Friday, 30 October 2009

Save Herbal Medicine demonstration, 2 Nov

Demonstration and mass lobby at parliament to save Herbal Medicine.

in April 2011 new EU rules come into force regarding medicinal products, covering herbs. These EU rules, once applied would outlaw access to 95% of herbs, not only over the counter but also those prescribed for patients by professionals. Only herbal preparations that have been licensed will be marketed. The issue for the UK is that the government is planning to abandon it's committment to statutory regulation of this sector (due to costs) and leave it to be all but destroyed from May 2011. Such a move is likely to have severe effects on the accessibility to herbal medicine. Join in the demonstration outside Parliament, led by the National Institute of Medical Herbalists, against the government’s decision. Show your support and join in the demonstration.

The demonstration is in conjunction with a mass lobby of MP’s from 2-4 pm. Arrange a meeting with your MP to inform them of the importance of statutory regulations.


For more information click here.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Herby Event: Feast on the Bridge

Living Medicine is running a Herb Tea stall on the Feast on the Bridge event this Saturday 12th September.

This is a wonderful event on Southwark Bridge, part of the Thames Festival which is celebrating local food, foraging, school children growing food in reclaimed supermarket trolleys, preparing and eating good food including the sacred mayonnaise!, and a host of other activities for children and parents.

At the Living Medicine stall, which is on the north side of the bridge, medical herbalists and some generous volunteers will be serving various herb teas, free to all, to taste and take away. People can find out both how simple and delicious fresh and dried herb teas can be, as well as discover more about their many medicinal uses.

Herby Event: Distinguished Ethnobotanist Lecture 2009

Bringing the food back home: indigenous foodways, nutrition and biodiversity in western Canada

Nancy J. Turner, University of Victoria, Victoria, B.C., CANADA

Nancy J. Turner says:
Indigenous peoples of northwestern North America are identified by anthropologists mainly as fishers and hunters. Yet, their traditional food systems include many, diverse plant species, as well as some marine algae, lichens and fungi. Plant foods include roots and other underground parts, green leaves and stems, many fruits, inner bark of trees, and a range of beverage teas. These foods collectively provide essential nutrients and have been part of a healthy Indigenous diet over thousands of years. The knowledge required to use these nutritional resources effectively and sustainably is part of an overall system of knowledge that incorporates ecological understanding, taxonomic, and biogeographical expertise, specialized practices of harvesting, processing, and maintaining resource populations, and belief systems that guide their use and management. Women have been the holders and practitioners of much of this plant-based knowledge.

In recent years, for a variety of reasons, many of these important Indigenous foods have been declining in use, a dietary trend known as the nutrition transition, that is occurring with local and Indigenous Peoples' food systems worldwide. People who once gathered and prepared healthy local food are turning towards more processed and marketed foods many of which are high in unhealthy fats and refined carbohydrates. The result is increased risk of diabetes and heart disease and other health problems. Today, Indigenous communities are using a range of strategies to maintain and strengthen their use of their original foods, and have found partners in universities, NGOs, and government agencies to support this endeavor.

In this presentation, I will describe some of the diverse Indigenous wild foods of the Cascadia Region, including Angiosperms, Gymnosperms, and some Algae, Lichens and Fungi, and discuss the ways in which Indigenous Peoples have maintained and enhanced these resources, what has happened to these food species, and how they are now being reclaimed and re-incorporated into Indigenous Peoples' foodways.

Admission is free but must be prebooked - visit the website.

The Jodrell Laboratory is accessed via the Jodrell Gate on Kew Road, more or less halfway between the Main Gate (Kew Green) and the Victoria Gate. The Jodrell Gate is 10 minutes walk from Kew Gardens and Kew Bridge stations. Please be sure to arrive in good time - any seats unoccupied at 16.50 may be redistributed to the wait list. After the talk, audience members are welcome to join the speaker in "The Botanist" pub on Kew Green.

This talk is sponsored by the Global Diversity Foundation and the Centre for Economic Botany at Kew


Saturday, 15 August 2009

Herbal Medicine Conference in Lampeter and Herbal Medicine Regulation in the UK

In this post:
1. The programme for a fascinating conference, Western Herbal Medicine: Ancient Heritage and Modern Practice, due to take place in Lampeter, Wales later this month. I gather there should still be some space left (I hope). I'd love for it to be a success so that such events might be put on more regularly (and then maybe I can go too sometime).

