Back to school – cliff notes for contagious feet

Gym class, swimming, locker rooms, play – getting back to school can put your kids soles in the path of some contagious foot ailments. Here is the skim on the three most Common.  Of course we gardeners can from time to time encounter the same.

Athlete’s foot / tineapedis– that red, scaly and itchy infection – there is not a single culprit here in fact there are a variety of fungi that can cause athlete’s foot and you don’t even need to be athletic, it is contagious and easily picked up bare foot at the gym, pool or table top dancing at the weekend- it affects the sole of the foot and the skin between the toes but can spread to other places.

Garden spa – both thyme and oregano contain the antiseptic and antifungal phytochemical thymol – release it in a hot water infusion and make a foot soak. Fennel seed tea is also antifungal.

Kitchen spa- a rub of raw garlic can kill off fungal spores. Apple cider vinegar and salt in a foot bath is soothing and also antifungal.

Planter warts develop in the sole of the foot and sometimes on the toes. They start as a black puncture mark but you won’t often catch them until they become a hard bump – easily mistaken for a callus until they grows out with a ‘cauliflower appearance’, altering colour to a brown shade. Black dots are often visible in the centre these are the blood vessels feeding it.

Garden spa – calendula oil and willow paste. Vitamin A in calendula oil helps disrupts the warts cellular development and the salicylic acid removes layers and helps shrink it.

Verruca – A verruca is a plantar wart with all the appearance of small cauliflowers – often missed or dismissed as corns – you can tell the difference by the presence of petechiae (black dots) and the potential of the verruca to alter the natural pattern lines or striations in the skin of the area affected – corns won’t . Verrucae are contagious so treat with expediency.

Garden spa – while euphorbias have a traditional utilization in burning off warts and killing fungal infections – in this manner I would restrain as their sap can be irritant to all skin. Dandelions secrete a milky sap when plucked which is reputed to remove warts, corns and verruca when applied over several weeks too.

One of the best treatments is willow – the salicylic acid undermines the fungus and exfoliates infected skin – use in footbaths, as poultices and even the blitzed leaf in a little apple cider vinegar is good as a compress. OTC treatments contain salicylic acid.

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Gardeners feet – quick fixes for hard and cracked heels.

Hard heels is not a propagation technique it is a condition we gardeners can often wander into from time to time. Our footwear can dry out our feet, but also long standing can undermine the efficiency of sweat glands to naturally moisturize. Here are some ways to help.

Try a Garden spa solutionHorse chestnut extract has excellent skin softening properties, a paste of the nuts (meal of nut blitzed with plain water or cider vinegar) can be applied topically too. A willow foot bath will help exfoliate dead cell. Traditional herbal emollients to soften skin include plantain, chickweed, coltsfoot, elecampane, mallow and borage – suitable in poultices, milk decoctions, footbaths, salves or oil infusions.

Try a Kitchen spa solution Mix equal parts honey and lemon juice and massage in to hard skin or make a cider vinegar rub – diluted with 7parts water to 1 part vinegar.   A tablespoon of sugar to a tablespoon of vegetable oil makes a fine scrub to slough of dead cells and rejuvenate skin – simple rub into feet and after a pause to let the oil soak in and rehydrate skin – towel off.

Holistic Gardener Home Treatment – Natural pumice foot scrub – mix 1 tables spoon of witch hazel, I tablespoon of glycerine or honey, I table spoon of poppy or nigella seed with 3 tablespoons of aloe sap and 3 tablespoons of coarse sea salt. Keeps 5 days in fridge.

Cracked heels is a common condition that for the most part is a simply a nuisance but deeper fissures of the heel can be painful. If you are prone in general to dry skin or have psoriasis, diabetes or hypothyroidism then you may be more prone to the condition.

Summer and sandals can trigger too, as most sandals do not  support the heal very well, especially the fat pad under the foot , and the openness exposes the foot to drying air – plus dehydrating encounters with sand, dust, soil and other material.

Regular moisturizing helps treat and also prevent. Keratolytic creams are available but they are often based upon salicylic or alpha-hydroxy acids that are abundant in the garden or fruits bowl.

Holistic Gardener Home Treatment – Sugar plum foot gel – pulp a ripe plum with two tablespoons of dark sugar and massage into affected heels, coat on some extra pulp and leave for 10-15minutes before rinsing, drying and applying a foot moisturizer.

