The side effects of summer – freckles or sunspots

Real freckles, those that form in childhood on the face, arms and other sun-exposed areas but fade in depth of colour and diminish in quantity in adulthood, are known as ephelides, an accumulation of pigmentation within the part of our skin cells known as keratinocytes. Ephelides occur and are more prominent in summer but diminish considerably or even disappear altogether in winter or during the rest of the year as skin cells turn over and new keratinocytes are formed. I’m Irish so I am a fan of freckles and the saying “a girl without freckles is like a night sky without starts”… but I know not everyone feels the same including many freckle owners.

In later life the freckle may be replaced by lentigines or sunspots. Perhaps the technical difference is of little concern – you just want the tip on making them fade quicker – but for now, sun protection or sun avoidance will reduce the quantity of ephelides, and eating carrots and tomatoes can help control melanin production and boost your natural SPF (sun protection factor) if you fear the freckle that much.

Top tip – Cover up. A wide-brimmed hat that casts shade on the face prevents the sun from ‘cooking up’ the freckles.

A little bit of food as medicine goes a long way – Tomatoes and other foods rich in vitamin C can help inhibit the activity of tyrosinase in the skin and so reduce the formation of melanin and its accumulation. Carrots and other foods rich in provitamin-A will protect skin and may also have a role in naturally
lightening freckles and sunspots. Topically – Lemon juice is the best pigment-reducing ‘friendly acid’ to hand, although it works better for some than others. If you must treat your freckles, make sure to replenish the skin with some cellular-rejuvenating treatments.

Lentigines are flat brown spots that appear on the face and hands, generally in middle age (hence age spots) but sometimes earlier. They are a result of sun damage. They are often mistaken for freckles. Like freckles they are due to a localised proliferation of melanocytes, but unlike freckles they don’t disappear in the winter. There are many common names for sunspots, age spots or liver spots, but the correct term is solar lentigines (the singular is lentigo, but rarely are they experienced in the singular). Sun protection is the answer to avoiding these and to minimising them once they have occurred.

There are skin-lightening creams and treatments based on hydroquinone, which work by both decreasing the production of the melanin pigment and increasing the breakdown of melanosomes (the pigment’s minute granules), effectively by disrupting the activity of tyrosinase, the enzyme needed to make melanin. But adding a little more vitamin C to your diet can do the same job. Or you can apply it topically in facials containing extra vitamins or those homemade with citrus fruits.

How about an Elder mask (forgive the pun)

A skin mask with elderberries, orange rind and olive oil can work wonders. Put ½ cup of vitamin C-rich elderberries, the rind of 1 orange and 1 tablespoon of oil into a blender. Blitz and then apply. You can stir in a little honey or almond flour to create a thicker consistency if you prefer. Take 20mins out and rinse off.

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Surviving summer – avoiding and treating sunburn

Sunburn is a solar burn or, more specifically, the consequence of overexposure to UV radiation from the sun. It manifests as erythema (reddening) and oedema (swelling related to a build-up of fluid) and can be painful or hot to the touch. It can blister, peel and/or develop secondary infections including microscopic cellular changes that pose a cancer risk (particularly melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma).

In severe cases sunburn may be considered a second-degree burn. Sunburn in general can cause electrolyte imbalances, including dehydration, and can trigger neurological stress that can result in fever, chills, fainting and even circulatory shock. If you experience sunburn it is important to prevent further damage – get inside or into the shade. Rehydrate and fan areas of hot skin. A cool to lukewarm shower or bath can ease side effects but do not cool too rapidly. Leave blisters intact; if they burst on their own, apply an antibacterial wash or ointment. The main treatment emphasis is to provide relief to the discomfort of the burn, generally with analgesics or aftersun moisturisers.

Of course prevention is better than cure so on sunny days try avoid prolonged sun exposure between 10am to 2pm – Note that the shade of a tree in full leaf can provide sun protection to the tune of 10 to 20 SPF but you will need more than that to shield your skin – wear suitable protective clothing including long sleeve, sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats and regularly and repeatedly apply a sun block with a factor of at least 30+ SPF.