2. Public consultation on alternative medicine regulation in the UK was recently announced. I can't stress just how important it is that we all educate ourselves as to the pros and cons of this kind of healthcare regulation and then make our views heard before it's too late, please have a look at the bottom of this post for a variety of resources and thoughts on this matter.

Western Herbal Medicine:

Ancient Heritage and Modern Practice

August 25th to 29th 2009

University of Wales, Lampeter

This three-day conference will explore various aspects of Western Herbal Medicine from Ancient times, through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, to modern discussions and the dialogues with Chinese and Ayurvedic Medicine. The main focus will be upon the Western tradition of constitutional and energetic medicine. This often-neglected, but rich and vital tradition will be explored from various angles. In addition to scholarly presentations by experts in the field, there will be workshops, exhibitions, and an optional trip to the National Botanic Garden of Wales. There will also be plenty of social and networking opportunities, as well as a closing Twmpath, or Ceilidh. The event is largely aimed at medical herbalists, but practitioners and academics from other disciplines would also be very welcome.

This joint event has been developed by the Body Programme of the University of Wales, Lampeter, in conjunction with the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH). The University, with its long-established reputation for research in these areas, is now committed to developing academically-informed, humanities-based CPD events for a range of CAM practitioners in careful liaison with professional bodies such as NIHM. Body Programme also supports post-graduate work up to doctoral level (PhD). Its flourishing Master’s programme, The Body: Eastern and Western Perspectives, features related modules such as: Ancient Medicine, The Subtle Body, The Holistic Approach to Healing, The Western Esoteric Tradition, Medical Astrology, Ayurveda, and The Understanding of the Body in Traditional Chinese Medicine (see:

The fee for the whole event, including full-board for four nights, is just £240; excellent value, we hope you'll agree. The University offers good-quality en-suite accommodation, as well as a restaurant and a café. It is the smallest University college in Europe, with a small and friendly campus in the heart of the rural market-town of Lampeter. The town itself is set in the beautiful countryside of West Wales, only fifteen minutes from either the coast or the depths of the hills.

Provisional Programme Outline

The final timetable, with further details of our speakers and events, will be available on the NIMH website nearer the time (

Tuesday 25th August

  • From 4pm - arrivals, registration and afternoon tea.
  • 7pm Dinner and Reception

Wednesday 26th August

  • 8.00 Breakfast
  • 9.30 Paracelsus and the Western Herbal Tradition by Dr Clare Goodrick-Clarke and Professor Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke (Centre for Esotericism, University of Exeter)
  • 11.30 Herbs and Hippocrates by Dr David Noy (Department of Classics, Lampeter)
  • 1.00 Lunch
  • 2.00 Demonstration of Distillation of Aromatic Herbs given by Joe Nasr (Dip Phyt, DO, MNIMH)
  • 3.30 Break
  • 4.00 Workshop on Traditional Welsh Herbal Medicine (to be confirmed)
  • 6.00 Dinner
  • 7.30 The Galenic Temperaments in the Writings of Nicholas Culpeper by Graeme Tobyn (Author of Culpeper's Medicine)

Thursday 27th August

  • 8.00 Breakfast
  • 9.30 Ancient Cosmology and Medical Astrology given by Dr Nick Campion (Sophia Centre, Lampeter University), and Jane Ridder-Patrick (Lampeter University & NIMH).
  • 11.00 Break
  • 11.30 Optional trip to National Botanic Garden of Wales including lunch and guided tour, taking in the the Apothecaries Garden, the Mediterranean Glass-house, and the Apothecaries Gallery. There will be a buffet lunch in our own dedicated marquee. There is a small supplement to cover travel, entrance, and tour fee (please see booking form).
  • For those not wishing to visit the gardens, there will be alternative Lampeter-based activities, or participants may wish to take free time and make independent visits to the hills and coast. There are many local gardens, organic farms and herb growers whom you might also wish to visit.
  • 6.00 Dinner
  • 7.30 Herbs and Medicine in Medieval Wales, Dr Morfydd Owen (Centre for Advanced Welsh & Celtic Studies, Aberystwyth). Introduced by the President of the University, Dr Brinley Jones

