Our trials started in November when I was made redundant and we had to consider how to manage our finances to continue living as we wished.
In the middle of December Chris began a series of re-current kidney infections and I had to think about how to support his body to repel the invader, strengthen his tissues and organs whilst minimising the effects of necessary repeat prescriptions of antibiotics. I have used food and drinks as “vehicles of transmission” using what I have in the cupboards plus a few items purchased from supermarket and healthfood store.
These are some of the recipes I’ve developed.
Cranberries are reknowned for their effects in reducing urinary tract infections by reducing the ability of bacteria to cling to the lining of the bladder or urinary tissues. Luckily, being Christmas, fresh cranberries were on sale in the supermarket so I bought several packs to freeze along with some dried cranberries for when the fresh ones are finished.
Cranberry orange drink
1/2 pack of fresh cranberries
Chopped rind and pith of one orange
Small handful each of thyme, bergamot and dandelion roots
Cover ingredients with 2 pints of cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer, covered, for half an hour until the cranberries can be easily mashed. Strain through a sieve pushing through as much of the cranberry pulp as you can. Cool. Store in the fridge. To serve, pour juice into 1/3 of a half pint glass and fill the rest of the glass with water. Drink without sweetening with sugar or honey.
One of the best foods to nourish the kidneys is barley. Barbara Griggs in her Greenwitch Herbal gives a wonderfully simple method of making lemon and barley water.
Lemon and barley water
4ozs pot barley
Peeled rind of one lemon
1 litre of water (probably two by the time you’ve finished)
Put the weighed amount of pot barley in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and then discard the water and swill out the saucepan. Return the barley to the clean saucepan together with the lemon peel and 1 litre of water. Bring to the boil and simmer until the barley is soft and tender. You will probably have to add more water as time goes on so you are left with enough fluid to drink at the end. I cooked it for two hours and added another litre of water in the middle ending up with half a litre of gloop at the end.
Barley water is best served hot when the gloop becomes liquid. You can add honey for flavour.
Although the recipe is for the barley water, you can’t just throw away the cooked barley. The first lot went into an amazing vegetable soup with the last of my homegrown tomatoes, celery, onions, garlic and a couple of carrots. The second batch became a spiced barley pudding; delicious with cream.
Spiced barley pudding
4oz cooked pot barley
4 pieces of candied ginger plus 1tblsp ginger syrup
2 ozs raisins or saltanas
8 cardamom pods,
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ of a grated nutmeg.
Gently heat up the spices with the milk then add the cooked barley. Simmer for 30 minutes on a low heat, then serve. I found it didn’t need any extra sweetness, but you may wish to add syrup or honey.
When you’re suffering with a kidney or urinary tract infection you want something which will soothe the membranes and take away the itching/discomfort inside you.
Take a pinch each of yarrow, calendula, marshmallow and thyme. Infuse, covered for ten minutes then strain and drink. Honey can be added for sweetness if desired.
I used to mix half of the soothing tea with half of the barley water and give it to Chris at least three times a day plus at least 3 of the cranberry drinks.
Of course, after two series of strong antibiotics when he went down with a cold last Thursday, the world came to an end and he turned into a blob for several days. I started him on a regime of 2tsps cider vinegar with 2tsps horseradish honey together with one tsp of elderberry elixir in a mug of boiling water three times a day. You can find the recipes here.
When the blob began to talk and walk again, I changed his medicine to my hedgerow cordial (elderberries/sloes/rosehips/nutmeg/cinnamon/ cloves/ginger) with added lemon juice three times a day. He also started taking raw garlic in honey on a piece of bread three times a day once he finished the last course of antibiotics.
After two more days, he started coughing. Of course I’d given my last bottle of cough syrup to my aunt just before Christmas, so I got him to make up a soothing tea while I dived into my hot cupboard to see what I could find in the way of cough herbs to devise a new syrup.
