The Essential Herbal for Natural Health: How to Transform Easy-to-Find Herbs into Healing Remedies for the Whole Family by Holly Bellebuono [blog]. Roost Books (March 13, 2012).

As you may have guessed I am very much into home herbal healing and beauty products lately. I love how they make me feel, how they smell, how satisfying they are to make and that they do really work. I recently published my latest Action Pack Magazine all about this topic – it’s called Family Apothecary – you can download a free excerpt – how to make healing salves.

Holly begins the book by describing the 11 essential herbs that she refers to throughout this book and the various methods for using the herbs — tinctures and herbal oils, tisanes and teas, infusions, decoctions and syrups, plasters and liniments and soaks – it is very thorough. Holly’s writing style is easy to digest and understand — she explains all of this in a very non-stuffy friendly way. The recipes focus on specific remedies to men, women, children and then the whole family.

This book really feels complete. Its compact size and easy layout will mean it can remain in the kitchen or bathroom or close at hand for when you need to quickly look something up, and the lovely breezy, yet knowledgeable writing style will make you want to sit on the couch and read it all cover to cover with a cup of herbal brew.

There is a really lovely chapter titled ‘mind and spirit’ which has recipes for easing anxiety and insomnia, there are teas and tinctures for sleeping and improving memory and for boosting your emotional strength.

I want to share this recipe for Crossroads tea

Holly says that this tea is grounding and centering.

2 tablespoons of dried chopped ginger
1 quart of water (just under 1 litre)
2 tablespoons of dried violet flowers

Simmer the ginger in the water for 5-8 minutes, add the violets and stir and remove from the heat. Cover and let steep for 5-8 minutes. Strain and drink.

Oh and I need to mention the wonderful illustrations — hand drawn by Geninne Zlatkis.


Kathryn Vercillo is a San Francisco based writer and crafter. She is the blogger behind Crochet Concupiscence and has recently written and self published Crochet Saved My Life: The Mental and Physical Health Benefits of Crochet.

There I am … a doubled-over heap of empty sobs balled up onto the bathroom floor, rocking back and forth trying to calm away the palpitating pain. My mind keeps racing around and around, exploring the tempting (but frightening) options for suicide. I could take some pills, I could slice my wrists … but I don’t really want to die. I just want to end the constant pain of living. I pull myself to my knees, then to my feet. I make my way back to my bedroom, crumple down onto the bed, and reach for a shiny G-size crochet hook. With hook in one hand, and a ball of soft merino wool in the other, I pull loop through loop until the thoughts of dying fade into the background and become less and less of an option.

Fast forward to January 2011. I have, more or less, survived a depression that had lasted for more than fifteen years. There are a lot of reasons for this, including a good therapist and the right medication, but I also know that crochet played its important part. The meditative qualities of the craft allowed me to relax when anxiety threatened to push me over the edge. The tangible act of making something from nothing allowed me to begin to believe once again in the possibility of creating a new life for myself in the years to come. The beauty of the things I made gave me a reason to feel a bit of self-esteem in a time when depression had made me feel worthless. I was healing, and I was ready to start something new, so at the beginning of that year I launched my crochet blog, Crochet Concupiscence.

Through Crochet Concupiscence I explored, and continue to explore, all aspects of crochet. I profile crochet artists working in the streets and in the galleries. I review crochet books, discuss new types of yarn, interview crochet designers and find as much crochet news as possible. But the one topic that kept resonating with me and wanting more attention was the topic of crochet and health. I knew deep inside me that crochet had helped me heal and I sensed that I was not alone. I had a story to tell and I wanted to hear the stories others had to share, so I started opening up.


By the summer of 2011 I had decided that I wanted to write a book about the topic. I began drafting the first chapter, about my own battle with depression and how crochet had come to help. I put out a few calls for stories on my blog and received an amazing response. Women I’d never heard from before came out of the woodwork to tell me the most personal and intimate details of their health problems. Liza told me how she struggled with the anxiety of intermittent blindness from an undiagnosed medical condition. Fran told me of the difficulty of trying to cope with PTSD after a traumatic, violent rape. Aurore explained how she had battled with hallucinations her entire life and had a serious break with reality not that long ago.

I used the stories that these women told me to guide my research for my book, Crochet Saved My Life. It helped me to create an outline for the topics that I wanted to cover in the book, topics related to the way that crochet (and crafting in general) helps people heal from both physical and mental illness. I knew that it was important for me to share the stories these women had trusted me with in addition to sharing my own so I shaped the book in such a way that I was able to include each individual story.

