Summer surprise 


Our first summer in the Crooked House is passing quickly. The blue tit family has flown away and the mason bees are sealed behind mud doors.

This year’s crop tastes of blackberries and lime. My kitchen was filled with the smell of freshly spun comb after I took three frames of honey from Queen Melissa’s hive. The comb dripped generously as the wax caps were taken off.


The honey was not as clear as last summer’s pale straw-like harvest, but it was surprisingly easy to spin out in a new extractor. I poured some of the golden liquid into a mini pot for Emily, leaving the rest to settle in a bucket before it is filtered and jarred.


The smoker was billowing in the hazy sunshine when I arrived at the apiary. There were more surprises waiting inside the hive.

Queen Melissa’s workers had built a wave of natural comb in the space left by one of the super frames. We carefully upturned the crownboard and removed it intact to take home.


A quick inspection of the supers showed that the queen cells had now disappeared. Had the workers succeeded in their attempts to supersede the queen, or given up?

I returned the wet frames to the supers for the bees to clean up, before opening the brood nest. There was no sign of Melissa for a second week. The numbers of bees climbing over the frames made the inspection difficult and I couldn’t clearly see eggs. The brood nest looked small, had a young rival overthrown Melissa after all? We decided to wait till next week before putting in a test frame of eggs to find out.


The swarmed colony from Pepper’s hive is building up strongly. The new queen has been named Peppermint for her mother, and for the lively spirit of the bees that she makes. I didn’t see the queen, but the brood nest gives confidence that she is inside and laying well. I’ve noticed that queens are good at hiding later in the season.

Pepper’s workers were busy licking up a pool of honey from more natural-built comb inside the hive. We’re going to tackle that next weekend.


Tom’s experiments in natural comb-building have been a success at the apiary. He pulled frame upon frame of curved comb built without foundation or wire by the bees. “I’ve noticed that the bees use every bit when they make the comb themselves,” said Tom. “Whereas on the foundation they sometimes leave cells untouched.”

At the entrance of the hive, Tom pointed out the drones being kicked out in droves by the workers. It seems early in the season for a drone exodus, but perhaps another sign of how quickly this summer is passing by.

The flower beds in my garden have been full of their own surprises this summer. A Sunday afternoon of weeding revealed a beautiful yellow Missouri primrose hidden behind a wall of thistles. She blooms at dusk and has had a lot of visitors in the morning. A lacewing, a hoverfly and a sweat bee (Lasioglossum sp.) have basked in the sunshine of her petals.

  
  
The rampaging weeds at the back of the garden in the vegetable patch remain untouched. I’ll dig over the earth in autumn to sow runner beans and potatoes, but for now the foliage is providing a habitat for creatures like hornet mimic hoverflies and the new leafcutter bees in the bug hotel.

  

I’ve called the big leafcutter who comes and goes most, Albie. They are more shy than the masons.

A new family of baby sparrows have been landing on the garden decking to play in the makeshift bird bath (a large salad bowl filled with water and stones). They give hope that despite the march of the drones, there is still new life to come from this summer.

A beekeeper’s notes for May

bumble foraging

Today was sunny and warm for foraging. The garden was buzzing with honeybees, bumbles, solitary bees, and other pollinators. “Do damselflies buzz?” I wondered as a bright blue streak flew past.

Fairer weather had attracted cake-foraging beekeepers to the apiary with a small crowd sitting down for cream sponge and chocolate chip. I tried a slice of each and Jonesy told me his latest queen dramas. “I bought a new queen from Greece,” he said. “I’ve called her Olivia.”

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Pulling on our suits, Emily and I followed Jonesy past the overgrown apiary path to visit Olivia. She was still in a cage with the worker bees desperately crowded around her. We all hoped that they would greet the new queen kindly. We’ll have to wait and see.

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A bumble bee was slowly walking towards the hive reigned by Queen Pepper. Emily tried to discourage her from going inside, because Pepper’s lively ladies would probably nip off her hairs.