Friday 28th August

  • 8.00 Breakfast
  • 9.30 Herbalism in the Ayurvedic Tradition, Anne McIntyre (FNIMH, Ayur HC)
  • 11.00 Break
  • 11.30 A Comparison of the Principles and Practices of Chinese & Western Medical Herbalism, Michael McIntyre (FNIMH, MBAcC, FRCHM).
  • 1.00 Lunch
  • 2.00 Holism in the Western Tradition by Vicki Pitman (M.Phil, MURHP, MIFA)
  • 3.30 Break
  • 4.00 Panel Discussion on Modern & Comparative Herbalism
  • Dinner
  • Twmpath (Ceilidh) featuring local Welsh musicians

Saturday 29th August

  • Breakfast
  • Open Day from 10.30 till 4pm featuring stalls, exhibitions, presentations, and workshops
  • Regional Meeting of Welsh NIMH Herbalists at 11am in University

Exhibitions and bookstalls will be on display throughout the week. This will include an exhibition of exquisite ancient herbals, dating back as far as the fifteenth century, from the University’s collections.

I have an extensive price list with details for full board and single day attendance and everything in between. It's too long to include here so if you're interested I can forward it to you. Please e-mail me at

Public consultation on alternative medicine regulation:

Consultation on the regulation of acupuncture, herbal medicine and traditional Chinese medicine was launched on the 3rd of August. Please visit the Department of Health press release for an explanation of the aims of the consultation process.

Meanwhile, I strongly urge everybody to partake in the process and make your views and needs known. The issue is a complex one which has divided the opinions of many of the herbalists I know. In my opinion regulation, as it is currently proposed, would have a disasterously negative impact on freedom of healthcare choices and access to herbal remedies at almost all levels. I have a variety of reasons for believing this, but I am still in the process of understanding the implications of the proposed legislation myself so prefer not to make any grand claims at this point without evidence. I am however happy to share my understanding and discuss the issues if anybody would like to contact me on the matter at I hope to say more on the issue here in later posts.

Alternatively, you may wish to visit this Public Consultation on Complementary Therapies discussion thread on the Herb Society website where herbalists and members of the public have begun debating the issue. Feel free to post questions or comments. The friendly people on the forum almost always respond thoughtfully and in great depth. It's a good opportunity to understand how the legislation will affect people at different levels.

Finally, to participate in the consultation itself please visit this Department of Health page. There are several downloadable PDF files full of information and the consultation document itself can be found at the bottom of the page. I am personally not convinced by many of the very leading questions and so aim to consider the document carefully before formulating and sending my own response. I think it would be interesting and useful to discuss what might be the most appropriate and coherent responses to some of the questions either here or on the Herb Society thread mentioned above.

It would also be interesting to know the views of a broad range of people (here and abroad) on this matter so I look forward to hearing from you personally or on the Herb Society forum.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Last Stop London

So much has happened in the last few weeks and inevitably this blog has suffered.

Having left my position at the National Botanic Garden of Wales before Christmas, I was then swept off on my adventure to Washington for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival that I'm sure everyone is sick of hearing about.

Well that feels like a lifetime ago now. The day after my return to Heathrow from America, I boarded yet another airplane for an oh so quick 10 day visit with family in northern Sweden.

Barely a moment was spent in the tranquility of our Swedish home before I found myself returning, not to Wales, but to London to begin a whole new life.

I'm on approximately week 5 or 6 of living out of a backpack. I had my first brief visit in what seems like months to my home in Wales this weekend. But today it's finally official, my partner Cameron and I are moving to London for a fresh start and a new job for me (and hopefully Cameron too eventually).

The job, as it turns out, is a surprisingly exciting one though I doubt it would seem so to anyone without a passion for plants and a somewhat autistic approach to filing systems.

I am now working at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew for a small herbarium team which is currently dedicated to finding and recording for the internet every Latin American "type" specimen in Kews vast (6 million specimens apparently) collection. I might go so far as to explain what that means in a future post, but for the time being you can visit this example specimen on Aluka to see the African equivalent of the kind of database records I should be producing in time.

I've been working here for a week now and the job is certainly an interesting one and includes a very steep learning curve. Living arrangements are a little less inspiring and my access to the internet is utterly sporadic at present.

It is for this reason that I add no photos since achieving a quantity of text seems achievement enough without rigging up my camera and starting to upload photos in the corner of this wi-fi pub in Kew.

I do hope I can find a space of my own and get back on track soon!

Friday, 10 July 2009

What Next?

