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Category: HERBS

  1. Herbs Help You Breathe More Easily ...

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    There are many ways to enjoy the beneficial aspects of herbs and spices. You can cook with them, infuse them, inhale them, burn and smoke them, make extracts, oils, lotions, potions and salves, bathe in them, strew them  ... the list is endless.

    Here on The Herb Boat, I have had a long history of smoking one of the most addictive herbs known to humanity, Tobacco, Nicotiana tabacca. Once commonly used medicinally as a relaxant, sedative and expectorant, it has been widely available for centuries as tobacco, tinctures and snuff.  When the truly addictive nature of nicotine was understood, along with the it's toxic, carcenogenic properties, particularly when smoked, it's medicinal use declined, though it is still widely commercially available as tobacco for smoking and chewing, and snuff. Many people cannot understand why anyone would choose to smoke, and many smokers battle with their addiction.

    Whilst the long term detrimental health effects are now well known, the highly addictive nature of this herb makes it a habit that is hard to kick. Smoking is linked to many cancers, not just those of the lungs, gum disease, premature ageing, poor circulation and inevitable damage to the delicate membranes of the lungs. This was brought home to me in a frightening way recently when a chest infection made my annoying little "smoker's cough"  worse, and worse and eventually culminated in me being admitted to hospital with breathing difficulties last week. 

    I'm now home, and feeling much better ... and yes, I have stopped finally smoking .....  but I have been diagnosed with COPD, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder. I am still learning about what this will mean in the long term, but for now just getting out of bed results in wheezing and coughing. So I have been taking things easy and using a soothing blend of herbs as an inhalation, to help ease my wheeziness and soothe my bruised lungs.

    Inhaling steam alone has long been used to help relieve coughs, breathing difficulties and congested sinuses. The addition of some herbs, spices and / or essential oils can enhance the soothing effect of the steam.


    My choice of herbs is;

    Sage, known to have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties,

    Eucalyptus for it's powerful anti-bacterial, anti septic, astringent, antispasmodic , analgesic (pain killing) and expectorant properties,

    Rosemary for it's soothing, anti-inflammatory properties,

    Lavender for it's calming, anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties,

    Peppermint known to be an expectorant and decongestant

    And a sprinkle of Orange Peel which provides support against respiratory distress, exerts a lung cleansing activity, breaks down and expels congestion (phlegm). It also contains high levels of histamine and antioxidants, which may help in relieving various respiratory complications like bronchitis, cold, flu.

    So I place the herbs in a deep bowl, and add water that has just cooled from boiling

    inhale2 inhale4


    Then find a large towel and form a tent over your head and the bowl, keeping a good 30cm away from the bowl, and inhale the steam for 5 to 10 minutes. If at any point you feel any discomfort, just pop your head out of the tent.


    Not only does the steam moisten and open congested air passages, it also raises skin temperature causing blood vessels to dilate and thus improves blood circulation. So you will also benefit from a mini-facial. Be gentle with your facial skin after the inhalation, splashing it with cold water and patting it dry.

    Other herbs, spices and essential oils to try inhaling for coughs, colds and sinus problems are Bay, Cloves, Cardamom, Tea Tree, Myrrh, Basil and Pine.

    Obviously, if you are pregnant, breast feeding, taking any medication or if your symptoms are persistent and severe, you should always consult a qualified practitioner.

    And obviously, if you are a smoker, you should get as much help, love and support as possible to help you stop.

    Keep trying and say NO to Nick O'Teen




  2. Houseleeks .... "that's not a herb!"

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    I sell a wide range of medicinal and culinary herb plants, though stocks become low as the summer progresses (summer?? what summer!). One of my favorite herbs, for it's almost mandala type beauty, it's ability to survive in the most hostile situations and thrive on neglect is the Common Houseleek, Sempervivum tectorum. Also known as Hen and Chicks, or Jupiter's Beard, it's name literally translates as "Forever Living on a Roof". The only way to kill this hardy gem is by giving it too much water, soil and attention.

    Records of Sempervivum go back 2,000 years, when it was said to have been given to Jupiter, or Zeus, to protect houses from fire and lightening strikes. It is also associated with Thor, and has a long history of magical use to protect from witches, hexes and witchcraft.

    I have been told it is a traditional boater's plant, but can't find any information to back this up. It's ability to survive the wild temperature variations on a boat roof, it's magical reputation for warding off witches, protecting from fire,storms and lightening and bringing prosperity, combined with it's value medicinally, do make it a great choice for a boat roof garden. King Charlemagne ordered that it should be grown on every house roof as protection against fire and lightening.


    I also have a nerdy passion for all it's many cultivars, especially the cobweb varieties.