The Bailey comb change was interrupted on Pepper’s hive, because the colony was split in an artificial swarm about three weeks ago. This I feel is a possible disadvantage to doing a Bailey comb change later in the season, by becoming interrupted by the swarming instinct, but the wet weather at the start of spring made us wait.

Pepper wasn’t spotted in her hive, but Emily found eggs so the queen was there at least three days ago. The bees were content and doing well for stores and brood, and even have a super on top.

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The split colony was behaving well, but there was no sign of a new queen, eggs or much in the way of brood or stores. We’ll check again next week, as new queens can take their time to settle in, before deciding whether to re-combine the colonies.

Melissa’s hive had completed the Bailey comb change. I found eggs in the top brood box along with nicely even biscuit-coloured worker brood and plenty of stores. The honeycomb in the bottom brood box was almost emptied, but it was still full of bees. How to get them out? Shake the bees?

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We chose a gentler option that had worked in previous years. With the top brood box placed on the hive floor, we created a space above the colony using an empty brood box and put the bottom brood box above this. The cavity should encourage the bees to rob out any remaining stores and move downstairs, but it will be quite crowded. This is a strong colony. Another super will be needed to give the bees more space.

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At home it was peaceful to sit in the garden and let nature take care of itself. I got out my camera for the first time since the start of the year and captured the blue tits coming and going from their nesting box.

blue tit feeding blue tit flying

The mason bees are behind bars after I found strange sticks poking out of the bug hotel. It was suggested on the UK Bees, Wasps and Ants Facebook Group that larger birds like magpies and crows might use sticks to poke out the bees. The cage seems to have deterred the birds, I’ve found no more strange sticks and the bees don’t mind it.

bees behind bars

The red leafy tree is yielding delicate tiny flowers beloved by honeybees and bumble bees. I could just about see a fat fuzzy bumble hanging off foliage in the branches above.

bumble in sun

All is well in the hives and garden for May – long may it last. Tomorrow rain is forecast, let’s hope it passes soon.

My next post will be in two weeks’ time, while I catch up with all of yours!

Bees at the bottom of the garden

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The bees were in high spirits when I arrived. A group of beginner beekeepers had finished looking at David Pugh’s hive, and were floating about the apiary like drones.

I took my time in lighting the smoker and opening up the hive belonging to our queen Melissa. After a few weeks spent away for illness, and with Emily at her allotment bees this weekend, it felt like my first proper inspection for a while. I was surprised to find that I needed to steady my nerves before getting on.

A heavy super lifted out of the way and I was inside the nest. The workers were busy, the drones were buzzing loudly, and the queen was spotted on the third frame that I pulled out. I was glad to see that I hadn’t lost my queen-spotting skills, but as the buzzing got louder I imagined the queen hadn’t recognised me. “Who is she?” The bees were saying, “What is she doing looking here?”

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The beginners who had bought Chili’s and Chamomile’s colonies from Emily while I was away were asking questions. I really wasn’t much help, I’m afraid, as I was trying to focus my breath and my thoughts on what I was doing. They had found two queen cells with the old queen in the small colony, and were wondering what to do. I suggested that they could do an artificial swarm with the old queen if they were worried about the bees swarming (although the colony was small for a split), or wait till next week as more than likely the workers were trying to supersede the two-year-old queen, and as there were only two queen cells (unless they had missed more). The beginners had already decided to wait and see.

As the new beekeepers left, I finished inspecting the top brood box and then looked inside the bottom brood box for the two queen cells listed as found in our hive records two weekends ago. The cells were gone as I imagined they would be.

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The two queen cells were found on my first Saturday back inspecting the hives with Emily, and when the Bailey comb change was underway. I suspect that either a small swarm was missed in late April to early May, or that the bees were starting to make preparations to swarm that were thwarted by the late Bailey comb change. Perhaps with the queen being in the top brood box and a queen excluder beneath, the bees were unable to swarm away unless they starved her smaller. I doubt the bees were trying to supersede young Melissa who is laying nicely, but it’s just guesswork as I haven’t been able to do much with the bees this spring and I’m still catching up.

I closed up the hive as best as I could, but the weight of the heavy super felt the crunch of some bees beneath.

