Use Your Dandelions

Dandelions are rich in minerals, especially potassium, and vitamins including A, B, C and D, but people have largely forgotten them as a food source.  Up until the 1800s Americans pulled up grass from their yards to plant dandelions, while before the First World War dandelion was grown as a commercial crop in Britain.  In Britain the roots were lifted from two-year-old plants to make dandelion coffee.  The roasted and ground roots were sold for two shillings per pound.  However, when food is scarce, people remember and during the Second World War the British radio doctor Charles Hill recommended dandelion leaves as a food.

The leaves can be eaten fresh in salads, boiled like spinach, or made into a tea.  You can pop a dandelion leaf into a sandwich.  Pick the young leaves in early spring for eating (the older ones get bitter), before the plant has flowered.  For a more delicate flavour, you can blanch the plant in a similar way to endives.  Put a flowerpot over the plant during the winter.  

The root can be boiled as a vegetable or added raw to salads.  The root may be roasted and ground as a substitute for coffee.  Gather the roots during the autumn.

The flowers can be eaten raw or used to decorate salads, and taste slightly sweet, or try dipping them in batter and deep frying them.  Macerated Dandelion Flower Oil can be used in salad dressings.  Dandelion Vinegar can be used as a salad dressing.  Dandelion Honey is a vegan alternative to honey.

Dandelions can be added to tonic beers and wines, which aid digestion.

Dandelions are great for the skin as they are rich in antioxidants, and vitamins A, C and E.  They have anti-aging properties, are anti-inflammatory, help prevent free radical damage, reduce fine lines and the appearance of scars, as well as encouraging healthy skin cell production, evening out skin tone, and stimulating circulation.  Furthermore, they can have a protective effect against sun damage and improve skin hydration.  Do you still want to weed out your dandelions?

Macerated Dandelion Flower Oil can aid dry skin and is especially good for the delicate skin around the eyes.  You can also use the oil in the preparation of your homemade skin care products.

Make a dandelion infusion and use as a face wash for the treatment of large pores, age spots, blemishes, sunburn and chapped skin. 

Dandelions are also good for the hair.  Rich in vitamins and minerals, they can stimulate root growth.  Use dandelion infusion as a hair rinse, or dilute Dandelion Vinegar half and half with water as a hair rinse, or massage dandelion tincture into your scalp. 

Every part of the dandelion can be used medicinally, and it has been described as a self-contained pharmacy.  [1] Dandelion is a good all round health tonic, rich in vitamins A, B, C, D, and minerals including potassium and calcium, sesquiterpene lactones, triterpenes, coumarins, caratonoids, taraxacoside and phenolic acids.

The bitter nature of dandelion leaves aids digestion by stimulating the secretion of digestive fluids and promoting the appetite. 

Dandelion root is a powerful detoxifying herb, encouraging the elimination of toxins due to infection and pollution, including hangovers, by working on the liver and gall bladder to remove waste products, plus stimulating the kidneys to remove toxins in urine.  This is useful in many conditions including constipation, acne, eczema, psoriasis, boils, arthritic conditions including gout.  It is a safe liver herb and stimulates bile production, and is used in the treatment of jaundice, hepatitis, gallstones and urinary tract infections. 

Dandelions are diuretic and can be used to treat swollen ankles and fluid retention, but without the consequent loss of potassium of orthodox drugs.  Use dandelion tea.

For rheumatism and arthritis take Dandelion Leaf Tea or Dandelion Coffee to help the joints and the removal of acid deposits.  Macerated Dandelion Flower Oil can ease muscle tension and stiff joints when rubbed into the affected parts. 

Macerated Dandelion Flower Oil applied to the skin helps reduce inflammation and irritation, and may help soothe eczema, psoriasis, acne and skin rashes.

In folk medicine the white latex sap within the flower stem has been used to treat warts and pimples, simply by breaking the stem and dabbing it on the affected area.   