I continued with my research. I read about the history of art therapy and occupational therapy. I explored studies that have been done into the benefits of crafting. I looked at the books that exist on why people are drifting more and more towards a handmade lifestyle in the 21st century. And I continued to ask people to share their stories with me. The result of all of this is my book Crochet Saved My Life.

Self publishing

I chose to self-publish this book for a number of reasons, but ultimately because I believe that self-publishing is often the right choice in today’s world and is certainly the right choice for me. I like the option of retaining creative control, which allows me to tell my story and the stories of these other women in the way that is best for me. I utilized many different resources and collaborated with some great people. I’m sure that there are little things here and there that make it obvious that it’s a self-published work instead of a work from a big publishing house but I’m okay with that. In the end, as professional as I try to be, I’m very much a member of the DIY movement who got her literary start publishing in ‘zines that got sent to pen pals via snail mail!

Although this book is about crochet, and my own story is about depression, I believe that it will appeal to a wide variety of crafters who are dealing with a diverse array of illnesses. Crafting heals us. Somewhere inside, I think we all know that, and that is why we are driven to do it.

Photography by Julie Michelle Photography.



Guest series 2012: I asked fellow bloggers, makers and creators to write on their creativity and focus their essay on one of four topics: creativity and health, creativity and business, creativity and parenting or creativity and process. I am very excited to have a wonderful lot of fellow creative folk guest posting here at over the next couple of months. Please welcome…

Maryanne lives in Sydney Australia. She wears many hats – a wife, a mother, a doctor, a sewing addict and sewing teacher. She shares a blog and a sewing school with her sister Caroline. Their sewing school is called Sew Together. When Maryanne is being a doctor she likes to spend her time not only treating illness, but helping to keep people both physically and psychologically well.

There is no doubt that sewing makes me feel good. It makes me feel fulfilled, calm and productive. It excites and enthuses me. When I am not sewing and I have a spare moment in my day – driving the car, under the shower or drifting off to sleep I am thinking about sewing – processing the projects I am currently working on or planning the next one. As I was growing up I saw my mother doing the same thing and now I see my sister thinking similarly. I am sure WhipUp unites many others who feel the same way.

The question is why do we all feel like this? Maybe it is a gene knitted tightly into some people’s DNA but I am sure there is more to it than that.

Research about sewing and wellbeing is fairly thin on the ground. Anyone who sews regularly will tell you it makes them feel good but there isn’t much science out there to prove it or explain why. If you are interested in looking at what is available, I would encourage you to check out Stitchlinks a fantastic organization that supports people who use knitting and stitching to improve their wellbeing, performs research into the benefits of crafts, in particular knitting, and provides information to clinicians, teachers, the craft trade and others who wish to use therapeutic knitting and run therapeutic knitting groups.

For me, I think a lot of it comes down to the idea of flow. Yes, there is pleasure in making something beautiful to wear or display but there is something in the actual process of designing and sewing that keeps me coming back.

Flow is a concept that was developed in the 1990s by the psychologist Dr Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Cziksentmihalyi defines flow as “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it”. The more flow we experience in our daily lives, the happier we feel overall.

He identifies a number of different conditions that lead to flow:

  • There are clear goals every step of the way.
  • There is immediate feedback to one’s actions.
  • There is a balance between challenges and skills.
  • Action and awareness are merged.
  • Distractions are excluded from consciousness.
  • There is no worry of failure.
  • Self-consciousness disappears.
  • The sense of time becomes distorted.
  • The activity becomes an end in itself.

Check out the article Happiness and Creativity by Cziksentmihalyi for more details.

Sometimes I sew by the book – pick a pattern I like and sew it up. It’s enjoyable but I don’t get that totally immersed–lost in time feeling. But when I “Sew with the flow” I tick every item on Cziksentmihalyi’s list. Let me give you some examples.

A little purse (for which there is a tutorial on our blog) was so enjoyable to work out. I had an exact idea of how I wanted it to look but no pattern. Combining the skills I had with some maths and an A4 piece of paper, I drafted up a pattern and it turned out exactly as I had hoped. Some people wouldn’t experience flow with a project like this – maybe they have no interest, or it would be just too easy. But for me it hit the spot – challenging, absorbing, immediate feedback, yes it was for our blog but it was more about the process behind it than writing a post. And when it all worked out and I had worked out directions to make this little zippered purse in any size I was pretty happy with myself.

This dress was created by Caroline and me for Project Run and Play a children’s clothing design and sewing competition we are currently competing in. We drafted it from scratch – a double circle skirt with colour blocking attached to a fitted bodice. We are new to pattern drafting so it was certainly challenging and absorbing. But I think I would call this project ‘sewing with the flow with an added bonus’ and that bonus would be social connectedness. Social connectedness is another key component to well being. I could connect with my sister while making it and share in the excitement of pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone. It also connected us with the worldwide sewing community via the internet and we received some great feedback about our work. I think we all know that this has the ability to make us feel pretty good and is therefore somewhat addictive!

