Imagine if common garden plants were once again our first pharmacy?

Monday, 22 September 2014

Photograph used with permission from Sally Yoder of Natural Designs (a beautiful blog you should make
a big pot of tea to sit down with and be transported to her garden)

Lucky lucky me, more writing contributions!  Today's is for “The Ideas Nest”, a Melbourne based group  educating individuals on how small, positive lifestyle changes contribute to a sustainable future both for ourselves and for our environment.

My vision I got to share is all about returning herbal medicine to our gardens and markets and knowing enough about then to make them our first pharmacy once again.

A mini-manifesto on a local medicine movement of sorts.

It can be found over here.  

A Talk & A Contribution

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Just a quick Sunday check in.  It’s been a bumbling, busy week!  I was delighted to give a talk at the Victorian Herbalist’s meeting on where our herbs come from and concerns for the future...a distillation of the last seven years of my journey with naturopathy and my reservations about the industry.  It was wonderful to see a lot of interest in medicine making and concern over the widespread commercialisation of herbal medicine. A lot of work to be done, but luckily the herbs make it oh so enjoyable to do!  

I also would like to share this contribution to this month’s ‘The Planthunter’ edition.  It’s a fantastic online magazine, edited by the very clever Georgina Reid...makes for very thought provoking reading throughout the working week.  This month’s theme is sex.  So how could I resist not writing about some very amorous and charismatic plants?  A honeyed elixir.  Oh so very delicious.  

The post Recipe: A Sensual Botanical Elixir appeared first on The Planthunter.

Simple One Day Body Cleanse

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

There always comes a time when you know your body is just needing a bit of a break.  You don’t have time, nor do you want to put yourself through the washer of a big cleanse or detox.  Your body just needs a moment to breathe and calibrate.   

Whilst a life a richness, pleasure and an array flavours is something that I completely back (and truly believe is a vital ingredient to good health), sometimes to simplify things down for a day or so actually will only contribute to the richness in the long run.  

A breath.  A moment.  A shift.  A recast.  

Knowing how to gift yourself with these moments is really what holistic healthcare is about.  It’s not about levitating like a yogini with frangipani flowers in your hair, glowing from that raw green juice you just drank after a morning of asanas and meditation (although this is fun to do sometimes).


It’s about learning how to read your body and having a few little tricks and tools up your sleeve to bring out when you need to fine tune your energy so that you can continue on with as little hoohaa as possible. 

This is one of those little tricks I have learnt along the way.  After a couple of big weeks of (delightful) running around compounded with  having a couple of extra dinners and events on (and all the glasses of lovely wine that ensued), I was left feeling a bit average and slow. After all the nutrition study I have done, I have always found the most useful and wise insights to food and eating through food memoirs.  

One such memoir that I happened across a couple of years ago was “French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure” by Mireille Guiliano.   I was intrigued, as after spending a couple of months living in France as a teenager, it was a question I spent a some time pondering.  All that bread, cheese, cream and pastries…surely there was something genetic going on.  

But no, just good common sense, an eye for balance and moderation and of coarse pleasure.  

It’s a really delightful read.  And even though it has been publisized as an elegant handbook for women who enjoy the finer things in life, its philosophy and heart is one of the same as holistic healthcare.  The essence: 

“You owe it to your loved ones as well as yourself to know and pursue your pleasures.” 
- Mireille Guiliano


This is a little trick I learnt from Mireille, which I have found far simpler and enjoyable than my previous naturopathic go to of lots of herbal tea and juice for a day of detoxing. 

All this one takes is a trip to your green grocer in the morning to buy a kilo of leeks, come home, chop them up and have a gentle day planned ahead.  Mireille suggests a leek soup weekend, which is great if you have two days to lie low.  But one day is also enough to reap plenty of benefits.  

Magical Leek Soup

Serves 1 for 2 days.  

1kg leeks
Filtered water to cover in pot. 

