Category Archives: herbs

Herbal Recipes for Fragrant Potpourri and Toilet Water


Pot-pourri

‘Tis the season to gather blooms. Here are some potpourri making tips from my experience and recipes from a charming book, Potpourri, Incense and other Fragrant Concoctions by Ann Tucker Fettner.  Amazon has some used copies. The toilet water recipes follow below.

For making fragrant potpourri: Begin in the spring by drying rose petals, an essential ingredient. Other flowers such as bachelor buttons, asters, straw flowers and statice add color. Any blossoms that dry well can be used. Mints, lavender, and lemongrass are excellent herbs for fragrance. Save the peelings from citrus fruit. Additional scent comes from sellers of potpourri supplies.

Order ground orris root, lavender, and essential oils. Sachet bags can be made from circular scraps of breathable fabric all tied up with ribbons. Decorative jars also make attractive holders. Baskets filled with fragrant sachets are an appealing presentation if fund-raising is your goal.

Lavender

After you’ve collected and dried an ample quantity of blossoms and herbal leaves, mix in your other ingredients. Use a large bowl, not plastic, but ceramic or pottery. To hold the scent, you will need a fixative, often calamus or orris root. Generally, you use a tablespoon of a fixative for every quart of dried material. Add any spices you’ve chosen, cinnamon bark broken fine, rubbed mace, ground cardamom seeds, by sprinkling them over the petals and fixatives. If you like, add the crushed citrus peel, maybe some crumbled vanilla bean, and mix well with your hands.

lavender-sachet

The ingredients must be absolutely dry or the blend will molder. To all of this, add your favorite essential oils, rose, lavender, geranium, or tincture of musk or amber. Experiment with different blends. Don’t combine all the oils in the same batch. The possibilities are endless.

When you’re satisfied that the mixture is well blended, let it age in a crock for several weeks. Don’t have a crock? Brown paper grocery bags will do. Store the mixture out of sunlight in an airy corner or attic. Stir occasionally, then package prettily and enjoy.

For making Herbal toilet water:

lavender oil 2

Basic Toilet Water: To three pints of pure alcohol add one and one-quarter ounces of lavender oil, three-quarters ounce of oil of bergamot, three-quarters ounce of tincture of ambergris. Mix together and bottle.

Rose Water: Boil two quarts of distilled water and remove from the stove. Add one-eighth ounce of rose oil, four drops of clove oil, and one pint of alcohol. Let this stand for several days before bottling.Geranium Water: To two pints of pure alcohol add four ounces of rose water, five drops tincture of musk, one ounce tincture of orris root and one ounce of geranium oil. Allow to age.

Geranium Water: To two pints of pure alcohol add four ounces of rose water, five drops tincture of musk, one ounce tincture of orris root and one ounce of geranium oil. Allow to age.

Enjoy the heavenly scents.

Coltsfoot–Herbal Cough Remedy


“Waters are distilled out of Herbs, Flowers, Fruits, and Roots.” ~Nicholas Culpeper

(Coltsfoot)

I often come across references to coltsfoot in my reading. My favorite is related by the beloved British Author Miss Read in her charming books about rural life in the small, fictional village called Thrush Green. In her Thrush Green collection, coltsfoot is a favorite herb in a concoction brewed by the eccentric herbalist, Dotty Harmer. The herb is native to England and Scotland, in grasslands and wastelands. It flowers in early spring and is one of the most popular ingredients in cough remedies. It’s generally given together with other herbs possessing soothing respiratory qualities, such as horehound, marshmallow, and ground ivy. Coltsfoot tea and coltsfoot rock, a confectionery product created from Coltsfoot extract, has long been a remedy for coughs.

(Owl Cat in one of my garden beds with catnip)

In A Modern Herbal Ms. Grieve says, “The botanical name, Tussilago, translates to ‘cough dispeller.’ Coltsfoot has been called ‘nature’s best herb for the lungs and her most eminent thoracic.’ Dioscorides, Galen, Pliny, Boyle, and other great authorities recommend the smoking of the leaves for a cough. Pliny recommended the use of both roots and leaves.”

Ms. Grieve goes on to say coltsfoot leaves are dominant in the medicinal blend called British Herb Tobacco. Other ingredients include: Buckbean, Eyebright, Betony, Rosemary, Thyme, Lavender, and Chamomile flowers. This herbal tobacco is reputed to relieve asthma and chronic bronchitis. She adds, “A decoction of coltsfoot is made of 1 OZ. of leaves, in 1 quart of water boiled down to a pint, sweetened with honey or liquorice, and taken frequently in teacupful doses for both colds and asthma.”

Liquorice has been cultivated in England since 1562, mentioned in Turner’s Herbal, and was popular by the time of Queen Elizabeth. But the plant, native to Southeast Europe and Southwest Asia, has an ancient history of use elsewhere. An extract of the root is made into a syrup, or administered in a powdered form. The most notable use for liquorice is in flavoring and candy, also a sought after remedy for soothing coughs, chest congestion, and the bladder and bowel. I take a powdered extract of the root in hot milk with a few drops of vanilla and a pinch of sugar.

This post is an excerpt from my herbal, Plants for A Medieval Herb Garden in the British Isles, available  in print and kindle at Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Plants-Medieval-Garden-British-Isles-ebook/dp/B00IOGHYVU/

Nonfiction Herbal

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.

Herbs and Romance for Valentine’s Day


“There’s a few things I’ve learned in life: always throw salt over your left shoulder, keep rosemary by your garden gate, plant lavender for good luck, and fall in love whenever you can.” ~Alice Hoffman, Practical Magic

“My gardens sweet, enclosed with walles strong, embarked with benches to sytt and take my rest. The Knotts so enknotted, it cannot be exprest. With arbours and alys so pleasant and so dulce, the pestylant ayers with flavours to repulse.” ~Thomas Cavendish, 1532.