    People often come to my stall and say .... "but that is not a herb!!!" ........  but Sempervivums have been used in herbal medicine for centuries for their cooling, astringent, anti-inflammatory properties.  Bruised leaves or juice can be applied to minor scalds and burns, impetigo, mouth ulcers, ringworm, nettle stings and insect bites for almost instant relief. A gargle made from the juice, or an infusion of the leaves with honey, is said to help sore throats, ulcers and oral thrush. A crushed leaf, taped to a corn or wart with a plaster is said to help remove them.

    Houseleeks have also been used internally, usually as an infusion, for period pains, gout, hearing problems, dysentry and intestinal worms. Current research suggests it has anti-oxident and liver protection properties. It has no known reactions with medicines or side effects, apart from being a purgative if large quantities of undiluted juice are drunk .... given it's bitter, salty taste, that is highly unlikely to happen!



  3. Tansy

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    Tansy grows prolifically here in Yorkshire on the banks of the Aire and Calder navigation. It is an attractive, upright, perennial herb, with aromatic feathery foliage and bright yellow button flowers that bees love. It makes a great garden plant, though can be invasive, and is tolerant of most soils. Plant a patch near your back door to discourage flies.


    Tansy was cultivated by the ancient Greeks, and appears in early monastic medicinal herb gardens. Historically, it was used for intestinal worms, but it is seldom used medicinally now due to it's toxicity from it's high thujone content. It should not be taken internally without the supervision of an experienced herbalist, particularly if you are pregnant.

    Tansy has a pungent, bitter aroma and was used as a "strewing herb" in the medieval period, strewn on the floor and in beds as an insect repellent. It was also used in embalming and burnt as incense. It is increasingly being used as a biological pesticide, as a companion plant. It is also a useful natural yellow dye plant.

    Here on the Herb Boat I use Tansy in my Moth Repellent Sachets and stock the dried herb for use in incense mixes.



  4. Faroese Herbs

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    One of the most common plants I saw growing wild on my recent trip to the Faroe Islands was Angelica. Whether it survived the ice age here, as it did in Iceland, I am not yet sure. But there is evidence that it was harvested by the Vikings on Iceland and used for trade. Angelica was so valuable during the medieval period in Iceland that there was a specific law to prevent Angelica theft in the first law book.

    The whole plant has been used medicinally for centuries across the world, as an expectorant and for stomach upsets, and there is some evidence that it acts as a mild stimulant. Historically, it was held in high esteem as a cure for all ills, blood purification and to ward off the plague. The flavour of Angelica is slightly musky and it has a long history of being used to flavour alcohols and liqueurs, being a key ingedient in Vermouth and Gin. 


    This picture shows Angelica growing wild in Torshovan, behind the other ubiquitous wild plant, Marsh Marigolds (or King cups ... Caltha palustris). Marsh marigolds have been used medicinally, to cure warts and fits, and the leaves can be eaten like spinach, but the whole plant is an irritant and best avoided. It was used historically in May Day festivals.

    The other surprise herb for me on the Faroes was Sweet Cicely, with its dainty, fresh green leaves and sweet smelling flowers. The whole plant is edible; the leaves are good in salads, with a fresh aniseedy / liquorice flavour, the roots can be used like parsnips, it is a good natural sweetener and combines especially well with rhubarb. Gerard, agreeing with Culpeper on it's value for lifting the spirits, states that the roots, boiled and dressed with oil and vinegar are   “…very good for old people that are dull and without courage; it rejoiceth and comforteth the heart and increaseth their lust and strength.” It is a key ingredient in Chartreuse liqueur.

    Medicinally, it was, like Angelica, used as a plague herb. It has expectorant properties and is a mildly stimulating anti-spasmodic. Tea made from the leaves has been used to relieve period pains. The roots anti-septic properties, in a decoction, have been used for snake bites and as a poultice on septic wounds. the sweet smelling seeds can be chewed and were ground and added to beeswax polish for their perfume.





  5. Gather ye Elderflowers While Ye May

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    Here in Yorkshire the elderflowers are just right to gather for drying or making cordial, champagne, syrup ... whatever. In fact now is a great time for harvesting and drying any cultivated and wild herbs. You will find foraging courses being offered everywhere now to help you identify wild plants, and be sure not to overpick or uproot the plants (against the law!) ... and obviously avoid endangered species on the protected list.

    The simplest way to dry elderflowers, and save them for winter when their anti-viral and anti-inflamatory properties are useful to help with colds, flu, sinus infections and winter aches and pains, is to pick the flower heads and shake off any beasties and bugs, and lay them on a sheet of cardboard. Place the cardboard in a warm, dry, shady place with good ventilation and leave until the creamy flowers are dry and can be rubbed easily from their stems. they can then be stored in airtight containers for use in teas, wines, cordials etc all year round.