1. Clean leeks and rinse well to get rid of sand and soil. Cut end of green parts leaving all the white parts plus a suggestion of green. (Reserve the extra greens for soup stock.) 

2. Put leeks in large pot and cover with water. Bring to boil and simmer with no lid for 20-30 minutes. Pour off the liquid and reserve. Place the leeks in a bowl.

The juice is to be drunk (reheated or room temperature to taste) every 2-3 hours, a cup at a time. 

For meals or whenever hungry, have some of the leeks themselves, ½ cup at a time. Drizzle with a few drops of extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice. Season sparingly with salt and pepper. Add chopped parsley if you wish.

Break the fast the next morning with a light, nourishing breakfast.

You’ll be surprised at how delicious and delicate this soup is.  Leeks have a slight diuretic effect, and being a member of the onion family, helps the liver with its workload.  Which is why to you may find yourself going to the bathroom a lot and experiencing a slight headache.  Just drink lots of water and read a something soul noising.  As you’re taking quite a load off the body for a day or two, you’ll be surprised at what other sensations you’ll experience as you’re body is recorrecting itself.

You’ll be left feeling a lot lighter, clearer and focussed the next day.  Like a soft cloud. 


About the Author

Naturopath Clara Bitcon is endlessly inspired by nature.  Her days are mostly filled by following the curiosities nature ignites and using its wisdom to help people feel better.  Her private practice is based in Melbourne, Australia and she runs a little herbal company conceived from a marriage between scientist, healer and artisan called Elm Botanicals.


Now & Then

Saturday, 19 July 2014

This time, just over two years ago I was in India. It was a trip of some soul searching and free spirited travel. I was reading back on an entry I wrote in this very journal yesterday.  From the water I had splashed on the pages and some wax I had split from a candle I can remember this very moment of when I was writing.  My feet were dangling in the Ganges in Rishikesh, the sun was going down and the evening puja ceremony was beginning. Little bamboo leaf bowls were filled with flowers, a candle and incense stick, which were placed on the river with prayers.   

I wrote of how I hoped to set up a small clinic in Melbourne someday and that I would have a dispensary of herbal medicines I had crafted by hand, like the old time herbalists did. I would know each of the herb’s tales like close friends.  

I wrote of how I would invite people to come and tell me their stories...of their delights and their sorrows. I would remind them of their strength and that their ability to heal is all within just waiting for them. And that the plants I introduced them to would just remind them of this. 

I wrote of sage green towels, pressed plants hanging on the wall and the smile I would wear. I feel Mother Ganges may have infused some of her magic into those all of those elements are what greet me in the morning. 

It’s amazing how life unfolds!  

By the Ganges in Rishikesh, 2012.  Very India, rubbish
strewn on the ground set to a magnificent backdrop.  
In other news, I did an interview with the gorgeous Emma of “Chamomile & Peppermint” last week.  If you would like to take a peek, her corner is over here. 

Hope you’re all having a peaceful weekend.  


About the Author

Naturopath Clara Bitcon is endlessly inspired by nature.  Her days are mostly filled by following the curiosities nature ignites and using its wisdom to help people feel better.  Her private practice is based in Melbourne, Australia and she runs a little herbal company conceived from a marriage between scientist, healer and artisan called Elm Botanicals.


Seven Herbs for the Modern Woman :: Nettle

Friday, 11 July 2014

This is the sixth post of a series of seven inspired by some thoughts on the interesting cultural landscape modern women are now navigating.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be making some introductions to some particularly supportive herbs (they do become like friends, so please forgive my ensuing personification of them!) that have a special affinity for women.  You may like to welcome them in for tea if you strike a pleasant chord...

If stuck on an island with only one choice of herb, nettle would be it.  If I were the minister for health, I would encourage nettle to grow in every garden, vacant lot and park land and legislate against any herbicide usage on it…I can just see myself pointing to the graph of declining doctor’s visits in parliament.  Nettle reform!   