A few dandelion flowers can be eaten raw and may cure a headache.  [2]


Dandelion is considered safe in food amounts and safe for most people in medicinal quantities.  However, medicinal amounts are best avoided during pregnancy or breastfeeding to be on the safe side.  If you are allergic to ragweed, daisies, chrysanthemums or marigolds, you should avoid using dandelion or use with caution.  Some people find that they have a reaction to the white latex found in dandelion stems.  Dandelion may decrease the efficacy of some antibiotics, so check with your healthcare provider.  Do not take if you are on lithium or taking other diuretics.  Dandelion root should not be used by individuals with gallstones, gallbladder complaints, obstructed bile ducts, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), gastritis, or ulcers.  Dandelions slightly lower blood sugar, so diabetics should carefully monitor levels.  Do not use medicinal amounts if you are already taking prescription diuretics. 

[1] Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal, Hedgerow Medicine, Merlin Unwin Books, Ludlow, 2008

[2] Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal, Hedgerow Medicine, Merlin Unwin Books, Ludlow, 2008


Dandelion Lore

If you’ve ever tried to eliminate dandelions from your garden or lawn, you will know it is almost impossible.  Leave behind the tiniest bit of root and it will regrow, while the fluffy seeds float freely on the wind and spread the plant everywhere.  But wait. Every part of the dandelion is useful, a gift of free food, wine and beer, dye, cosmetics, magic and a whole pharmacy within itself, available most of the year, and sacred to the Goddess.  Truly a gift from the Gods!

The tenacious dandelion is a hardy perennial plant, probably native to China and Asia, but now spread throughout the world, commonly found in gardens, pastures, lawns, meadows, waste ground and on roadsides.  It has a fleshy root and a hollow stem which contain a milky white juice.  The leaves are lance shaped and form a rosette at the stem base.  The bright yellow flowers bloom from late spring to early autumn and are followed by the fluffy seed heads.  It is an important food source for wildlife, the flowers contain a good supply of nectar, attracting many insects, especially bees.   Small birds eat the seeds, while rabbits and pigs love the leaves.  

The common name comes from the French Dent de Lion or ‘lion’s tooth’, which seems a little strange, and is generally said to refer to the shape of the leaves.  However, the lion is an ancient symbol of the sun, and the rayed golden flowers resemble little suns, so the name is possibly a corruption of ‘rays of the sun’.  [1]

The dandelion is one of the three emblems of the goddess Brighid/Bride, who was Christianised as St Brigit (the others being the lamb and the oyster-catcher bird).  [2] In Uist, it is called bearnan Bride (‘the little notched flower of Bride’), while other Gaelic names translate as ‘little flower of God’ and ‘St Bride’s forerunner’.  Like the dandelion, Brighid is associated with the coming of spring at Imbolc (1 February), her festival, and the increase of the sun; she wears it at her breast, and the sun is said to follow.  [3]  People would go to wells dedicated to her to watch the sun dance at the vernal equinox, and later, Easter.  A further association comes from the ‘milk’ that can be expressed with the stems.  Like other ‘milk’ yielding plants, they are associated with Brighid as patroness of flocks and herbs.  A common belief was that the dandelion ‘milk’ nourished young lambs in spring. 

It has been used in medicine and folk remedies since ancient times for a variety of ailments.   The name of the genus, Taraxacum, is derived from the Greek taraxos (disorder), and akos (remedy), an allusion to the use of the plant as a remedy.  Dandelion root was said to cure any disease, but you had to dig out the whole root and not leave any behind – the devil will try to nip a bit off, which makes the cure useless.  [4] In Warwickshire folk medicine it was said to be good for the blood, was recommended in the Highlands of Scotland as a tonic, and in America and as blood purifier.   Dandelion was used by Arab physicians in the eleventh and twelfth centuries as a general curative. 

It is known as a diuretic (urine promotor), hence many of its folk names – stink davie, wet-a-bed, mess-a-bed, pissimire, pittle bed and wet-weed.  Indeed, its English folk name of piss-a-bed is echoed in the French pissenlit and the German pissblume.  In counter-magic, children in the Fens (eastern England) would be given the flowers to smell on May Day, which was said to stop them wetting the bed for twelve months. 