Thanks to everyone who showed interest in what was going on at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, as well as for all the encouraging comments. My posts felt somewhat chaotic because I didn't know where to begin with describing everything. I hope they weren't too sporadic or repetitive.

I am now in north Sweden visiting family and staying in our beautiful little cottage by the sea. It's pouring with rain and the waves are crashing on the beach so that, unusually, we are all huddled indoors enjoying the warmth of a mostly little-used wood burning stove.

So what should I write about next? I have trawled through a huge pile of photos, most of which struggle to give a sense of either the size or the detail of the festival. But I'm keen to upload some more and just don't know where I should start or stop.

Are there any requests? I have photos of leeches, piles of dyed wool still to be prettyfied and pictured, and endless images of our little show-garden. I also have the odd image of other things happening at the festival though tragically I had almost no opportunity to visit much of it and rely on the experiences of others to get a sense of what was going on.

I'm open to suggestions. If anyone would like to hear more on any part of the festival, I shall endeavour to expand upon it and add what images I have. Please let me know by leaving a comment or e-mailing me.

I will also be adding bits here and there to fill in where visitors to our tent made specific requests.

And eventually, when the sun begins to shine again, I must go out and explore the Swedish verges with my new medicinal flora - it looks so green and lovely, I just can't wait.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Well, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival 2009 is finally over.

I've had an absolutely wonderful two weeks. The atmosphere has been brilliant, the level of interest and engagement from visitors truly astounding.

But there's so much more to tell and I'm looking forward to sharing many of the details I haven't had the time or energy to describe so far. I've also promised a goodly number of people that I would upload more information here about what I was doing at the festival. The number of visitors who asked if they could buy my photo album was a real surprise and, since I had to disappoint them, I hope to provide at least something on the blog to make up for my lack of handouts or marketplace wares.

It will take a little time however. Tonight we fly back to London and won't arrive until tomorrow. The next day I head off to North Sweden to visit family and hopefully spin some of the wool I've been dyeing. If I can, I'll let you know how it goes. And with a bit more free time and an opportunity to reflect, maybe I can share some more highlights from my time in Washington.

Back soon...

Monday, 29 June 2009

Wales Smithsonian Cymru - Festival day 3-5

We're now at the end of our first week at the Smithsonain Folklife Festival 2009. It's been a wonderful experience so far and a real pleasure to be surrounded by so many talented and interesting people from so many walks of life.
One of the most remarkable things about a festival such as this is the way in which it changes your perspective of a place or culture you thought you knew so well. Wales will be so much richer to me from now on and, wherever I go in that small country, I'll have some idea of the incredible arts, crafts and music hidden around every corner.

Likewise, I have had the opportunity to sample some of the best talents of the local African American communities, several South American musical cultures and also a small number of Welsh Patagonians.

The only misfortune with all this is that we, as participants, have so little time to explore and absorb it all. After a full week on the National Mall, I have yet to cross the main path and see properly what is going on on the other side. It's the same for all of us. Regular mealtimes together give us all the opportunity to meet. Fascinating discussions are had, potential collaborations are explored, but only very rarely do we get to actually see each other in action.

In fact, our primary experiences are limited to the American public who come to visit us at our stands in droves. It's a very interesting cultural experience. Several of us have been surprised at how friendly, curious and forthcoming the locals are. More than once it has been commented that where a British person would stand and watch a demonstration in silence, never daring to ask questions, the Americans take an entirely different approach. Often they are so full of questions that squeezing in the occasional demonstration can be a real trial.
But we managed a few in the end. Gareth and I have been doing daily demonstrations on how to extract aromatic waters from medicinal and culinary plants. It's been a huge success and explaining the set-up to a constantly changing audience can easily keep us occupied for hours. One visitor asked me for written instructions which I promised I would put on the blog. If you're reading this now, rest assured it will go up as soon as I have access to a diagram I did which explains it fully.

Gareth and his leeches have also been very successful. Unusually, there are no livestock at the festival this year and so our 3 buckets of leeches are fulfilling that role admirably. Sometimes I wonder, given the fond way in which visitors and staff talk of the leeches, that they haven't mistaken them for something more like a family of hamsters.

