Tag Archives: herbal lore

May Workshop: Herbal Lore and the Historic Medicinal Uses of Herbs!

dill and poppiesFor the month of May, join in the journey as we venture back to the days when herbs entered into every aspect of life. From the ancients to the British Isles, colonial America, Native Americans, and the Granny Women, this workshop spans centuries. Plus, everyone who participates will receive the illustrated eBook of my new herbal, (recently revised to include yet more herbs and images) Plants For A Medieval Herb Garden in the British Isles (soon to be available in print as well as eBook).

While sponsored by Celtic Hearts Romance Writers, this May workshop is also open to the public. For more information and to register visit:


medieval herb garden smaller sizePlants For A Medieval Herb Garden in the British Isles 

Description: An illustrated collection of plants that could have been grown in a Medieval Herb or Physic Garden in the British Isles. The major focus of this work is England and Scotland, but also touches on Ireland and Wales. Information is given as to the historic medicinal uses of these plants and the rich lore surrounding them. Journey back to the days when herbs figured into every facet of life, offering relief from the ills of this realm and protection from evil in all its guises. ***In Kindle and Nookbook.

(Image of dill and heirloom poppies in our garden by Elise. Book cover also by Elise.)

“Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness.” ~ Jane Austen

Apple BlossomsWith a foot of snow on the ground and near zero temps, this seems an apt time for an excerpt from my new herbal, Plants For A Medieval Herb Garden in the British Isles. The kindle version is out now; daughter Elise is formatting the print book. Lots of images to fit in. And now–apples. Bet you didn’t know they belonged in an herbal.

The history and lore behind apples is fascinating. And we all know what Johnny Appleseed thought vital to plant in America. The thing that most struck me in reading about apples, is how the history of the apple is closely linked with the history of man. From the earliest times, wherever people went, the apple went, and is associated with peace and a gentler life. If folk settled down, built a cottage and planted apple trees, that spoke to domesticity and disinterest in warfare. Maybe more people should plant them today. I do. And then all hold hands and sing the Johnny Appleseed Blessing to help bring about world peace.

AppleBack to apples. These early cultivars weren’t the sweet fruit we know today, but much smaller and tarter. In the Middle Ages, most apples were made into cider. By Shakespeare’s day, the new varieties were referred to as ‘dessert apples’ and served accompanied by caraway. Apples were probably introduced into Britain by the Romans and have a long history of use there. In the Scottish Highlands, the crabapple tree is the badge of the Lamont clan.

(Image of Cox’s Orange Pippin, an old heirloom apple)

From A Modern Herbal: “The chief dietetic value of apples lies in the malic and tartaric acids. These acids are of benefit to persons of sedentary habits, who are liable to liver derangements, and they neutralize the acid products of gout and indigestion. (You don’t want a deranged liver).

A knight, his lady, and an appleApple cookery is very early English: Piers Ploughman mentions ‘all the povere peple’ who ‘baken apples broghte in his lappes’ and the ever popular apple pie was no less esteemed in Tudor times than it is today, only our ancestors had some predilections in the matter of seasonings that might not now appeal to all of us, for they put cinnamon and ginger in their pies and gave them a lavish colouring of saffron. The original  pomatum seems to date from the herbalist Gerard’s days (1545-1612), when an ointment for roughness of the skin was made from apple pulp, swine’s grease, and rosewater. The Apple will also act as an excellent dentifrice.”

(Image of a knight, his lady, and an apple)

flowering crabapple April 2011 246From The Family Herbal: “The juice is cooling, and is good externally used in eruptions on the skin, and in diseases of the eyes, where a sharp humour is troublesome.”

(Crab apple in our yard)

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” ~Martin Luther

New Release! Plants For A Medieval Herb Garden in the British Isles

Plants for a Medieval Herb Garden in the British Isles Cover

I finally did it! After abundant research, writing, and seemingly endless revising, my first herbal is available in kindle at Amazon.  I initially embarked on this undertaking last year for the workshop I gave focused on herbs and medicinal plants of the British Isles. Participants were so enthusiastic, as have been many of you who follow this blog, that I was inspired to go all out and turn this project into a much longer work. No small effort, but I enjoyed the process and learned a lot along the way. I’m always learning because this is such a vast trove of material to delve into. I’ve also had fun choosing images lo illustrate this book. Some are photographs of our garden taken by Elise, many are royalty free images I purchased, and a few are in public domain.  I hope you enjoy Plants For A Medieval Herb Garden in the British Isles. A lot of these plants were brought to America with the early colonists and are widespread here now. Others are well and truly British and Scottish.

