bee sting remedies

Stung! On our blueberrying trip, my tall girl’s little hand scared a stinging creature in a berry bush. Ouch. Whatever do you do?


Why, put a copper penny on it, of course. It works a charm. (Now, I’m sure I needn’t tell you it is best to clean both hand and penny, after checking to remove a stinger, and if you are allergic, disregard this entirely. Tongue swelling up? Get help!)

Seeing as this country is phasing out the copper penny, one might not find this remedy easily to hand in future. In that case, whip up some sodium bicarbonate or epsom salt with a bit of water to make a paste to apply; take a dose of homeopathic Apis Mellifica; chew the wild herb plantain, some basil, parsley or bee balm (oh right! obviously!) and apply; slice some garlic or onion and rub on the sting; splash on a bit of apple cider vinegar or a drop of lavender oil; you might even try prepared mustard, meat tenderiser, or toothpaste. Still, if you’re out in a field of blueberry bushes and nowhere near a kitchen, a penny might be just the bee sting remedy you need.

Thanks to my great friend Kimberly for this tip. It isn’t necessary to bring a wise woman with you on all adventures but it does make things easier.

gingered honey

Have you escaped the springtime sore throat going around? Each of us caught it, one after the other. You might like to keep this quick traditional medicinal recipe mixed up nearby, just in case. Seeing as we were just talking about honey! Raw honey is a fine remedy for sore throats. Sometimes I mix it with lemon, or submerge elderflowers in it. This time, I gingered it.


Extraordinarily basic, this. Chop ginger root roughly, small enough to fit into whatever sterile jar or bottle you have available. Pour raw honey to cover it. Now and then you might give it a turn. I just leave it out, securely capped, for my children to enjoy turning, they’ll accomplish the same work of infusing ginger throughout the honey.


I like a dollop of gingered honey in a cupful of water hot from the kettle, perhaps with a squeeze of lemon. Woolly socks, a good book, a long rest, and I’m ready for spring days out. Do you have a favourite medicinal that you make and use each year?


Early in October, when autumn was convinced it was summer, we visited my dear friend Sarah and her children in the city. In her beautiful kitchen I stumbled upon the most beautiful and unexpected object.

honey frame

A frame from their beehive, thoroughly sculpted with honeycomb, heavy with honey. I had no idea Sarah kept a hive in the garden! I fell over. Such an astonishing, amazing thing. How much would I love to do this! Like keeping chickens, beekeeping takes some studying, a well-designed structure, a good spot in the garden and a bit of bravery – and learning from watching someone else helps so much. Now I have a beekeeping friend to watch, with keen interest.


I’ve admired the hives on Old Plawhatch Farm near our old cottage in Sussex, and listened to a fascinating talk there by the Natural Beekeeping Trust. Sarah and I talked about how she’s caring for the bees, instinctively following principles I’ve become so interested in. What if the hive isn’t opened often, so it stays warmer, the way the bees need it? What if honey is only taken when the hive is particularly heavy, so the bees have their natural food through winter?


The hive strikes me as an unimaginable treasure. The intoxicating scent of beeswax, and so many wonderful uses for the beautiful stuff; the exquisite particularity of flavours of a local honey, and its extraordinary healing benefits; the tremendous contribution a beehive imparts to the health of the neighbourhood’s flora; the utter delight of watching the grace and beauty of bees at work. I love it, I am completely inspired. Thank you, Sarah.


Maybe you remember my sister’s sweetheart who taught me to weld. You might recall that he secretly found someone to teach me an old skill and would only give me a few clues about what I was going to do: something hot, something dusty, after which my arms would hurt. I could not figure this out. Mysterious. One day my sister handed me some of her best grubby clothes and a pair of heavy shoes, and drove me across the city to a workshop.

blacksmithing © elisa rathje 2011

Where I met their friend Al MacIsaac, a traditional blacksmith! Oh, my goodness.

blacksmithing © elisa rathje 2011

Al and I were friends in a moment, confirmed by a love of drawing. He draws directly on to his tables and floors, white chalk line drawings, designing his pieces, I was elated to find such an exquisite and simple solution. He showed us round his lovely workshop and started up the forge, and we got down to designing a little blacksmithing project together.