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Pepper’s hive was split during a beginners’ session last weekend. Interestingly that colony also was in the middle of a Bailey comb change with the queen found in the bottom box and the queen cells found in the top box. The top box was removed to make a new hive leaving the colony ‘artificially swarmed’ in a less than usual way.

Pepper’s bees can be feisty and, as they had already been split, and as I’m supposed to be taking things slowly for another few weeks, I stopped at one inspection hoping that the original colony wasn’t busy casting off.

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At the apiary table Andy Pedley, John Chapple and Alan Gibbs were talking about the record number of swarms reported in London this year. What could be causing this? The rise in ‘middle-class’ beekeepers as one newspaper reported, the surge in inexperienced beginners, or ailing beekeepers like myself failing to check for cast offs? Perhaps it was due to the changeable spring weather with spurts of warm sunshine taking bees and beekeepers by surprise? Or had there been a sudden surge in nectar, because the apiary bees were bringing home a wealth of stores? It could be all of the above, although the newspapers often don’t reflect the world of possibilities in beekeeping.

I left the apiary as Tom was leading Jochen to see the hives. I had more bees waiting for me at home, as well as fish and birds.

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We have bees at the bottom of the garden, which is something that I’ve dreamed about since I first started beekeeping. Our bees aren’t honeybees, they are red mason bees, I think!

The bug house that I planted beside the plot of earth, which will be next year’s vegetable patch, has taken up residents. The mason bees moved in a few weeks ago and have been so busy occupying each tube that they are now looking for more holes in the two sheds for homes. I’ll have to buy another bug house!

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It’s good to see Myrtle’s Palace so well used and I’m learning lots about my new bees, the solitaries, along the way. My early morning walks around the garden have revealed that red mason bees like to have a lie-in…

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And apparently the bees lose their red colour as they get older, becoming more yellow…

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I also learned one evening, after finding a few ants casually walking in and out, that bug hotels need some keeping too. A night spent reading how to care for a solitary bee home, including how to protect it from predators like ants, spiders and birds, had me awake early the next day to rebuild the stand higher up with a water tray ‘moat’ and Vaseline-smeared bricks. This seems to have done the job of deterring the ants for now.

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The fish at the top of the garden are doing well. They had a visit from two local garden and pond fish experts, Sylvia and Paul, who said the pond was doing just fine. Sylvia kindly brought some cuttings of a yellow flower from her pond to put into ours, because “it grows beautifully and the fish love it”.

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I was relieved to hear that I’d been feeding the fish and topping up the water levels correctly. The garden has buckets to collect rainwater to help top up the pond and I use Fresh Start when topping up with tap water, though Sylvia also reassured me that leaving a bucket of tap water to stand outside for a few days would make “the chlorine fly away”.

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The collected rainwater is also useful for feeding the Venus flytraps in our kitchen, one of which is now flowering.

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I discovered that we have a hidden well, which Sylvia and Paul thought had once been a frog pond. “Look out for frogs in the fish pond” they said when I told them about the frog spawn, “the frogs can strangle the fish if they start competing for space or want something to mate with!”

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A stroll around the middle of the garden and past the blue tits’ nesting box (I’ve not been fast enough to get a picture of the birds coming in and out) allowed Sylvia and Paul to helpfully point out weeds…

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…and give me some useful gardening advice, in particular how to control our rampaging bamboo and how to repair the Yorkshire stone paving. “Don’t throw it away or give it to me!” said Sylvia.

There is a world of discovery waiting for us in the garden, I wish that I had more time to spend there. I’m so grateful for Sylvia’s and Paul’s visit and for their generous advice. I’ve given them details of visiting our apiary in return.

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My next post will be in two weeks’ time bringing more stories from the hive and unlocking more secrets from the garden. Thank you for reading and have a wonderful week ahead.

Spending time in nature 

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It’s a friendly garden. The birds, bees and fish are happy here. It’s a good place to rest and spend time in nature.

I’ve taken a break these past two weeks after being in hospital with breathing difficulties. Perhaps moving home, work and bronchitis all caught up till my body said ‘stop’. So that’s what I did.

