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Making Natural Remedies

Last week we went on our 9-12 community camp. Our camp is a huge deal to us as, for one week each year, we try to meet all of our own fundamental human needs.

Last year we mainly focused on the needs of food and shelter and this year we wanted to take things a little further by adding in the need for defense. In preparation for camp we made our own anti-bacterial, insect repellent soap to defend our bodies from infection and bites. The children each had a piece of homemade soap in a beeswax wrap to carry around with them.

Whilst on camp we made bows and arrows which of course can be used for hunting as well as defense and learned fire building skills. We also made natural remedies including antibacterial cedar oil, plantain oil for itchy bites and Kawakawa balm. Kawakawa (piper excelsum) is a native plant in New Zealand and is one of the most important herbs used in traditional Māori medicine. It can be used to treat cuts, bruises and boils, stomach and bladder problems, rheumatic pain, skin disorders and toothache. Pretty useful, right?

We invited Daphne, a herbalist in our community, to come on camp with us and teach us to make Kawakawa balm. She began by taking the children out into the bush and showing them how to identify useful plants. She also discussed good harvesting practises such as only harvesting one third of any plant so the other two thirds can continue to grow.

Daphne also explained that usually when we harvest leaves we look for clean, healthy looking ones, with no damage to them but Kawakawa is a little bit different. The insects can tell which leaves are the most potent in medicinal properties and munch on these ones. So when we are choosing Kawakawa leaves for ourselves, we use the clues the insects have left us and pick the holey ones.

We took our harvested Kawakawa back into the camp hall to make into Kawakawa oil – the first stage of making a balm. This is a very simple infusion process. We rolled several leaves up together and pinched off small pieces with our fingers, rubbing and crushing as we went.

We loosely packed our torn leaves into a clean jar and poured extra virgin olive oil over them.

It is important that there is no air trapped in the jar so we used a Kawakawa twig to carefully pull the leaves way from the edges of the jar, releasing all the little bubbles. It was very tempting to stir the potion at this point but Daphne said that would just add air.

When we thought we had released as much air as possible, Daphne poured more olive oil in till the jar looked like it was about to overflow and then we sealed them up.

We made labels stating the contents, our names and the date it would be ready to use – three whole months from now!

Daphne wanted to make sure we had something we would be able to use straight away so she brought along some of her own Kawakawa oil that had already reached maturity and showed us how to make it into balm. This is also amazingly simple – it just needs to be mixed with beeswax and gently heated until it is combined. At this point you can add any essential oils or other plant infused oils but we just stuck with the Kawakawa as it seems to have most ailments covered!

When it was all warmed and mixed, Daphne poured the wax into little tins for the children to keep, it was wonderful to see them using it on scrapes, bites and chapped lips during the course of the camp.

Daphne offered the children pens and paper and invited anyone that wanted to try it themselves to make copies of the recipe, lots did.

I cheated on the pen and paper front and snuck a photo when no-one was looking!

This process works with all sorts of botanicals and is incredibly simple. Please let me know in the comments if you try it with your children - I'd love to know how it turns out.

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