Nettle is one of those weedy outlaws filled with nourishing and tonifying qualities and is so often overlooked.  Whilst the superfood algaes, spiralinas and dried fruit extracts are getting all the fame and glory, nettle humbly sits in the corner knowing well and good she has just as much and more.  

Throughout my university days, one of my secret loves was spending time down at the thick nettle patch tucked behind some bushland next to the Wilson river in Lismore.  Protected by big century old fig trees, I would cosy up into the folds of its trunk with my biochemistry study notes and a thermos of tea and watch over the huge nettle patch.  This was one of the handful of habits I got into to make sure I kept a close reminder why I was doing all this study in the first place.  The very clever words in my textbooks never looked as clever as the sun dappling over the thickets of green.  

The patch was also a training ground.  Rosemary Gladstar once said that if you are able to pick nettle bare handed without being stung, you were well on the way to becoming a herbalist.  It was a brutal challenge, but after four years, did manage it get the knack of it!

A couple of times a year I would collect a full basket of this plant, some would be dried for nourishing teas, some made into a vinegar extract and the rest would be made into all sorts of interesting foods from nettle gnocchi, to nettle pie and soup.  

As a students on minimal funds, the richness of what that nettle patch provided me for four years made me feel a very rich woman indeed.  The chill of the autumn morning air, and the green smell of it settled dew, the quietness, the only sound being the rustling of the leaves are very dear memories.

Nettles very much lie between a food and a medicine.  Gentle enough to take everyday, yet they have an impressive ability to help with major health complaints.  

It is supremely nutrient rich, especially in minerals and proteins.  They cleanse the tissues and blood and swap wastes with a pack of nutrients to rebuild the tissue.  Matthew Wood describes nettle as the “protein builder”, and given that proteins make up everything in the body (all the messengers sent from the DNA are after all chains of proteins), nettle is helpful when thing just aren’t working properly.  

Dorothy Hall, a well-loved Australian herbalist described nettles as “an older woman with a broom exhorting people to get going, get a move on, don’t just sit there, do something!”.   I just love this description and find it true.  I often crave nettle when I need a bit of a push and shove.  If I’ve been spending too much time sitting down and contemplating the world and drinking too much coffee, nettle helps make that earthy call to action.  A flicker and a spark to get back up, step back in and by goodness just start already!  

Whilst many gardeners would not welcome nettle with open loving arms, permaculturalists and biodynamic growers recognise that nettles activate and vitalise other plants and compost.  These are exactly the same virtues they bring to the body; they activate and vitalise.  Unlike many plants that are available as ‘energy’ preparations that stimulate, such as ginsengs, mate and cola nut, nettles bring about a similar feeling, yet they do this by stabilising and nourishing the adrenals and nourishing the blood.  

Which is why it is such a brilliant plant for modern women.  If any combination of these apply to you, consider welcoming nettle into your life: 

feeling tired, lethargic and sluggish and you have an inkling that it’s a problem linked to being over stretched, relying on stimulants to get you going or not regularly eating simple, nourishing food.  
feeling like you’re lacking inspiration and need a pick-me-up
prone to anaemia
experience any type of allergies
on the verge of adrenal or emotional burnout
tend toward water retention
experience skin issues (such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, dandruff)
experience any form of hormonal imbalance, from thyroid dysfunction to PMS to menopause 

Nettle is also extremely useful during pregnancy, childbirth and lactation.  Combined with dandelion leaf, it is an extremely safe, effective and gentle diuretic to move excess water retention.  

Nettles have a similar taste to that of spinach, yet more complex, grassy and earthy.  Nettles delight to grow where there is nitrogenous rich soil.  I’m always on the look out, and mainly see it growing near rivers, cow paddocks or gardens fertilised with animal manures.  If you have them in your garden, welcome them!  