It is a plant with a great deal of folklore attached to it, and many of its folk names call it a clock – clocks and watches, blowball, peasant’s clock, doon-head-clock, fortune teller, one o’clocks, clocks, fairy clocks, farmer’s clocks, schoolboy’s clocks, shepherd’s clock, tell-time, time flower, time-teller or twelve o’clock.  The spherical seed heads can be blown for temporal divinations of all kinds.   You can find out how long you have left to live by blowing once on a dandelion seed head; the number of seeds left correspond to the number of years you have left.  Or blow on the seed head to tell you how many years will pass before you get married, or how many children you will have. 

In Somerset it was called ‘the weather clock’ since when the seed head is fluffy, it means fine weather, but when it is limp, it indicates rain.  [5] The flowers themselves close before rain and before dew fall.  The blooms are very sensitive to weather conditions: in fine weather, all the parts are outstretched, but directly rain threatens the whole head closes up at once.

In France, girls put a dandelion leaf beneath their pillow to dream of their future husband.  [6] to dream of dandelions is unlucky, however.  To dream of a dandelion is bad luck or indicates tough times ahead.

[1] Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal, Hedgerow Medicine, Merlin Unwin Books, Ludlow, 2008

[2] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

[3] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

[4] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

[5] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

[6] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

Gardening & the Environment

If you have been gardening for a couple of decades or more, you will have noticed that the climate is changing.  Shifting weather patterns can bring increased rain or increasing levels of drought, and higher or lower temperatures for the season.  In the future, we may not be able to grow the things we do now.  Soon, many native plants may no longer be able to survive in their historic ranges, and the wildlife they support will be decimated.  However, your garden can have a big impact on your local environment and can help protect local wildlife.  No matter how big or small, your garden:

Improves Air Quality

Plants take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through their leaves and expel oxygen, as well as helping to remove toxins from the air.  Your plants will help the local atmosphere.

De-toxifies the Ground

Plants also absorb through their roots, including chemicals and heavy metals in the soil and groundwater, gradually converting it into healthier ground.  Naturally, this is not good for the particular plant, but a sick plant can alert you to soil problems. 

Carbon Capture

Trees can absorb and store carbon pollution from the atmosphere.  If every one of America’s 85 million gardening households planted just one tree in their backyards those trees would absorb more than 2 million tons of CO2 each year.  [1]

Natural Shade

Shade trees planted near your home can reduce energy used for cooling in the summer.

Reduces Your Carbon Footprint

Growing some of your own food will reduce your carbon footprint – fewer trips to the shops, no food-miles, less waste.

Prevents Soils Erosion

Plant roots bind soils together, making them less likely to wash away. 

Replenishes Nutrients in the Soil

Topsoil is created by organic materials, such as leaves, that fall from plants.  Decaying organic material provides nutrients, and some plants fix nutrients into the ground. 

Helps to Reduce Noise Pollution

Vegetation absorbs sound, so hedges, trees and shrubbery reduce noise pollution. 

Helps Wildlife

The more plants and trees you have in the garden, the more you will be encouraging the local wildlife, especially if you include native plants.  Birds, insects and other animals need them to survive.  If you live in a built-up area, providing natural spaces for insects, birds and small mammals is vitally important. 


While almost every garden helps the environment, you can do even more:

Plant Native Species

Including native plants in your garden help to maintain important pollinator connections and ensure food sources for wildlife.  You can plant shrubs with berries for birds, plus bee and butterfly friendly plants.

Rewild Part of Your Garden

This means giving part of your garden back to nature, and letting nature do its thing – including letting the native ‘weeds’ (I call them wildflowers) grow, which provide food for the local insects.  Remove any non-native plants from this area.  Increasingly, over time, it will become a complex ecosystem. 

If you can’t do this, avoid large, paved areas and artificial grass.

