Horse Chestnut Tree

The Horse Chestnut

Horse Chestnut Tree – (Aesculus hippocastanum)

Hands up if you remember playing “conkers” when you were younger! I know you can’t see it, but I’m frantically waving mine in the air at the moment! Do today’s kids even bother with this great game anymore? I certainly hope so! I have fab memories of playing conkers which, by the way, I was rubbish at (picture bruised knuckles here). But it didn’t stop me getting all excited when I saw the horse chestnuts coming through on the trees, ripe for foraging!

If my memory serves me well, I remember the local kids used to find big sticks and knock the conkers off way before they were ready for picking. Such was the anticipation for that year’s conker competitions they couldn’t wait to get started.  I also have vague memories of my brothers, Paul and Mark, polishing theirs with boot polish. Of course, this strengthened said conkers, giving them a winning edge!

Crazy Conker Competitions!

Speaking of conker competitions, are you aware that there’s a World Conker Championship event? Not only that, but it also takes place each year in the UK, in Northamptonshire on the 2nd Sunday of October! So, if you’re getting cosy, nostalgic feelings from this post, then you’ve still got plenty of time to book yourself a weekend trip to the Schuckburgh Arms, where it takes place in the beautiful village of Southwick!  It may not be your idea of a romantic weekend. However, I’m betting that you’ll go home with a smile on your face after this walk down memory lane.

Horse Chestnut Conkers
Conkers!

Now that I think about it, a conker competition is a great event for local pubs to host each year, and certainly a unique way for them to get more customers through the door for sure! I for one would pop along to my local for the event, and I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have to drag Mr B there kicking and screaming!  Oops, as usual, I’m going on a bit, so time to concentrate on the task at hand and let you know more about the rather exciting Horse Chestnut. But before I do that, take a look at the ‘Rules of the Game’ according to the World Conker Championship:

Conkers – The Official Game Rules


  1. Each player must use a new conker at the start of each game (ideally, a new lace as well). Players cannot re-use conkers from earlier games.
  2. The game begins with the toss of a coin. The winner of the toss chooses to strike or receive.
  3. A distance of no less than eight inches or 20cm of lace must be between a player’s knuckle and their conker.
  4. Each player takes three strikes at the opponent’s conker before play switched to their opponent. The opponent then takes three strikes and turns alternate in this way until the end of the game.
  5. Each strike must be clearly aimed at the nut. There can be no deliberate mis-hits.
  6. The game is decided once one of the conkers is smashed.
  7. If a conker is not completely smashed but so little of it remains that it cannot possibly mount a serious attack against its opponent, that conker is out.
  8. If both nuts smash at the same time, the match must be replayed.
  9. Any nut that is knocked from the lace but not smashed may be re-threaded and the game may be continued.
  10.  Any player causing a knotting of the laces (a snag) will be noted. Three snags will lead to disqualification.
  11. If a game lasts for more than five minutes then play is halted. Each player is allowed nine further strikes at their opponent’s nut, again alternating after every three strikes. If neither conker has been smashed at the end of the nine strikes, then the player who strikes the nut the most times during this period is judged the winner.

15 Horse Chestnut Facts

  1. Mature horse chestnut trees grow to heights of up to 40 meters.
  2. They prefer moist, shady areas.
  3. They live for up to 300 years.
  4. Their bark starts life smooth and grey/brown, however as it ages the bark darkens and becomes scaly. Much like we do as we get older!
  5. When the buds raise their heads in early spring, they have an oval, conical appearance and are red, shiny and sticky.
  6. Their beautiful flowers begin to appear around May, with individual flowers displaying 4-5 petals, which are white/pink in colour.
  7. These flowers are used in some medicinal preparations, as are the fresh shoot tips.
  8. Flowers display from May through to June.
  9. It’s hard to confuse their leaves with any other tree. I think they look like an outstretched palm. They have 5-7 serrated leaflets, which spread from the central stem and reach up to 20 cm in length.  
  10. Our lovely insects pollinate the above flowers, and before long they start to transform into spiky green husks.
  11. The husks house one or two seeds (conkers).
  12. The above husks begin to burst open and fall in the autumn.   
  13. There was a campaign during the first world war for families to collect horse-chestnuts and donate them to the government.
  14. These conkers were then used as a source of starch in a fermentation process to produce acetone. Later, this was made into a solvent for the production of cordite in military armaments. (REF)
  15. The leaf stalks leave a scar on the twig when they fall, which resembles a horseshoe.

