Herb wildcrafting at Hill End.

Hill End is a semi-ghost town west of the Blue Mountains, remnants of a thriving 19th century mining settlement whose population once reached 40,000. Today the remnant buildings are preserved as a designated historic site, with many hectares of open commons and surrounded  by abandoned gold digging mounds and gullies.


My first visit to Hill End was in Nov. 1989, as part of an excursion with the National Herbalists Association of Australia (NHAA) – archivists may locate the excursion report in Australian Journal of Medical Herbalism vol.2, 1990. There is plenty of herbal history at Hill End, but even more enticing, the old diggings and neighbouring Common host a variety of naturalized and largely undisturbed European herbs, in particular hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) (in full flower back in ’89), covered in unripe “berries” during this December’s visit. More relevant to the current visit, St. Johns’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) is flowering and abundant.

Kangaroos and St. John’s wort on the Common.

Camping at the Village Campground, there was abundant wort withing a few minutes walk, along with other herbs right for the picking, such as centaury (Centaurium erythrina – see earlier blog), self heal (Prunella vulgaris) the invasive Scotch broom (Sarothamnus scoparius) and periwinkle (Vinca major).

StJwortcentaury  SelfhealStJw

Self-heal among  the St. John’s wort

PeriwinkleVinca major – a uterine astringent


As usual I had some good extra virgin olive oil with me, and made up the Hypericum oil as I harvested, with enough spare to dry at home and make up the tincture. This is one of the most rewarding of herbs, providing a rich dark red coloured oil within days, and an equally dark red within minutes of making the tincture, the ethanol being a good solvent for hypericin, the characteristic pigment responsible for the characteristic colour – and some but by no meals all – of the therapeutic activity in the herbs.

Hypericum oil
Hypericum oil and tincture macerating


Its worth spending a little time looking around the old town, some impressive buildings remain, along with occasional signs of life.


Rambling rose outside shack
Well preserved

Farwell from Hill End, well worth a visit.












Memories of Dr. Duke

 Jim and Peggy at home.

One of the world’s leading authorities in the field of herbal medicine and ethnobotany, Dr. James Duke, passed away on 10th December, 2017. Eulogies and reminiscences of Jim, as everyone knew him, no doubt abound on the Internet, however I would like to share my own memories from my period of seven years living in Maryland USA, and teaching at the Maryland University of Integrative Health (MUIH)  – the campus situated just a couple of miles from Jim’s Green Pharmacy Garden home.

I had met Jim during a lecture tour he made down under some years previously, however on my first day working for MUIH I was taken over to the Green Pharmacy Garden, which I was to learn was a defacto extension of the campus, a living outdoor classroom. As the photos below depict,  the MUIH herbal program could boast not only the best outdoors classroom and guest instructor, but the prettiest faculty as well!

Duke & me                            Duke with Bevin, Claudia, Camille
Meeting with Dr. Duke on day 1.

It wasn’t only the outdoor classes that had me visiting Jim’s home on a regular basis, there were regular social occasions, most of which involved music. In previous lives Jim has been a jazz bass player and a singer/songwriter guitarist with a great repertoire of folk and herbal ditties, along with some traditional bluegrass, in which he was usually accompanied by his son John. Often I would visit him for “happy hour” on Friday afternoons, usually with some other MUIH herbies in tow, as in the photo below (apologies for picture quality). The downstairs gallery was always a big hit, with Peggy’s botanical art on display and for sale, along with a selection of Jim’s books.


Jim loved his chardonnay and I loved to share a bottle with him. He no longer ventured to the far away Amazon as in his younger years, in fact there were few occasions when he was drawn outside his home in recent years. So it was a great pleasure to share in some reminiscences over that period.

Much of the time was spent in the garden itself, often showing students or other visitors around. One of my favourite beds was the anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) which was invariably covered in butterflies – quite a sight!.


The garden is a repository for some of the lesser-known and rare medicinal plants, from all around the USA and the globe. Below is a photo of culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) one of the best cholagogue and liver remedies used by physiomedical herbalists of old, but which has lost favour among modern practitioners.


Culver’s root, photo is on an angle

The Green Pharmacy Garden was uniqely designed, with various garden beds arranged according to their therapeutic use. Hence there was a leukemia garden (plenty of Madagascar periwinkle), Alzheimer’s (with snowdrops, small-leaved periwinkle), PMS with Vitex and a depression with St. John’s wort, lemon balm etc. You can see what I mean by an outdoors classroom!

Claudia & hypericum oil

Claudia with some Hypericum oil made in the depression garden.

Other features of the garden were the rampant passionflowers (Passiflora incarnata) and giant butterburs (Petasites spp.)

Passionflower                Petastites

During my tenure at MUIH, the herb program switched from a face-to-face delivery to a predominantly online format, this became a challenge for holding events at the gardens, with students becoming increasingly online – many from outside the region. This concerned Jim, as a hand-on teacher himself he despaired that students would no longer visit and the gardens may become, in a way, redundant. I continued to hold classes or events at the Green Pharmacy Garden whevever the opportunity arrived, so that new generations of students got to meet Jim and see the gardens – even if there weren’t always official classes. Of course the Garden does have an existance outside the MUIH world, and regular functions and courses are conducted there, much of it co-ordinated with assistance from the garden intership programme, under the long term directorship of Helen Metzman.

Other fine memories include the annual new years eve parties featuring various guest musicians – from classical to bluegrass –  and my own going away party that Jim and Peggy kindly hosted for me.

The Duke family and associates have put together an announcment, including reference to a memorial event for 2018. I don’t have a link for that, but here is a news report: