piercer to do it is difficult in this age of rampant litigation. On finding one available it’s a five day wait to have someone cut out a small diamanté, anchored into my body by my own skin, and charge me fifty bucks for the privilege.

In slight desperation I begin applying the calendula, half strength with filtered water, straight onto the piercing. Within hours it has that tell-tale deep itch that I recognize from so many self inflicted body decorations. It’s the healthy, deep, maddening itch of soft tissue healing.

Morning and night I clean the piercing– and it’s rapidly swelling twin– cover it with fresh band aids (Wiggles bandaids, of course, are the only ones I have in the house). I take four drops of the tincture orally, undiluted, morning and night.

After two days I remove the dressing and it’s covered in murky drying puss. I touch the still slightly swollen skin and more bile yellow liquid oozes out.

After four days the piercing has popped back into the hole in my flesh, originally created by a biopsy cone, from whence it came. My skin is still tender, but the infection, redness and swelling have disappeared almost completely.

I cancel my appointment. And I’m hooked. I’m a believer.

My windowsill becomes lined with glass jars of all shapes and sizes, holding all variety of herb and weed. Clivers, prickly lettuce, yellow dock stem and root, lemon and lavender suspended in base oils. In the foothills of Ophir I spot a sprawling, wide leaved plant I’m sure I recognize from my herb books, and filling a bag with it pays off. I boil the horehound with sugar and water and the result is a horrid looking, foul tasting concoction. After adding liberal peppermint essence and respiratory tinctures such as plantain and wood sorrel I test it on myself, full strength, and again it works. I’ve made my own natural cough syrup.

I love learning new things. I love when something piques your interest enough that you stay up that extra half an hour to Google it, or spend that twenty dollars you can’t really afford on supplies for the next part of your project. Feeling my brain stretch and freshen it’s cells in order to accommodate new information takes the stale crispness off life. I’m always enchanted by the complex synapses of my own mind when I realize I have learnt things without effort, simply absorbing facts as I go. I can spot a dock plant from twenty paces, identify thorn apple bushes in the middle of roundabouts as I’m driving past and see the patch-worked brown waves of foliage on local farmlands as the noxious, all consuming blackberry bushes they are.

And in the same way, the knowledge of what each plant does and which parts– root, stem, leaves, bark or seeds– are used seems to be settling into my mind innately, too. The two texts I bought are muddied, missing pages and dog eared after only a few months, and I’m sick of flicking from index to page and back again; so I decide to write my own, in a notebook in long hand, and it’s soothing and feels different when I spend so much of my time typing on my flat iPad keyboard.

Spot the hippy- Lori, harvesting.

Despite how well they work, there’s that obvious reluctance in myself and my human guinea pigs to place too much trust any potion I cook or steep or to even expect it to work. It’s certainly not personal– in fact, I see it as a fantastic leap of trust that my friends would ingest anything I make, considering my cooking– there’s just that overwhelming, deeply ingrained notion that fifty years of powerful pharmaceutical propaganda have left us with- if it’s not mass–produced and pressed into a tiny pill, it will certainly be, at best, ineffective and, at worst, quite dangerous.

I’m proving that concept wrong with every lotion and potion I produce that seems to work like a magic spell and costs next to nothing, harvested and cooked by my own hand. It’s a pleasant, peaceful feeling– the search, the harvest, drying, chopping, steeping and boiling. It feels like a connection to a generation of women that’s been lost– witches and healers, apothecarers and midwives. Medicine women.

Non-believers, scoff and roll your eyes all you like.

In the event of some kind of holocaust, I assure you I’ll be the first person you come looking for in the aftermath.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristina July 26, 2012 at 4:51 am

Awesome post… it makes me wonder if I could do the same. Though I share the cynicism of disbelief you mention, I have an ingrained mistrust of modern medicine, as well. I'm not sure what in the way of healing plants Alaska, USA might have but your success tempts me to find out.

For a person who has neither cooking skills nor even basic knowledge of plants, it could be quite the (mis)adventure.


Mrs BC July 24, 2012 at 7:07 pm

This post is so inspiring, I'm off to search for local classes to reaquaint myself with herbology. I used to love it but life got in the way.. Lori, you are a witch on a path of learning, writing a book of shadows as you go. All power to you!


Julia July 23, 2012 at 9:38 pm

Becoming a healer of wounds …. Very profound! By the way I love the word 'tincture' it's perfect


Jen D July 23, 2012 at 9:54 am

I think your new skill set is awesome. I've always had a yen to try it myself but have been super intimidated. That pharmaceutical propaganda HAS been ridiculously effective; all the ingrained fear does not go quietly. Good for you for breaking free.


Shannon July 23, 2012 at 9:49 am

All sounds so good and interesting.I would love to do a course like that!
Glad to hear it is all working so well for you.

I had a similiar experience with natural therapies when I had a god-awful case of strep throat.I tried everything to make it better-antibiotics,novocain etc etc when in desperation I was googling a remedy and came across uropathy.I was in that much pain I gave it a go,gargling every .5 hr and by the next day I was cured.This was after not even being able to swallow hrs earlier because of the pain and swelling caused by the humungous ulcers covering my throat.

Haven't done it since but it was stunning to think there are natural cures surrounding us that have no side effects and are free or really cheap.


iSophie July 23, 2012 at 9:36 am

Wow, I had no idea, not even about epsom salts. I had to smile at the hot water bottle filling, I do this every night for 3 of my boys. I have had many close calls, but have so far been lucky.


Spagsy July 23, 2012 at 8:42 am

I am quite impressed. Information about what it is and what to do with it, is lost on me. My mum on the other hand, looked at the "weeds" in my back yard and pointed out all the plants that were edible – and for the life of me, i can't recognise them anymore…

you have a gift – keep nurturing that gift…. and i have to ask – which notebook.



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