Create a Wildlife Pond

A garden pond, whether large or small, can be a haven for wildlife, and the wildlife will find it pretty quickly.  It is vital habitat for wetland creatures such as frogs and dragonflies, and great for many species of insects, birds and mammals.  Remember to make one side shallow, so that frogs and small mammals can climb out.  Have some shade over part of the pond to reduce algae growth, but part should be in full sun.  Fill it with rainwater if you can, but if tap water must be used, be sure to let it naturalise for at least a week before adding any forms of life, including plants.

Build Insect Hotels

Insects pollinate your plants, aerate the soil and provide food for birds.  The beneficial insects in your garden need somewhere to hibernate for the winter, so why not make them their own five-star bug hotel? It is best to do this in the early autumn, when there is plenty of suitable material available, such as dry leaves, twigs, hollow stems, dead grass, pinecones and bits of bark, and it will give the insects time to settle into their new home before the cold comes.   There are some great ideas online for making bug hotels, and kids will love to get involved.  Otherwise, you can simply make a log pile in a shady area for centipedes, woodlice and beetles or a pile of pinecones and leaves is good for ladybirds and lacewings. 

Have Holes in Your Boundary Walls

It is important for wildlife to be able to move around from one place to another.  A hedgehog, for example, can travel up to a mile in a single night, looking for food.  One of the reasons for declining populations is the high, solid fences that some people have around their gardens.  You can help by putting small holes in the bottom of your fences (as long as your neighbour agrees). 

Reconsider Your Garden Lighting

The blue and white toned lighting often used in gardens is one of the major factors in biodiversity collapse as it confuses insects.  Leave areas of your garden in darkness, and don’t use your lights all the time.  You can buy red-tone lights that don’t affect insects as much.  Try to use energy efficient products in your garden; replace energy hungry outdoor bulbs with LEDs, or better still, use solar lighting. 

Reduce the Use of Power Tools

Avoid using power tools as much as you can.  Using a gasoline-powered mower for an hour pollutes 10 to 12 times more than the average car.  [2] If you can, switch to hand tools and push-lawnmowers.  The air from leaf blowers kills small creatures, and I would urge you not to use them at all.

Install a Rain Barrel

Install a rain barrel to collect free rainwater, and your plants will like this much better than tap water.  You can prevent water loss from your plants by mulching around them. 

Make a Compost Heap

Building a compost heap (or using a purchased compost bin) is a wonderful way to reduce your impact on the environment and create a great free source of nutrients for your garden.  You can add virtually all food waste and organic matter to your compost bin – fruit and vegetable peelings, leftovers, twigs, leaves, non-seeding weeds, eggshells, card egg boxes, cardboard, tea bags (if they don’t contain plastic), coffee grounds and even your old wool jumpers.  I also add the sawdust bedding and poo cleaned out from my chickens to mine.  You will need to add something to ‘activate’ your compost (i.e., get everything working) and for this you will need to add soft greens, manures or urine (yes, you can use your own, though male urine is said to work better than female).

Don’t Rake Your Leaves

While you might need to remove slippery leaves from paths, in the rest of the garden fallen leaves provide a habitat for many over-wintering wild creatures.  Some beneficial insects lay their eggs in leaf litter, and by raking up the leaves you will be curtailing their life cycle.  If you do rake them up, put them on the compost heap, or bag them and save them to use as mulch in the spring.  Lay a mulch of fallen leaves around plants (about 3 inches deep) and allow it to rot down into the soil.  The earthworms will love it, and you will be adding nutrients and organic matter into the soil.  Leaf mulch maintains soil moisture and soil temperature, prevents weeds, soil erosion and compaction. 

No Autumn Clean Up

Abandon the big autumn clean-up of the garden.  Leave the fallen wood, leaves and seed heads where they are till spring, as the bird, insects and other wildlife need their shelter and food over winter. 