History

Way back in the aeons of time, before the ice age, the Horse Chestnut was indigenous to Central Europe. However, following this “cold spell”, it ended up elsewhere throughout the world.  Not returning to Central Europe until after the Dutch naturalist, physician and botanist Carolus Clusius (1526-1609) received a young horse chestnut plant in 1581.

The tree was a gift from the Constantinople ambassador, who received it as a farewell present from the Sultan. Carolus subsequently planted the young sapling in Hapsburg Gardens in Vienna. However, by the mid-nineteenth century, the Horse Chestnut tree became fully re-established in Central Europe following a widespread introduction of the tree to Britain.

Incidentally, Carolus Clusius, recognising the 16th century Botanical Renaissance as a scholastic opportunity, decided to move to France to study it. Which he did in the context of medicine, at the now famous University of Montpellier (1551–1554). Following his period of study, Carolus completed a set of botanical illustrations. These drawings and watercolours contributed, alongside others, to an exciting chapter in sixteenth-century natural history. And that was the publication of The Complete Botanical Watercolours of the 16th-century, Libri picturati.  Which, by the way, is an excellent publication and a good investment. It’s also worth noting that the Botanical Renaissance introduced significant changes to the European knowledge of living nature well before the age of Darwin.  

Folklore

Folklore is a bit thin on the ground for the old horse chestnut tree. However, it’s there if you look hard enough, and I’m sure you’ll probably be familiar with one or two of the old customs. Such as, in the 18th/19th century it was common to carry conkers in your jacket or trouser pockets. Apparently, it offered some relief against arthritis. I’m not sure quite how that would work, however that said, the placebo effect can be quite powerful!      

I’m sure it will come as no surprise that the best-known piece of folklore about conkers, and one that persists to this very day, is that placing conkers around your house will repel spiders. Now, I know plenty of people that have tried this and swear by the results. However, I’ve tried this myself, and I can’t say I found it particularly useful!

Conker - spider
Itsy Bitsy Spider!

Despite the strategically placed conkers in my bedroom, I ended up being bitten by a small wolf spider that was hiding in my trouser leg! Not only that, but my leg became infected, and I needed to go on antibiotics! The bite itself just felt like a wee scratch. Imagine my surprise when said spider casually sauntered out the leg of my jeans, drunk on my blood! So no, this is one folklore believe that I would not recommend. However, if it works for you, then let me know in the comments section.  I’d love to hear you’re spider stories.

Horse Chestnut Bud
Young Leaves & Flower Buds

The Horse Chestnut – A Money Making Tree??

Are you ready for this next piece of folklore? You’re not going to believe it… but I’ve read that if you carry three shiny conkers in your pocket, you’ll always have money!! I’m not sure how that one works, to be honest. Add it to the piece of folklore on arthritis, and you’ll not only have some cash, but you’ll also be walking with a spring in your step. And it’s no wonder, with all that spare cash to spend. That said, I’m always willing to give these folklores a bit of a go, and for you, I’ll certainly try this one. But when you don’t hear from me again, it’s because I’m a millionaire and living the high life on a desert island somewhere, consuming cocktails and taking it easy! 🙂

Famous Horse Chestnut Trees

Moving on, let’s take a look at famous horse chestnut trees. The most famous by far is the Anne Frank Tree.  Until 2011, this large Horse Chestnut tree stood in the centre of Amsterdam, but unfortunately, it was blown down in heavy winds. Which is quite a blow to history, as this is the tree that Anne Frank wrote about in “The Diary of a Young Girl”.