Garden spa; Succulents can provide cooling sap. Notably, aloe vera cools the burn, lessens the reddening and encourages skin regeneration. Many herbal teas can reduce inflammation, and those listed in this book will help with their calming influence as well as their other properties. Many can be chilled and spritzed onto hot skin for post-sun relief. Crambe and acanthus foliage can be blended with natural yoghurt or steamed and cooled to use in a poultice for their anti-itch, astringent and emollient properties.

Kitchen spa; The dairy fats in milk and yoghurts are remedial to UV-radiation damage and they are cooling, too, when applied topically. Try a squeeze of lemon juice or a dash of apple cider vinegar to cool, reduce inflammation, disinfect and promote faster recovery.

Preempting potential damage is always a good way to go. Eating about twenty almonds delivers approximately 14mg of the vitamin E, which can slow the burn rate and protect your skin cells from UV light and free-radical damage. Best of all the lycopene in tomatoes and watermelon help the body raise its own natural spf.

Aftersun remedies

Make a Quick-fix aftersun soother
Baking soda helps to balance your skin’s pH and speed recovery and healing. Black tea has tannins that reduce inflammation and promote healing. Natural yoghurt is a cooling agent and, like baking soda, works to balance the pH of skin and encourage faster healing with its natural enzymes.
Method – In a cup, moisten 2 tablespoons of black or green tea (or the contents of 2 teabags) with 2–3 tablespoons of boiling water. Allow to stand for 1 minute and then add 2 tablespoons of baking soda. Stir in a dollop of natural yoghurt, mix well and then apply to your skin. Store in fridge for up to three days and apply often to cool and encourage healing.

Try a Quick-fix aftersun peel-heal gel
The sap from a leaf of aloe vera mixed with 1–2 tablespoons of vinegar can slow or prevent peeling and speed recovery, with the bonus of a cooling sensation. But to boost its effectiveness you can grate some cucumber or some raw potato flesh and then blitz everything in a blender with 20 drops of lavender essential oil.

Make your own Gardeners aftersun lotion
In a saucepan, boil 5 finger-sized segments of washed comfrey root in ½ cup water for 20 minutes. Then turn off the heat. Add 1 tablespoon of zinc ointment, 3 tablespoons of skin-softening liquid lecithin (or 1 tablespoon honey), 2 tablespoons of cocoa (or shea butter) and 3 tablespoons of almond oil (or olive oil).
Blend everything to a pulp. Add 10 drops each of lavender, tea tree and orange (or bergamot) essential oil.

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Coping with Cold Sores

A cold sore manifests as a small blister or cluster of blisters occurring on the lips (and sometimes also the face). It is caused by a viral infection – herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). Tingling, itching or burning sensations generally herald the blistering to come. As a virus it is highly contagious and has its own lifecycle.

Some people get a cold sore once and it never returns but, with most, once contracted the virus remains for many years, if not for a lifetime. Thankfully it is predominantly dormant with possibly one or two flare-ups each year, but it is also easily triggered into activity by sunburn or other damage to the lip surface and also by stress or fatigue. So looking after yourself is the best way to keep it repressed.

Outbreaks generally clear up without any intervention or treatment within seven to ten days. There are plenty of over-the-counter lip balms and topical creams to suppress the viral activity and soothe the soreness and there are many home cures, too, to make it more manageable.

When it comes to garden soured treatments – Topical tincture or tisane rinses of selfheal, goldenseal, St John’s wort or hyssop are antiviral. Lavender or thyme in a balm or blitzed into paste is also beneficial. The juice of houseleeks is soothing and hydrating, which is key to relief. To address the flare-up try antiviral iced teas harvested from your own garden – they not only boost your internal immune system but also work on contact with the lips and mouth. I would opt for chamomile, as it contains bisabolol, an antimicrobial wound healer, and its anti-inflammatory nature is beneficial too. You can also try lemon balm, bergamot, mint, echinacea or thyme. Liquorice root contains glycyrrhizic acid that can inhibit and fight viral spread.