Ditch the Chemicals

In the twentieth century, chemicals were promoted as an easy technical solution to all cultivation problems – synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and weedkillers became commonplace not only on farms, but also in domestic gardens.  We now know that these products are having a disastrous effect on ecosystems, wildlife and human health.  [3] 

Pesticides from treated plants and soil reach surface water through runoff.  More than 90% of water and fish samples from all streams in the US contain one or more pesticides,  [4] and wild salmon are swimming around with dozens of synthetic chemicals in their systems.[5] In the UK half of rivers and freshwaters exceed chronic pollution limits and 88% of samples showed pesticide contamination.  [6] We are now seeing the wholesale pollution of most of our streams, rivers, ponds and coastal areas from agri-chemicals.

Chemical fertilisers are equally problematic.  When the excess nutrients run off into our waterways, they can cause algae blooms that are sometimes big enough to make waterways impassable.  When the algae die, they sink to the bottom and decompose in a process that removes oxygen from the water.   Fish and other aquatic species can’t survive in these dead zones.   

It’s time to dump the chemicals and look for natural solutions.  If you look after your plants well, you won’t need them.  Choose plants that are suited to the growing conditions you have – native plants will thrive better.  Allow them plenty of space, and prune where you need to.  Provide good drainage, mulch your plants to keep down weeds and reduce the need for watering.  Regularly hand-weed and hoe.  Wash off pests with the garden hose or try one of the aphid sprays overleaf.  Greenfly can be dusted with diatomaceous earth (available online).  Investigate companion planting to reduce pest invasion.  If you grow vegetables, rotate your crops on an annual basis.  Be prepared to accept a low level of pest or disease damage on your organic plants.

[1], accessed 13.10.21


[3], accessed 6.10.21

[4] Aktar MW, Sengupta D, Chowdhury A.   Impact of pesticides use in agriculture: their benefits and hazards.   Interdiscip Toxicol.   2009;2(1):1-12.   doi:10.2478/v10102-009-0001-7

[5] accessed 6.10.21

[6], accessed 6.10.21

Herbal Hair Rinses

I’m a great fan of herbal hair rinses. I first learned about them in the 1980s have been using them occasionally ever since, but they have recently become big news in the blogosphere. If you wait long enough, the world eventually catches up with you!


Just as herbs can be beneficial for your health, they can have great benefits for your hair too. Choose the right ones and they can nourish the hair and scalp, boost circulation in your scalp, treat dandruff, cleanse, smooth the hair shaft, add shine, moisturise, reduce excess oil, restore the PH balance, remove odours and promote hair growth. Some herbs will even bring out natural colours and highlights.

Your hair goes through a lot on a daily basis. It is exposed to pollution, heat and the chemicals from shampoos, conditioners, dyes and other treatments. While you trust these chemicals to make your hair glossy and beautiful, they also strip its natural oils, damage your hair in the long run, and have been linked to many chronic health conditions. A herbal hair rinse can be used to remove this chemical build up, and leave your hair naturally clean, soft and silky.


Hair rinses are really easy to make and use. If you can make a cup of tea, you can make a hair rinse. In fact, you can use herbal tea bags from the supermarket, dried herbs from your kitchen cupboard, or pick fresh herbs and flowers from your garden.

Simply bring a cup of water to boil in a saucepan, add a tablespoon of herb(s) and turn off the heat. Allow this to cool down at room temperature and infuse overnight (or for several hours at least). Strain, discarding the herbs and retaining the liquid.


Wash your hair as usual and rinse well with warm water. Have your hair rinse ready in a jug or better still, a spray bottle. Spritz it on your hair, and massage it gently through your hair and into your scalp. Leave it on for at least five minutes.

If you have only used herbs, you don’t need to rinse this out again and you can go on to style your hair as usual, but if you have added cider vinegar or lemon juice (see below), you will need to rinse again with warm water.


Basil Ocimum basilicum

Basil stimulates hair follicles, increases blood circulation in the scalp and promotes hair growth, as well as adding shine to dull hair. The magnesium in basil helps protect hair from breakage, the antioxidant properties protect the hair from environmental damage, and its antiseptic and antifungal properties treat dandruff and an itchy scalp.

Calendula Calendula officianalis

Calendula (marigold) petals are rich in minerals and antioxidants.  A calendula rinse is soothing for flaky and irritated scalps, and used regularly will lighten blond hair.

