Tag Archives: A Modern Herbal

‘Lavender is of ‘especiall good use for all griefes and paines of the head’ ~ John Parkinson, 1640


O’Keeffe (A Beggar on Horseback, 1798) ~ “My dear, have some lavender, or you’d best have a thimble full of wine, your spirits are quite down, my sweeting.”
I love lavender, such a wonderful fragrance, among the best in the world. Every year we plant more seedlings, in an effort to keep them going. Lavender is one of those herbs we have difficulty getting through our harder winters and so may or may not come back. Of the different kinds we’ve grown, Lavender Munstead seems to be the hardiest. Being dwarf, it doesn’t get too big to interplant among other herbs and roses. We are trying a new tiny variety this season that has bloomed for weeks, so shall see if it survives. Its name escapes me, but the grower can be found again next spring. The French variety from Provence has the most exquisite fragrance but isn’t very hardy. If possible, provide a sunny sheltered location out of strong north-west winds for lavender and the plants will be longer lived. Prune back dead growth in the spring. We will be planting more, that’s a given.
Lavender flowers are easily dried, make delightful sachets, and are an essential ingredient in potpourri. I suppose one could ‘make do’ with rose petals, but I like a mix of both along with other herbs, spices, and essential oils. In addition to its highly valued scent, lavender has a history of medicinal use and a rich lore. I rely on the essential oil in the house, even sprinkle drops on the dog’s brush several times a week. Lavender oil repels insects and doesn’t harm the dog as some essential oils can when used directly on pets. Be extremely careful around cats.
Turner (Herbal, 1545) ~ ”I judge that the flowers of lavender quilted in a cappe and dayly worn are good for all diseases of the head that come of a cold cause and that they comfort the braine very well.”
lavender4
The following is from A Modern Herbal:
“The fragrant oil to which the odour of Lavender flowers is due is a valuable article of commerce, much used in perfumery, and to a lesser extent in medicine. The fine aromatic smell is found in all parts of the shrub, but the essential oil is only produced from the flowers and flower-stalks. Besides being grown for the production of this oil, Lavender is widely sold in the fresh state as ‘bunched Lavender,’ and as ‘dried Lavender,’ the flowers are used powdered, for sachet making and also for pot-pourri…
ENGLISH LAVENDER (Lavandula vera), the common narrow-leaved variety, grows 1 to 3 feet high (in gardens, occasionally somewhat taller), The majority of the oil yielded by the flowers is contained in the glands on the calyx. The two-lipped corolla is of a beautiful bluish-violet colour.
French Lavender oil is distilled from two distinct plants, found in the mountain districts of Southem France, both included under the name of L. officinalis by the sixteenth-century botanists, and L. vera by De Candolle. The oils from the two plants are very similar, but the former yields oils with the higher percentage of esters.
(image from our garden)
The SPIKE LAVENDER (L. spica, D.C., or latifolia, Vill.) is a coarser, broadleaved variety of the Lavender shrub, also found in the mountain districts of France and Spain, The flowers yield three times as much of the essential oil – known as Spike oil – as can be got from our narrowleaved plant, but it is of a second-rate quality, less fragrant than that of the true Lavender, its odour resembling a mixture of the oils of Lavender and Rosemary. Parkinson in his Garden of Pleasure says the L. spica ‘is often called the Lesser Lavender or minor, and is called by some, Nardus Italica.’ Some believe that this is the Spikenard mentioned in the Bible.
lavender 3
History: Dr. Fernie, in Herbal Simples, says: ‘By the Greeks the name Nardus is given to Lavender, from Naarda, a city of Syria near the Euphrates, and many persons call the plant “Nard.” St. Mark mentions this as Spikenard, a thing of great value…. In Pliny’s time, blossoms of the Nardus sold for a hundred Roman denarii (or L.3 2s. 6d.) the pound. This Lavender or Nardus was called Asarum by the Romans, because it was not used in garlands or chaplets. It was formerly believed that the asp, a dangerous kind of viper, made Lavender its habitual place of abode, so that the plant had to be approached with great caution.’
make-lavender
L. Stoechas Another species of LAVENDER, L. Stoechas, known also as French Lavender, forms a pretty little shrub, with narrow leaves and very small, dark violet flowers. It is very abundant on the islands of Hyères, which the Ancient Romans called the ‘Stoechades,’ after this plant. This was probably the Lavender so extensively used in classical times by the Romans and the Libyans, as a perfume for the bath (whence probably the plant derived its name – from the Latin, lavare, to wash). It is plentiful in Spain and Portugal and is only used as a rule for strewing the floors of churches and houses on festive occasions, or to make bonfires on St. John’s Day, when evil spirits are supposed to be abroad, a custom formerly observed in England with native plants.