In terms of Kitchen support – Over-the-counter antiviral creams work at the tingle stage but are generally ineffective thereafter, while honey works at every stage to suppress the surfacing virus, soothe any pain or itch, seal bleeding, soften scabs and promote replacement skin cells at wound sites. A dusting of cinnamon is a great antiseptic and dries up ruptured blisters and bleeds.

One of the best things you can do is avoid acidic or salty foods, as they not only sting but also can suppress your immune system just as it attempts to fight the virus flare-up. The mistake is to reduce eating and drinking for fear of bursting a blister or cracking a scab – you need to drink plenty of fluids to keep the lip hydrated and functioning normally in unaffected areas.

Make your own Cold Sore Blitz Paste
All ingredients are antiviral, anti-inflammatory and pain relieving.

• 2 tablespoons coconut oil
• 1 tablespoon lavender foliage
• 1 tablespoon chopped chamomile tops (flowers or foliage)
• 1 teaspoon honey

Simply blitz together all the ingredients. Use as a dab treatment throughout the day, each day until virus subsides. Stores best in the fridge for a few weeks.

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Interior landscaping in the workplace, benefits to business

Since NASA validated the scientific evidence that houseplants have the ability to be biofiltration systems, back in the closing decades of the twentieth century, the twentyfirst century has seen a boom in plant rental and interior landscaping. Bolstered too by the building booms and the expectation of high end interior design, there is hardly a waiting room, foyer or reception without the presence of lush greenery or at least a potted plant.

No matter how token, plants are the ambassadors of friendliness; they enable an
ambience that is not controlled, robotic, confined – instead by having nature inside, the impression is created of a calm, open, homelike experience. Plants state a caring environment especially if well maintained and healthy and that speaks volumes of your business’s attention to detail. It is a well known fact that interior landscaped offices lease faster but they can also play a role in creating a corporate image and even act as a marketing tool: ‘Green’ and ‘natural’.

The plant friendly workplace makes it easier to recruit new employees and new customers. It sets a relaxed atmosphere to conduct business and enhance mood while improving general performance. It is not just the aesthetic or psychological impressions that plants make but how plants scientifically put a person at ease that add value to interior plantscaping. The human eye can perceive more shades of green than of any other colour.

Green triggers a response in the sympathetic nervous system to relieve tension in the blood vessels and thus lower the blood pressure, green lowers heart rate and provides an instant feeling of rest and recovery. There has been conducted numerous research on the restorative value of plants notably by Stephen Kaplan and Janet Talbot, that validate the nature reflex in boosting energy, enhancing performance and balancing mood.

That restorative dynamic augments clarity and motivation. A break from the
computer, work desk or machine, spent in the company of green foliage plants has a boosting effect on personal well-being and enthusiasm. Plants provide impetus. Plants not only voice a healthy atmosphere but also deliver one: plants produce oxygen and so improve air quality in the workplace which reduces tiredness and boosts concentration. Interior plants also actively remove impurities from the air we breathe. These impurities include dust particles, allergenic particles and pollutants including some of the more dangerous Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that form in the workplace – for example ceiling tiles release benzene, xylene and formaldehyde, while carpets and flooring can release acetones and alcohols into the air over the first few years after installation.

But even if the building has been fully ‘off gassed’, there are the daily releases via common workplace products: papertowels release formaldehyde, letterheads and printed material release acetone, computers provide toluene and xylene, photocopiers release volatile alcohols and trichloroethylene while printers provide trichloroethylene, toluene, xylene and amnonia. All separate to what ever chemicals are held or utilized on premises – from cleaning products to industrial materials.

House plants absorb VOCs into their leaves and to an extent through portions of
exposed growing medium. The VOCs that enter via foliage are translocated to the
rhizosphere (the root zone) where micro-organisms living in the growing media and on the roots convert the pollutants into nutrition for the soil and plant. Research has shown that planted rooms will contain up to 60 percent fewer airborne moulds and bacteria than rooms that contain no plants. Plants also absorb warmth and sound, improve humidity levels and interior convection – which all impacts on decreasing tension and stress and boosting concentration and motivation.