Finally I want to share with you something I call “70 squares” (see image at the top). I made this for my Mum for her 70th birthday. Each of the 70 squares represent something important to my Mum – her family and friends, places she has travelled, places she has lived and other parts of her life. I found the process of creating this quite meditative. It is a slower project than what I usually do and this gave me lots of time to think about my Mum, my family and our history. It connected me with her friends and more distant family when I contacted them to find out how they would like to be represented. And it made my Mum so happy when I gave it to her.

So, to quote Csikszentmihalyi: “For many people happiness comes from creating new things and making discoveries. Enhancing one’s creativity may therefore enhance well being.”

I think there would be many of us who would confidently say that the “may” in the second sentence is redundant…


Guest series 2012: I asked fellow bloggers, makers and creators to write on their creativity and focus their essay on one of four topics: creativity and health, creativity and business, creativity and parenting or creativity and process. I am very excited to have a wonderful lot of fellow creative folk guest posting here at over the next couple of months. Please welcome…

Leisl, who lives in Melbourne, Australia, can be found blogging at jorth. Check out her stories on sewing, cooking, green living and knitting — go for the craft, and stay for the laughs!

I have always been a crafter. Ever since I was a little girl I was always happiest with busy hands, creating away. You name it I tried it – sewing, knitting, embroidery, paper making, jewellery making – life was good when I was creating! I used to spend many happy hours dreaming of an adult life filled with the joy of making things, and there were always the bright smiling faces of my children in these day dreams.

You can imagine my delight, therefore, when I found out that I was pregnant in the spring of 2003. And with a little girl, to boot! I couldn’t wait to meet my new buddy, and spent many happy hours making things to welcome our daughter into the world, from her cot sheets to soft knitted toys.

So the plan was to go into labour, head to the hospital, push for a bit and then bring home our lovely daughter, and then after a suitable amount of time start planning for the next one. Oh, and live happily ever after. That’s everybody’s plan, right? Unfortunately for us, though, the script was altered at the last minute. Unbeknownst to myself, my husband or the hospital staff, I was suffering from a condition called placenta accreta. Wikipedia defines it as a severe obstetric complication, and they sure didn’t get that wrong. Basically, it means that the placenta becomes embedded in the uterine wall. Nobody realised that this was the case for me, and when the placenta was removed after birthing my daughter, a huge piece of the uterine wall came with it. Uh oh.

I’ll spare you all the gory details (and trust me, there are plenty) but the short story is that I nearly bled to death, and the only thing that saved me was emergency surgery for 5 hours, culminating in a post-partum hysterectomy. Oh, and 19 blood transfusions. So much for my visions of a nice relaxed birth, with the pop of a champagne bottle afterwards. Physically and emotionally I was a mess, and had a very long road of recovery ahead, plus a new born baby to contend with.

My body slowly mended, but my mind took a bit longer. There was so much to process – the trauma of what I had been through, the constant thought that only by the grace of God I was there to watch my daughter grow up, the grieving for the family of 5 children that we had hoped for but would now never have, and the vulnerability that comes with the knowledge that your safe little world can crumble in an instant.

That, for me, was the hardest thing to deal with – knowing that I had so little control over what might happen. Life could change in an instant, and that first-hand experience left me feeling like I had no control over anything. I put on a brave face, and slapped on a smile and said I was fine whenever anybody asked, but it was a pretty rough time – one that I wouldn’t wish upon anybody.

So there I was – wombless, mentally scarred and scared to death by the fragility of life. This was probably the point where most people would have called in an army of psychologists, but I instead turned to craft. Life, I knew, I had very little control over, but a crafting project I did. Every day when my daughter went down for a sleep, I turned to whatever project I had on the go, and worked at it until she woke. And even if I only got to sew a couple of seams, or knit a few rows, the very act of creating on my own terms began to heal me.

The sense of accomplishment I felt whenever I actually finished a project was dizzying. It was almost like a belligerent cry out to the universe: “I am still here! Look at what I made! You can’t take this away from me!”

So stitch by stitch, I got better. Less scared, more confident. I was still alive, and was still capable. The feeling of living in a body that could let me down at any moment began to fade away, and my mind turned instead to looking after my girl the best I could. Soon my favourite things to make were clothes for her. Somehow, just knowing that I could keep her warm in things made by my own two hands made me feel better.