Medical Uses 

Horse chestnut leaf can treat the following conditions:

  • Eczema
  • Menstrual pain
  • Swollen soft tissue 
  • Coughs
  • Arthritis
  • Joint pain
  • Bronchitis

Use branch bark for:

  • Malaria
  • Dysentery

The seed and leaf address the following complaints:

  • Haemorrhoids
  • Varicose Veins
  • Phlebitis (swollen veins)

Use seeds (conkers) in the treatment of:

  • Enlarged prostate
  • Diarrhoea
  • Fevers
  • Water retention
  • Itching

Special Precautions & Warnings:

Do not eat ANY of the raw parts of this tree. Also, avoid it if you have any of the following conditions:

  • Diabetes
  • Blood disorders
  • Digestion problems
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Or if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding

Horse Chestnut Recipes

Horse chestnuts may not be edible, however, the good news is that their extract is a common ingredient in a variety of skincare products. Possessing anti-ageing properties which minimise the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Not only that, but their extract also aids the treatment of eczema, rosacea and skin infections.

If that isn’t enough for you, how does the fact that horse chestnut is great for boosting the blood circulation in the scalp, and therefore the production of new cells grab you? The extract contains fatty acids, proteins and short-chain sugars which repair your hair if it’s been damaged. And, because the seed contains a high level of saponins, which act as a natural foamer, there will be no build up left behind on your scalp.  

As far as I am concerned this is great news because it’s super easy to make a natural shampoo or body/face wash that can treat all of the above. Not to mention, along with being a natural product, it’s also very inexpensive.  In fact, why don’t you make yourself a batch of the tincture recipe below and add a few drops to your skincare lotions or creams?

Horse Chestnut Shampoo
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Horse Chestnut Shampoo

Prep Time10 hrs
Cook Time20 hrs
Total Time1 d 6 hrs
Keyword: Horse Chestnut Shampoo, Horse Chestnuts, Natural Skin Care
Author: Foragers Folly

Ingredients

  • 5 whole horse chestnuts
  • 700 ml of water
  • 5 drops essential oil of choice optional

Instructions

  • Cut horse chestnut into small pieces and place in a medium-sized saucepan.
  • Add 450 ml of the water and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Add rest of the water and simmer for 10 more minutes.
  • Remove from heat and leave to cool.
  • Strain the mixture through a muslin cloth into a glass jar, squeezing the muslin until it suds. Rinse muslin, and its contents with cold water, and squeeze into the jar again.
  • Store glass jar in the fridge until use.
  • To use: Massage a small amount into wet hair and let sit for 5 minutes. Rinse well. Can also be used as a soothing wash for skin, especially in those with eczema and psoriasis.

Horse Chestnut Gel

Horse Chestnut Tincture
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Horse Chestnut Varicose Vein Gel

A fab homemade herbal remedy. NOT for internal consumption
Prep Time10 mins
Proofing Time120 d
Cuisine: Herbal Remedy
Keyword: Herbal Remedy, Horse Chestnut Tincture, Swollen Veins, Varicose Veins, Wild Herb Tinctures
Author: Foragers Folly
Cost: £10

Equipment

  • Sterilised jar with a secure lid
  • 250 ml sterilised bottle

Ingredients

Step One Ingredients

  • 10 fresh conkers
  • 250 ml vodka

Step Two Ingredients

  • 3 sachets vegetable glycerin
  • 150 ml water
  • 150 ml horse chestnut tincture
  • 250 ml sterilised bottle

Instructions

Step One

  • Blend the conkers and vodka in a liquidiser until smooth.



  • Place in a sterilised bottle and keep in a cool dark place for 10 days to 1 month, shaking every day or so. Strain before next step.



  • Keeps for up to one year

Step Two

  • Add the vegetable gelatine to 150 ml cold water in a pan and whisk until dissolved. Heat for about 2 minutes, whisking constantly. As the mix starts to thicken, slowly pour in the Horse Chestnut Tincture a little at a time. Add the rose oil.



  • Pour into a 250 ml sterilised bottle. Keeps for up to 3 months in the fridge. Rub on the affected area daily, preferably in the evening.



Horse Chestnut Laundry Detergent Recipe


Phew…this weeks post has plenty to say, doesn’t it? So, before you get bored, and in true Looney Tunes style “that’s all folks”! Don’t forget to keep your eye on those horse chestnut trees over the next couple of weeks. And, in the meantime, take care, stay safe and happy foraging! If you don’t want to miss any of my posts, then don’t forget to subscribe!

Beech Trees – Foraging, Facts & Food!

