The wonders of seaweed!

Julia with her lovely terrier appropriately named Seaweed!I first met Julia Horton-Powdrill on a writing course, some six years ago. I was there with my partner in crime writing Julia Wherrell (you don’t meet a Julia for years and then two come along at once!) and we have stayed in touch ever since. Julia H-P lives in St David’s in Pembrokeshire where she runs foraging courses, writes novels and runs the ‘Really Wild Food Festival’ – one busy lady! Julia W went to visit earlier this month as she was collecting her new puppy from the area (and that’s another blog coming soon!), so she thought she’d ask Julia H-P about foraging and one of her major passions – seaweed!

While I enjoy growing my own veg and picking the odd mushroom and wild berry, I really am not very knowledgeable about wild plants and food for free, so I was interested to hear how Julia H-P first got into foraging.

“I was pretty much born to it!” she says. “My father studied botany and zoology at Cambridge, and then became a GP in a rural practice in south east Wales. In those days, GPs still ‘did the rounds’ and had time to pause and appreciate their surroundings so my father would often come home with foraged plants and mushrooms for our tea. I remember him bringing home elvers fresh out of the local river once, but mother thought they were revolting, so that was not one of his better efforts!

“He was also very keen on seaweed, as am I, but it wasn’t until after he died that I made a rather significant discovery. I was going through his belongings when I came across a wonderful collection of seaweeds that he’d gathered from around Anglesey back in the 1930s. It is quite probable that some of these seaweeds no longer grow in the area, so I plan to donate them to the National Museum of Wales. They already have his beetle collection anyway!”

So what is it that’s so marvellous about seaweed, I wondered? Julia’s lovely country-style kitchen is draped with the stuff – all different shapes and sizes and colours, she breaks off bits and chews them as she talks and describes how she uses them in soups and stews. Her pantry is neatly stocked with jars of it too, and there are packs stored in the freezer.

“I use it a lot adding bits here and there to dishes as different seaweeds have different flavours and textures and, of course, being Welsh, I make lava bread! It takes some time to identify different seaweeds and to know how to clean and dry and store them, but if you are interested, you can buy books on it, or look it up – it’s all there online these days. And one of the great things about seaweed is you can just stop and try a bit – have a nibble on the beach if you want to – it is never going to harm you, none of it is poisonous.”

As well as appearing on the BBCs Countryfile earlier this month, Julia has been on other TV shows and, perhaps most memorably, been filmed sitting in a seaweed bath with The One Show presented Alex Jones! “Seaweed is terribly good for your skin,” Julia explains. “It is full of all sorts of vitamins and minerals, so run a good hot bath, stick in the seaweed and hey presto – a wonderful natural beauty treatment!” 

Multi-skilling seaweed!
We come across products containing seaweed quite often but are usually completely unaware of it. You will find it in some brands of cosmetics, ice cream, toothpaste and various food stuffs. It is also in bath preparations and is widely used as a fertilizer.

You can follow Julia’s foraging exploits here.

Her wild food festival here. 

Her new novel here. 



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Gold, frankincense and myrrh – how wise were the wise men…?

From the top: The three wise men, or Magi. Gold, frankincense and myrrh as we usually portray them in nativity plays. A frankincense tree, and myrrh resin.As a child, I was always fascinated by the three wise men and their gifts. I could see the logic in gold, but what on earth were frankincense and myrrh, and wouldn’t it have been a lot more sensible if they had brought blankets, soap and a nice pot of stew instead? Well, after looking into saffron for a recent blog, I decided to find out the facts about these two strange sounding gifts…

People in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula have produced frankincense and myrrh for over 5,000 years. For much of this time, these aromatic resins were the region’s most important commodity, with a trade network that reached across Africa, Asia and Europe.

Derived from tree sap, or gum resin, both frankincense and myrrh were highly prized for personal, religious and medicinal use. In a time before people washed every day, they would use the sweet smoke from the resins to make themselves smell better. Egyptian women used the ash of frankincense to make their eyeliner – think of all those amazing mummies with their dramatically black–lined eyes! 

Frankincense and myrrh also had medicinal uses and both resins were recommended for the treatment of wounds. Other ailments they were reputed to cure included hemlock poisoning, leprosy, worms, snakebites, diarrhoea, plague, scurvy and even baldness!

The high demand for frankincense and myrrh created a booming trade in the Middle East lasting several hundred years. In the first century, around the height of the trade, it is recorded that Arabia produced approximately 1,680 tons of frankincense and around 448 tons of myrrh each year.

So frankincense and myrrh were widely available when the three wise men visited the baby Jesus and would have been considered practical gifts with many uses. The expensive resins were symbolic as well. Frankincense, which was often burned, symbolized prayer rising to the heavens like smoke, while myrrh, which was often used for burials, symbolized death.