The doctors and nurses have been wonderful and I’ve had the best of care. I’ve got a lot of thank you letters to write from the kind Boots pharmacists where I first fell ill, to the fantastic A&Es at University Hospital London and Hillingdon Hospital where I was treated, to the lovely doctors at Sameday clinic for their reassuring support.

I don’t like to do nothing and I’m impatient to get back to everything. John has been incredible, and both our families have been making sure that I’ve taken life more slowly.

My lovely hive partner Emily has been taking care of our bees and sent me these beautiful flowers! I also had a lovely get well card from my work and John’s work has been amazingly supportive in giving him time to look after me.

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Spending time in nature with the insects that I love, listening to the birds singing, and spying the frog in the pond has been the best medicine.

I hope you don’t mind me taking a break from blogging and from reading all the blogs I follow too. It won’t be long till I’m back with more stories from the bees, some new creatures, and the garden.

Myrtle’s Palace



This morning as the sun shone I fed the fish in the pond, gave the robins in the hedge their breakfast, and finally found a home for the bug hotel I bought last summer. It’s christened ‘Myrtle’s Palace’ after my favourite queen bee, and hopefully will attract friendly pollinators like solitary bees and lacewings to the garden. 

A happy move to a new home can often bring positive new energy. I was given food for thought yesterday about other areas of my life that need a clear out. Now we’ve settled into our new home I can look forward to making changes for the better. Well, as I said in my new year post, this will be a year of exciting happenings! 



A short visit to the apiary Saturday afternoon allowed Emily and I to check the feed under the roof, but it was too cold to open up the hives. An encouraging sign was seeing Chamomile’s workers take to the feeder with vigour having drained last week’s syrup. This hive is one of two weak colonies coming out of winter, but I hope feeding and warmth will allow the queens to lay again. 



This week’s post is brief as we have no broadband and intermittent Internet access. So as the robins build their nest, for now just wishing everyone a wonderful sunny Sunday.

A chemistry class in perfume-making at Homemade London

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There was a strange light as I walked around the corner from Marble Arch to Seymour Place. I was on my way to an Introduction to perfume-making workshop at Homemade London, and shafts of sunlight were streaking through darkened clouds that threatened to burst at any moment.

Like a rainbow in the storm, Homemade London is a sanctuary in the busy heart of London where you can stop, be still and get creative. I had visited a few years ago for a beauty workshop: The secrets of beauty masks at Homemade London and after three wedding weekends in a row, I had decided to treat myself to a perfume-making class before getting back to the bees.

Nicola, our teacher, likes to keep the evening workshops small and cosy – there were only four of us. This promised to be an intimate and intense journey through scent, with drinks and nibbles. ‘Sugar revives the sense of smell,’ said Nicola wryly, as she served rose lemonade and offered mini cupcakes.

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During the two-and-a-half hour workshop we would learn what goes into making a perfume and takeaway our own signature scent. Working with a range of organic, or wild, ethically sourced essential oils, rather than synthetic scents, we would tune into our likes and dislikes to find out what suited our skin and personality.

As a relapsed aromatherapist, smelling and identifying the essential oils felt like being reacquainted with old friends. Mandarin, petitgrain, ylang ylang, clary sage and frankincense – my aromatherapy had been put on the shelf for the past couple of years, because of those demanding little bees, but this was the perfect way to revive my interest in scent.

Although, all that smelling did require a mini cupcake or two.

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The art of blending for perfumery was quite different to blending for aromatherapy, I was to discover. Nicola passed around paper testing strips so we could give each scent a mark out of 10 on how much we liked or disliked the smell. I had to forcibly remove my likes and dislikes from aromatherapy bias of what I knew were the therapeutic actions of an essential oil, and focus only on how the fragrance made me feel and would work on my skin.

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‘You’re probably familiar with top, middle and base notes,’ said Nicola, ‘But I’m going to introduce you.’ She gave a delightful description of the notes of perfume as the pub goers across the road stole curious glances in our direction:

Top notes are light and sparkly, they are what you notice first in a blend, although they bubble off the top quickly. They are usually citrusy, though some are woody and spicy.