Elise did the gorgeous cover.

thyme with honey beeBook Description:  An illustrated collection of plants that could have been grown in a Medieval Herb or Physic Garden in the British Isles. The major focus of this work is England and Scotland, but also touches on Ireland and Wales. Information is given as to the historic medicinal uses of these plants and the rich lore surrounding them. Journey back to the days when herbs figured into every facet of life, offering relief from the ills of this realm and protection from evil in all its guises.~

‘Honey of Roses’ and The Family Herbal by Sir John Hill

herbal arrangement18th century botanist Sir John Hill, also an apothecary, playwright, actor, novelist, and journalist, was quite an accomplished gentleman. Sir John is also among the most vilified men in Georgian England for his attacks on the Royal Society, with whom he was at odds. Disappointed by the society’s refusal to elect him a fellow, coupled with his disapproval of their scientific standards, Hill wrote many strongly worded reviews of the lauded society. And they weren’t the only ones to come under fire by Hill, outspoken to a fault. He was attacked in turn, but back to his charming and informative work, The Family Herbal.

Sir John HillHill states his herbal is intended to inform those who live in the country and are desirous of being useful to their families and friends, or charitable to the poor in relief of their disorders, of the virtues of wild plants, and describes his book as, ‘An account of all those English plants which are remarkable for their virtues, and of the drugs which are produced by vegetables of other countries: with their descriptions and their uses, as proved by experience.’

He prefaces his herbal with detailed explanations as to which part of the plant is used and the steps in preparing the desired form for administering its healing properties. I’ve spent hours reading over these and writing them up. Fascinating stuff that now forms a new session in the herbal lore workshops I give, the next one for Celtic Hearts Romance Writers in May (also open to nonmembers).

colonial-woman2I love Hill’s many references to the ‘charitable lady’ who is concocting herbal medicines for her family or community and he gives painstaking instructions and recipes for making juices, infusions, decoctions, distilled waters, cordials, tinctures, conserves, syrups, oxymels, vinegar of squills, ointments, plaisters (plasters), essential oils…

His recipe for honey of roses:

red rose and larkspur“Cut the white heels from some red rose buds, and lay them to dry in a place where there is a draught of air; when they are dried, put half a pound of them into a stone jar, and pour on them three pints of boiling water; stir them well, and let them stand twelve hours; then press off the liquor (liquid) and when it has settled, add to it five pounds of honey; boil it well, and when it is of the consistence of thick syrup, put it by for use. It is good against mouth sores, and on many other occasions.” (Which means it has many other uses.)

If you are desirous of acquiring a copy of The Family Herbal, I came across a copy, reprinted much in the manner of Hill’s original work, at Amazon.

*Image of red rose and larkspur from our garden by daughter Elise. All images royalty free.

Mistletoe–So Much More Than A Christmas Plant

Christmas Mistletoe IsolatedMistletoe is steeped in lore from pre-Christian times, so much so that it might be easier to cover powers not attributed to this revered plant than those that are. Viscum album, the genus that grows in Great Britain and much of Europe, is recognized by its smooth-edged oval evergreen leaves borne in pairs along the woody stem, and waxy white berries, thought to be poisonous, in dense clusters of 2 to 6. Mistletoe is rare in Scotland, but references to it arise in Scottish herbals, so perhaps it was brought in from other regions of Britain. A similar species of mistletoe grows in North America with shorter, broader leaves and longer clusters of 10 or more berries. An evergreen parasitic plant, mistletoe grows on the branches of trees and derives all its nourishment from its host. The sticky berries, transferred by birds, attach themselves to the bark and send out roots. Because the plant prefers softer bark, it’s found more commonly on apple trees and is rarer on oaks which made mistletoe discovered on oaks greatly venerated by ancient Celts, Germans, and it was used in ceremonies by early Europeans. Greeks and other early peoples thought it had mystical powers and the plant gained a wealth of folklore over the centuries. Sacred to the Druids, many wondrous attributes are accorded to mistletoe, including medicinal powers, properties to boost fertility, and ward off evil spells.

