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Calendula flowers

Medicinal garden

Izzy Bunting visits a garden in Derbyshire where organic techniques and biodynamics are benefitting people and wildlife

Many of us are concerned about our health, and will choose organic foods to avoid putting harmful pesticides into our bodies.


But how often do we think about what we use on our skin? Look at many bottles of shampoo, moisturiser or body lotion, and you are likely to find a list of incomprehensible and unpronounceable ingredients, including detergents, preservatives and an unappealing cocktail of artificial fragrances and colourants. Some of these are potentially harmful chemicals and parabens that could cause health problems ranging from skin irritation to headaches – or even cancer.


The skin is the largest organ of the body (the skin of an average adult is about two square metres), and once it has absorbed any harmful ingredient that you have applied to it, the ingredient eventually reaches the bloodstream. Think about how a nicotine patch works – in short, the parabens and toxins mentioned in the small print of your shampoo bottle label could end up in your blood.

Thankfully, not all skin care companies use these chemicals in their products; as with organic food options, there are natural alternatives available. And one such company produces natural skincare products and homeopathic remedies in Derbyshire in the UK.


Weleda, established in Switzerland in 1921, is the world's leading manufacturer of holistic, natural, and organic cosmetics – and many of the plants used in their products are grown just outside the market town of Ilkeston.

Bee on poppy
Echinacea flower
Poppy flowers
Cornflower
Chamomile flowers

Habitats for wildlife

Although the main production centre is in Germany, the Weleda gardens in Ilkeston are invaluable to the company. The gardens cover 13 acres and consist of three distinct sections.


The first of these is the cultivated plant gardens, where the plants and herbs are grown by hand, using organic methods. This area forms a colourful patchwork of plant species, and is the home of the ingredients for Weleda's popular and iconic product, Skin Food – including rosemary, calendula, and chamomile. This award-winning, natural moisturiser has been made by the company since 1926, and is a fantastic, gorgeous-smelling remedy for rough, dry skin.


The second section is the meadow. This area is full of spectacular wildflowers, pollinated by the bees that live in the apiary on site and produce wonderful honey. And the third section consists of leafy woodland, where ferns and aconite grow beneath the trees.


Not only do these areas provide plants for Weleda's products, but the variety of land use also creates excellent habitats for wildlife – 18 years ago the land was used as grazing land, with little ecological importance.

Weleda garden, Derbyshire

Top: calendula flowers. Above: workers at Weleda's gardens in Derbyshire

Top row: poppies; cornflower. Bottom row: echinacea; chamomile

Unsurprisingly, the Weleda gardens at Ilkeston are a truly magical place, full of colour, scent and the gentle, musical sounds of insects and birds.


“There's something quite special about this place,” says Claire Hattersley, the head gardener, who has been working with Weleda for 18 years. “It has a kind of vitality about it.”


Biodynamics

Claire has seen the positive impact the gardens have had on the people who have worked here.


“One of the things I love about my job is seeing how people grow and develop when they work here,” she says. “The site affects people positively – and spending time in the meadows, just sitting and enjoying all the life there, creates a real sense of wellbeing.”


There are currently three full-time gardeners. Weleda's production practices are exactly the same as they were in 1921 – their products contain ingredients that are 100 per cent natural, and work without the use of animal testing, pesticides or artificial fertilisers.

Weleda garden
Calendula flowers
Claire Hattersley
Purple and red poppies

Above: a view across the garden; Claire Hattersley, Head Gardener; calendula flowers

Above: bee on poppy flower

Today, this is incredibly important, as our soil is in crisis. It's been estimated that Britain's agricultural soil only has 100 harvests left, a result of modern methods of agriculture, including intensive monocrops, massive tractors, and compaction – all of which deplete the earth.


Instead, Weleda uses biodynamics. In the 1920s, the Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner realised there was a problem with modern agricultural methods and started the organic movement. He wrote a series of lectures on biodynamic methods in agriculture – these involve farming more sustainably, not using pesticides, and working with the seasons.  

Biodynamic agriculture is now practiced in places all around the globe, especially in France and Germany, where biodynamics is much more widely used than it is here in the UK.


“Weleda's aim is to avoid the bad, reduce the negative impact of our operation, and to actively do good,” Claire explains.

Five medicinal plants from the Weleda garden


Calendula officialis. Good for skin problems such as eczema and acne, as it brings order back to the skin, providing a protective covering against bacteria. It can also help to heal minor cuts and wounds.


Valerian. The juice from the roots of valerian is a natural sedative and the Victorians used to use it to quieten children! It's one of the ingredients in Weleda's Avena Sativa Comp drops, a natural aid to restful sleep and relaxation.


Lavender. This well-known cottage garden flower is naturally calming and relaxing. Lavender oil has been used for centuries to promote restful sleep, and can also relieve anxiety and depression.


Sage. This common herb can be used as a respiratory medicine for coughs, colds and sore throats and is also good for the digestion. It can be used to avoid excess perspiration, and is the key ingredient in Weleda's Sage Deodorant.


Birch leaves. Birch leaves contain high levels of vitamin C, have a rejuvenating effect and can be used to detoxify the body. The oil from the leaves is good for rheumatism, arthritis and other joint problems. It's also used to treat cellulite.

Little Green Space May 2017

Weleda gardens, Derbyshire