Middle notes, or heart notes, are the heart of the blend and bring everything together. They are floral, green and woody or warm and spicy.

Base notes are what lingers. They are the remains of a perfume when you can still smell it on your scarf a few days later. They are often dark, woody and foresty.

There was such a range of essential oils to smell and choose that after a while my nose couldn’t tell the difference between citrus, floral, wood and spice. Nicola had a great tip for ‘clearing the palette’ and told us to inhale the coffee grounds placed on the table. This cleared my nose ready to start smelling again.

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‘If you like a smell then it will probably work well on your skin,’ though Nicola admitted this wasn’t a hard-and-fast rule. Perfumes are fickle creatures and randomly choose people they like or don’t like. Chanel No.5 smells fantastic on my mother, but stinks on me. But Nicola’s rule seemed a good place to start, so I wrote down my marks for the smells I liked best in the notebooks provided.

My choice of perfume friends were grapefruit, bergamot, neroli, jasmine, rose, benzoin, cedarwood and vetiver.

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To create a bespoke perfume from our selection of scents we needed to mix the top, middle and base notes to smell how well they worked together and in which quantities. This was a careful and precise process of ‘layering’. We wrote our choice of oils in a table and with Nicola’s guidance added one or two drops at a time to our blends. Nicola gave our measures based on how highly we had scored each oil and used our individual likes and dislikes to make those the focus of each fragrance. As I hadn’t liked the smell of vetiver very much, but still found it interesting, Nicola provided cocktail sticks to add the oil at a quarter of a drop.

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My blend was taking shape as I tested the perfume on places that I would wear it, my inner wrist and elbow (not behind the ears which is an old wives’ tale, said Nicola). However, it smelt (to me) dangerously close to an aromatherapy blend and what I wanted was a dark, smoky and green forest-like perfume. Nicola helped rescue my recipe by adding some black pepper, geranium and vanilla, and adjusting the measures of the other oils in my final two ‘layers’. The fragrance was left to ‘marinade’ on my wrist until we were both satisfied that the perfume smelt more ‘interesting’ and less ‘therapeutic’.

I finally had my first signature scent and I was impressed by how much more complicated it was to blend for perfumery than aromatherapy. But I wasn’t put off, in fact, it made me want to explore it further.

Nicola provided labels and gift-wrapped our perfumes in tissue paper. As it had been raining today and I now had a fresh green smelling perfume with a slight smokiness, I called it ‘AfterRain’.

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If you’re curious about what my perfume smells like, here’s the recipe so you can try it yourself:

Top notes

  • Bergamot 3 drops
  • Grapefruit 2 drops
  • Black pepper 1 drop

Middle notes

  • Neroli 11 drops
  • Jasmine 3 drops
  • Rose 3 drops
  • Geranium 1 drop

Base notes

  • Cedarwood 4 drops
  • Benzoin 2 drops
  • Vetiver 3 quarter drops
  • Vanilla 1 drop

The essential oils were blended in a base of coconut oil, around 20-30 ml.

I would highly recommend Homemade London’s Introduction to perfume-making and any of the other workshops that they run for much-needed time out and a burst of creativity for weary Londoners!

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Tea tree – I hate the bush!

Get on the right side of the road you pelican!

Tea tree is a familiar old friend. You have an unspoken connection. It doesn’t matter how many years go by, you can pick up your friendship where you left off and talk.

Tea tree was one of my first essential oils, along with lavender, and so it seems appropriate to wrap-up my aromatherapy repertoire with this well-known oil. In fact, tea tree is so well known that it needs no introduction. It is one of the few essential oils, again, like lavender, that can be used undiluted on the skin and it is often used as an ‘on-the-spot’ spot treatment!