Druidism, God, Tree, Praying,

From A Modern Herbal: Mistletoe was held in great reverence by the Druids. They went forth clad in white robes to search for the sacred plant, and when it was discovered, one of the Druids ascended the tree and gathered it with great ceremony, separating it from the Oak with a golden knife. The Mistletoe was always cut at a particular age of the moon, at the beginning of the year, and it was only sought for when the Druids declared they had visions directing them to seek it. When a great length of time elapsed without this happening, or if the Mistletoe chanced to fall to the ground, it was considered as an omen that some misfortune would befall the nation. The Druids held that the Mistletoe protected its possessor from all evil, and that the oaks on which it was seen growing were to be respected because of the wonderful cures which the priests were able to effect with it. They sent round their attendant youth with branches of the Mistletoe to announce the entrance of the new year. It is probable that the custom of including it in the decoration of our homes at Christmas, giving it a special place of honour, is a survival of this old custom.

British Oak

The curious basket of garland with which ‘Jack-in-the-Green‘ is even now occasionally invested on May-day is said to be a relic of a similar garb assumed by the Druids for the ceremony of the Mistletoe. When they had found it they danced round the oak to the tune of ‘Hey derry down, down, down derry!’ which literally signified, ‘In a circle move we round the oak. ‘ Some oakwoods in Herefordshire are still called ‘the derry‘; and the following line from Ovid refers to the Druids’ songs beneath the oak:

Ad viscum Druidce cantare solebant

Shakespeare calls it ‘the baleful Mistletoe,’ an allusion to the Scandinavian legend that Balder, the god of Peace, was slain with an arrow made of Mistletoe. He was restored to life at the request of the other gods and goddesses, and Mistletoe was afterwards given into the keeping of the goddess of Love, and it was ordained that everyone who passed under it should receive a kiss, to show that the branch had become an emblem of love, and not of hate.”

Parts Used Medicinally: The leaves and young twigs, collected just before the berries form, and dried in the same manner as described for Holly.

The preparations ordinarily used are a fluid extract and the powdered leaves. A homoeopathic tincture is prepared with spirit from equal quantities of the leaves and ripe berries, but is difficult of manufacture, owing to the viscidity of the sap.”

“Medicinal Action and UsesNervine, antispasmodic, tonic and narcotic. Has a great reputation for curing the ‘falling sickness’ epilepsy – and other convulsive nervous disorders. It has also been employed in checking internal haemorrhage.

***Bear in mind that although mistletoe has some possible medicinal qualities and has been used for centuries for various maladies, it is potentially toxic so do not administer it to yourself.

From http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/302/

“Mistletoe was thought to be a remarkable and sacred shrub because it seemed to grow from the air and not from the earth. Mistletoe has been considered undesirable because it feeds off other trees; however it is also thought to have a symbiotic relationship because it provides nutrients when the host is in dormancy. It also provides food for a host of animals and birds who consume its leaves and shoots.

Over time its folklore has grown to include the belief that the oak mistletoe could extinguish fire, that it held the soul of the host tree and placed in a baby’s cradle would protect the child from faeries.

Mistletoe KissKissing under the mistletoe is also cited in an early work by Washington Irving, “Christmas Eve,” which tells of the festivities surrounding the Twelve Days of Christmas:

“Here were kept up the old games of hoodman blind, shoe the wild mare, hot cockles, steal the white loaf, bob apple, and snap dragon; the Yule log and Christmas candle were regularly burnt, and the mistletoe with its white berries hung up, to the imminent peril of all the pretty housemaids.”

Used as good luck charms to ward off evil, its sprigs were also put under the pillows of young girls who thought it would entice dreams of the husband to be.”

