Proof is in the Comfrey

I have heard it said that the reason why herbs heal is because of the belief of the people who use them. If belief is the only factor then I celebrate their success.

However, I do know that conventional medicine and drugs stand firmly on the backs of ancient herbalists and their research. Modern chemical drugs mimic the healing properties of many healing herbs. Modern drugs may indeed also require a strong belief in them to work, but modern drugs are subjected to supposedly rigorous testing, whereas the ancients were prepared to believe.

If a herb worked they used it; if it didn’t (for whatever reason) they kept looking until they found one that did. So a few people died in the experiment (read mice/dogs/chimps for modern medicine), but in the end they came up with herbs that worked for most people. Modern herbalists follow their tradition, but people don’t die and many are saved from suffering that chemical medicines cannot cure. I guess you could say I’m a believer.

One of my earliest introductions to the efficiency of herbs to heal was when I resorted to comfrey poultices to cure my cat of the effects of a terrible accident.

Tosca, a self-coloured seal Siamese was hit by a car near our property in the country. We did not find him for three days when he finally replied to our calls and we traced him to long grass in a paddock over the road. He was in a bad way. When he was x-rayed at the vets he was found to have a broken pelvis, hip and leg (three breaks in all). He also had many cuts which had started to go septic.

There was no question in our mind – save him at all costs. The skilled surgical vet pinned his leg and hip back together and we nursed him back to health administering antibiotics and tempting his appetite with soft foods on a regular routine. Gradually he started healing and walking again, but the broken rear leg dragged so he was putting weight on the back of his paw.

Inevitably the skin on that paw broken down and became affected. He developed an abscess that the vet had to drain. Then he seemed to have a slight stroke. The vet believed that matter from the abscess may have travelled in the blood stream. Tosca’s mobility reduced again. What to do? Should we ‘be kind’ and have him put to sleep? The vet said he was likely to have suffered liver damage.

I decided one last try. I started making comfrey poultices and binding them onto his deformed leg and paw. I took clean comfrey leaves, chopped them up so that the juices were running and wrapped the mush in muslin. Then I bound the poultice on top of the paw where the original abscess had started. Tosca didn’t like the bandage but we kept replacing it.


Above: Comfrey leaves and flowers. The long tap roots are reputed to gather minerals from up to 40cms below the surface and store these minerals in its leaves. If the leaves are chopped down regularly and left as mulch around lemon trees, I can vouch for the fact that the lemons will be magic!

Over several weeks we noticed that Tosca was walking on the pad of his paw, not the top. His abscess had cleared up and healed completely. His leg was much stronger and his limp diminished. He went on to live a further two years before the liver damage became evident and we had to face the inevitable.

So did Tosca decide to believe that the comfrey would help him? I think not!

In ancient times, comfrey was known as ‘knit bone’. It has been known to “have healed the most sinister chronic ulcers” (p103, Elizabeth Francke, The make-your-own Cosmetics and Fragrance Book for New Zealanders). Apparently comfrey leaves and roots contain a substance called ‘allantoin’ the promotes the regeneration of cells.

By Heather Sylvawood, author of Real Estate Rollercoaster.

Solar water heating gets the thumbs up

On my Energy Issues page I mentioned some research that we did to find out about going off-the-grid for all our power. The challenges became so daunting (and expensive) we gave it away, however, now we are about to go solar for our water heating.

It really does pay to talk to experts because they do have some practical passive energy solutions that the average homeowner (I include myself in that group) wouldn’t think about. We had always gazed skyward and had seen our steeply sloping roof as ideal for panels. Panel dimensions, however, turned out to be too large for the space where we planned. They would have to go across part of the upper windows (see photo) to get the optimum slope.

KowhaiCottageSale 014

The installer we talked to suggested that the panel(s) be positioned in front of our deck (the deck on the right not in the picture) . The panel would be unseen when we were on our deck or from inside; the installation would not compromise the integrity of our roof; and being a retro-install we would not have to cut into walls to link up to the current position of the water heater.

We will have to move a few plants – a couple that will now be behind the panel, and one that will cast a shadow over the panel. Having a house built at the top of a slope has helped because we will not be built out or have trees in lower properties grow too tall.

So now we’re preparing the site. We won’t be able to do a straight comparison of costs as we generally turn off the water heater unless we have guests. Instead we use a system of gas water heating. The installer’s proposal is that we will have a dual system. When solar energy is low and the water temperature drops we will be able to switch back to gas heating, and vice versa.

