I had heard things about this Herbal Barge (named Stormvogel) when I arrived in London, and was instantly curious and excited by the prospect of a floating apothecary! This is perhaps London's first Herbal Barge in over 350 years. The owner, Melissa (forgive me, I cannot find her surname anywhere) is a trained herbalist and runs consultations from her beautiful boat, as well as workshops on herbalism over the summer months.
I had been meaning to visit this barge for quite a few weeks, when I came down with a horrible case of bronchitis. I am constantly getting bronchiole infections, and fear I do not have very strong lungs. After a tedious night of being kept awake by my own coughing, with my beautiful friend by my side trying everything she could to make me comfortable, her face contorted in worry as I was in the midst of a coughing fit which left me unable to breathe, weak, unable to even pick myself up and make a cup of much needed licorice tea, we decided in the morning that it was the perfect time to visit this wooden den of herbal medicine that floats upon the waters of the river Lea.
I knew mostly what the problem was and mostly what herbs I needed; the night before I had used an asthma inhaler, thinking it would open my airways and I would be able to breathe, but it only dried up all of my phlem and I was left with a hoarse cough dude to bronchospasm, as the smooth muscle tissue and mucus membranes were dry and irritated.
As we stepped onto the barge a friendly voice cooed from the depths, and we proceeded out of the drizzle and into the warm and earthy cavern. It was truly amazing!
Inside was lined with delicate bottles in all shapes and sizes, all with hand drawn labels, tinctures and salves, syrups and balms, creams, ointments, bitters and even Melissa's own range of herbal Snuff for sinusitis! The kettle was brewing and bubbling on the robust yet elegant iron stove, and the herbalist offers us a cup of tea while we marvel at the surrounds and sink into the atmosphere. The rain outside beats harder as I explain what is going on with my body and am given a few syrups to try, which instantly open my throat and chest and give back some colour to my face (which may also be purely from the ambience of the little barge itself, which made me feel happier and healthier the minute I stepped on board).
A herbal syrup is then made on the spot, in front of me, while the wind wails outside and I potter around reading the labels of everything I can find and realising how much I know about herbs which I didn't think I did. The mix consists of Cramp Bark (my new herbal ally!), Lobelia, Mullien, Liquorice, Plantain, Marshmellow, Hyssop, Ground Ivy (another of my new allies!) and Ephedra. I also get a muscle oil for my back, which has Cramp Bark again, along with Lavender and Chilli. My friend buys me my medicines as a gift (which I am eternally grateful for, so sweet!) and we say our goodbyes, open our umbrellas like fennel flowered umbrels to the grey sky, and begin our decent back home, be clutching my medicines to my chest as they tinkle-tak together, the sound of healing on a dismal day in London.
If you would like to visit the Herbal Barge you can look it up on facebook (link below) and find where it is moored, facebook usually has a map telling you where the barge is at any given time.
You can also contact the herbalist herself via the website (link below) where you can find out more about consultations and courses on offer, or call (+44) 7736966197.
I recommend medicine of this ilk well beyond any prescribed by a GP, I do know there are many amazing things that doctors and modern medicine do, however I have an incessant believe in the powers of herbs and the ability they have to nourish us WHOLLY, using all their constituents to give us the strength and nutrients we need in to heal ourselves.