Meanwhile, I have finally begun the occasional dyeing demonstration. It has to be said that the first one was a very disappointing effort. Using Broom (Cytisus scoparius) I should have been able to produce some kind of pleasantly strong greenish yellow colour. Instead I ended up with a clump of wool looking like it had been dragged through a mud puddle. I believe the problem is with the US electricity supply. I simply can't get the water to boil on my little hob and I should be simmering the stuff for over an hour. I've had the same problem with my camera which just didn't charge overnight resulting in a shortage of new photos. I managed to use the problem to my advantage yesterday however. Madder (Rubia tinctorum) typically dyes best at 60 degrees (C) or lower. The result was an absolutely incredible flame red. The best I think I've ever had from it and the photo below certainly doesn't do the colour intensity justice.
As I said before, meeting the visitors is often a great source of interest. I absolutely love these opportunities to share and exchange information. Whilst I've done my best to get people excited about the potential of medicinal plants, I must admit I'm learning an awful lot myself.

One of the most memorable examples comes from someone who said he had been diagnosed with MS several years ago. He said that he had given apitherapy (bee stings) a try and found it very successful. In fact, his last scan showed all or almost all lesions had disappeared. To support the idea that it's the bee stings which made the difference, he described how he had become a beekeeper and had once received 200+ stings when a hive collapsed near him. Although he was lucky to survive, he said that afterwards he had not a single symptom for the next 3 months.

But that's not all he told me. Given that he kept bees, I asked him if he had had trouble with Varroa and various other bee related problems that are so prominent at present. He told me he hadn't had any trouble at all even though others had. His methods with the hives are entirely organic and he said his secret to success was Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium). He mixes an infusion of this rather potent mint with honey taken from the bees. He then waters it down and gives it back to the bees as drinking water in cans near their hives. By drinking this water the bees are able to ingest some of the mint and also introduce it to the hive itself. He says he does this summer and autumn and so far so good. It's definitely something to pass on to Chris who keeps the bees at the National Botanic Garden of Wales and who has had mixed results experimenting with Citronella and such like.

Another very exciting experience for me came from some of the other participants. I was told that the Welsh food demonstrators had been doing something with the plant Yerba Maté (Ilex paraguariensis) - a South American holly shrub. "Welsh!?" we exclaimed, "that's hardly Welsh!". But of course it is Welsh if you include the small number of Patagonians who are here amongst us. Intrigued I hunted one of them down and she explained that they drink Maté regularly as a sort of social ritual. She invited me to join which I enthusiastically agreed to do next time they were to have some. Later that day she found me and asked me along to where they were sharing their brew. What I found was very exciting indeed.

They drink their Maté in a small terracotta pot. It is packed to the very top with the chopped dried plant which is a grey-green in colour. Hot water is added and an attractive metal straw protrudes from the mix. They had just one small pot to share between the three of us and I gathered that the sharing aspect was important to the whole experience. We then took turns to sip from the cup and I was impressed by the strong fresh and surprisingly bitter flavour. I have seen the Maté plant so many times and heard about it frequently, but this is the first opportunity that I've ever had to taste it. I was instantly sold on the idea and enjoyed the flavour very much which is most closely reminiscent to a top quality fresh green tea I was once given by a group of Chinese botanists.

The chance to share this tea with these Patagonians is one of the most special experiences I've had here so far and I'm hoping I can buy some of the tea from them if they have enough left. I certainly intend to seek them out again so that I can photograph the pot and straw. In the mean time a photo and explanation are available on Wikipedia here.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Wales Smithsonian Cymru - Update

A few photos have now been added to the last two posts. More to come soon hopefully.

Wales Smithsonian Cymru - Festival day 2

It's the evening of the second day of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival 2009. Cameron and I are sitting in the dedicated hotel ballroom ready for one of the evening socials. Already three of the Welsh musicians are sitting at a table across the room playing folksy jigs on flutes and a fiddle. It's exactly the kind of music I love so I'm keen to spend time down here in the hope of hearing more.
It's been a hectic two days for all of us, but by the end of today the shape of the festival is beginning to become clear I think. We started yesterday with an opening ceremony. In the Welsh Dragon tent a series of VIP's and Smithsonian staff took turns to make announcements interspersed with performances from each of the 3 programmes. We heard some brilliant rapping from the Giving Voice programme, a bit of the Las Americas music and also some Welsh harp. I didn't get a chance to see the whole thing since we were expected to be in our tents ready for the festival to open to visitors.
When the moment finally came I hardly noticed the transition. I went from frantically searching for herby samples to put out to being swamped by visitors who were all surprisingly interested in our little garden and all the things we're about. When I next looked up it was to find one of the Smithsonian interns attempting to throw me off our site so that I could get myself lunch. I hadn't realised it was already going on 3 o'clock.