From http://people.howstuffworks.com/culture-traditions/holidays/mistletoe3.htm

“Mistletoe is also said to be a sexual symbol, because of the consistency and color of the berry juice as well as the belief that it is an aphrodisiac, the “soul” of the oak from which it grows. The origin of the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe is vague. However, the tradition may have stemmed from either the Viking association of the plant with Frigga (the goddess of love) or from the ancient belief that mistletoe was related to fertility. Another explanation for the tradition is that it is derived from the festival of Saturnalia, a popular mid-December celebration in ancient Rome.

Christmas Mistletoe IsolatedThe correct mistletoe etiquette is for the man to remove one berry when he kisses a woman. When all the berries are gone, there’s no more kissing permitted underneath that plant.

One legend states that a couple who kisses underneath mistletoe will have good luck, but a couple neglecting to perform the ritual will have bad luck. Specifically, it is believed that a couple kissing under the mistletoe ensure themselves of marriage and a long, happy life, while an unmarried woman not kissed under the mistletoe will remain single for another year.”

***Mistletoe and werewolves: In some ancient lore, mistletoe is considered a repellent and protection from werewolves.

***Royalty free images of mistletoe, Druid, British Oak, couple kissing beneath mistletoe

Superstitions and Lore from the Shenandoah Valley

(The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia by my mother Pat Churchman)
These sayings are taken from Shenandoah Voices:  Folklore, Legends, and Traditions of the Valley by late historian and author John Heatwole. I also threw in some cures. Images of the Shenandoah Valley and Mountains were taken by my talented family.
I knew and greatly respected John Heatwole.  He even helped me with some of the initial research for my first historical novels. The wealth of knowledge he amassed is just one of the rich legacies John left behind.
Shenandoah Voices is my favorite book by him.  I recommend it to anyone interested in the old ways and days of rural Virginia, especially the valley and surrounding mountains. I was also privileged to hear John speak on this fascinating subject. He’s best known for his vast knowledge and books about the Civil War. He was also an amazing wood carver/artist, a man of many talents.  Much missed.
(Image of log hog/chicken barn by my husband Dennis.)
Many early valley settlers were Scots-Irish, my ancestors among them.  People from the British Isles tended to be superstitious.  Also prevalent in the valley were Germans bringing the influence of the Pennsylvania-Dutch, another superstitious group.  To quote Michael Scott, boss from NBC’s hit show, The Office, “I’m not superstitious, just a little stitious.”
It’s bad luck to lay a hat on the bed.~
An itching nose means a visitor is coming. ~
A cardinal bumping against the window pane is an indication of an early death~
*To this I have to add ‘or an insanely jealous bird regarding his reflection as another male which tends to happen with cardinals.’
Peel an apple all in one piece and throw the peel over your shoulder.  When you turn around and look at it lying on the ground, whatever letter it reminds you of will be the first letter of your future husband’s last name.~ (This is an ancient Celtic Custom)
It’s bad luck to point at a rainbow. ~ *I suspect we are all guilty of this one.  Who knew?
It’s bad luck to bring a shovel into the house ‘because it is a grave tool.’ Some also think a hoe in the house bodes no good.~ (Image of old smokehouse from the outside and from the inside below. The smokehouse is at our favorite Christmas tree farm outside the tiny hamlet of Singers Glen.
(Images by daughter Elise.)
If you enter a house and leave it without sitting down it is bad luck.  Particularly if you leave by a different door than the one you entered.~
If a bird flies into your house there will soon be a death in the family~Within six months if a whippoorwill comes to your treetop and sings at night. ~ *How many of you have even heard a whippoorwill?  I have.
If a baby smiles in its sleep, the child is talking to the angels. ~ *My personal favorite.
Rain isn’t far behind when a tree shows the underside of its leaves.~
Count the number of foggy mornings in August and that is how many winter snows there will be.~ I heard this one not long ago and suspect it may be true.  I’m also a believer in wooley bears predicting winter…
A new moon with the points up means dry weather, and a moon with the points down means rain will soon fall. ~
If a full moon has a ring around it there will be snow by morning. ~
If the ring is large, the number of stars you count in it will be the number of inches that fall.~ *We say a ring around the moon means rain, or snow, within a few days.
(Creepy old barn up behind our house taken by Daughter Elise.)
Sheep shearing takes place around the first of May.  A cold rain will follow within a few days of shearing called a sheep rain. ~
On Ash Wednesday people made pancakes or the chickens wouldn’t lay.~ *We still have pancake suppers in the valley on that day.
Horse chestnuts carried in the pocket are thought to ward off rheumatism. ~
Sassafras tea is good to thin the blood. ~
Broth made from the hind legs of mice is good for kidney ailments.~ *Not tried this one. ‘Swamp root’ tea is also recommended for kidney disorders.~ I’ll have to research exactly what swamp root is.
(The Alleghenies by my mother)
For someone who is weak and recovering from long illness, make them sparrow broth tea. ~ *This supposedly saved my grandmother’s life when she was sick as a child.
Before taking a new baby out for its first ride (this probably applied to a wagon or buggy) the ‘herb lady’ rubbed warm bear grease on one of the infant’s palms and the bottom of the opposite foot thus insuring that the baby was protected from the rigors of the journey.
A hog’s tooth carried in your right pocket will ward off toothache.~ *Maybe I should take up this one.
Catnip tea was made for children with colic.~ Tea from peppermint leaves will stop a stomachache.~ *These are still practiced.
Sage tea will keep a woman’s hair from turning gray prematurely.~
(old bridge in the valley, bordering the Alleghenies by my husband)
Treat measles with sheep manure that has been boiled, strained, and diluted with moonshine.~ *I assume with enough moonshine the patient didn’t notice the manure so much.
For a bad cold put lard on your chest sprinkled with salt. Another remedy is a mustard plaster made with mustard, lard, and egg whites and laid on the chest~
Freckles on the face can be washed away on the first of May. If they are washed in morning dew, they will be transferred to the hands which can be dried on another less visible part of the body like the arms or legs and left there permanently.  It’s recommended that this practice be repeated for three years in a row to work. ~ Quite an investment in time.
(Image of river in the mist by my mother)
When mumps invade your house put hog manure on the throat as a relief or cure. ~ *Considering the stench of hog manure, I doubt the sufferer would find much relief.
To get rid of warts, tie a knot in a string for each wart you have and bury it under rock.  When the string rots the wart will be gone. ~