Indoor air quality can be problematic in energy-efficient buildings with little outdoor ventilation. Central heating strips the air of moisture. Electrical devices add static to the room, but plants offer solutions and their bio filtration services are all supplied without the carbon footprint and electricity bill of mechanical systems. Safer, Healthier, more Green. Plants have a very constructive effect on electric charges. It’s cheaper to grow a natural humidifying plant or de-ionizing plant than it is to buy a
machine, and to heat an office where plants and not open windows are regulating
humidity and vapours.

Yet the contribution I’m really referring to is not reduced bills but the decrease in static charges in the air that mess with communications systems, some machinery and with the physical human body. Because the electronic charge of a plant is opposite to that of humans, houseplants also help to counteract the effects of static electricity; ions in the air which are released from synthetic material and electrical machinery including computers, televisions, lights, fridges, air conditioners, humidifiers and dehumidifiers. Static electricity is an enemy in the workplace as it physiologically
reduces productivity and motivation.

All the ambience creation and the biofiltration actually helps prevent health related problems like headaches, fatigue, eye irritations, dry throat, stress and thus have a proven track record in reducing absenteeism and improving performance. A well maintained plantscape in the work place also increases employee morale and pride in the workplace.

Dr. Billy C. Wolverton from the John C. Stennis Space Centre recommends for
optimum employee health benefit, placing a plant on one’s desk, or within six to eight cubic feet of where most of the person’s daily activity occurs. For a high aesthetic look with easy maintenance and all the bio-filtration benefits I recommend the following ten interior plants if you chose to incorporate some green to the office, factory floor or canteen.

Top 10 houseplants for office
Kentia Palm
Spathiphyllum spp (peacelily)
Chlorophytum spp (spiderplant)
Philodendron spp
Dracaena spp
Ficus spp
Hedra helix (ivy)
Syngonium spp
Sansevieria spp (snakeplant)

The above list is readily available from local garden centres and even some DIY stores.

There are many professional interior plant maintenance companies and plants can
be purchased or rented from them also to suit your needs. With the benefits it makes good business sense to invest in interior plantscapes.

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the skinny on a bit of weight loss mowing

There is some physicality required in the up keeping of a lawn – and we gardeners are now back into regular grass cutting mode. Oh what a chore but have you heard of ‘chore-fitness’ – doing extra housework to burn calories.

Has mowing potential. Yep! To begin with, hand mowing with a cylinder mower or an electric push, can burn as much as 182 calories per half hour of activity. Amazingly a further 20-30 minutes of lawn attention in the form of raking clippings or leaves will burn a further 162 calories and if it is a day that you decide or require to finish with a watering session then add another 61 calories.

Just compare that to a spin class, aerobic dance session or workout class where during high intensity aerobic exercises on average 95 calories are burnt every ten minutes for 57kg (8 stone) individual, 115 calories every ten minutes for a 68kg (10 stone) individual, while 134 calories are burnt off every ten minutes for a 80kg (12 stone) individual and 153 calories burnt every ten minutes for a 91kg (14 stone) individual.

Now if you’re up for it you can do pliés, leg lunges, star jumps etc between the turns but don’t go out and get a sweatband and stringer vests or sports bras especially for your next cut. Even tolerant neighbours have a limit.

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A little down to earth beauty – the art of a mud pack

Humans have been wearing mud as long as we have been wearing animal skins (and that’s long before Woodstock or this year’s trendiest festival). As gardeners, mud is something we want to avoid; it’s messy, hard to grow stuff in, needs a lot of attention, and so on. But the mud of face packs and body wraps is not wet soil; it is a mud closer to the clay used by potters.

Cosmetic-grade mud is devoid of humus but is mineral rich and often enzyme rich. It is sourced from pockets in deltas, riverbanks, etc. around the world, and the location often lends a distinctive colour to the clay. All these alluvial clays have drawing/detoxifying and germicidal actions as part of their electrical charge, but each clay type has its own unique mineral properties. Green clay, for example, is about 45 per cent silica, a mineral most beneficial to skin function and health.