The day continued in this fashion until eventually the visitors dwindled to nothing. I don't think any of us noticed closing time at 5.30 arrive and we certainly missed the main shuttle back to the hotel. We didn't even manage to do any of our demonstrations during the day. Partly because we still hadn't received all the necessary equipment, but also because the visitors are all so keen to talk and love having people participate in the festival. More than once I met seasoned Smithsonian Folklife visitors who asked me how I was enjoying the festival and thanked us for coming to share our culture and crafts with them.
Today was no different. The start was a little more predictable and I began to streamline the set-up process so that I can actually find all the things I want to show people. Again we found ourselves swamped by enthusiastic and curious people from every walk of life and again I was ready to miss lunch if need be because the act of showing people all these plants is so thrilling.

I still haven't started the dyeing demonstrations I'd planned on. I've managed to wash some wool, but issues with electrics and safety means I can't start boiling up big tubs of water just yet. Hopefully tomorrow. Instead I tried to lay out a dye plant rainbow for people to touch and smell. I had madder (Rubia tinctoria) for red, rhubarb (Rheum palmatum) for a sort of orange, chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and barberry (Berberis vulgaris) for yellow, birch (Betula pendula) for green (it can if you boil it long enough), woad (Isatis tinctoria) for blue, logwood (Haematoxylum campechianum) for purple and finally the shells of my mixed xmas nuts for a brown.

Other than that, we've decanted a load of smelly herbs into clear plastic cruet sets for people to sniff. I've found Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a real winner with children because they either love it or hate it. Working with kids terrifies me so it's a good prop which I keep close by at all times just in case.

And that's another thing. I knew I would be confronted by children on a regular basis during this festival. I had decided to stomach it and put it down to very good experience and a steep learning curve which is well overdue for me. What I hadn't expected was to be approached by a teacher with a bunch of 7 year olds and be asked to give a 10 minute lesson on plant medicines. I just had to wing the whole thing and decided to give them a few good reasons to eat their broccoli until I discovered that American kids seem to love broccoli. Unheard of! You learn something new every day I guess.

The other inevitable request that we get is to suggest treatments for various conditions. The most common is for relief of mosquito bites, to which end we've placed a curled parsley (Petroselinum crispum) plant nearby from which leaves can be picked to rub on bites. I've tested it on myself twice so far. Once on an ant bite and once on a mozzy bite. Both vanished instantly, but then, the mozzies around here are tiny and feeble compared to what I'm used to in Sweden.

On the whole I'm enjoying myself immensely. The hard work building the garden over the first couple of days was well worth it. Our little verge is perking up and the chickweed (Stellaria media) has already produced new shoots. Everyone loves the garden and there are always people wandering around reading the labels about traditional Welsh cures made from cabbage (Brassica sp.), wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) and tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) amongst other things.
Tim is busy demonstrating hedge laying, but also gets into extended conversations with people about sustainable farming. It seems he can't be dragged away. Alison, biochemist, can tell stories of fascinating new chemicals discovered in plants. I desperately want to borrow her interpretative material for a bit of bedtime reading, but so far I've been too disorganised and knackered to read anything.

Gareth is wowing adults ands children alike with his buckets of leeches. They get so frisky when being transferred from tub to tub that I thought one of them had bitten his finger off on the first day. I've been assured however that they're well fed and shouldn't cause a problem. Having said that, the hotter they get, the more energetic they are and presumably that'll make them hungry more quickly.

As for me, I feel a bit of a cheat. I have my funny "natural dyeing" take on the whole plant medicine thing which means I also need to have wool around. Tim has given me a top quality Welsh Lleyn fleece and I also have carders and drop spindle. Consequently, I find myself drawn into a discussion of crafts rather than medicine on a fairly regular basis and spent a good 15 minutes teaching a teenager how to use the spindle today. Others are simply fascinated by the dyeing process and lots of people want to know about the woad ball I have on display even though it barely has a medicinal use.

All the same, this is about making people excited about plants and encouraging them to recognise the incredible properties they have. I honestly feel that if these visitors have gleaned as much from me as I have from them then it's well worth it and I'm keen for another day.