I love to take nettle as a classic nourishing infusion.  After a bout of over stretching myself, this has become favourite pick me up inspired by herbalist Susun Weed.  To make, take a handful of the dried tea and add to a 1 litre canning jar or teapot, pour over with four cups of boil water, and let sit overnight.  This time gives the water a full chance to extract nettle full spectrum of nutrients.  The tea will be almost black by morning.  Drink warmed up or cold throughout the day.  Add lemon and/or honey if you like.  Its astonishing, after about 3-4 days of drinking this infusion and cutting out all stimulants a wave of wellbeing arises that feels like coming home.  

To enhance its adrenal nourishing effect and to make for a sweeter brew, to that one handful of nettle, add a tablespoon of liquorice root (nettle infusion training wheels I call them!)

Nettle is a supreme herb for modern women.  If you are curious about herbal medicine, feel attuned to the idea of using plants to improve your health and to keep you out of the doctor’ office, nettle infusions are a great place to start.  

You must use organic!  This is so important with medicine.  Tasmanian Highland Herbs does mail order and produce divine nettle.  May be well worth investing in a big bag!

“If they would eat nettles in March and drink mugwort in May, So many fine maidens would not go to clay” - Funeral Song of a Scottish Mermaid.

Some older posts where nettle as been the muse: 


About the Author

Naturopath Clara Bitcon is endlessly inspired by nature.  Her days are mostly filled by following the curiosities nature ignites and using its wisdom to help people feel better.  Her private practice is based in Melbourne, Australia and she runs a little herbal company conceived from a marriage between scientist, healer and artisan called Elm Botanicals.


Watching the Internal Tides: Women & Moon Cycles

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Ladies, here’s a gift for you.  It felt fitting to share this after the previous post on mugwort and its affinity for aligning women back into their cycles.   I created this chart to complement womens naturopathic treatment for menstrual irregularities or general female hormonal imbalances.  

Tapping into what the moon is doing and relating it back to the emotional and physical themes of the day is a very simple and potent little tool for understanding your own unique patterns.  Many women naturally resonate with it and it brings in a very ancient flavour to complement whatever work she is doing to harmonise her internal cycles; medical, naturopathic or otherwise.  

Whilst the exact mechanism of the moon’s influence on our physiology remains largely unknown, the biorhythmic relationship is clear.  When you see the great influence the moon has on the ocean tides and remind ourselves that we are 80% water, it’s no wonder that that big rock in the sky has an influence on us.

The very simple act of jotting down what the main feelings of the day were, and then checking into see where the moon is strengthens that very old relationship (and gentlemen, there is rhyme and reason to our oscillating natures!).  

I particularly love suggesting to women to use this chart when female balancing plants such as mugwort, motherwort, vitex, black cohosh, angelica and raspberry leaf have are being used to help smooth out hormonal disharmonies.  The plants often unlock and teach us subtly, so having a little tool like this is fascinating to watch their healing effects unfold.  

Once you’ve printed out a couple of copies of this chart, check to see where the moon is (which you can find over here) and write the date above each section.  Keep this chart by your bedside table, and at the end of each day before you go to sleep, take a minute to reflect on your day and note down a couple of words that best described how you felt.  This can relate to anything; physically, emotionally, sexually or spiritually.  

If words aren’t your thing, feel free to be creative, use colour or create symbols with a key (i.e ✺= calm,  ★= irritable, ❤︎ = sensual etc.).  Also mark the days of your period, and if you’re able to tell when you ovulate, mark that in also.  In order to begin to see pattens in relation to the moon, charting for at least three months is best.

If you would like a copy, just click here, use the magnified glass to make it bigger, and ‘save us’ using your right click (or “control” for you mac users) and then you can print off a couple of copies to keep by you bed.  


About the Author

Naturopath Clara Bitcon is endlessly inspired by nature.  Her days are mostly filled by following the curiosities nature ignites and using its wisdom to help people feel better.  Her private practice is based in Melbourne, Australia and she runs a little herbal company conceived from a marriage between scientist, healer and artisan called Elm Botanicals.


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