                   (Old house in the Blue Ridge Mountains by my husband)
If you are sitting up with an ill person and a spark flies from the fireplace in the room, it is a sign of impending death. (From Hardy County, West Virginia).
It would be a terrible mistake for you to kill a lightning bug because lightning might kill you during the next electrical storm. (From Wise County, Virginia)
In the Blue Ridge Mountains it was believed that if a glass fell from a table after midnight and rolled across the floor, a coffin would have to be made the next day.
And I could go on, but this is enough for now.  Well, maybe one more.
When springtime rolls around again, and if you are fortunate enough to make a wish on the first toad you see hopping by, you will have abundant good luck. (From Wise County)

(The Alleghenies by my husband)

Old-Time Cures and the ‘Granny Women’

Old Home in the Blue Ridge Mountains (Old home in the Blue Ridge Mountains—image by my husband, Dennis)

About the Granny Women: Historically, they were elderly women from ‘back in the holler’ reputed for their healing and midwifery abilities. The term is often associated with ‘Appalachia.’  However, I don’t know anyone who actually lives in Appalachia. We refer to the specific mountain ranges, the Alleghenies, the Blue Ridge, or the Smokies…but I digress. In a time and place when doctors were few or nonexistent and no one had the money to pay them anyway,  the Granny Women were relied on for the wisdom and practices passed down to them by the hardy females who’d gone before them. Sure, a generous dollop of superstition and white magic was mixed in with their practical herbal remedies, but they did a lot of good. In the Shenandoah Valley and surrounding mountains, these women were invaluable. Some of my friends with deep ties in the holler (or gap) remember their family calling in the Granny Woman when they didn’t know what to do for an ailment or injury. One of them had a grandmother who was the Granny woman. Officially, these women are no longer with us. Unofficially, they are.