They say that time heals all wounds. It does, in a fashion. Part of me will always be quietly grieving for the children we can no longer have, but it is a small part now – one that fits into the jigsaw of the person I am, rather than overwhelming me as it did in the beginning. And crafting helped me come to that place. It gave me a sense of confidence in myself, and sometimes just the feel of the fabric or yarn was enough to convince me that all was ok in my world, as long as I could sit quietly to make something.

Before I knew it, my daughter – who is the light of my life – was part of my crafting process, whether it was making something for her or just sitting down and making a good old crafty mess together. Soon I started a blog to document these precious memories, and before I knew it I had internet friends, some of which have become wonderful friends in real life. My blog has lead to jobs, to writing, to the finessing of my skills and I have crafting to thank for all of it.

By the way – I did get my happily ever after. It was a different sort from the one I was expecting, but the hard won version is always so much better.



Beneath the Rowan Tree is a shady little spot where life and art and craft  and parenting meet. Lori Campbell is the mom, author and natural toy artisan behind the BTRT blog and shop, and designer of the positive apparel found at Daydream Believers. She’s always in a mess and the chaos can be colorful and fun, challenging and funny, sweet and bittersweet and company is always, always welcome!

Beeswax polish is a wonderful, all natural way to preserve and protect your wooden treasures, toys and trinkets (furniture, too!). Here’s how to make your own!

This is the finish we use on our wooden toys at BTRT. First and foremost, because it is natural and safe for little hands (and mouths). Add that it provides a beautiful gleaming finish that brings out the warmth of the wood, that it repels water, dirt and oils, and can be re-applied as needed to restore the beauty of any natural wood surfaces.

And it smells good. (oh that your monitor was scratch and sniff right now!)

And is great for your hands!

Supplies Needed:

(Set aside about 30 minutes to complete this project.)

  • Beeswax (50 ml melted wax will make nearly 8 oz. of polish)
  • Jojoba Oil (5 oz./ 150 ml will yield 8 oz. of polish)
  • Glass measuring cups in suitable volumes
  • Pot
  • metal spoon
  • essential oils, if desired
  • glass or other non-porous, sealable containers

You can make as much or as little polish as you like, simply keep your beeswax to jojoba oil ratio at 1:3. For a softer polish, increase the jojoba (technically a wax, but liquid at room temperature). For a harder polish, increase the beeswax.

Gather your supplies

  1. Set your pot on the stove, high heat, and fill part way with water to boil.
  2. Put your measuring cup for melting the beeswax in the pot to heat with the water. OR create another double boiler of your choice.
  3. Make sure your jars or containers are clean and dry, set aside.
  4. Figure out how much polish you plan to make, and measure the jojoba oil into the second measuring cup.

Melt the Beeswax


  • Beeswax has a melting point of 143-148 degrees.
  • All waxes may ignite if they are heated to their flashpoint.
  • Never melt your beeswax in the microwave.
  • Always use a double boiler set up and remove the wax from the heat once it has melted.
  • Mind that your pot does not boil dry.
  • Use a grater to shave off smaller amounts of beeswax for faster melting.
  • Choose a small chunk, melt it in the measuring cup and eye up whether I have enough, adding more if needed.
  • If I over-melt, I simply pour off the excess into a non-porous container to cool and store for later use.

Mix the Oils

  1. When your beeswax is liquified, pour the needed amount into the glass measuring cup holding your jojoba oil.
  2. Make sure you have figured out your ratio and measurements ahead of time!
  3. Place this mixture back into the double boiler to melt together (the beeswax will immediately begin to harden in the cool jojoba oil~ you could heat the jojoba ahead of time, but why dirty more dishes?), stirring regularly until you have a liquid mixture.

Fill Your Jar(s)

  1. Pour the mixture into your waiting containers. I suggest heating the jars with hot water to avoid shock breakage when the hot liquid wax is poured in!
  2. Add essential oils at this point.  Just a few drops, and stir. Lemon and lavender are my favourites. We actually use flavour oils for added insurance of safety for toys that end up in kids’ mouths!
  3. Set the jars aside to cool and set up. This may take one to several hours depending on your ratios and temperatures.

Go Polish Something!

  • I prefer a flannel cloth~ preferably an old one so there will be less lint. I keep my cloths in the jar for storage so they remain lint free and ready for polishing.
  • Apply one or more thin coats of polish to your wood. Allow to dry, buff to shine! Enjoy!

Bonus idea: Your melted beeswax can be used for making toys and ornaments. Simply pour it into the candy moulds used for chocolates, which come in endless shapes and sizes.  Let them cool and pop them out.  To add a string for hanging, simply use a hot needle to pierce the wax.

{Some folks are unsure about where to find beeswax. You can try a local apiary (we get ours from a local honey farm), or checkout online source – search for beeswax and ‘encaustic supplies’}