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Gardeners feet – Cures for corns and foot calluses

Corns and calluses are similarly localised thickened skin. The main difference is pain – while a corn (clavus) is inflamed and painful, a callus (tyloma) is just a plain old hard dead skin and so painless. They are ‘soft corns’ (helomamolle) which seem to fall between – generally arising where the  surface skin is damp – pain might not factor but peeling and other complications can arise.

Corns – all corns are identified by virtue of having a tip – or cone shape. Hard corns usually form on the tops or outer sides of the toes – just where the skin rubs against the boot/shoe – hence the popularity of corn plasters. Soft corns generally form between toes at the point where the bones of one toe exerts some pressure on the bones the toe next to it – hence the need for good fitting shoes. Corns are unsightly and beautiful feet can do without them.

Calluses – on hands or feet, calluses have no tip; they generally form over a flat surface – in the instances of feet at the weight-bearing parts of the foot (the ball or the heel). Calluses are part of our own natural protection system – we develop them to protect the skin/foot against chafing and pressure – padding and insole may be your best friend but if it’s a day for the sandals or a night for the heels then there are things that can be done.

Garden spa – Some work boots are just not cut out for maintaining soft and supple feet – so after a hard day at it is good to soften skin with a soapy soak (add a little Epsom salts or baking soda for extra relief) and then exfoliate any hard skin with a pumice stone. Never pare or cut away calluses or corns.

Willow water is an excellent foot soak (softening, exfoliating and medicating). You can also mix some willow leaves with mint to provide sensation and extra soothing. The pulped nuts of the Horse-chestnut tree (or a premade extract) has really good skin softening properties as does the sap of houseleeks.

Sole corn / plantar keratoderma – Thickened skin on the entire heel or sole. The convention is to apply keratolytic (descaling) creams but homemade heel balms are as effective if based upon the addition of lactic acid (dairy) or salicylic acid (meadowsweet, willow water) which are naturally keratolytic.


Remedy recipe #1 – Mallow and chamomile foot soak: both mallow and chamomile contain mucilage that softens feet and phytonutrients that replenish skin and address wounds and swelling. Make a decoction of a ½ cup of each per litre of water. Cool enough to your comfort. After – Dry feet well.

Remedy recipe #2 Lavender and chamomile foot lotion: blitz equal amounts in enough coconut or olive oil to make a lotion. An ideal foot moisturizer with skin healing action.



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Gardeners feet – Fungal infections and how to cure them

Work boots or just plenty of moving about can leave gardeners prone to some foot ailments – blisters, sweaty wrinkles, hard heels, cracked skin, soreness and strain and also on occasion a fungal infection. The fungal infections we generally encounter are dermatophytes – moulds that feed on our stores of keratin which apart from making our nails strong is also the fibrous protein gives body to our skin. Sometimes it hits the nail other times the foot or between the toes.

Foot fungus – There are various types of fungal infection that can affect the foot – generally classified according to their location or appearance: that might be the ‘moccasin type’ which is patterned over sole and foot or the ‘interdigital type’ which is located between the toes. You can also have conditions labelled as ‘inflammatory’, ‘dry’ or ‘moist’ – all thrive in the same manner and  all are treated similarly.

Try a Garden spa – Many common garden herbs and plants have the ability (the phytochemical armoury) to defend against fungal attack and that ability transfers easily across to human utilization to deplete infection-causing fungi – rosemary, thyme, lavender and sage can be blitzed in a blender or mortar and pestle to make a treatment paste. Essential oil of tea tree is very effective – add to the garden paste, add to moisturiser, add to a foot bath, even apply near neat (that’s a few shakes into a t-spoon of vegetable oil). Wash off after 20mins and dry feet well.

Try a Kitchen spa – Cinnamon is antifungal, a dusting of the powder direct to feet is a fragrant treatment. Ground cloves and oil of cloves contain carvacrol and thymol – both antimicrobial agents – both the essential oil and the power can be mixed with some coconut oil or olive oil or even honey to make a moisturizing paste/lotion to soothe and treat. So while Garlic, lemongrass and turmeric are all antifungal topically applied they can also included in diet to fight infection from within by switching on the immune system to better fight the infection.

Remedy recipe #1 antifungal paste –mix well together, 1 tablespoon of cinnamon, 2 tablespoons of honey, 1 t-spoon of zinc ointment and 4 shakes of thyme or tea tree essential oil.