Which reminds me. Today Gareth and I did our first demonstration in the “Around the Table” tent. The idea here is to run an interactive workshop on your topic of choice. We offered to contribute a demonstration of aromatic water distillation using a simple kitchen method. The real bonus with this was that when the time came, we just happened to be surrounded by a group of adults with varying levels of visual impairment. Whilst Gareth explained the history behind this kind of domestic distillation, I described how I was boiling up rose (Rosa centifolia) petals so that the steam rose and condensed against the upturned lid of the pan (cooled on top with ice) and dripped into a bowl in the center. Afterwards we were able to take our hot rose water around the group so everyone could have a smell. The scent was pungent and perfect for the audience. We now have our water stoppered in a bottle and hope to do a lemon water next time.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Wales Smithsonian Cymru - Plant Medicine (days 1 & 2)

Finally I've made it onto the internet since arriving in Washington two days ago. This is just a quick post on progress so far. I'll add photos later once I've had a chance to upload them [photos now added!].
It's past 10pm here now which makes it the small hours in the UK. Although I don't feel as exhausted as I did yesterday, I still don't have the energy (or time) to go too in-depth.

So far we've worked two long and intensive days on the National Mall just a short distance from Capitol Hill. The site has been relatively quiet the last two days since we arrived in advance of the main party. White tents dot the Wales part of the festival site, each one covering a different aspect of Welsh culture, both old and new. On either side of this area are the tents for the Giving Voice (The Power of Words in African American Culture) and Las Americas (A Musical World) programmes.

Gareth, who has been leading the whole plant medicine project, Cameron (my partner who is supposed to be here as a guest) and I got stuck right in trying to develop a Welsh Cottage Garden and wild hedgerow verge in the four custom-built wooden planters that had been provided outside our little tent.

It's been a very satisfying task. The Smithsonian horticulturists have provided an abundance of healthy looking plants and, although several things weren't quite what we expected, we've had great fun patching together meadow grasses, chickweed, clover and numerous other weeds into what might resemble a verge below a barberry hedge. On the other side of the hedge we've been planting a mixture of herbs and veg in small rows.

It's been a little tricky. We've had a huge number of plants we wanted to include, but a very limited amount of space so getting the feel we want can be tough. We're also worried about how the plants will take. So far we've been very lucky with the weather apparently - the steamy atmosphere and hot sun today were described as comparitively "cold" by one person. Our plants must be able to tolerate everything from baking hot sun to torrential downpours and gale force winds. It'll be a matter of time before we see for ourselves what they (and we) are in for.
So far our tasks have been varied and numerous. We began with the quandry of how to fill our planters without using up too much of our compost straight away. Cameron saved the day with the suggestion that we fill the bottom of each planter with plastic bottles from the recycling bins around the site. This has the added bonus of providing Gareth with inspiration for the recylcing talk he suddenly found he was scheduled to give during the festival.

We then set about filling and planting not only these planters as our main garden, but also several other smaller ones with examples of medicinal plants for us as well as pretty flowers for the food demonstrators in the tent next door.
So far we haven't had much time to consider the contents of our own tent in any great detail. We have a mock-up of a Welsh Dresser made from recylced plastic and a few banners and tables. Tomorrow we'll be opening up all our freighting boxes and putting together our displays.

This evening the rest of the Smithsonian party arrived and so tomorrow the real chaos will begin all over the site. Alison (biochemist) and Tim (National Botanic Garden of Wales Estate Manager) will get the opportunity to see what we've achieved so far and will, presumably, give their verdict on what we've been preparing for them. Hopefully most of it will be up to scratch though Tim didn't get his wildflower meadow in the end. We also need to find a way for him to demonstrate hedge laying without sinking any pegs into the National Mall itself.

As for my projects, almost as soon as I arrived at the hotel, I unpacked my woad balls and tried to activate one of them with a view to doing a dyeing demonstration with it. I confess, I've never tried it before and so I'm curious to see wht the damp heap of smelly green stuff in my hotel room will eventually produce. I'm also a little worried it might be a total disaster since I should be fermenting the stuff for two weeks apparently. Still, it certainly smells like it's doing interesting things and I'm sure it'll be an enjoyable learning experience regardless.

Time to sign off now and get some sleep. We have another early start tomorrow with lots to do on our final day of preparation as well as all the inductions to get through.