 “Good morrow, good Yarrow, good morrow to thee. Send me this night my true love to see, The clothes that he’ll wear, the colour of his hair. And if he’ll wed me.” ~Danaher, 1756

lavenderfield-300x199

“There’s rosemary and rue. These keep Seeming and savor all the winter long. Grace and remembrance be to you.”- William Shakespeare

Thyme Creeping Red

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,

Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine, With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:

There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,  Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

dill with white aster and other herbs and flowers in our garden(Dill in our garden by Daughter Elise)

 When daisies pied and violets blue And lady-smocks all silver-white  And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue. Do paint the meadows with delight.

Love’s Labours Lost

lavender 3

“And lavender, whose spikes of azure bloom shall be, ere-while, in arid bundles bound to lurk admist the labours of her loom, and crown her kerchiefs witl mickle rare perfume.”

~William Shenstone The School Mistress 1742


herb garden
“Those herbs which perfume the air most delightfully,  not passed by as the rest, but, being trodden upon and crushed, are three;  that is, burnet, wild thyme and watermints. Therefore, you are to set whole alleys of them, to have the pleasure when you walk or tread.” –  Frances Bacon 

“How could such sweet and wholesome hours Be reckoned but with herbs and flowers?” –  Andrew Marvel

About ‘Plants For A Medieval Herb Garden in the British Isles’


medieval herb garden smaller sizeWith daughter Elise’s invaluable help, the print version of my herbal, Plants For A Medieval Herb Garden in the British Isles , is filled with images and available in print. The kindle version also has many pics. ***Note: A number of these herbs later made their way to America and are in use today. They’re not solely relegated to the Middle Ages. That’s just the main focus of the book.

From the Introduction:

The Middle Ages span a large chunk of time. In European history, the Medieval period lasted from the 5th to the 15th century and is subdivided into the Early, the High, and the Late Middle Ages. The plants grown in a Medieval herb or physic garden depended on time and place, as well as the avail­ability of the plants. The Crusades played a vital role in the introduction of new varieties. Some of the herbs we consider inherently English, notably, rosemary, sage, and thyme, were introduced to Britain with the return of the Crusaders (the 11th through the 13th century). Before the Crusades, fewer plants were available for an herb garden. Lavender, such a favorite, didn’t arrive on the scene in England before the mid-16th century.

herbs_pennyroyal

Spices, so common today but rare then, also made their first appearance with the Crusaders. Among these were nutmeg, ginger, and peppercorns, only afforded by the wealthy. Medieval England was mad for these new taste sensations that added zest to their food and helped disguise spoiled meat. Nutmeg was touted as a cure for the plague. Ginger also made that claim, and peppercorns were worth their weight in gold. Wars were fought over spices, but back to the plants. Unless an individual lived in an isolated region and gleaned only native species, a Medieval physic garden would have had many varieties.

herbs_aconite
The herbs weren’t grown for their beauty alone, so much as for their healing properties. To the modern eye, they might appear rather weedy. Plants were peoples’ medicine kits, and aesthetics wasn’t the focus. These were not the opulent luxury gardens, but humble and earthy.

Not all of these herbs grow year round in winter, so root stock, cuttings, or seed would have been saved for the next season. Depending on what part of the plant was desired, the leaves, roots, bark, seeds, fruit, etc, determined whether they were used fresh or preserved. Methods of preparation include: waters (simple or distilled), infusions, decoctions, cordials, syrups, conserves, tinctures, oils… ‘Simples’ are the use of one herb, rather than a combination.

medieval_garden

18th century botanist and apothecary Sir John Hill in his book, The Family Herbal, says, “In general, leaves, flowers, and entire plants whether fresh or dried, are used in infusions; the roots and bark in decoctions.” So decoctions are for the tougher materials. When fresh roots are used, he advises first cutting them into thin slices. Fresh bark should be shaved down to better prepare it. Grind dried roots into a coarse powder before using them in a decoction.

A decoction might be infused with nut oil, wine, vinegar, alcohol, or water and then dispensed by the spoonful or wineglassful in the proportions deemed appropriate. This was guesswork. Tinctures are concentrated and dispensed by drops. Only a skilled herbalist was able to more accurately judge how much was enough. In the case of potentially poisonous herbs, too much was lethal. And still is. Dosage is critical.

alternative medicine--herbs

Herbs were dispensed singly or as a mixture. If an external dressing was needed, a poultice or compress might be applied. Herbal ointments were commonly made with lard. The wealthy might employ more exotic ingredients such as nut oil, wax, and resin. Medicinal baths were also used, or the patient breathed in the vapors of a steeping herb or the smoke from burning leaves. How the curative powers were delivered depended on the plant and the ailment or injury being treated.

I’ve compiled a list of many herbs, including some trees, that could have been grown in an English Medieval Herb Garden after the Crusades. These have been noted, also whether the plants were indige­nous, and, if not, when they arrived in England. Many would have been cultivated in other regions of the British Isles, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, depending on climate conditions and access to seeds.

Where possible, I noted that too, particularly Scotland. Medical properties and uses are given after each one. I’ve listed the plants in alphabetical order. Or tried. The complete plant index is at the end of this work. Some plants make appearances in reference to others because herbs are often used in combinations in medical applications. And, depending on the full name, they may not appear in the order you expect.

Agrimony, Flower Herb***Disclaimer: I am not advocating the medicinal use of these plants, only providing information about their age-old uses. Any applications are strictly up to you. Added cautions are provided for potentially poisonous herbs. Heed them.

***Amazon LinkPlants For A Medieval Herb Garden in the British Isles