Mud/clay types suitable for facial masks

Green clay (aka French clay, as it is mined in France) is highly absorbent of sebum/oil and of pore-held toxins. It is a tonic and is stimulating to circulation.
Red clay contains more iron than other colours of clay.
Yellow clay can contain more sulphur than other clays.
Fuller’s earth is a sedimentary clay often recommended for acne and blemishes. It has a lightening effect on skin tone and is a potent detoxifier.
Rhassoul clay (aka Moroccan clay, as it is mined there) is rich in magnesium and silica. It makes a smooth paste and nourishes the skin.
Bentonite clay is actually volcanic ash, traditionally used as an internal supplement to treat mineral deficiencies, but as a face mask it can perform the same task externally.
Kaolin clay is found in commercial deodorants, moisturisers and some other cosmetic products. It is gentle and nourishing.

How to make a clay mask
Simply mix the clay powder and liquid to a paste of your preferred consistency. It is perhaps easier to sprinkle the powder over the liquid and build up from there. Once at the point where you think it’s almost done but a tad too runny, leave it to soak for 5–10 minutes just to see how it will develop. Finally, stir well and add more liquid or powder as needed. Wear for 20–30 minutes and then rinse off.

Modifying a mud mask to suit your skin type or needs
Most clay masks can be bought in powder form. The easiest way to maximise your mask is through the judicious choice of the liquid element – what you mix it with to turn it back into mud. It doesn’t have to be plain water.

• Witch hazel benefits oily skin.
• Diluted honey will hydrate dry skin.
• Rose water benefits sensitive skin.
• Fruit juice adds AHA to help renew the complexion.
• Any herbal teas recommended for your skin type or issues can bring their benefits to the mask.
• Hydrosols add fragrance and the benefits of the plant they are made from.
• Egg whites are used to firm skin.
• Egg yolks are used to nourish ageing skin.
• Beer is used for the restorative action of hops and yeast.
• A cup of coffee will energise.
• Cow’s milk provides extra exfoliation of dead cells.
• Asses’ milk will help if your aim is to rule Egypt.

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Grow your own almonds for beauty and health


I know this is going to sound a bit Mark Twain but the first almond tree I seen was in book. And an art book at that – first year of secondary school, on detention in the library (I know, bad boy of gardening), bored senseless I took a book off the shelf and opened it on the depiction of an almond tree in full bloom by Vincent Van Gogh – it set my brain on fire.

(if you want to see/explore more for your self – visit
& )

There are seminal moments in your life, those that sort of elevate your perception or ramp up your fervour for life. For me hearing Jimi Hendrix for the first time after a childhood of radio pop, and my parent’s country and motown. The first time I read ’The Song of Wandering Aengus’ by Yeats and of course the first tangible glimmering girl with apple blossom shampoo in her hair. But yes those almond blossoms may be the reason I really garden. I defer to the musing of Albert Camus “A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened”.

As a gardener I appreciate the aesthetic of a real almond tree (Prunus dulcis) and almonds are worth their place in any ornamental garden but I would argue that they are worth serious consideration to any productive gardener or those gardeners with a mind to sustainable health. They are not as tricky as you may think.

Almond trees may have originated first in western Asia but they were introduced to the Mediterranean region and southern Europe in ancient times as a food crop and suitably acclimatized. Both Spain and Italy still grow to export. Up until recently the advice was that almond trees needed a warm, dry climate to prosper – that damp climates leave them prone to fungal and bacterial diseases and harsh winters complicate flowering and fruiting success. In other words a fool’s errand if you attempt.

But Irish gardeners are well used to success with ‘Mediterranean plants’ against a sheltered south-facing wall and are not daunted by a spot of judicious fleecing. In recent years varieties grafted on to plum rootstock – chiefly on to the dwarfing St Julien A – have shown remarkable tolerance for the weather patterns of northern Europe.

One particular variety – Ingrid – earning her Scandinavian name, is hardy to that region. And as history tells us, the Norse were never shy in Ireland so don’t be deterred any longer – you may not get a bumper crop every year but you can enjoy the activity and rewards of growing your own .