I recently learned more about the Granny Women after reading The Red Flannel Rag, by Peggy Ann Shifflett, a fascinating book about life in the Alleghenies. Hopkins Gap, where Ms. Shifflett grew up, is just a hop, skip, and a jump from our farm in the Shenandoah Valley, and yet, how different is the world she brings to life. Some of these customs and practices were known in the valley–still are with the real country folk–but many are unique to this more isolated mountain community. The little elementary school Ms. Shifflett describes being bussed to from Hopkins Gap is the same school my children attended, and their father before them, now replaced by a far larger modern structure. Much is gained, and lost, in our modern era. The author also happens to be the aunt of my friend, Sandy, who grew up with many of the old ways. Sandy’s widowed grandmother made moonshine to keep the family afloat, but that’s another story.

Log Cabin, Cabin, Hillbilly, Forest, Log, Appalachian Mountains, Rustic, Tennessee

(Mountain cabin, royalty free image)

Before taking a closer look at the Granny Women, I’d assumed they mostly used herbs and other old-time remedies to cure, but they were also very into white magic. In a section of The Red Flannel Rag entitled Witches and Granny Women, Ms. Shifflett explains the widespread belief in and dread of witches among the mountain people (parts of the valley too, I add). The bad witches, she says, were just called witches and the good witches were referred to as Granny Women or Healers. These women used their powers not only to cure illness but to remove an evil spell cast by a witch. The lengths Granny women, and other fearful souls, went to in order to avoid being cursed or rid oneself of an evil spell boggles the mind. For example, when brushing your hair, or trimming a baby’s fingernails, care must be taken to collect and burn every remnant or a witch might come into your home and take these personal leavings to cast a spell on you or your infant. And if a bird were to snatch your hair and use it to build a nest, you will have a headache until you find and destroy that nest. It’s a whole other mindset.

old log cabinMs. Shifflett describes incantations and instructions given for everything from ridding oneself of freckles on May Day to detecting and thwarting a witch. Here’s one: Make a three-pronged pitchfork red-hot and poke it through the bottom of a chair then pull it out.  If at any time in the future a suspected witch sits on that chair and can’t get up, then he or she is definitely a witch. Another ploy is to lay a broom across the doorway, as though its fallen. A witch will not step across a broom to enter a house. However, it was believed they could change themselves into a snake and sliver in through the keyhole, or transform into a cat and enter through the rafters, so then you have another problem. The lore, beliefs, and superstitions among mountain people is a class in itself. Some of the treatments have practical herbal applications, but much falls into the realm of magic or faith healing. If you believed the ritual employed by a Granny woman would cure your ills or break an evil curse, then maybe it could, that whole mind/body connection thing.

(Image of cabin in the Smokies)

Shenandoah VoicesFor a more in-depth exploration of the subject, read the book. I also recommend late Shenandoah Valley author and historian John Heatwole’s wonderful collection of Folklore, Tradition and Legends of the Valley entitled Shenandoah Voices. Mr. Heatwole interviewed older mountain and valley people to record this valuable resource before his death. I often refer to his collection both for the herbal lore and superstitions. Again, some are quite useful practices, others fall into the realm of fancy, unless you believe a witch can change herself into an egg and float across the stream and this worries you. Then I refer you to the time-honored ways and herbs for protection against spells. Which brings me to our next topic:

Acifidity bags: Small cloth bags worn on a string around the neck containing a mixture of chopped roots and/or spices having a strong disagreeable odor. The purpose of these bags is to ward off illness or evil. I asked my friend (mentioned above) what she remembered about acifidity bags. Sandy said her grandma (the moonshiner) made up these bags when she worried a witch had put a curse on the farm and hung them around the kids necks and put them in the hog pen to protect the pigs. Her grandma was dirt poor (likely used feed sacks to make the bags as they came in printed cotton cloth) and Sandy didn’t think she bought anything special to go in them, that she’d have filled the bags with whatever herbs she could gather, and they stunk like rotted wild onions or garlic. Children, and even pigs, wore these bags around their necks to protect them.