Frankincense and myrrh may not be as popular as they once were, but they’re still used today in products and in ways that might surprise you. They’re common ingredients in modern perfumes and cosmetics, continuing a tradition that has lasted thousands of years. Scientists are finding new uses for the substances as well and recent studies suggest that frankincense may be beneficial to sufferers of asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, osteoarthritis and collagenous colitis. Researchers have also discovered possible benefits of myrrh in the treatment of gastric ulcers, tumours and parasites.

So, three very wise men indeed…

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Dramatic Couture!

How about a really over the top card for a fashion loving friend or family member? These images come from the CD featuring Janet Kruskamp – the collection. Janet has the most amazingly diverse range of things she paints and sketches and these are something wonderfully different.

This is a particularly large card measuring about 11.5” x 8” – but obviously you could take this idea and create something much smaller if you didn’t want to be quite so dramatic!

The corners can be achieved several ways – you could use something as easy as a punch, a die – even good old peeloffs. So mat your backing paper onto some black card. Add the corners and then mount all of that onto an antique gold card blank. This size of card blank would be something you would do yourself and is easiest with A3 card.

Then arrange the toppers with different couture designs, decoupage the outfits to add height to the card and then add a wonderfully grand ribbon bow. The hat pins are then tucked into the bow and glued in place with glue gel.

Have fun!


A personal ‘spring clean’

After all the dreadful rain we’ve recently had some days of gorgeous winter sunshine and, although I know I am a bit early, I am already looking forward to spring! As well as spring cleaning the house and tackling the jobs in the garden, I have also been thinking about little old me – how can I give myself a bit of a ‘pep up’ and a spring clean?

As you will know, I’ve always been keen on natural health and beauty remedies, so I’ve had a look through my files and come up with some easy and effective natural beauty ideas for you.

Leftover Rice Mask
Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous, but stay with me… This mask feeds the skin and leaves it really soft and satiny.

  • 2 tablespoons of cooked rice
  • 15ml (I tablespoon) sunflower oil
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 5ml (1 teaspoon) runny honey
  • 4ml (1 scant teaspoon) lemon juice

Mix all the ingredients together and apply to your face – this looks pretty fearsome, so you might want to pre-warn your loved ones! Leave on for 15 minutes while you relax, a quick snooze, a bath or perhaps read a chapter or two of my novel! Wash off well with warm water.

Citrus Neck Oil
It is impossible to ignore your face as you are constantly confronted by it in the mirror, but what about your neck? It’s probably been hidden with scarves and high collars all winter and, as we ladies know, it is often the part of you that ages fastest, so give your neck some TLC.

  • 5ml (1 teaspoon) avocado oil
  • 5ml (1 teaspoon) grapeseed oil
  • 6 drops geranium essential oil
  • 3 drops lemon essential oil
  • 3 drops orange essential oil
  • 2 drops clary sage essential oil

Mix the ingredients well and massage a small amount into your neck at night. If you feel you’ve overdone it, just blot off the excess with tissue.


Looking good in winter…

Animals have got it right when it comes to winter – curl up and hibernate for a few months (having gorged yourself first!) or keep nice and warm in your snug-fitting fur coat. Sadly for us poor old humans, we just have to brave the elements. So we end up with chapped lips, dry skin, dull hair and numerous other problems. But don’t despair, with a little bit of ingenuity we can perk ourselves up no end.

Making a rich moisturiser out of natural ingredients is a great way to give your skin a treat.

Devon Cider Apple Cream

  • 500g (1lb) white vegetable fat
  • 500g (1lb) apples (weight after being peeled and cored)
  • 120ml rose water
  • A few drops of alcoholic tincture of benzoin (preservative)

This is not a particularly sophisticated cream but, believe me, it works excellently. It also makes a good hand cream.

Melt the vegetable fat in a pan over a low heat. Put the prepared apples in a food processor or blender and purée totally Add the apple juice and pulp to the fat and stir together well. Remove from the heat and add the rose water and benzoin. Strain immediately, put into screw-top jars and keep in the fridge. Massage the cream into face and neck – and give you hands a treat at the same time!

Sunflower & Sea Salt Body Rub

  • Small amount of sunflower oil
  • Sea salt

This is ideal for tired winter skin. It also works well if you substitute granulated sugar for the sea salt.

Treat your body in sections. First, apply a little sunflower oil to soften and dampen the skin, then take a handful of sea salt and rub well into the area you have prepared. This will slough off any dead skin cells and leave your skin glowing and awake. Wash off the oil and salt mix with warm water – the easiest way is in the shower.