Beech Tree

Beech Tree (Fagus sylvatica)

While on my recent woodland walks with Caber I couldn’t help but notice the large beech tree canopies. Mostly because their heavy, fruit-laden branches dangled their tantalising husks in my face! They might not be ready to open and fall quite yet but it doesn’t stop them flirting with me as I walk by! I’m desperate to gather the beech mast (the official name for the nuts), but I know that I need to be patient and wait for the right moment. Which, incidentally, won’t happen until around mid-August, through September. Which, by the way, is also a great time to look out for horse chestnuts.

Nuts On Display!

Around this time look out for the open husks on the beech tree, proudly displaying their nuts to the world, along with a light carpet of fallen fruits beneath the tree. When this happens they’re ripe for the picking and your foraging fun can begin. Of course, we can thank last summer’s brilliant weather for this year’s abundant crop, and I haven’t seen one this good for many years! So, obviously, I plan on doing quite a bit of gathering, and already have a few recipes up my sleeve, ready to go.  However, there’s so much more you can do with this tree than just forage the nuts. So, without further ado, let me officially introduce this rather delightful tree to you.

Beech Tree - Husks
Open Husks

Did You Know?

  1. There are 13 varieties of the Beech (Fagus) tree. Today we’re looking at the Fagus sylvatica, which is prevalent in the UK and Fagus sylvatica purpurea (Copper beech).
  2. These magnificent trees can live for hundreds of years, with some reaching the ripe old age of 1000! The average age, however, is around 300-400.
  3. Their bark is smooth and grey in appearance.
  4. And they can grow to heights of up to 40 meters.
  5. It starts to produce nuts at the 40th year from when it was planted.
  6. Leaves and bark contain pigments which are used for dyeing of fabrics.
  7. In early spring they display cute little red buds on the tips of their branches.
  8. And in late spring their new leaves display a bright lime green, slightly translucent hue.
  9. These young translucent leaves are edible.
  10. They have a slightly sticky feel and a fresh citrusy flavour.
  11. Beeches are monoecious, which means they bear both male and female flowers on the same tree.
  12. The above flowers begin to appear in spring, around April/May, shortly after the new leaves begin to show.
  13. The male flowers are the wind-pollinating catkins, which look a bit like fluffy, yellow/creamy pendants hanging from the tree.
  14. And the female flowers grow in pairs and are surrounded by a delicate cup which is a green/yellow colour with hints of red.
  15. It’s this cup that matures into the green spiky husks which eventually bear the beechnuts.
  16. Each husk houses 2 nuts.
  17. The French roast the nuts to make a type of coffee.
  18. These nuts (masts) are brown in colour and triangular, with a slightly bitter taste due to their tannin content.
  19. Beechwood makes excellent firewood and will burn for quite a few hours.
  20. The wood is used to produce a variety of products. To be frank, what you make is limited only to your imagination!
  21. Their bark, leaves, nuts, branches, and flowers all have medicinal qualities.
  22. In 19th Century England, beech oil was used for cooking and as fuel for lamps.
  23. These rather wonderful trees are steeped in folklore.
  24. Such as…the druids believed the trees were the custodians of ancient knowledge.
  25. And last, but not least, beech trees are traditionally known as the Mother of the Woods. Folklore says that no harm will befall a lost traveller seeking shelter under her canopy.
Beech Tree - Female Flowers
Female Flowers

3 Famous Beech Trees

Beechnut
Beechnut – 3 Sided, Triangular Shape (Image by Kathy Büscher from Pixabay)

Beech Tree Recipes

I couldn’t write a post about beech trees without adding a Beech Leaf Noyau recipe! After all, it’s the most common recipe that any beech loving forager will rush to make as soon as those baby leaves begin to pop their heads up!

That said, the young leaves also make a lovely addition to a salad. Also, if you fry them, then you have yourself some pretty tasty beech leaf crisps! On a personal note, I like to gather the nuts, roast them, and finally grind them to a powder. I then use the ground beechnuts for the biscuit base of a rather delicious lemon cheesecake. The flavours marry well together.