The benefits beyond adding another fruiting plant to the garden are that its nut is not just edible but also medicinal. Currently almonds are under study as an alternative to statins. Its curative and preventative properties are down to its high concentrations of sources of vitamin E which is potently antioxidant – mopping up all those free radicals that damage your organs, deplete your vitality and make you look your age, or worse – aged. Almonds regularly crop up in the glossy magazines in anti-wrinkle diets and all that vit E combined with their protein content will help your body produce more collagen and elastin and so plump up fine lines and give good structure to your skin not to mention a healthy glow.

In my book the holistic gardener beauty treatments from the garden I do explore the use of almonds for health and beauty – so shameless plugs aside do buy, borrow or take a sneaky in store flick-though of the indexed references to see more benefits of growing your own or why it’s a good idea to just pick some nuts up as part of your weekly shop.

What I like about almonds in the diet is their ‘good fats’ – they are packed with monounsaturated fats – those health-promoting fats that have made olive oil so ubiquitous. Including them in your diet has a positive health effect on
atherosclerosis, cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, brain cognition and even fertility; as it turns out sperm swim faster if a man has good levels of Vitamin e and it benefits ovulation in women too.

So if you want to grow your own – here’s the how to;

Location and ground prep – Almonds will need a sunny site, preferably near a south-facing wall for extra protection and warmth. It will do much better if you add grit and humus to the location – well drained soil is essential. Mediterranean or warm region plants fail in Ireland more often to underlying waterlogging than to the winter temperatures. Don’t just address the bottom of the planting hole, think of its future root run and amend a decent portion of the soil. It’s worth it. There are other edible crops, super foods and aromatic herbs that will companion and thrive in the extent of your efforts. Almonds can be fan trained against walls too.

Planting advice – I was thought to plant fruiting trees in autumn or in February – the conventional wisdom is that the days in either zone are cool enough to prevent the tree budding out and the soil warm enough to not impede the action of any preliminary root establishment.

Make a hole to the same depth as the root ball but a bit wider so you manoeuvre your tree to the best face out or if you like so that its uppermost bud is facing the prevailing wind. Backfill and remove air pockets around the roots with a gentle tamping before firming in.

If you are not opting for a self-fertile variety than a second almond can be planted within the vicinity. The ideal grove spacing is 3-4m apart. Even self-fertile varieties can benefit – yield wise – from a companion tree of the same or different variety.

Pruning – Like its cousins (peaches and nectarines) almonds flower and fruit on two-year-old wood. So we need to leave stems to mature up to production levels. Pruning is generally only a light cosmetic tidy or just enough to support the structural strength of the trunk and the main scaffold branches.

One can prune every 2-3 years to promote renewal and strong growth. Any cutting back is best left until after the tree has set its fruits– mostly around July. Remove away crossing branches and trim back any shoots growing into the wall. If fan training you can prune to develop direction and tie new shoots into to horizontal wire supports.

Pest and disease control – Peach leaf curl is perhaps the biggest potential problem and the trick with that is to protect with a spring covering of fleece to shield against air-borne spores – those spores often contaminating during spring showers. Otherwise garlic spray will supply foliar sulphur to boost immunity and act as an insecticide/deterrent too.

Recommended Varieties

‘Ingrid’ – self fertile, good hardiness. Light cropper but often boosted by the presence of other almond trees (of the same or different varieties).

‘Robin’/ ‘Robijn’ – self-fertile and a strong cropper. Good resistance to peach leaf curl.

‘Garden prince’ – A dwarf almond tree ideal for the patio! Benefits from a companion or hand pollination.

Harvest – Under ideal conditions, maturing almond fruits will over summer harden their fuzzy greyish-green outer casings – eventually each will split exposing the almond shell and allowing the kernel to dry and be plucked ready to go from the tree.

We however, may more likely be picking in July and August a still green crop – unless the weather has been fantastic – but that’s ok, all we simply do is harvest and cut the casing to get to the edible kernel that is the almond nut.

a note on storage – Almonds kept in their shells have the longest shelf life. Because of their high fat content and a tendency to become rancid if not stored correctly – I recommend a tightly sealed container, kept in a cool dry place away from sunlight. In my student days I worked in kitchens and witnessed how some chefs refrigerated their almonds – cold will prolong freshness. You can store for more than a year in the freezer.

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