The odour is more akin to Rosemary than to ordinary Lavender. The flowers of this species were used medicinally in England until about the middle of the eighteenth century, the plant being called by our old authors, ‘Sticadore.’ It was one of the ingredients of the ‘Four Thieves’ Vinegar’ famous in the Middle Ages.
The Dwarf Lavender is more compact than the other forms and has flowers of a deeper colour. It makes a neat edging in the fruit or kitchen garden, where the larger forms might be in the way, and the flowers, borne abundantly, are useful for cutting.
(Image from our garden)
All the forms of Lavender are much visited by bees and prove a good source of honey.
Lavender was familiar to Shakespeare, but was probably not a common plant in his time, for though it is mentioned by Spencer as ‘The Lavender still gray’ and by Gerard as growing in his garden, it is not mentioned by Bacon in his list of sweet-smelling plants. It is now found in every garden, but we first hear of it being cultivated in England about 1568. It must soon have become a favourite, however, for among the long familiar gardenplants which the Pilgrim Fathers took with them to their new home in America, we find the names of Lavender, Rosemary and Southernwood, though John Josselyn, in his Herbal, says that ‘Lavender Cotton groweth pretty well,’ but that ‘Lavender is not for the Climate.’
lavender lady
Medicinal Action and Uses: Lavender was used in earlier days as a condiment and for flavouring dishes ‘to comfort the stomach.’ Gerard speaks of Conserves of Lavender being served at table. It has aromatic, carminative and nervine properties. Though largely used in perfumery, it is now not much employed internally, except as a flavouring agent, occurring occasionally in pharmacy to cover disagreeable odours in ointments and other compounds.
Red Lavender lozenges are employed both as a mild stimulant and for their pleasant taste.
Lavender-french
The essential oil, or a spirit of Lavender made from it, proves admirably restorative and tonic against faintness, palpitations of a nervous sort, weak giddiness, spasms and colic. It is agreeable to the taste and smell, provokes appetite, raises the spirits and dispels flatulence. The dose is from 1 to 4 drops on sugar or in a spoonful or two of milk.
A few drops of the essence of Lavender in a hot footbath has a marked influence in relieving fatigue. Outwardly applied, it relieves toothache, neuralgia, sprains, and rheumatism. In hysteria, palsy and similar disorders of debility and lack of nerve power, Lavender will act as a powerful stimulant.
fields of lavender
‘It profiteth them much,’ says Gerard, ‘that have the palsy if they be washed with the distilled water from the Lavender flowers, or are anointed with the oil made from the flowers and olive oil in such manner as oil of roses is used.’
Culpepper says that: ‘a decoction made with the flowers of Lavender, Horehound, Fennel and Asparagus root, and a little Cinnamon, is very profitably used to help the falling-sickness (epilepsy) and the giddiness or turning of the brain.’
lavender oil 2
Salmon in his Herbal (1710) says that: ‘it is good also against the bitings of serpents, mad-dogs and other venomous creature, being given inwardly and applied poultice-wise to the parts wounded. The spirituous tincture of the dried leaves or seeds, if prudently given, cures hysterick fits though vehement and of long standing.’
In some cases of mental depression and delusions, oil of Lavender proves of real service, and a few drops rubbed on the temple will cure nervous headache.
lavender at provence
  (A field of lavender at Provence)
A tea brewed from Lavender tops, made in moderate strength, is excellent to relieve headache from fatigue and exhaustion, giving the same relief as the application of Lavender water to the temples. An infusion taken too freely, will, however, cause griping and colic, and Lavender oil in too large doses is a narcotic poison and causes death by convulsions.
Lavender’s use in the swabbing of wounds obtained further proof during the War, and the French Academy of Medicine is giving attention to the oil for this and other antiseptic surgical purposes. The oil is successfully used in the treatment of sores, varicose ulcers, burns and scalds. In France, it is a regular thing for most households to keep a bottle of Essence of Lavender as a domestic remedy against bruises, bites and trivial aches and pains, both external and internal.
lavender 3
 There are many, many ways to enjoy lavender and benefit from this wonderful herb. I hope you are inspired to put in a few plants this year, or grow one in a pot.
Nonfiction Herbal

Nonfiction Herbal

My illustrated herbal, Plants for A Medieval Herb Garden in the British Isles, is available in print and kindle at Amazon.