Beech Tree - Young Leaves
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Beech Leaf Noyau

A delightful, herby gin liqueur that will tantalise your taste buds and surprise your guests!
Prep Time5 mins
Maturing Time60 d
Course: Drinks
Keyword: Beech, Beech Leaves, Beech Tree
Author: Foragers Folly
Cost: £12

Equipment

  • 1 ltr Bottle, Bowl/Jug, Muslin Cloth, Saucepan

Ingredients

  • 750 ml gin
  • Young fresh beech tree leaves
  • 150 g sugar
  • 200 ml hot water
  • 125 ml brandy (you can add up to 200ml)

Instructions

PART ONE

  • Gather young beech tree leaves
  • Loosley 3/4 fill a 1-litre bottle with the leaves (a recycled plastic juice bottle is perfect)
  • Cover leaves with the gin, ensuring they're all submerged
  • Seal bottle and store in a dark cupboard for 4 weeks
  • After 4 weeks, strain the liquid through a muslin cloth into a bowl or jug and throw away the leaves

PART TWO

  • Sterilise then refill your bottle with the strained gin
  • Dissolve your sugar in hot water, leave to cool and pour into the gin.
  • Add the brandy and give the bottle a good shake.
  • Seal, and store in a dark cupboard for a further 4 weeks to mature.
  • Chill, pour, drink, enjoy!

Notes

If you’re in a hurry to drink your noyau you can miss out part two entirely and rebottle the strained gin. Chill, serve and enjoy!

3 Beech Tree Health Benefits

Relief from Headaches, Aches & Pains

All you need to do is boil down some beech tree leaves to create a poultice with analgesic properties and place on the area causing you pain.

Kidney Disorders

Using beech tree leaves, make yourself a decoction to significantly boost your kidney function and stimulate urination. As a diuretic, beech is able to help clear out the toxins from the body, including excess fats, salts, waste, and water, improving the overall efficiency of your metabolism.

Hair Care

Use the oil from the nuts to strengthen your hair and improve its appearance, remember to add a carrier oil (such as almond oil)

A Word of Warning:  Speak to a  herbalist, or your doctor, before adding any beech tree treatments to your regimen. Excessive consumption is discouraged as there is some evidence to suggest that they are toxic in large quantities.

So, there you have it then! A multitude of beech tree nonsense, that you may, or may not find useful! In any event, if there are any plants you’d like me to cover in a future post, then let me know in the comments section below. In the meantime, take care, stay safe and don’t forget to subscribe if you don’t want to miss any of my posts!

Meadowsweet – 10 Reasons to Love It

Meadowsweet - Queen of the Meadows

The sweet scent of the delicate meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) flower draws you to it as quickly as it does the bees. Subsequently it grabs you by the nose and demands you stop to take a moment to admire its beautiful fluffy flower head.

It’s no accident that this delightful plant also answers to the name of Queen of the Meadows. For example, think of elderflowers for a moment, and add a punch of exotic perfume, which only a queen deserves. Consequently, you’ll now have some idea of the profusion of scent, which hits you as you walk through any damp woods, meadows or river banks lucky enough to be carpeted with this delightful plant.

Not only is meadowsweet edible, but it also has some pretty fantastic medicinal properties. Hence the reason why many herbalists favour it as a reliable remedy for arthritic and rheumatic aches and pains. But don’t worry, it’s easy to make your own decoction or tonic by following the instructions in a previous post I wrote, ‘Homemade Herbal Recipes’.

Also, with the above in mind, do yourself a big favour, and get a tincture on the go now, in plenty of time for your winter body woes! And, if you suffer from digestive problems, then adding some lemon balm or (and) marshmallow to the meadowsweet will go a long way to relieving those nasty symptoms.

Indeed, meadowsweet was once a sacred herb, held in high regard by the druids, the Celts version of doctors. With herbalists still using it today to treat the following ten conditions:

  1. Indigestion
  2. Heartburn
  3. Arthritis & rheumatism
  4. Gastritis
  5. Chronic Ulcers
  6. Peptic Ulceration
  7. Minor stomach upsets
  8. Anti Inflammatory
  9. Inhibits the growth of the Helicobacter pylori bacteria
  10. Useful in treating diarrhoea, particularly in young children

Special Precautions & Warnings:

As with all medicines, meadowsweet, when taken appropriately, is safe for most people. However, it should be used with caution for the following people:

  • Children under 16
  • People with asthma
  • People with an existing allergy to aspirin
  • Taking excessive amounts of meadowsweet can cause blood in the stool, vomiting, tinnitus and kidney problems

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: It’s UNSAFE to use meadowsweet if you are pregnant. Not enough is known about the safety of using meadowsweet during breast-feeding. Consequently, it’s best to stay on the safe side and avoid use.

