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Grow your own chemist

Need a painkiller, tummy soother or something to help you sleep? Rob Sharp learns how to grow plants to use as everyday drugs

Skin complaints

Moisturiser revitalises our epidermis . . . and kills our wallets. But what about replacing synthetic creams with something natural?

Ethno-botanist and TV presenter James Wong recommends almond oil mixed with water which is, known to improve the complexion and soften the skin. It's available from health food shops. He suggest heating it in a pan with oats, which can help cleanse the skin, and beeswax, an emulsifying agent, before putting into a blender. "You'll see a million and one oat creams in your local chemist," he says. "They have a physiological benefit."

He also recommends growing aloe vera plants (which in this country will only grow indoors, near a sunny window), to help deal with minor burns.

"You can just snap off the aloe leaf from the plant," he says. "They are like living sachets; the outside is like apple skin, the inside has all this goo, it's marvellous."

Digestive trouble

Everything from chamomile to fennel and peppermint can calm our tummies.

"Peppermint capsules are one of the leading over-the-counter remedies for indigestion," says Wong. "Part of indigestion can be uncontrolled spasms in the muscle in the digestive tract's lining. Peppermint contains anti-spasmodic chemicals and can help relieve trapped wind."

One way of administering these is in self-made tinctures -- basically various herbs soaked in vodka. "Alcohol is a good solvent," he says. "A lot of the time it's more effective than water. A tincture is essentially just vodka with loads of herbs in it that has been left for a couple of weeks." Also use this technique to combine angelica with chamomile. In addition, the bark mucous of slippery elm -- a tree native to North America, extracts of which are available in shops -- coats the mucous membranes of the oesophagus and acts as a protective barrier against stomach acids.

Coughs and colds

Honeysuckle is both anti- inflammatory and antiseptic and can also be used as a gentle painkiller to treat sore throats and headaches. Wong suggests combining it with jasmine to make a jelly.

"Thyme is an antiseptic and expectorant, and garlic has antibiotic properties," says the ethno-botanist. "It helps to combat catarrh and soothe inflamed bronchial passages."


Chamomile bath-milk could be just the thing to help settle them for the night. "Steeping chamomile in almond oil will give you a source of vitamin E and it also has traditional uses as a mild anti-anxiety aid," says Wong. "It's also a great thing for them to be involved with in the kitchen," he concludes. "It's fun and smells great."

Grow Your Own Drugs returns to BBC Two tonight at 8pm. The accompanying book is published by Collins, priced £16.99 (€19). Please check with your doctor to see if you are allergic to any of the above ingredients before using in a medicinal context