Cat Thomson talks to Charlotte Blackler from Herb Majesty about her unique way of producing poultry, pigs and sheep, using wild pasture and herbs from her base near Glenalmond in Perthshire.

Herb Majesty is a business that evolved from a mother’s desire to provide truly home-produced meat to feed her family.

Owner Charlotte Blackler, is just as passionate about providing the best environment for her animals as her two children, Jasper (16) and Delilah (12).

She raises her livestock naturally near Glenalmond, free from antibiotics, pesticides, and artificial fertilisers and explains, “I wanted meat that was ‘free-range’ and pasture grazed where fresh air and sunshine were the norm.”

Blackler originally comes from Devon, and her surname means blackthorn, so perhaps historically there has always been a family connection to nature.

But her family genes also come with a sting in the tail in the guise of an inherited blood disorder, called Hereditary angioedema (HAE) that involves a deficiency of a blood protein called C1 Inhibitor.

Charlotte explains: “I have been no stranger to medical things from a very early age.”

Despite taking steroids, she reduces her reliance on traditional medicine, with a natural remedy -milk thistle to harness the power of nature.

Herb Majesty

Harnessing herbal power Picture: Kerry Tuffee, www.kerrytuffee.co.uk

Her father’s death, was hastened by the same condition when she was only three years old. As a result, it has had a lifelong impact.

“I am a positive, proactive person who makes the most of life. I learned early that life can be short, and to be grateful for everything and every experience,” she says.

Her father loved animals and was always helping out on local farms, he kept a menagerie of beasts in a field next to the village hall to feed his family, which included a cow and pigs, and she was always told that her dad made the best pork, exactly like she does today.

After school she studied at Cardiff University. “I didn’t want to give up any of my sciences, so Geology seemed a nice way of combining biology and chemistry and geography and then I went into pharmaceutical sales.

“The science was still there but I  now applied it to a medical situation. So you learn an awful lot about a very small part of medicine, that you are selling to.”

Her mother died when she was only 19 years old, and she faced a dilemma, “stay living in the cottage in Devon and have a mortgage or quit the job and travel around the world for a couple of years?”

Global travels

Travelling broadens your horizons and Charlotte said: “I came back a completely different human being, my outlook on life is so removed from what it would have been, had I stayed in the same village for the whole of my days.

“I found that other cultures were much more in tune with nature and much more spiritual about their existence and their wellbeing, and they used plants and herbs more in their diet.”

She took to heart, and believes: “everything starts with the gut. If your stomach is well, the whole rest of your body follows.

“That is where your serotonin is produced, that is where your vitamins and mineral are absorbed. If you aren’t giving it the right fuel or you’re feeding it poorly; with toxins, chemicals and preservatives, the body can’t actually deal with it, then you end up with a disease.”

After she returned from her travels, she lived with an aunt, who asked for her to help with a planning issue.

Charlotte explains: “she asked me to go and see the planning officer I didn’t get her extension sorted but I did find my husband Garry, who was a planning consultant.”

He has earned his keep, “he got us the land in Glenalmond and he spotted the potential in the barn, and he built us a straw bale house to keep us all warm” Charlotte said.

Herb Majesty

Charlotte with her chooks. Picture: Kerry Tuffee, www.kerrytuffee.co.uk

The house came with two acres of pasture and Charlotte explains how Herb majesty began.

“I started the business off with just 10 chickens and turkeys, we had decided to grow our own Christmas lunch. All our turkeys survived, (Turkeys are notorious for having a high death rate) so we gave them to friends and family.

“They said they were the most delicious turkeys they had ever had, and can we have another one for next year please? ”

Although she had never owned chicken and turkeys before, she embraced the use of herbs as part of their regular feed, “I used instinctively and intuitively plants that I felt were of benefit to the livestock.”

The word soon spread, and Charlotte said, “local people were wanting to eat our turkeys because they knew that they had lived outside all their life and had been fed nice things.”