Chamomile   Matricaria recutita

Antiseptic chamomile helps treat dandruff, soothes an irritated scalp, promotes hair growth and reduces greasiness. Chamomile is deeply nourishing and helps your hair shine. This is a great rinse for blond hair, adding golden highlights.


Comfrey Symphytum officinale

Healing comfrey is full of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants, as well gamma linoleic acid which stimulates hair growth, and mucilage to soften, detangle, and add shine. It has anti-fungal, anti-viral, and antibacterial properties which can help treat dandruff and an irritated scalp.

Fenugreek Trigonella foenum-graecum

Rich in proteins, mucilage, vitamins and minerals, fenugreek nourishes your hair and makes it sleek. It strengthens hair from the roots, helping prevent hair loss. It is also said to help hair retain its natural pigments and prevent premature greyness. Grind the seeds into a fine powder and soak in water overnight. 

Hibiscus Hibiscus sabdariffa

This is one of my favourite rinses, adding very subtle red shades to the hair, as well as smoothing the hair shaft and helping it detangle owing to the high mucilage content of the flowers. Hibiscus also help soothe scalp irritation.

Horsetail Equisetum arvensa

Rich in minerals, in particular silica, horsetail helps keep hair strong and glossy, encouraging growth. It is great for removing product build up and excessive oiliness.

Lavender Lavandula spp.

Lavender has a balancing effect on the production of sebum, which makes it beneficial whether you have dry or greasy hair.  It has antimicrobial, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory actions which make it valuable in treating scalp problems and dandruff.   It stimulates circulation in the scalp, promoting new hair growth.  

Lemongrass Cymbopogon citratus

If you have greasy hair, lemongrass is a wonderful rinse that will reduce oiliness, moisturise and strengthen your locks.

Liquorice Root Glycyrrhiza glabra

If you suffer from scalp problems, liquorice root might be the hair rinse for you. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that sooth irritation.

Marshmallow Root

The high mucilage content of marshmallow root make it perfect for conditioning the hair, as well as making it easier to detangle. It soothes irritation if you suffer from a dry scalp, eczema or psoriasis.  

Mint Mentha spp.

Any of the mint family makes a refreshing and invigorating hair rinse, which will increase blood supply to the scalp and stimulate the hair follicles. Mints have anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties which are soothing to irritated scalps. A mint rinse will reduce greasiness and help to heal environmental damage.

Nettle Urtica dioica

Nettle is packed full of vitamins and minerals and provides a nourishing treatment for all types of hair, but it especially reduces the production of excess oil in greasy hair. It combats hair loss and promotes stronger growth.

Rosemary Rosemarinus officianalis

Perhaps the most popular herb in natural hair care, rosemary is full of vitamins, and has antibacterial and antioxidant properties. It is used to increase shine, prevent hair loss, boost circulation to the scalp and stimulate hair growth, reduce oiliness and darken the colour of hair to disguise the greys.

Sage Salvia officianalis

Sage promotes both the growth and strength of hair.  It is oil balancing, so can be used whether you have dry or greasy hair.

Tea Camellia sinensis

Make a strong cup of black tea using one or two teabags. Because tea contains caffeine, it will stimulate hair growth. Using a black tea rinse will slightly darken your hair, so if you don’t want this colouring effect, substitute green tea, famous for its antioxidant activity, or use rooibos tea to add reddish highlights in red and brown hair.

Thyme Thymus vulgaris

Thyme has antiseptic and anti-fungal properties that treat dandruff and other scalp conditions, as well as nourishing vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, potassium, and selenium that keep hair lustrous and promote stronger hair growth. 


Cider Vinegar

Cider vinegar is marvellous for removing product build up from hair. Just add a couple of tablespoons of cider vinegar to a pint of water and use this as a rinse, or add a tablespoon of cider vinegar to your prepared herbal hair rinse.  It’s great for removing excess oil from greasy hair too, and will leave it shiny, soft and silky.