Folklore

Historically, it’s said that this delicate herb was used to attract love, peace and happiness and was a key ingredient in ancient love spells and potions. Also, this flower was added to a brides bouquet to bring joy and blessings to the bride!


A poem by Edith Nesbit

The Spell

OUR boat has drifted with the stream
That stirs the river’s full sweet bosom
And now she stays where gold flags gleam
By meadowsweet’s pale foam of blossom.

Sedge-warblers sing the sun the song.
The nightingale sings to the shadows;
Forget-me-nots grow all along
The fringes of the happy meadows.

See the wet lilies’ golden beads!
The river-nymphs for necklace string them,
And in the sighing of the reeds
You hear the song their lovers sing them.

Gold sun, blue air, green shimmering leaves,
The weir’s old song, the wood’s old story.
Such spells the enchanting Summer weaves.
She holds me in a web of glory.

And you, with head against my arm.
And subtle wiles that seek to hold me.
Not even you can add a charm.
To the sweet sorceries that enfold me.

Yet lean there still! The hour is ours;
If we should move the charm might shiver
And joyless sun and scentless flowers
Might mock a disenchanted river.


Once upon a time, households scattered ‘strewing herbs’ over their floors. This ensured that not only did their home smell sweet, but they also served as an insecticide and disinfectant. Therefore, meadowsweet’s flowery, astringent properties made it an excellent choice as a strewing herb.

Did You Know?

In 1838 an Italian professor, Rafaele Piria, produced salicylic acid from the flower buds of the meadowsweet plant. In case you don’t know, salicylic acid is a key ingredient in aspirin, and in 1897 Felix Hoffmann, working for the German drug company Bayer, synthesised salicin and that is when this new drug took on the name we’re all now familiar with, ‘aspirin’. Although today, aspirin also includes willow bark in its makeup. However, the aspirin derived from meadowsweet is far more gentle and is not nearly as abrasive with the stomach lining. As a result, it’s great for digestive complaints as well as being gentle on the stomach.

Meadowsweet Recipes

Meadowsweet Fizz

  • 12 full meadowsweet flower heads
  • 1½ lb sugar
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 gallon of cold water
  • 1 lemon
  1. To begin with, pick flower heads in full bloom and place into a demijohn, or plastic bucket, followed by the lemon juice and cut up rind. Try not to add any pith, owing to the bitterness it’ll add to the liquid.
  2. Follow this by adding sugar, vinegar, cold water. Gently stir and leave for 24 hours.
  3. Next, strain and put into sturdy screw-top bottles and leave in a dark cupboard for 10 days to 2 weeks. Only fill the bottles ¾ full in case there’s pressure build-up and unscrew the cap every few days to “burp” the bottle.
  4. Conversely, I prefer to reuse old, sterilised plastic bottles as these take the worry of exploding glass bottles out of the equation!
  5. Last, but not least chill and enjoy!

2. Meadowsweet Cordial

3. Meadowsweet Tea

To make meadowsweet tea: 2-6g dried herb infused into 1 pint of boiling water. Steep covered for 5 -10 minutes, the longer you steep it the more bitter the decocotion will be. Take 3 cups per day. It’s strongly aromatic, sweet and slightly astringent.

4. Meadowsweet Fritters

5. Meadowsweet Mead

Time To Sum Up

To sum up this weeks post, what are you waiting for? To put it differently, meadowsweet is available in abundance right now. So, get those foraging boots on, enjoy the fresh air, and bag yourself a bundle of these fine herbs! Furthermore, go on, take a look out the window, the great outdoors is calling you!

And finally, happy foraging, take care, stay safe and don’t forget to subscribe!

NATURAL REMEDIES | MY TOP 4 FOR A SURVIVAL SITUATION

Natural Remedies Although it’s become incredibly popular of late, there’s nothing new about the concept of leading a holistic lifestyle.  After all, along with natural remedies, these practices have been around for thousands of years. And, for those of you who don’t know what a holistic lifestyle is, it’s a means of living your life Continue Reading