(Image of the Alleghenies  by my husband)

Another friend, Jana, whose husband, Jerry, grew up back in Nelson County, Virginia, an extremely isolated region where they experienced a terrible flood in 1968, also had to wear these bags around his neck. Neither Jana nor Jerry remember what went into the bags, only that they stunk to high heaven to ward off anything and anyone who might cause harm to the children. There’s a pungent spice called Asafoetida, but it’s not native to the United States and has to be imported. If mountain or country women had access to a drugstore and could get asafetida, then likely that’s what they used in these bags, if not, they improvised. But I suspect the term acifidity is a corruption of asafetida, and before its introduction into America, these bags would have been called something else. Maybe just medicine or charm bags. Putting herbs, spices, or amulets into bags worn around the neck is an ancient practice.

From an article entitled: What’s in your Acifidity Bag by Bev Walker

“According to the book “Healing Spices,” asafoetida was endorsed by the US Pharmacopedia as a remedy for the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic that killed almost 100,000,000 people globally and claimed tens of thousands of American lives per week for two years. The putrid smelling spice was stocked by pharmacies to be draped around the neck inside acifidity bags in an attempt to deflect the deadly strain of influenza. Naturally, the word “flu” struck terror in the minds of generations to follow, and the smelly cure-all medicine bags appear repeatedly throughout history whenever an outbreak of potential epidemic illness or disease occurs. Babies and school-aged children were forced to wear acifidity bags during outbreaks of polio, measles, and during the winter to stave off influenza.”

***An interesting article on Appalachian Healing Traditions

A Fragrant Connection to the Past and Upcoming Herbal Lore Workshop

Formal Garden, Flower Bed, Old Ruin, Gothic Style, Monastery, Abbey,  Church, herbs

Being passionate about the past, I relish a connection to those who’ve gone before us. I’m fascinated with history and love old homes, historic sites, all that ties us to the richness of bygone ages. Intrigued with herbal lore, I often use it in my writing. Herbs impacted every facet of life before modern times, (I can’t emphasize that enough) and the plants have changed little over the centuries. When I hold an aromatic sprig of rosemary in my hand, I’m touching the same herb beloved by the ancients. Some heirloom roses hail from the glory days of Rome. 

(Image of medieval monastic ruins and herb garden)

To further that sense of oneness, and for their many uses, I grow a variety of herbs. I suppose they’re most well known for their flavorful addition to many foods and herbal teas…Parsley, basil, sage, chives, sweet marjoram, oregano, thyme, and dill are several in my kitchen garden. Lavender and scented geraniums, to name a few, are wonderful for their scent alone.

Ladies once wafted the delicate perfume of toilet water. Porcelain bowls filled with colorful potpourri scented musty parlors. Medicinal herbs comprised the bulk of ones health needs, and still do for some individuals. I take olive leaf and Oregamax extract in capsule form and drink freshly brewed green tea (two quarts a day) to build my immunity, and have had amazing success with these allies in battling chronic leukemia.

(Image by daughter Elise of lavender, dill, and cosmos in our garden)

Then there’s the mostly forgotten language of flowers. Herbs were tucked into nosegays not only for their beauty and fragrance but their significance…such as rosemary, the herb of remembrance. A sprig of thyme symbolized courage. Violas, also called ‘heartsease,’ were used in love potions. And so on.

violasBefore plunging into novel writing, I had a cottage industry styled herb business. I also gave talks on herbal lore to local groups, much as Julia Maury does in my ghostly. murder mystery romance novel Somewhere My LoveHerbs play a big role in that story in other ways, too. Plus, I was active in the local garden club, but found it too much on top of all my writing groups. And I was one of the only members in that club who actually did her own landscaping, such as it is, and got down and dirty. Still do. Others hired landscape designers. Daughter is Elise is a huge help to me now and has been by my side in the garden since infancy. The grandbabies are coming along to ‘help.’