Soothing cough tea
1inch root ginger finely chopped or grated
1 pinch thyme
1 pinch bergamot
Infuse with just boiled water for ten minutes.
Chris was actually prepared to drink this without honey (which is unheard of!) but added honey for its soothing effects on the throat.
If you want a basic cough syrup, you use equal parts of white horehound, hyssop and marshmallow. I’d been intrigued by Ali English’s latest cold syrup and managed to find the following ingredients in the cupboard and larder.
1 handful of white horehound
2 handfuls of marshmallow leaves
1 handful of hyssop
1 handful of goldenrod flowers and leaves
3 stems of New England Aster
Small handful of dried elecampane root (there wasn’t time to soak it overnight)
2 inches of grated ginger root
1 large dried homegrown chilli pounded in the pestle and mortar
½ a dried stem of mullein
Place all the ingredients in a large saucepan and cover with water (about 3 pints or so). Bring to the boil and simmer, covered, for about half an hour. I then added the ginger and chilli and simmered for another ten minutes because I’d forgotten to add them before and I didn’t want the syrup to be too hot. Strain the liquid and wash out the saucepan. Pour the liquid back in the pan through a muslin cloth because you don’t want any of the fine hairs from the mullein in the syrup. Reduce the liquid by slow evaporation for as long as you’re prepared to wait. (You should reduce until only 1/7th of the original volume remains but that can take all day, so I just reduced by half.) Measure the volume of liquid and add 1lb of sugar to every pint (UK) of liquid. I ended up with 1.5 pints so added 1.5lbs of sugar. (If you are making this for clients you should reduce original volume by 7/8ths and add 2lbs sugar per pint of liquid to ensure it keeps well). Return saucepan to a gentle heat and stir until all the sugar has been dissolved. Pour into sterilised bottles, seal, label and date. Store in the fridge once open.
The resulting syrup tastes quite good with a nice heat at the back of your throat.
One of my apprentices posed an interesting question when he was posting his annual review at the beginning of the month. He said, “Lately I’ve been pondering the question: ‘Do medicinal herbs work?’ It might seem odd for me to go to so much effort collecting, processing & preserving the above without having a definitive answer to this question! My best answer for the time being is ‘Yes. I think so. For me at least.’ […]I’ve attempted many times to actively heal personal ailments and those of the people close to me. Sometimes these attempts have proven successful […] but just as often they’ve resolutely failed.”
When Chris first became ill and I knew he needed to take the antibiotics, I felt a sense of abject failure. What on earth was I doing spending so much time with my herbs if I couldn’t address this major condition? When I was saying this to a friend, he gently said, “There was a reason antibiotics were developed. They save lives.”
Another part of me knows the kidney infection has arisen because of a congenital malformation which was addressed surgically some 22 years ago and may well have reappeared, so I am immensely grateful for our health service which means we have access to GPs, ultrasound scans and a consultant urologist I have faith in because he fixed the problem last time.
In reality, every illness and dis-ease is a journey both for the person experiencing it and anyone who is supporting that person in whatever way they can. Whilst I am unsure how well I can support the kidney condition, I know the progress of the cold virus was alleviated by all the potions I administered. Even Chris said he was grateful to have me around looking after him, something I couldn’t have done if I’d still been working.
Last but not least, how do you support the carer? Personally I’ve added ashwagandha tincture to my daily tonic to help nurture me through all the stress. I’m also really grateful I made quite so much spiced hedgerow cordial because it tastes wonderful as a hot drink with extra lemon juice. Yesterday, when it seemed I would also succumb to the cold, I added a tsp of Echinacea tincture and so far, it hasn’t developed.
Whatever the outcome of this particular challenge, I find it amazing I can go to my store cupboard and find what I need when I need it and I can turn so many different things into something which helps support others. I'm also incredibly grateful to be part of the wider herbal community who respond to requests for assistance with such alacrity and reassure me I am not in this on my own.