When I was setting up and running Neal’s Yard Remedies, I was motivated by a passion to have products that I wanted to use for myself, that I could believe in. I wanted products that worked, but I also didn't want them to be damaging to anyone or anything else in their production.

For 25 years with the company, I loved the product development side. Well, I loved creating a necessary product, containing ingredients that I knew and trusted: the people who distilled the oils, the factory that produced the glass bottles, I knew about the labels used. It all had to stand up to scrutiny. 

The life cycle of products is intensely interesting, understanding each process and component that has been used and the story behind each one of those. Only by understanding this life cycle can you take responsibility for what you are making. But as production increases, it only gets more complicated. Being part of the Soil Association standard setting group reassured me that I was able to trust and delegate some decisions to the certification process. 

But it was a relief to move to Trill nearly 12 years ago. The desire to make a simple honest product from what was growing around me was still there. I have had enormous pleasure in developing products using the plants and animals growing on the land. As this will be my last year at Trill Farm, I’m going to indulge myself in giving away some of the secrets.

I wanted to buy a mixed farm, one with arable and livestock. Reading picture books about farming, it really only made sense to have the grain and the animals living in the same place. Grow some winter feed, get dung for fertilizers; it can all work together. Having decided this, wanting it to be organic, and then finding a farm in Devon which is nearly all permanent pasture, I was stuck with stock rotation. 

Starting with Sheep

Sheep for wool, milk and meat if we must. I chose the Gotland breed, really because they are beautiful, have a curly grey fleece and are very friendly, quite feisty and can be milked (I like sheep cheese). Of course it hasn’t progressed this way; no milking, no cheese, but lots of wool which we turn into blankets. The wool is processed by an organic wool processor, Natural Fibres. Then the wool goes to Curlew Weavers, the best certified organic weavers in Wales. I now have a deep suspicion of anyone producing a cut- price woollen product. I can’t believe it is possible without someone or something being compromised. We want to introduce more colours to the blankets, and have done some exciting trials using our herbs, including coreopsis, marigolds and chamomile. But production has yet to come.

We grow herbs

Every farm needs herb gardens. Herbs for dyeing the wool, herbs for health, herbs for butterflies and herbs for education. We use herbs for everything we can. The gardens are bright, scented and vibrant spaces where we run courses and volunteer days. The herb tea garden is designed to encourage people to pick and enjoy the experience of tasting herb teas. They can be delicious and beneficial, as well as looking beautiful. 

The Summer Tea contains lemon balm (calming and tasty), elderflower (good for keeping away colds in summer), roses (fragrant and balancing), blue mallow (soothing) and marigolds (cleansing). We harvest and dry carefully to ensure that we retain the plant’s properties and taste. To make the tea, use a large pinch of herb blend per cup and place in a glass teapot. Allow to steep for several minutes and watch the leaves and flowers open out.

Currently there are four beehives at Trill Farm

Julian ensures the bees are thriving and is very happy to involve our volunteers and visitors in the checking and honey extraction. We have already taken off enough honey for sale in the shop, but we never take more than the bees might need themselves during the cold and rainy days. 

Herbs and beeswax: the self-heal salve

It is a luxury being able to produce our own ingredients. We make a self-heal salve to sell in our shop, but you could easily make your own.

It’s a handy salve packed in a neat plastic container that I rescued 7000 of from landfill. The herbal ingredients are traditionally known to help with minor skin problems. It will be soothing and easy to use as a salve for dry and chapped skin or as a lip balm, and is ideal for travelling.

Beeswax (Cera alba), has a softening, emollient property.

Shea nut butter (Butyrospermum parkii) is restorative for dry skin and sun damage, improving the suppleness of the skin. 

Lavender essential oil (Lavandula officinalis) has calming and relaxing qualities, may promote healing. 

Marigold (Calendula officinalis) is known as one of the best antiseptic herbs, assisting in the healing of scar tissue.

Comfrey (Symphytum officinalis) was once known as knitbone because of it's healing properties, and provides a rich green colour.

Nettle (Urtica dioica) is traditionally used for treatment of minor burns and blisters, and used as treatment for sunburn.

Self heal (Prunella vulgaris) is a heal-all once proclaimed to be a holy herb and thought to be sent by God to cure all ailments of man or beast. It is antibacterial and used in the relief of minor skin irritations.

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To make your own self-heal salve, start by making a macerate, using equal quantities of fresh or dried marigolds, comfrey, nettle and self-heal. Put the herbs in a container with a lid that can be placed in water to heat - a jar or stainless steel canister would be ideal. Add enough organic sunflower oil to cover the herbs, put the lid on and place in the pan with water. Bring to the boil and leave to simmer gently for 2 hours, watching that the water doesn’t all boil away.

After 2 hours, allow to cool slightly and strain through a fine sieve or cheese cloth into a clean storage jar. It can be stored in a cool dark place. Label with name of macerate and date.

To make 40g of salve, melt 5g beeswax with 3g shea butter (substitute with coconut oil if not available) in a bain-marie, then add 30g of your macerate. Remove from the heat and add a few drops of lavender essential oil. Gently stir together, then pour carefully into your chosen container and allow to cool and set. Don’t forget to add a label to remind yourself what it is.

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About packaging

When I first arrived at Trill Farm, I planted a field with willow and sourced clay from the ground to make pots in the pottery. I had the idea to make our own packaging. It’s not easy to do well and efficiently, so we still use glass containers, plastic lids and paper labels. It’s a compromise.

Why bother?

Manufacturing from natural resources is a process both alchemical and wonderful. It is a creative process, working with nature and is the foundation of trade. At its best it is honest, exciting and connects communities and people with the Earth’s resources. Nothing is better than trading what you have for what someone else has, especially when both things are needed. We have travelled a long way from this idea with commodities, stock markets and the world of finance. But in essence, manufacturing is what I love.

View all of our products in our Farm Shop.