Remedy recipe #2 funky foot paste – blitz 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, 1 t-spoon of salt, 2 tablespoons of honey, all the cloves from whole bulb of garlic (remove tunic and skins)  and a tablespoon of yoghurt. This is so potent you will smell it off your breath, but its potency will just carpet-bomb the hell out of that tinea fungus.

Nail fungus – Fungal nail infections can be quite difficult to treat – as they have a propensity to be persistent (long lived) and also repetitive (in that they can come back with weeks of a successful treatment). That said there are effective OTC and prescription treatments and a few natural solutions too – but you will need patience for all as even the commercial ones can take six to twelve months to rid the nail of the infection.

My approach is to eat immunity boosting foots and probiotic and also to apply antifungal treatments topically. The juice of a crushed garlic clove is effective in killing fungal spores and halting spread if applied 3-4 times daily over a few months but it does make you aromatic. Similarly tea tree oil – two neat drops to the nail 3 times daily – is faster working and delivers a better aromatic self. Regular foot baths or rinses with apple cider vinegar can help destroy the fungus.

Toenail fungus aka Onychomycosis – is rarely related to poor foot hygiene and is more often triggered/maintained by abnormal pH of the skin, sweaty feet or continuous exposure to moisture in which poor footwear, cheap wellies and synthetic socks don’t help. It can also be a symptom of a compromised immune system or weaken circulation. Addressing the underlying trigger is key.

my book the holistic garden – beauty treatments from the garden is packed full of foot treatments and pampering.

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Conscious Observation as a mindful skill

Conscious observation is sensation awareness. It is looking, but really looking. Not look at, not looking through, not just seeing something but observing it – taking it fully in.

The poets may talk of drinking in  a sunset and sunsets are great but try it with a mundane object – say a coffee cup or a hammer, you can think of its function, feel its weight, notice its unique shape, its design, how it relates to you, but then look at it – fully see it.  Know it.

In seeing it, as if for the first time or with renewed appreciation is a powerful exercise in experiencing objects. If the coffee cup or hammer comes to life (you are alive with it) then there is the presence of awe. Remember when you were a child there was awe and fascination, exploring, discovering, experiencing. This is that again.

Go look now at the world. look at your garden. Appreciate it yes but look at it. pick a plant or shrub or tree and enjoy it. Look at a weed and even enjoy seeing it. You may notice it’s beauty, you may see the chore to be done, you may even see it’s resilience. Conscious observation expands consciousness – seeing is more than looking,  it is awareness.

I take the opportunity to enjoy and find awe in looking at mountains, clouds, the moon, not just the flower but the petals and the stamens. I give it attention and it rewards. I enjoy going to galleries and am awed by the visual experience and technical detail in a painting or sculpture, by subject matter and by brush stroke or polished to textured ratio etc. All this is not only training my brain to see better but to comprehend more.

All of it is allowing wonder and awe and appreciation and gratitude into my life. I get to see not just the cherished things but the world around me. It makes it part of me and me in participation with it. This enlivened engagement is being in a mindful moment. is living more mindfully – and gaining all the advantages that it brings

Part of looking really gets the brain going and pattern recognition etc does get endorphins released – so beyond the mindful opportunity it physically delivers a sense/experience of wellbeing and aliveness.

Coming in to the now is all about being alive. You don’t have to sit cross-legged, eyes closed, nostrils at work to get mindful. You can just open your eyes and let that open your heart and your way forward.

Take the chance when you can to to notice and ‘be’, be in that observation, be in that moment. Coffee cup or Caravaggio, it’s the consciousness that it gifts.

Outside right now the world is waiting to be seen.

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back to school – The nitty gritty on head lice

Ok let’s bust the myths first – Head lice are not a sign of poor hygiene, it wasn’t a dirty kid that brought them to school, your child can’t catch them from pets, the lice don’t carry any diseases and they don’t jump from head to head.

The truth is that Head lice are small wingless insects that feed off the rich blood supply to the scalp – they have allergenic saliva that instigates itch. They can be dislodged with shampooing and combing. But persistence is needed to completely remove a population from an infested scalp. The thing is there are adults and young to contend with. The adults often drown in the sudsy shampoo and with over the counter tonic. The eggs not so much.

The eggs of the adult louse are known as nits – identifiable as small specks of brown or pink – they are more difficult to dislodge than the adult as the female louse effectively ‘glues’ her eggs to the base of hair shafts – requiring a fine-tooth comb, the patience of a saint and if not a bottle of chloroform then the skills of mesmerism to control the child.

Lice also infest adults but in the back to school season its almost a seasonal the epidemic among kids. The louse may crawl from one head to another during proximity of play, from the head to the desk to the next head during any head down moments and from coat to coat or hat to hat to hat in the cloakroom. Once it makes its way to a new head it will begin to feed and lay eggs that hatch within one to two weeks.

Adult head lice will feed three to four times a day. Without blood they dehydrate and die – that takes about six hours in a dry climate and closer to 24 hours in a humid climate – frequent combing dislodges many and they die off deprived of blood. Not all will be combed out in a session but frequent combing also disrupts their feeding routine and weakens their ability to reproduce.

Tea tree oil and many essential oils can kill lice and nits – they can be added neat to the comb or to combing oils or into castile soap or an allergen free Shampoo/ conditioner at washing time. The strong aroma of tea tree can dissuade adults from lay eggs or visiting the scalp in the first place. Garden grown Lavender can be infused in oils and lavender tinctures can also smother adults and help dislodge the eggs.

There are commercially available ‘natural’ treatments- often utilizing the powerful insecticidal agent pyrethrin from chrysanthemum plants but there are issues about the human toxicity of that agent. The following plants have much safer insecticidal qualities and can be made into poultices, lotions, oils and salves, shampoos and conditioners; try chamomile, geranium, hyssop, lemon balm, lavender, rosemary, mint, peppermint, sage, thyme and tea tree.

The most import thing is to repeatedly comb the lice and nits out of wetted hair with a fine-toothed comb. The wet hair makes it easier to comb and dislodge. See combing oil recipe below. Lice are contagious so do examine other family members and keep your infested child from sharing pillows, hats, combs etc with siblings.

A little help from the kitchen cupboard- Apple cider vinegar is a scalp tonic, so it is good to perk up the scalp after infestation but it may help in the early stages too, as the acidity of the vinegar can loosen the nit glue and make combing out easier. The AVC also stuns the adults making it easier to dislodge/comb them.

Think like a gardener – If you are a gardener you might thing of Lice as being like aphids – they breathe via air holes on the sides of their bodies – with aphids we use garlic to impair their respiration (also insecticidal) and soapy water to block up the air holes and suffocated them. The same can apply to lice.

A thick conditioner often does the trick and it makes combing out easier too – but oil is fantastically effective as well. Be it a jasmine or good quality hair oil or a simple DIY olive oil treatment – the oiliness coats the air holes and suffocates them. You can medicate the oil with essential oils to kill faster. It turns out that both peppermint and tea tree oil speeds up louse respiration so they breathe in the oil quicker and die faster.

Both neem and lavender is toxic to lice and can be added to olive oil or coconut oil easily. There are some concerns around the toxicity of neem with young children but lavender is great and will also help them sleep.

The shower cap treatment – Overnight applications of oil (olive or coconut) with shower cap on will suffocate the adult lice but not their eggs – it will make combing and dislodging easier. Infusing that oil with rosemary, lavender and thyme adds phytochemicals that are detrimental to the nits but healthy to the scalp and person. A tincture of those same herbs can undermine egg grip and damage egg membrane and can be used as daytime scalp tonic.

Remedy recipe – Essential combing oil.
To 50mls of olive oil add 20 drops of one of the following essential oils or for a stronger medication keep the ratio but use 10drops of two different varieties of essential oil into the olive oil base. You can make stronger again for adults
• tea tree oil
• lavender oil
• thyme oil
• peppermint oil
This oil can be applied to a comb to help kill and dislodge both adult and egg. Or you can massage into scalp and leave on overnight— or at least 12 hours. Shower caps protect pillows but also hold in the volatile oils for longer – so killing more pesky lice too.

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mindfulness in the rain

Being mindful is really about switching your brain and spirit on to delivering your full potential. It is a tool for success if you want that and it is the key to a quieter life if that’s what you seek.

Stop for a few seconds and listen to the rain – not just notice that it’s there but hear it falling; all those collective drops making sound. Really hear it, feel it in the moment of it happening. That’s how easy a mindful moment is.

And in that moment you will have shed stress, pain and anxiety, dropped ambition, disappointment, pressure. In that moment you will be with nature in your true nature – attentive, experiencing and at peace. There is a holy trinity also worth pursuing.

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