Today is the day I have been waiting for, the first day of our three day medicinal herb workshop.  Not only are we taking the course but we have also opt’d into all of the meals, which means we can forget about having to do anything other than focus on learning.

I bounced off the blow up mattress this morning to take a shower, the course didn’t start until 10am so we had plenty of time to enjoy several cups of coffee with breakfast.

“So did you hear about the guy Anthony met at a party last night” Olof asks me.

Turns out some strange guy had arrived at the party, who was covered in a rash, had been feeling ill for weeks and had just started to urinate black pee.  Olof and I both started to ask each other the same question, could that be Ebola, we worried and panicked ourselves at the same time.  With little media attention given by the majority of those staying on the farm, Anthony hadn’t heard of Ebola so I enlightened him about all the media hype on the subject, following which I started to feel terrible about any unnecessary worry I may have caused.  This really wasn’t something I wanted my mind pre-occupying with so Olof and I took to the net, it wasn’t long before we concluded he probably had Hepatitis B, panic over we told ourselves.

During the course of the morning a mix of people had arrived, some, locals from Portugal whilst the others were travellers who had heard about the course whilst experiencing the boom festival, Europe’s largest and most eco friendly alternative festival.  This year the Boom Festival held the record for the largest concentration of dry compost toilets to be held in one place, pretty impressive.  It’s a shame we had missed the festival as almost everyone was talking about it/had been.  Someone even said it’s like Europe’s answer to the burning man festival in the United States but better.

So, for the next three days we would became nine people learning about the wonderful properties of mother nature.

There was Serine and Anna from Holland, who had previously spent some time at a leading Permaculture community called “Tamara” , I was keen to understand how they found their time there as we were looking to volunteer at Tamara but became put off a little after reading about there philosophy for “free love”.

Also there was Matal from Israel, Fernando, Micha and Maria from Portugal and Katie from Scotland whom had been living on the farm for several months.

We all settled into the pit, which had been set up as our class room, around a  table containing lots of interesting oils and tools plus a beautiful homemade Carob & Carrot cake accompanied by fresh lemonade.

We had a lot to cram in over three days so after brief introductions Daphna detailed the course structure and we quickly got stuck in.  Daphna had a great teaching style and I knew instantly we were gonna be in for a treat.

We started with an introduction to Aromatherapy and gained an understanding into the difference between natural and synthetic ingredients.  Less than 15 minutes into the class and we were ready to give up conventional shampoos and products altogether.  It doesn’t take a scientist to understand how the chemicals overly used in our cosmetics lack the same health benefits as natural ingredients.  However I was shocked and actually quite upset to understand the types of adverse health effects that we self-inflict through combing the use of several different cosmetic products on a daily basis, it turns out to be one hell of a toxic cocktail.  Oh and how we are conned into believing we are using natural products when most of the time they are actually synthesised, time to start reading the labels on all my future cosmetic purchases.

Here is a little summary of what we whent trough if you care to read it …

The risks in cosmetics & toiletries 
•    On a regular day the modern man and woman expose their bodies to 9 chemicals that can cause cancer. 
•    The OSHA found that 884 chemicals out of the 3000 that are used today in the cosmetics industry are toxic. 148 of them can cause cancer, 218 can cause fertility problems, and 314 can cause biological mutations. 
•    In the different toiletry products were found more than 100 carcinogenic components, and 15 hormonal components that disrupts the functioning of the feminine hormonal system. 
•    Remains of 400 toxic chemicals were found in fat tissues of people. 
•    These chemicals can cause acute reactions such as: burning eyes, headaches, rashes, breathing problem, and more. And thanks to using them for a long period of time (since we are born!)  can cause chronic   reactions such as: skin diseases, asthma, cancer and more. 
•    Examples for toxic chemicals and their uses: 
Fragrance- produced by over 600 different chemicals. The majority of them can cause cancer and is absorbed by the skin. 95% of these chemicals are produced from the oil industry. 
Sls\sles sodium laurel sulfate – hurts the roots of the hair, and can cause bald spots. It penetrates to the heart, liver, lungs, and eyes. Hurts the immune system, can create mutations, and cancer.
 Propylen glycol- colorless liquid that is used as moisturizer and dissolver, which gives the skin a soft feeling. It is used for cosmetics, tooth paste, shampoo, deodorant and also- floor polish, paints and liquid for hydraulic breaks for the care. This material can cause skin inflammations, nausea, headaches and damage the nerve system.

Today we were going to focus specifically on extracting oil into alcohol and water, or if we want to be scientific about it, making infusions, decoctions & tinctures.   Daphna was a strong believer in using local herbs that you could find growing wild or in your garden as apposed to sourcing them form some exotic location on the other side of the planet, reason being is that there are equally as good things growing here, so there is no need to increase the carbon footprint.
The herbs she went through where, Ipericum, Arnica, Rosmary, black pepper, cloves, ginger, echinea

Daphna takes us out onto the farm to show us how to effectively harvest the plants paying specific attention to the time of day, appropriate season for harvesting and how to harvest in a way that would not harm the existence of the plant.  Then it’s back to the pit to start some infusions.  We make a nettle infusion for our consumption and learn about some simple infusions and decoctions that can be made to help with all sorts of conditions from endless hiccupping problems, abdominal pain and nausea.


Before we knew it, it was time for lunch and Kris had prepared an amazing feast.  Vegetable lasagne and various salads using the produce from the farm.  Over lunch we probed Anna & Serine about their time at Tamara – it sounded intriguing, perhaps worth a day visit at least – and we generally all got to know each other a little better.


Back to the class room and it was time to carry out some oil extractions.  We went through all the different types of base oils to understand which oils are best to use for various products and then we started the soaking procedure.  Again learning about lots of different oils that we could make and the benefits of each.

All in all, the first day of our course was fantastic, we had taken in so much information and it was great to have more people on the farm.  But the day was still young, so we popped into town for a couple of hours and visited our now favourite organic shop to buy some dried nettles.  From now on I was going to take at least three cups of nettle tea a day.  The properties for this plant in an infusion are said to clean and purify the blood circulation and obtain Iron.  This should be a wonder drink for me as I generally have an Iron deficiency and also I’m starting to suffer from Arthritis in my fingers and blood purification should help with this ailment.

By the time we have returned to Várzea de Goncala Anna, Serine and Matal have settled into the Teepee and it was time for Dinner.  Another amazing meal had been prepared by Kris, Vegetable Curry and a scrumptious fruit crumble, it’s not long before wine and good conversations start flowing.  The guitar is out and Anna and Serine start to share the songs they have learned from the travels, lyrics and cords scribbled onto scrap pieces of paper, after a good old sing song we all crash and burn.  It’s nice to be sharing the Teepee and I feel really young again, like I’m back on a school field trip….there was a fair bit of giggling in the tent before we all fell asleep.


Interesting Fact:

Carob is a bean pod that comes from a carob tree.  We have come across them on our walks alot of times in Spain, it kind of looks like a small dried up old brown banana. You can make a flour from the pods and they actually have a chocolate flavour, so it’s great for making cakes with.  It’s better on your waistline (compared to eating chocolate) and the flour is a lot healthier then normal white wheat flour.