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.

“There’s rosemary that’s for remembrance. Pray, you love, remember.” ~Hamlet


RosemaryRosemary is the traditional herb to leave on graves, and there have been far too many deaths lately in our family and in the world. Daughter Elise and I have visited graves with nosegays of rosemary and left them there. A solemn time of remembering those who have gone before us. Rosemary is a fitting herb for Memorial Day.

I love the scent of rosemary and the wealth of history behind it. Known as the herb of remembrance from the time of ancient Greece, it appears in that immortal verse by Shakespeare. My fascination with herbs plays a significant role in my historical/paranormal romance novel Somewhere My Love, as does Hamlet, for that matter. I always wanted to write a murder mystery with a focus on herbs and parallels to a Shakespearean play, and so I did. Ghostly, murder mystery, time travel romance novel, Somewhere My Love, is interwoven with Hamlet and herbs. But herbs don’t stop there. I weave them into all my stories.

‘Tis the Season for Rosemary

Rosemary is considered a tonic, astringent, diaphoretic (increases perspiration), stimulant. Oil of Rosemary has the carminative (induces the expulsion of gas) properties of other volatile oils and is an excellent stomachic and nervine (has a beneficial effect upon the nervous system), curing many cases of headache.


Rosemary1Beloved by the ancients, rosemary had the reputation for strengthening memory. On this account, it became the emblem of fidelity for lovers. And holds a special position among herbs from the symbolism attached to it. Not only was rosemary used at weddings, but also at funerals, for decking churches and banqueting halls at festivals, as incense in religious ceremonies, and in magical spells. It was entwined in the wreaths worn by brides, being first dipped into scented water. Anne of Cleves, fourth wife of Henry VIII, and fortunate to escape with her life due to an annulment, is said to have worn such a wreath at her wedding. Maybe it protected her. She outlived his other wives, two of whom were beheaded, and the sixth one, Catherine Parr, might have been had he hung on much longer. Such were the vagaries of his moods. But I digress.

basket of herbs with rosemary

A rosemary branch, richly decorated and tied with ribbons, was also presented to wedding guests, as a symbol of love and loyalty. Rosemary was one of the cordial herbs used to flavor ale and wine. It was also used in Christmas decoration. Together with an orange stuck with cloves it was given as a New Year‘s gift. Rosemary came to represent the dominant influence of the lady of the house, “Where Rosemary flourished, the woman ruled.” I add, to prove their dominance, some husbands would damage the flourishing plants. (From A Modern Herbal)

“As for rosmarine, I lette it runne all over my garden walls, not onlie because my bees love it, but because it is  the herb sacred to remembrance,  and, therefore to friendship..” ~Thomas Moore

“Faierie-Folks Are in Old Oaks.” ~Herbal Lore with Beth Trissel


“Where the yarrow grows there is one who know.”~
My fascination with herbs and herbal lore is largely prompted by my absorption with all things historic and the thrill of seeing, touching, tasting, and above all smelling the same plants known by the ancients. Herbs have changed little, if at all, over the centuries and offer us a connection with the past that precious little does in these modern days. It’s pure intoxication to rub fragrant leaves between my fingers and savor the scent while pondering the wealth of lore behind these plants. I hope my enthusiasm enriches your life with a deeper awareness of those people who dwelt on this earth long before us. With such a vast trove of plants to delve into, I’ve only done posts on a handful of herbs, but am working along on adding more. I also give online workshops on herbal lore and the historic medicinal use of herbs.
Regarding my resources, my favorite herbal ever, a massive two-part volume, is A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve first published in 1931. It’s not actually all that modern, but is in comparison to those of the ancient Greek and Roman naturalists, Pliny the Elder (Roman, 23 AD–August 25, 79 AD) Dioscorides (Greek, circa 40—90 AD) and Galen (Roman of Greek ethnicity AD 129-199/217 AD), or British herbalists John Gerard (1545–1612) and Nicholas Culpepper (1616-1654).
Interesting here to note that Pliny the Elder, whose 37 volume Natural History served as the basis of scientific knowledge for centuries, died on August 25, 79 A.D. while attempting the rescue by ship of a friend and his family from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The prevailing wind wouldn’t allow his ship to leave the shore. His subsequent collapse and death were attributed to toxic fumes. Go figure. His nephew, Pliny the younger, writer, historian, and Roman senator is also an important figure because of all the letters he left behind detailing events and persons.
Back to Maude Grieve and A Modern Herbal, apparently in the early twentieth century it wasn’t illegal to include instructions for growing and distilling opiates, but it is now so I won’t. However, despite her quaintness or perhaps because of it, there’s a wealth of information in her herbal.
I’m also quite fond of Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, by Rodale Press. I misplaced my original volume or foolishly lent it to someone, or perhaps it wasn’t mine to begin with and I returned it. All I know is it could not be found and so I bought another. Engrossing.
A little known volume I’ve found vastly useful regarding Native American plants and their historic uses is entitled Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants by Bradford Angier, published in 1978. This invaluable book was given to me by my dear late grandmother.
My collection is a rather random acquisition and I’m adding all the time, but I’ve learned a lot. OK, so those are my three faves out of all the herbals I’ve read, available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I’ve also come across innumerable online sites that I refer and link to as they arise.
somewhere_my_lass_final1 (1)In preparation for writing my Scottish time travel  romance, Somewhere My Lass, I did a lot of research on medieval hospitals and came across some fascinating sites. For medicinal info on ancient British/Scottish practices found at the monastic hospital of Soutra outside of Edinburgh visit: A Day In The Life Of A Medieval Hospital.
 For more on medieval hospitals in general visit this site:

