December 2013


I’ve been astounded at the number of queries since I wrote on the healing power of comfrey and plantain. I’d like to look at a few more remedies and foods from the natural world.

Stinging Nettles

Stinging Nettles

Stinging nettles is a plant highly recommended by herbalists as a general tonic. Stinging nettles are absolutely packed with minerals, most notably iron, silica and potassium. David Hoffman, author of The Holistic Herbal, says emphatically, ‘When in doubt, use nettles.’ I’m sipping from a cup of nettle tea as I write. It’s a tasty, mineral-rich brew. Nettles are a blood tonic and improve the body’s resistance to pollens, molds and environmental pollutants. It’s not a wonder they grow so prolifically in Western Europe where air pollution is significant. Stinging nettles are doing their best to neutralize the air-born toxins in that part of the world. The plant is easy to grow but needs to be planted in a place where it can be contained. It will spread rampantly given the opportunity.

The humble dandelion is a plant that seems to follow man wherever he goes. It too is a blood purifier. Dandelion root is useful in treating obstructions of the gallbladder, liver, spleen, pancreas and stomach. In Europe, The Cure involves drinking three cups of dandelion root tea daily for six to eight weeks twice yearly in spring and autumn. Young and tender dandelion leaves make a delicious addition to any salad, as do the dandelion’s bright yellow flowers. The plant is extremely hardy, managing to get a roothold in the cracks of concrete in the middle of cities. It is calling out for us to use it as food and medicine.

Rosemary makes an excellent tea for the elderly as it improves digestion, circulation and memory. It even uplifts the spirits and is used by herbalists for those suffering with Alzheimer’s. Hot rosemary tea promotes sweating for those suffering from a cold or flu. It is one of the best treatments for migraines and other headaches. It is even reputed to strengthen eyesight. Rosemary is used to enhance hair growth. It hasn’t helped me in this regard!

Rosemary is one of the herbs used successfully and deliciously in recipes of the countries fringing the Mediterranean Sea. Rosemary is an essential ingredient in my raw green soups and in homemade salad dressings. I love it. It grows readily in this part of the world.

Thyme is another of those remarkable Mediterranean herbs easily grown and just as easily used as food or medicine. Thyme helps loosen mucus and soothes inflamed mucus membranes. It strengthens immunity and nourishes and warms the lungs. It can even be used as a mouth wash to treat dental decay.

So, once again, when feeling unwell you need look no further than your garden for some relief.

Radio host, librarian, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives and Beyond the Search, books to lift the spirit and touch the heart. See http://www.JohnHainesBooks.wordpress.com

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Summer has arrived in November. I’ve just been down to the beach for a dip. Families are clustered in little groups under pohutukawa trees laden with buds. The water is February warm, refreshing now, not bracing as it was just two weeks ago. I return with handfuls of kelp for the garden.

I’m sitting outside, tearing up with gratitude for the privilege of being alive, here in this place, engulfed in a symphony of birdsong—tui, blackbirds, fantails, the chitter of sparrows, the screech of the neighbours’ parakeets. Papa quail stands guard on a sawn-off stump below me, his mate and their brood of ten of the tiniest, cutest chicks scratching in the grass for food. Butterflies floatingly cavort, gulls race determinedly by, in search of I know not what.

Australian Frangipani Hymenosporum flavum

Australian Frangipani Hymenosporum flavum

The sea is calm, rhythmically and soothingly audible. Waves break on distant Fairway Reef, white plumes shooting skyward. The Karikari Peninsula frames the bay in slim silhouette.

Petals of Australian Frangipani float down onto the table on which I write, by hand, by the way. As much as the computer is a necessary tool, I cherish this opportunity to write by hand, caressed by the melodies and balmy breezes of nature.

One of the joys of working in a library are the numerous fleeting, yet often meaningful interactions with the public. The other day the principal of a small rural Far North school sought me out to report that his nine-year-old son had tested in the top 4% nationally for reading in his age group. The proud father felt that a significant contribution to the success of his son was the many trips the family made to the public library. So, with school holidays rapidly approaching, why not make regular forays to the library with your young whanau for stashes of books. Reading is like every other skill. Practice makes perfect.

untitledI have before me a beautiful little book titled Tui: a nest in the bush. Photographer Meg Lipscombe has managed to chronicle the 37-day development of a pair of tui from eggs to fledglings. It’s a life-affirming glimpse into the lives of one of our favourite feathered friends.

I’d like to close with a few words based on another recent conversation in the library. A couple spoke of a new rule at a school in London. Students now must take at least a twenty minute break in every four hour period and they must go outside. I find it amazing we even need such a rule. But it would seem our youth are so hooked on technology that we need to legislate them back to the natural world. And this school borders beautiful Hyde Park. When I mentioned this to a tramping friend they suggested a third rule: Students must leave your electronic devices indoors. What do you think?

Radio host, librarian, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives and Beyond the Search, books to lift the spirit and touch the heart. See http://www.JohnHainesBooks.wordpress.com

White-tailed Spider

White-tailed Spider

In this part of New Zealand the creature most feared by many is the white-tail spider. Originally from Australia, this arachnid is here to stay. One bite from this little hunter can cause flesh to waste away. The results of a white-tail spider bite are not pretty. A few years ago, in the early morning dark in my bedroom, I bent to pick up a piece of fluff from the carpet. The fluff moved. I turned on the light and saw it was in fact a white tail. I felt no pain so assumed I’d been lucky and not been bitten.

Buckhorn plantain (Plantago lanceolata) is often called narrow-leaf plantain

Buckhorn plantain (Plantago lanceolata) is often called narrow-leaf plantain

But a few hours later, while working in the garden, the middle finger on my right hand turned deep purple and began to throb. It seems I had been bitten after all. I immediately picked a few plantain and comfrey leaves, bandaged them around the inflicted finger and carried on with my work. I repeated the process several times in the course of the day, noting a reduction in throbbing and in the purple colouring each time. By the end of the day the pain was gone and all that was left was a tiny red spot, presumably the location of the bite.

A few years earlier I was bitten by an out-of-control dog and I received stitches in my hand at the local clinic. I was advised by the doctor that I’d need antibiotics to prevent any secondary infections from the dog’s saliva. I bypassed the chemist and immediately began covering the wound with comfrey and plantain leaves. I also bathed in the sea. The wound healed remarkably fast and the stitches were removed just a few days later. There had been no infection and almost no scarring.

Greater or Broad-leafed Plantain

Greater or Broad-leafed Plantain

My first encounter with the wonders of plantain were when I was stung by about seven yellow jackets (small wasps) while mowing the lawn in Canada. I immediately rubbed plantain leaves on each sting and carried on mowing the grass. The pain from the stings disappeared almost immediately but I must have missed one. That one sting itched and aggravated me for several more days, whereas I wouldn’t even have known I’d received the other stings. Over the years I’ve used plantain on bee and wasp stings many times. The relief is almost always virtually instantaneous. It is magic. And comfrey, which some claim is a vegetarian source of vitamin B-12, and plantain find their way into my salads from time to time.

In a world in which we so often reach for an instant remedy, either in the form of a pill purchased over the counter in the pharmacy or prescribed by our physician, it is comforting to know that many of our nutritional and medical needs are freely available from nature.

Radio host, librarian, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives and Beyond the Search, books to lift the spirit and touch the heart. See http://www.JohnHainesBooks.wordpress.com