Waste Not, Want Not

Many, many years ago in pre-famine Ireland, the peasants  did not own their homes and rented their cottages as  tenants.  The dunghil, a pile of household, human and animal waste was outside the dwelling.   Social commentators at the time criticised the Irish peasants for piling up all their waste,  thinking they must be slovenly and dirty not knowing that there were three reasons why the dunghill was kept.



First of all, if a tenant had removed his dunghill and cleaned up around his house, his rent would have been increased.  Any remedial or improvement work brought with it an increase in rent. Secondly, the dunghill was the tenant’s only source of wealth.  He did not own his home but he owned the dunghill and could sell it if he ever moved or emigrated.  Thirdly, and more importantly, the dunghill was his fertiliser and was vital to survival as he had to grow all the food for himself and family.  The dunghill was a rich source of organic matter or humous which fed the Earth and restored the soil after intense potato cropping.  It was the difference between life and death – until the blight came…….but that is another story.

Since those times we as a society have learned to throw things away, to waste things, to no longer see the value in things.  Things such as our own body waste.  Look what happens to it after about 18 months.



Doesn’t that look gorgeous!  The most perfect compost and all made by me and mine. It’s dry and crumbly and there is no smell whatsoever. We eat organic food and are lucky enough to be healthy and not on any medication so our poo is pure, our shit is sweet!  Why waste it when you can get this amazing stuff?

We built an outside toilet to accommodate WWoofers when we had them and for ourselves, if we were working outside and got caught short. (It beats taking wellies off everytime you have to come indoors).


On the left is a bowl of wood shavings.  We use these to cover our “business”.


When this bucket is full we empty it into a black bin which has holes in the bottom to allow worms and soil bacteria to enter and voila! after 18 months it is ready to use around shrubs and trees.  After two years, when all human pathogens have died off it can be used on the vegetable beds too.


These are the black bins for the humanure. We put kitchen waste into seperate compost bins because it is ready to use after six months to a year but everything could go into one bin if you preferred.  I know now that what I eat, is transformed into the food of the future. That is truly satisfying. It also makes me feel connected to my ancestors who knew the importance of the circle of life, death and rebirth.

Life, Death and Re-Birth

I am currently preparing for my next herbal health workshop, (taking place on Saturday 25th March)  which is about helpful herbs for the menopause years. It occurred to me that what we women experience as The Change, or the peri-menopause, is in fact a time of rebirth.

However difficult this time may be for women, ( and believe me, I know!!!) I do think it is a time for women to return to themselves.  Our children are grown and have probably left the family home which means that a woman’s time is her own once more.  We have reached a time in our life where we can choose what it is we want to do, want to be and we can have fun without being tied to those  responsibilities that exist when our children are dependent on us.  Unfortunately, our society regards the older woman in a rather negative fashion.  We are seen less as a fount of wisdom and more as an old biddy; someone who is feeble, vulnerable and not worth listening to, someone disempowered.  The wise elders of our society are often told to shut up because “…you’re too old, you just don’t get it.”

Many indigenous societies, on the other hand,  view their elder women as wisdom carriers or wisdom keepers,  who are responsible for passing on their knowledge to the next generation, who are appealed to to settle disputes, to make decisions for their tribe and to  oversee ritual thus keeping their culture alive.

female elder

One reason why we have lost respect in the West is because we fear the ageing process.  Advertising campaigns and the media tell us over and over again, whether they are selling a car or selling a loan, promoting a grocery shop or a holiday, that only the young are beautiful.  If you do not look young and beautiful you are not worthy of respect.  We have swallowed this view and accepted it without questioning. Quick! Buy an anti-ageing cream, reduce those wrinkles!


Look at this rock.  If we accept that this is the ‘face’ of Mother Earth, what do we see?  Fissures and grooves worn into the rock by sand and sea over aeons of time.  Her “wrinkles” do not make her any less beautiful, indeed they tell us a story of sunny days, stormy winters and we can imagine all that the rock has been exposed to. These lines, like ours, tell a story.  Does Mother Earth fear ageing?  I doubt it very much because despite her age she chooses to be reborn every spring time.



I am afraid this picture is a little out of focus but you can see that part of the Cherry tree looks dead and brittle and yet there are a couple of new buds on the verge of bursting into flower.  The tree may look old and dried up but there is life in it again this year.

We women must stop worrying about wrinkles and ageing and focus on the life still within us.  With life expectancy increasing all the time – the average age of death is around 80 years –  we must put our lives into perspectve.  If we reach menopause between, lets say, 50 and 60, then we have years and years left to be productive, adventurous  and enthusiastic about life.  Lets face it, we would look ridiculous if we had the smooth skin of a sixteen year old when we have the life experience of a 6o year old.

As we are encouraged to attempt to look younger than we are, what is the pressure on younger women like?  They are encouraged to not grow  up at all and are under pressure to remain eternally youthful.  I just watched a documentary last night about young women undergoing labiaplasty – cosmetic surgery on the vulva!  It is absolutely horrific to think that women are being encouraged by trends to hate their bodies to such an extent that they have part of their most intimate and feminine parts cut away. Their surgery denies their womanhood and makes them look like a pre-pubescent girl.  What is that all about?  On one side of the world women are forced into female circumcision because of  a misogynistic culture and on our side of the world, young women are opting for similar surgery because they don’t feel they look good enough!! It is crazy!

Being different is ok.  We shouldn’t all look the same.  Ageing is ok too.  After all, many women, in fact many people, don’t have the option to age so we are incredibly fortunate to reach an age where we have some lines and wrinkles.



Part of my workshop on Saturday 25th will be to teach people about herbal remedies that can be useful for relieving the menopausal experience but I will also be facilitating discussion about health and fitness and the importance of viewing menopause as a rite of passage.  If we see it as a rite of passage, like the onset of menses or giving birth, then we will feel more powerful and happy within ourselves. Menopause is not the beginning of a decline towards death but is the commencement of a new age, an age of personal power, a rebirth.

I believe it is vitally important that the women of my generation who are in the peri-menopause, or have reached the menopause must come together, rediscover our power and teach our younger sisters that they are beautiful, that their bodies are perfect and that we with our wrinkles are also beautiful and perfect.  Any time that we adopt a negative view of ourselves or another woman we are complying with a misogynistic patriarchal world view.