“Here’s flowers for you; Hot lavender, mints, savoury, marjoram; The marigold, that goes to bed wi’ the sun, And with him rises weeping…”

William Shakespeare, 1611.

The Lure of Herbal Lore


“Faierie-Folks Are in Old Oaks.” ~ Old Herbal Saying
“Where the yarrow grows there is one who know.”~

My fascination with herbs and herbal lore is largely prompted by my absorption with all things historic and the thrill of seeing, touching, tasting, and above all smelling the same plants known by the ancients. Herbs have changed little, if at all, over the centuries and offer us a connection with the past that precious little does in these modern days. It’s pure intoxication to rub fragrant leaves between my fingers and savor the scent while pondering the wealth of lore behind these plants. I hope my enthusiasm enriches your life with a deeper awareness of those people who dwelt on this earth long before us. With such a vast trove of plants to delve into, I’ve only done posts on a handful of herbs, but am working along on adding more. I also give online workshops on herbal lore and the historic medicinal use of herbs.
Regarding my resources, my favorite herbal ever, a massive two-part volume, is A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve first published in 1931. It’s not actually all that modern, but is in comparison to those of the ancient Greek and Roman naturalists, Pliny the Elder (Roman, 23 AD–August 25, 79 AD) Dioscorides (Greek, circa 40—90 AD) and Galen (Roman of Greek ethnicity AD 129-199/217 AD), or British herbalists John Gerard (1545–1612) and Nicholas Culpepper (1616-1654).
Interesting here to note that Pliny the Elder, whose 37 volume Natural History served as the basis of scientific knowledge for centuries, died on August 25, 79 A.D. while attempting the rescue by ship of a friend and his family from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The prevailing wind wouldn’t allow his ship to leave the shore. His subsequent collapse and death were attributed to toxic fumes. Go figure. His nephew, Pliny the younger, writer, historian, and Roman senator is also an important figure because of all the letters he left behind detailing events and persons.
Back to Maude Grieve and A Modern Herbal, apparently in the early twentieth century it wasn’t illegal to include instructions for growing and distilling opiates, but it is now so I won’t. However, despite her quaintness or perhaps because of it, there’s a wealth of information in her herbal.
I’m also quite fond of Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, by Rodale Press. I misplaced my original volume or foolishly lent it to someone, or perhaps it wasn’t mine to begin with and I returned it. All I know is it could not be found and so I bought another. Engrossing.
A little known volume I’ve found vastly useful regarding Native American plants and their historic uses is entitled Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants by Bradford Angier, published in 1978. This invaluable book was given to me by my dear late grandmother.
My collection is a rather random acquisition and I’m adding all the time, but I’ve learned a lot. OK, so those are my three faves out of all the herbals I’ve read, available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I’ve also come across innumerable online sites that I refer and link to as they arise.
somewhere_my_lass_final1 (1)In preparation for writing my light paranormal romance, Somewhere My Lass, I did a lot of research on medieval hospitals and came across some fascinating sites. For medicinal info on ancient British/Scottish practices found at the monastic hospital of Soutra outside of Edinburgh visit: A Day In The Life Of A Medieval Hospital.
 For more on medieval hospitals in general visit this site:

“Here’s flowers for you; Hot lavender, mints, savoury, marjoram; The marigold, that goes to bed wi’ the sun, And with him rises weeping…”

William Shakespeare, 1611.