Little tree, big post

Australian aborigines have known about the medicinal properties of tea tree for centuries (note, I never use the word ‘medicinal’ lightly when talking about aromatherapy or other complementary therapies) and would crush its leaves to drink as a tea to relieve colds and headaches. Tea tree oil has earned its reputation as a medicinal oil – it really is powerfully anti-bacterial, antiseptic, anti-microbial and anti-fungal, and still remarkably safe to use on skin.

Tea tree vs super-bugs

Tea tree oil has been getting a lot of attention recently for its effective anti-microbial action against staph infections (Staphylococcus aureus) and even the hospital super-bug MRSA. Warnke et al state:

‘First used by the Australian Aborigines, Tea tree oil and Eucalyptus oil (and several other essential oils) have each demonstrated promising efficacy against several bacteria and have been used clinically against multi-resistant strains… As proven in vitro, essential oils represent a cheap and effective antiseptic topical treatment option even for antibiotic-resistant strains as MRSA and antimycotic-resistant Candida species’

Warnke PH, Becker ST, Podschun R et al. The battle against multi-resistant strains: Renaissance of antimicrobial essential oils as a promising force to fight hospital-acquired infections. J Craniomaxillofac Surg. 2009 Oct;37(7):392–7. Epub 2009 May 26.

While more research is needed, use of tea tree oil against increasingly antibiotic-resistant staph infections and MRSA looks very promising. Thompson G et al state:

‘Washing with 5% tea tree oil (TTO) has been shown to be effective in removing MRSA on the skin. However, to date, no trials have evaluated the potential of TTO body wash to prevent MRSA colonization or infection. In addition, detecting MRSA by usual culture methods is slow. A faster method using a PCR assay has been developed in the laboratory, but requires evaluation in a large number of patients’

Thompson G, Blackwood B, McMullan R et alA randomized controlled trial of tea tree oil (5%) body wash versus standard body wash to prevent colonization with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in critically ill adults: research protocol. BMC Infect Dis. 2008 Nov 28;8:161.

Other essential oils such as lavender, eucalyptus, thyme and lemongrass have also been studied for efficacy against staph and MRSA. Research suggests that certain blends of essential oils work synergistically for increased anti-microbial action against super-bugs.

Tea tree blends for staph infection

Staph infections are quite common and often affect the skin. I have deliberately not listed the likely causes or symptoms of staph infection because online information cannot be used to diagnose illness or disease. The primary source of treatment for a staph infection, and certainly for MRSA, is from a GP or hospital doctor who will first diagnose and then prescribe antibiotic ointments or oral antibiotics depending on the severity of the infection. Despite wide-spread media coverage of growing antibiotic resistance, in most cases a minor staph infection will respond well to one, or perhaps two, courses of antibiotics.

Tea tree oil may be used to complement primary medical treatment without reducing the effectiveness of prescribed antibiotics. If you have a staph skin infection use a 5% dilution of tea tree oil to disinfect the area twice daily, ie morning and evening. The following blend uses olive oil as its base, which also has anti-microbial activity:

  • 30ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 30 drops tea tree oil

If your staph infection is persistant, try a synergistic blend to disinfect your skin twice daily:

  • 30ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 10 drops tea tree
  • 10 drops lavender
  • 10 drops eucalyptus

These are extremely powerful blends, so please patch test before using liberally on your skin.

Avoid antibiotic resistance – listen to your doctor

It is important that you complete your prescribed course of antibiotics even if it appears that the infection has improved or has gone away. Failure of patients to complete antibiotic courses or failure to take the treatment as instructed by the doctor can lead to bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics and may reduce the effectiveness of subsequent prescriptions.

Tea tree oil in skin care

The beauty industry is getting wise to the awesomeness of tea tree oil. Research by dermatologists suggests that tea tree is as effective against acne as over-the-counter treatment benzoyl peroxide, but without the undesirable side effects of skin reddening, dryness and irritation. Some studies suggest that tea tree oil must be used at 5% dilution or more to have efficacy against acne and the essential oil has long been used neat to dab on spots. However, tea tree may irritate more sensitive skins, so remember that patch test! It should also be noted that, like most natural remedies, the essential oil’s actions may require a little more time than over-the-counter or prescribed treatments to take noticeable effect.

Clear skin facial wash

  • 20ml aloe vera gel
  • 10ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 30 drops tea tree

Whisk the aloe vera and olive oil in a bowl until a white gel is produced. Add the tea tree oil and whisk again. This should make 2–3 applications of a facial wash.

Anti-aging facial oil

Tea tree has been discovered to be an effective anti-aging oil. It conditions, moisturises and renews skin, encouraging a higher turnover of skin cells that leads to a fresher, brighter and more youthful-looking complexion. It is even thought to help heal skin from sun damage and promote a more even tone.

  • 30ml rosehip oil
  • 8 drops tea tree
  • 6 drops lavender
  • 4 drops neroli

The list of blends for which you can use tea tree is endless. Experiment. You can add tea tree oil to almost any cosmetic base – add a couple drops to unscented body washes or face creams for clear skin or to shampoos and conditioners to tackle dandruff or oily hair. Tea tree also blends well with many other essential oils: clary sage, eucalyptus, geranium, lavender, lemongrass, manuka, myrtle, marjoram (sweet and spanish), pine and rosemary to name a few.

A complete list of the medicinal properties of this remarkable essential oil is provided in the profile below. For example, tea tree is highly anti-fungal which makes it a useful treatment for athlete’s foot.

Strengthening and fortifying

A lesser-known property of tea tree is its strengthening effect on the mind and emotions. The essential oil is uplifting and can help to relieve depression. However, its scent is quite medicinal and it is less popular as a vaporising oil than essential oils such as grapefruit or rose.

Living with aromatherapy and a bit of bees

As an aromatherapist, I studied over 80 essential oils but in practice I only regularly use the 23 oils listed in ‘Living with essential oils’, and that is sufficient. I occasionally dabble with basil, thyme, yarrow, lemongrass, bergamot and others, but usually to complement a blend of my primary oils. There are over 100 essential oils for an aromatherapist to choose, such as manuka, plai and may chang, even vanilla. I recently discovered pineapple essential oil online and hope to try that soon. I am not sure about the therapeutic properties, but I bet it smells divine. Mmm, pineapple-scented coconut hair oil… My next posts on aromatherapy will be blended with those on beekeeping as I start my series on ‘Living with bees’.

This post is dedicated to Anna, a familiar old friend

Profile of tea tree

Latin nameMelaleuca alternifolia
Plant family: Myrtaceae
Plant type: medicinal
Perfume note: top
Extraction: steam or water distillation of the leaves and twigs
Botany and origins: small tree with needle-like leaves and yellow or purple-hued flowers native to Australia, mainly New South Wales
Chemical properties/active components: high in alcohols, which is attributed to the oil’s both powerful and gentle actions; its constituent 1.8 cineole is attributed to its anti-fungal action; terpinen-4-ol is attributed to its anti-microbial action
Blends with: clary sage, eucalyptus, geranium, lavender, lemongrass, manuka, myrtle, marjoram (sweet and spanish), pine and rosemary
Key actions: broad spectrum anti-microbial activity against bacteria, viruses and fungi; analgesic, anti-depressant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, expectorant
Common conditions: efficacy against Staphylococcus aureus and MRSA; acne, abscess, athlete’s foot, blisters, burns, cold sores, dandruff, herpes, insect bites, rashes (including nappy), verrucae, warts, wounds, spots; colds, chickenpox, fever, flu; asthma, bronchitis, catarrh, coughs, sinusitis, mouth infections; thrush, vaginitis, cystitis, pruritis; varicose veins; depression
Contraindications: non-toxic and non-irritating; tea tree received bad press a few years ago for causing skin sensitisation although this was found to be caused due to excessive use, if you have sensitive skin patch test before use. Avoid during first three months of pregnancy
Further reading: This profile is based on my own experience and knowledge of using this essential oil. Other aromatherapy texts will list a wider range of properties and uses. The most comprehensive essential oil profiles that I have read are given by Salvatore Battaglia’s The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, Second Edition, published by Perfect Potion, 2003, Australia. ISBN:  0-6464-2896-9

Image © Monika Adamczyk