    Many recipes for elderflower cordial contain citric acid as a preservative ... this can help preserve your cordial but some people have concerns about the way it is manufactured ... if you don't want to use it, add a couple more lemons and try freezing the cordial.

    There are hundreds of recipes online ... here is one I use

    30 elderflower heads

    1 litre water

    1kg sugar

    2 or 3 lemons (or add a lime or some orange)

    30g citric acid

    Shake any beasties and insects off the flowerheads and place in a large pan or bowl with sliced lemons. Boil the water with the sugar and citric acid, if using, until dissolved. Allow to cool slightly and then pour over the elderflowers and lemons, cover with a clean tea towel or similar and leave to infuse for 3-4 days in the fridge. Strain through muslin and seal in sterilised bottles. 

    Try adding a lime or an orange for a different flavour.


    Elderflowers can also be added to vodka or gin and left to infuse for a few days. Elderflower syrup is great added to ice cream and with gooseberries.

    If you miss the chance to pick and dry your own, you can always buy some dried ones from me 



  6. "I can't believe it's not Gin!"

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    Artisan Gins are the current "must have" drink ... and the "botanicals" (herbs and spices" in many expensive commercial Gins are closely guarded secrets. The Herb Boat has carefully selected a range of popular botanicals for you to magically transform vodka into your own delicious Artisan (or Bathtub) Gin. Full instructions included.

    Available on the towpath or by mail order ... contact me for a stock list 




  7. Spice Up Your Life

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    .Well, yesterday saw the launch of my new "Taste the World" exotic spice and herb blends ... each 60ml jar containing a burst of GMO free, non-irradiated flavour from far off lands, bringing the world to your kitchen. 

    I will be adding more but currently have; 

    Warm, floral flavours of North Africa in Ras El Hanout,
    Fragrant Harissa Spice from Tunisia, 
    Punchy Cajun Spice from Louisiana, 
    Hot but mellow Jamaican Goat Curry spices (equally good with lamb and veg), 
    Birmingham / Pakistani fusion flavours of Balti Spices
    Desert flavours of Arabian Z'atar
    Eye-wateringly hot Jerk Seasoning, marrying the flavours of Africa and the Caribbean, 
    And a fragrant taste of summer in the Thai Stir Fry blend

    dscn1512 (2)

    Mmmmmm ... more coming soon. Available only on the towpath at the moment, £2 a jar but mail order soon

    TTFN Bunny

  8. Mmmmm Custard ...

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    Custard is one of those Marmite things ... you either love it or hate it .... here on the Herb Boat we are BIG custard fans .... sweet and savoury (oh yes, you can make savory custards). 

    Vanilla custard is popular, but you can infuse your milk and cream with almost any herb or spice. The recent Masterchef finals featured a Star Anise infused custard. Bay leaves were often used in sweet dishes in the past, and Bay custard (or even Bay Leaf Ice-cream) is enjoying a renewed popularity. Just infuse 3 or 4 bay leaves in your warm milk and cream mix for 15 minutes, and remove before adding egg yolks. 

     bay custard

    Or how about a savoury, cheesy bread and butter pudding with Rosemary or Basil infused custard ....

    Or add dried flowers or petals .... Lavender, Rose .... the possbilities are endless ....

    Herb Boat re-usable tea / spice bags can be used so you don't have to strain the milk / cream infusion. These handy little bags are made from unbleached cotton and are £1 for two bags.

    There are many basc custard recipes online, this one from the BBC website gives basic proportions .... you can replace some of the milk with sngle cream, and omit the vanilla and sugar if you want to try savoury custards.


    Posted on



    Coltsfoot, "Britsh Tobacco", is flowering well on the Rochdale Canal ... and soon will get it's leaves. A great time to pick and dry your own ... or you can purchase both leaves and flowers from The Herb Boat ( Flowers 15g for £1 or Leaves 20g for £1 p&p £1.50) 

    Coltfoot has long been regarded as nature's best cough remedy. Taken either as a tea, or, bizarrely, smoked, it has expectorant properties and has been used to treat asthma and bronchitis. Coltsfoot forms the basis of many commercial cough mixtures and herbal "tobacco substitutes". The Herb Boat "English Haze" herb blend combines Coltsfoot leaves wth other native herbs, like Mugwort, Elderflowers, Mullein, that have been smoked, and a smidgeon of honey. These can be drunk as a tea because smoking is blatently bad for you. Contact me for a full stock list until I finish virtually filling the virtual shop.

    Used externally, it is said to sooth skin irritations like eczema and insect bites. Magically, it is used in love and tranquility spells.

    It is an unusual plant in that it flowers before the leaves appear. 




    The legal stuff .... please read my statement on the Medical Use of Herbs and Spices. 

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