Lemon Juice

Add a tablespoon of lemon juice to a cup of water or add it to your prepared herbal hair rinse to treat greasy hair and stimulate hair growth. Over time, this will lighten your hair colour.


Once you have prepared your herbal hair rinse, it will keep in the fridge for 5-7 days.

Silver Birch

In the early spring, when the trees are still bare, the bright, white bark of the silver birch (Betula alba) stands out in the hedgerows. The word ‘birch’ is derived from the Indo-European root word, bharg, meaning white or shining.

In lore, birch a tree of purification: criminals were flogged with birch twigs to drive the evil spirits from them, and birch twigs are still used in saunas to purify the body by stimulating circulation. Birch also has the feminine power of fertility and growth, as in the rune Beorc or Berkana, or the white wand of the Celtic goddess Brighid, with which she brought life back to the land after the winter. In Britain the association of the birch with fertility survived into the nineteenth century, when navvies (canal diggers) and their women considered themselves properly married if they had jumped across a birch broom.

When the first fresh leaves appear, they make a beautiful tea, which makes a spring cleanse, removing toxins from the body, so it may also be beneficial in the treatment of urinary complaints, cystitis, rheumatism, arthritis and gout.  Herbalists use an infusion of birch leaves to help dissolve kidney and bladder stones.

The leaf tea, or a stronger leaf infusion can be used externally in a compress for skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, as can a decoction of the bark.  A macerated oil of the bark may be applied to the skin for dermal conditions, arthritis and rheumatism, cellulite, and muscular aches and pains. 

Cosmetically, a birch leaf infusion or macerated oil applied externally can be effective in treating cellulite. Birch sap can be used, diluted, to wash the skin to remove blemishes and blotches, tone it and improve elasticity, and in hair treatments to strengthen it.

Birch beer or birch wine is made from the tapped sap of the tree in early spring, when it begins to flow, or the sap may be used as a natural sweetener.

Birch Leaf Tea

2 tsp fresh birch leaves or 1 tsp dried leaves

1 cup of boiling water

Infuse 15 minutes, strain and drink.

Birch Sap Wine

8 pints birch sap

½ lb. raisins

2 lb. sugar

Juice of 3 lemons


Boil the sap and add the sugar. Simmer for 10 minutes. Pour the liquid over the raisins and lemon juice. Cool the mixture to 20oC and add the started yeast. Ferment in a brewing bucket for 3 days, then strain into a demijohn and fit an airlock.

To obtain the sap, bore a small hole into the tree, just inside the bark, and insert a narrow tube, sloping downwards. Sap should start running from the tree (if it doesn’t, it is the wrong time of year). Put the free end of the tube into your container (eg a plastic soda bottle), which you can tie onto the tree.  Don’t take too much from one tree. When you have what you need, remove the tube, put a piece of cork into the borehole, and the birch tree will seal itself after a short while. In very early spring (late February or early March here in the UK, depending on the weather) you should be able to draw off enough sap for a gallon of wine in a day.


Some sensitive individuals report diarrhoea, nausea, itching, rash and stuffy and runny nose after taking birch.

Juniper Lore & Magic

In the ancient world, juniper was connected with the dead and in the underworld, perhaps because its fragrance was used to cover the scent of death. The ancient Egyptians used it in the embalming process, while in ancient Greece it was used to invoke Hecate and other chthonic deities. In Christian lore, it was believed that fumigations of juniper had the power to eradicate evil, a reward to the tree for having once sheltered the infant Jesus. In mediaeval Europe, the home of a dead person was smoked with juniper. In Scotland, it was used as a sain at Hogmanay (New Year), while in Czechoslovakia stables were fumigated to expel demons.  

Juniper Berry Tea

Juniper berry tea can be useful for frequent urinary tract infections such as cystitis and fluid retention.  It is used for digestive problems including upset stomach, flatulence, heartburn and bloating.

Juniper has anti-inflammatory properties and can be taken internally as a tea or applied externally as a salve for arthritis, gout and other rheumatic conditions.

Crush a tsp. berries.

Steep in boiling water 15 minutes.

Strain and drink.