Herbs are always on the menu for the Turkeys

The Herbal way

This includes fresh herbs which hang in the chicken run for them to peck on, but she also adds specific herbs to an oat porridge to stimulate their immune system, utilising spices like cardamom, cinnamon, and even seaweed and seabuckthorn when it is in season.

As a smallholder Charlotte needs a second income, so she works in the science lab at nearby, Kilgraston school.

As part of her career development at the school, she attended a part-time course at The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to research herbs, and what the best plants for her menagerie might be.

She said, “This was a turning point for me, the minute I walked into the herbology lab, with all the smells- the jars of weird and wonderful things, I thought this is home, this is where I really want to be.

“For my final presentation, I said I’m going to grow my herby turkeys as a business” and she hasn’t looked back.

After her initial success with poultry the next goal was to raise pigs for sausage meat and pigs in blankets. Charlotte, initially bred the only native black pig, the large black but has recently crossed it with a Mangalitsa pig to improve the taste further.

Charlotte tells us, “chefs are going wild for them, they have both the flavour and the length of carcass I need.”

She wants her meat to be as nutritious as it can be, with high welfare standards for the animals, who live as natural a life as possible.

As the business has grown she rented an additional 30 acres of unmanaged pasture, Charlotte said ” it hadn’t been touched for decades, so it is full of native species and wildflowers, which for me is absolutely perfect but the average farmer would probably look at it with great disdain.”

She said,  “I love the thought of being able to walk along a hedgerow and pick plants that will help a heart condition or cleanse your blood or will help with depression or a stomach condition. It is all just there, completely accessible to all of us but we just don’t know what those plants are anymore. Nature has been doing this for millions of years.”

“I’m trying to emulate this for the animals making as much natural forage available so they can self medicate. In fields, animals can’t roam to get to the species that they need easily, so I introduce these species on a daily basis so that they don’t get ill.”

Food for thought

Charlotte is conscious that her beasts take time to mature, so the real cost of her food is far more than at the supermarket.

But she said, “supermarkets have conditioned us into thinking that food is cheap, but when you actually grow it from scratch you realise how much it actually it costs.

“That is without taking into account labour costs, I’m up at 6 am when it is still dark and I get into the house about 10 pm.”

She adds: “the whole premise of the business is wellness through food, diet is the single biggest thing we have complete control over, if you eat a bad diet you can kill yourself or certainly give yourself a disease alternatively, you can eat things that keep you well.”

In response to the phone ringing off the hook during the lockdown, Herb Majesty offered a monthly meat box to regular subscribers. She said, “if I’d known 12 months ago we were going to have a pandemic,  we would have a few more sheep available.”

herb majesty

Sheep grazing on natural pasture

Her pork is also in demand by Stevie McLaughlin, head chef of Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, who has ordered some pigs. And both the kitchens at Ballintaggart and the North Port Restaurant are also big fans of her meat.

Her milk-fed pigs came about in collaboration with Strathearn cheese co.  in Comrie to use up their excess whey. “This has resulted in the most fantastic tasting meat, as whey is a valuable protein source, so like Yakult for pigs” Charlotte said.

Two nearby organic sourdough bakeries also donate their excess bread which would otherwise go to landfill, and the community orchard in Comrie also supplies her apple pulp after juicing.

Even nearby, Strathearn distillery provides mash to feed her sheep, Charlotte said, “we use it all, and turn waste in to taste.”

Charlotte is proud to be making something that is very local from Perthshire, and collaborating with others, adding “if it helps them out and makes a fantastic product for me as well, it is a no brainer.”

Charlotte’s motto, “if you nourish the universe, the universe will nourish you” and she is certainly doing that here.

 

herb majesty

 

 

 

 

 

Glen Blackler
Glenalmond
Perth
Scotland
PH1 3SF

About The Author

Catriona Thomson

Catriona is based in the Scottish Borders and works as part of the audiovisual team at the Scotsman but she reviews restaurants for Scotland on Sunday and writes for Scotsman Food and Drink in her spare time.

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