(Image of violas in our garden)

oreganowreath8.25.06Speaking of family support, with the assistance of my long-suffering mother, I used to grow herbs and flowers for making dried wreaths and potpourri to be sold in the fall. Herbal and heirloom flower seedlings were raised in the small greenhouse my hubby built me and sold in the spring. However, any profits were swiftly overrun by subsequent visits to the allergist whom I’ve seen regularly for years now and still get four shots at a crack. Seems I developed every allergy latent within me by exposure to all these pollens. (Herbal wreath very like the ones we made)

Note, If you’re allergic to ragweed, avoid an herb called Sweet Annie and the Artemisia family. But I’m considered in the top ten percent of allergy sufferers in the nation. What are the odds? After being run indoors and my gardening severely curtailed, I took up writing and have used my love of plants in my novels. I’m still an avid gardener, though with shots, meds, and limits.

I’ve also fallen into giving herbal lore workshops after an author discovered all the posts on my blog and invited me to conduct my first class for her online group. If you’re interested in learning more about herbs, their lore and historic medicinal uses, I’m giving a November workshop for From the Heart Romance Writers. Registration runs through Oct. 28th, unless they make exceptions for latecomers, and is open to the public. For info  visit: http://fthrw.com/online-workshops

**For those of you who have taken my recent British herbal lore workshop, this upcoming one in November will be broader and include American herbs.

(Image of me in one of my many gardens with two furry assistants, Lance and Luca. The herbs in the foreground are rosemary and thyme. Behind them are heirloom zinnias. And yes, I live on a farm.)

October Workshop–Herbal Lore and Medicinal Plants in the British Isles–Beth Trissel

herb gardenCome one! Come all! I’m leading this workshop for Celtic Hearts Romance Writers, but it’s also open to the public. For more info and to register visit the link. The workshop runs through October and will be interesting and informative. Although the focus of the herbs are those used historically in the British Isles, if someone has a question about Native American plants, I can help out there too. Be an active participant or a lurker, just don’t nibble on the hemlock while hiding behind the trees. The material can be saved for later perusal. Lively interaction does make the class more fun, however.

English country garden flowers and herbsRegarding homework assignments, (assuming you’re a writer) this isn’t mandatory, but I suggest at some time during the workshop you incorporate one or more of herbs into a scene you’ve written and post it for feedback in the broader group, or email it to me privately and I’ll tell you if I think the herb choice and use seems appropriate. I will post some examples from my own novels. My role is to offer information, inspiration, and kicks and giggles.

The Scottish Bluebell Fairy–Beth Trissel

Path Through Bluebell flowers

The Scottish Bluebells (Campanula rotundifolia) are known by various names, most commonly harebell, also Scottish bellflower and fairies thimble, as it was widely thought fairies live among the flowers. I don’t make this stuff up; these fascinating tidbits are from: http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/1615/

“These lovely flowers have been around for centuries. Legend has it that fairies live among them and humans should be wary of disturbing them.”

Scottish Bluebells“The name, Harebell, has its roots in magic. The name came from the fact that Scottish Bluebells are found growing in meadows frequented by hares. Some would argue, the name Harebell was given this flower due to the fact that witches were known to turn themselves into hares and hide among them. Both are interesting stories, one for the non-believer and believer alike.”

The flower is a favorite among poets. Two famous examples listed on the site:

Sir Walter Scott mentioned it in his 1810 poem, “Lady of the Lake;” “A foot more light, a step more true, Ne’er from the heath-flower dashed the dew; E’en the slight harebell raised its head…”

Emily Bronte wrote, “I lingered round them, under the benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers, for the sleepers in that quiet earth.” in her book, “Wuthering Heights,” published in 1847.”

From: http://www.livingartsoriginals.com/flower-bluebells.html

Scottish bluebell fairyAnother name for bluebells is Dead Man’s bells. This is due to the fact that fairies were believed to cast spells on those who dare to pick or damage the beautiful, delicate flowers. The people of Scotland are fond enough of the flower to continue this tradition in the hopes of protecting the little flower.”

Apparently, when meandering through drifts of bluebells, it’s wise to stick to the path, or you may stir up the wrath of fairies and release the spells trapped in the blooms. Never a good idea, and one that would be echoed by our resident fairy expert, my eight year old niece, Cailin, who warns never step into a circle of flowers or go anywhere without the fairies’ permission. Or they will get very upset. And you do not want an upset fairy, or fairies, on your hands. Particularly the furious wind fairies, but that’s another story.

*Royalty free images