blacksmithing © elisa rathje 2011

We could’ve spent hours drawing on the floor, looking at examples of scrolls in the shop and books of elegant drawings of old French wrought iron railings, made by the weapons smiths in times of peace. So inspiring, I became a bit dizzy with ideas. After elaborate plans we returned to a simple drawing of Al’s that I loved, drew it on a table, and began to work over it in metal.

blacksmithing © elisa rathje 2011

Al showed us the forge, the bellows, the anvil, the water used to cool the irons, I know he told me about the temperature that the coal burns at, the names of things, but I was quite giddy with the process of smithing and have forgotten. He apprenticed with a European master who drove him very hard, and demanded excellence, but Al knows how to teach in a gentle, disciplined, encouraging way. The scrolls that Al is so gifted at are made through a wonderful process of hammering the heated steel against the anvil at a slight angle, to draw them out. I began with that. My hammer’s name is Matilda, she’s so fine. My arm gave out now and then from sheer exhaustion! I love the timing, working quickly so that the heat doesn’t travel too far up the rod to burn me, returning the iron to the fire when it had cooled, taking another out, working that. I love that the precision is all by hand and eye, Al flips the metal at a right angle to compress it, back again to draw it out further, moves it to the corner of the anvil for me to hammer it around, stands it up to begin bending that curve that surprisingly rounds into a scroll.

blacksmithing © elisa rathje 2011

If you look closely at ironwork you can see the mark of an accomplished smith in the taper and curve of the scrolls. That turn toward a fine point is a handmade article, and as pleasing to make with your hands as it is to follow with your eyes.

blacksmithing © elisa rathje 2011

The proverbial too many irons in the fire is one of those smithy expressions I never understood before. If there are too many irons to keep working through them all, the heat will travel up the iron from the end that sit in the fire, and they’ll burn you when you pick them up, they’ll get too hot to work. I always have too many irons in the fire, now that I think of it.

blacksmithing © elisa rathje 2011

My scrolls, made with the deft and careful guidance of the master blacksmith.

blacksmithing © elisa rathje 2011

I had been taught very well by my sister’s sweetheart Richard, so I welded them together without much difficulty.

blacksmithing © elisa rathje 2011

Oh, here we go, it’s coming together now. I’m ever so fond of welding.

blacksmithing © elisa rathje 2011

Then we set to bending metal into a circle. This is mild steel, so a bit easier than it looks!

blacksmithing © elisa rathje 2011

Al fitted the circle so expertly that he just knocked the trio of scrolls into place. Then more welding.

blacksmithing © elisa rathje 2011

The welds need grinding down, and a bit of filing here and there.

blacksmithing © elisa rathje 2011

We were all amazed with it. Quite beautiful.

blacksmithing © elisa rathje 2011

To prevent oxidizing, using a traditional method, Al heated the piece in the forge again, then gave it a beeswax finish, beeswax mixed with shoe black, so lovely to watch.

blacksmithing © elisa rathje 2011

Then burned off the last of the polish in the fire. Complete! This was such a joyful process, we had such an tremendous time Al, thank you so much. Thanks to my sister Anita and her Richard, you gave me such a gift.

blacksmithing © elisa rathje 2011

You can find the remarkable Al MacIsaac in his workshop, and his extraordinary custom ironwork installed all over Vancouver and beyond.

candle dipping

At a lovely advent fair this winter we had a chance to dip beeswax candles. We’ve done this once before, to celebrate the solstice a year ago with friends in Vancouver, and we love it. At the fair they had set up beeswax dipping for a large group in such a delightful way. There was a circle of pots of melted wax around a beautiful cluster of branches and lights, and the children would move around dipping the wicks once in each pot before moving to the next. Very sweet.


Just enough time for the coating of wax to dry, to step quietly to the next place and dip again.


I find the scent of beeswax intoxicating and try to only burn beeswax candles. We’re hoping to make our own rolled, dipped, poured candles this year. Have you done this? Hopefully we can do it soon. Settling into our new home takes an amazing amount of time! We’re looking forward to having everything in order, so we can do all the interesting projects we’ve got planned.