I think it’s natural to think that solar panels have to be placed on the roof. It always seems to be the place nearest the sun. We have since researched a number of ways they can be positioned if the house roof is not ideal. They can be placed behind the house, raised above sheds, or placed on fences. In fact YouTube has a great selection of systems to copy.

If you’re really interested in doing some of the process yourself take a look at these YouTube videos –

By Heather Sylvawood, author of Real Estate Rollercoaster – what the professionals forget to tell you about buying, building and selling real estate.

Our future should not be based on oil

With so many alternative power generation options and many transport technologies that are waiting in the wings, but are not being picked up by companies making fortunes in oil, we are oiling our way to extinction.

What we don’t need now is another oil well. Good on Greenpeace for developing this interactive website showing the effect of an oil spill on our island nation.

NZ Oil Spill Map

One positive way we can all do is move towards alternative power/energy options.

  • Take a bike/bus or train ride instead of the car
  • Install solar panel options to reduce reliance on power generation
  • Turn off all unnecessary lights and appliances on stand by
  • Buy energy efficient appliances when you can

Well … you all know the drill.

What should go in your herb garden?

As part of our move toward being more eco-friendly human beings, I have convinced my partner that we need a herb garden. The final convincing argument about why we should lose lawn and gain herb garden was there was nowhere for the strawberry patch. The prospect of no strawberries was enough to make a herb-cum-strawberry garden seem bearable.

Now my next task was to decide what to put in it? Was the herb garden culinary or medicinal? Would I plant international or native plants?

I opted for medicinal – which sent me into a lot of research. Here is a sskin tonics, ummary of what I discovered:

  • Culinary herbs are often also medicinal. (e.g. sage as a deodorant or mouth wash, thyme to promote sleep, (lemon balm for headaches and tiredness)
  • Many herbs considered as weeds are extremely beneficial. (comfrey, heartsease, yarrow, nasturtium, puha and sorrel)
  • There are so many herbs and vegetables that make effective cosmetics and skin tonics. (e.g. citrus, cucumbers, onion and even strawberries)
  • A herb garden is unlikely to be tidy as you have to let some plants go to seed to harvest and others (like yarrow) are weeds most people would remove immediately. Depending on what I decide to put into the herb garden, this could be the subject of strong discussion between my partner and me.


Sage – not just for taste alone – the tea  taken regularly can reduce body odour


Heirloom Garden seeds come with hints about their medicinal uses

Seed suppliers

I started by looking for suppliers of seed. The more unusual herbs may not show up as plants in your local garden shop. One gem of a website I discovered was Carol’s Heirloom Garden.  Carol produces a wonderful array of seeds, including herbs at very reasonable prices, but she can only supply in New Zealand. She also has some eBooks on sale, including one on Seed Saving at Home. It’s on my ‘must-have’ list.

What I like about Carol’s seeds is that they come in tiny packets which have growing instructions on one side and medicinal or culinary properties on the other. Once these herbs grow into healthy plants I am going to have to decide:

  1. In what part of the herb garden will they grow on best?
  2. How can I water and cultivate them to get best results?
  3. How I will label them so that come harvest time I still remember what they are?

Maybe that’s counting my herbs before they’re grown. I’ll keep you posted.

The true cost of energy

I recently stumbled across an article from Inhabitat about a German village that produces so much electrical energy that it makes about 5.6million euros profit for the villagers each year. I was so inspired that I have been thinking how my locality (population 4,500) could replicate that energy success.

Already many individual households are installing solar water heating and solar power panels for running their other electrical systems. (Take a look at the Little Greenie website) In a few months we have plans to go that route too – can’t wait. Even though the installation cost will take several years to pay off if you simply compare cost dollars to savings on power charges, the thing that excites me is we will be reducing the demand on coal and gas generation*.

One household installing solar panels doesn’t have much of an effect, however when you reach hundreds or thousands of houses with alternative power systems the impact becomes enormous. If there would be one inspiring dream I would have, it would be to turn out lovely Golden Bay into an energy-neutral location.

Of course, as quickly as these passive energy options are installed the faster we increase our power consumption by installing and using new technologies – automatic appliances and computer technology – that we forget to turn off at night. Appliances left on stand-by use up an unbelievable amount of power over a year. Take a look at Standby Power or EECA Energywise websites. But that’s for some more research!

*Note: In New Zealand we do not have nuclear power generation. By far the largest amount of electricity is generated by hydro-generation plants. But even these have an impact on the local environment through flooding of valleys to create dams and the interruption of natural habitats for native fish and plants.

By Heather Sylvawood, author of Real Estate Rollercoaster.