Pick Your Poison


Aconite:

POISONOUS! The plant was introduced early on to England (found in records by the 10th century) where it now grows wild in some regions.  In old Anglo-Saxon days Aconite was called ‘thung’ which referred to any poisonous plant.  Then it gained the name Aconite (the English form of its Greek and Latin name), later Wolf’s Bane, derived from the ancient practice of arrows or traps tipped with the juice used to kill wolves.  In the middle Ages it became Monkshood and Helmet-flower, from the unusual shape of the flower head.  This was the ordinary name in Shakespeare’s days.  Confused?  It took me a while to associate the same herb with these various names.  Just for fun, I used them all in this next paragraph.

Although intrigued by monkshood, I haven’t grown this plant because it’s among the most poisonous herbs ever and I have children and pets that frequent my garden.  However, aconite is a beautiful perennial and I wish I could grow it.  I’ve admired the lovely blue flowers in old gardens I’ve visited and feel certain I could resist the temptation to nibble on its leaves or brew a tea from the roots.  I’d never mistake helmet flower for something else as some people have done to their peril.  But to be on the safe side, I don’t grow it.  I’ve read reports of people who grew ill just from smelling wolf’s bane.  The plant is said to have a distinctive and unpleasant taste so cases of poisoning are rare.  However, the less discerning among us will eat anything.

An interesting and informative article on aconite at The Poison Garden:

Aconite plays a significant role in my light paranormal romance, Somewhere My Love. The plant is sometimes used medicinally, though never by me, and should only be dispensed under the direction of an expert medical authority.  Aconite can be absorbed through the skin, especially openings in the skin.  Because of this, it shouldn’t be handled without gloves.  There are many homeopathy sites that discuss the use of Aconite for those of you who wish to further explore this. *Image linked to South Dublin Homeopathy.

For those of you who wish to grow it,  here’s an interesting site that offers vendors for aconite and discussion of the plants at: Davesgarden.com

From A Modern Herbal by Maude Grieve:
“The older herbalists described aconite as venomous and deadly. Gerard says: ‘There hath beene little heretofore set down concerning the virtues of the Aconite, but much might be saide of the hurts that have come thereby.’ It was supposed to be an antidote against other poisons. Gerard tells us that its power was ‘So forcible that the herb only thrown before the scorpion or any other venomous beast, causeth them to be without force or strength to hurt, insomuch that they cannot moove or stirre untill the herbe be taken away.’ Ben Jonson, in his tragedy Sejanus, says: ‘I have heard that Aconite Being timely taken hath a healing might Against the scorpion’s stroke.'”

From The Herb Book by John Lust:

“Caution: Monkshood is among the most poisonous of plants.  Small doses can cause painful death is a few hours. “Monkshood is a European perennial plant that is also cultivated in gardens in the U.S. and Canada. Various species grow wild in North America, particularly in mountainous regions. These are similarly poisonous.”

*Note, I’ve never heard of monkshood growing wild in the Alleghenies or Blue Ridge Mountains and can only find references to it in the far north, like Canada and Alaska, but there may be some rare incidences.  Please let me know if you are aware of any plants growing wild in the lower 48 states.  Never ingest or apply parts of any plant you’re not familiar with, or improperly informed about.

*This photograph is linked to the Plant Advice Site in the UK.

From: http://library.thinkquest.org/C007974/1_1com.htm

“Aconitine is one of the strongest plant poisons. At first, it acts as a stimulant but, after that, it paralyzes the nervous system. Doses of 2-5 mg can kill an adult. The symptoms of poisoning are oral paresthesias, abundant salivation, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The skin becomes cool, the limbs become insensitive and the pulse accelerates. Death results from respiratory failure and cardiac arrest. Children may get poisoned if they hold tubers in their hands for a long time.

If it is carefully dosed, aconitine is applied externally as a painkiller in neuralgia in cases of rheumatism, headache, gout, migraine and colds accompanied with high body temperature. Several medicines are produced from tubers of low content of alkaloids. Due to its strong toxicity, the drug is very rarely used internally.

In homeopathy, Aconitum napellus is considered one of the most important medicinal plants. In Tibetan medicine, aconitine is the most valuable drug and is referred to as “the king of medicines.”’~

I say let the Tibetans do as they will and stay away from it, unless, of course, you’re using a detoxified derivation.  Be darn certain that you are, double, triple certain.  I’ll stick with the safe herbs and my green tea.

*More intriguing info on Aconite/wolfs bane/monkshood to follow.