Tag Archives: herbal cures

The Curative Powers of Elderberry


elderflowerIt’s also known as American Elder, Black Elder, and Tree of Music to give a few of its many names. There are different varieties, some that grow no larger than bushy shrubs while others obtain the height of huge trees. Native Americans used the long, straight, hollowed stems that became woody with age for arrows.

Huge Bull Elk in a Scenic BackdropThey pushed all the soft and poisonous pith out of the stems with hot sticks. Indians also bored holes in them to make flutes which gave Elder its name ‘tree of music.’ Hunters lured elk closer with elderberry whistles. I referred to this use of elder in my American historical romance novel Red Birds Song.

elderberriesThe fruit was believed to have a cooling, gentle, laxative and urine increasing effect. Elderberry wine was thought to be a tonic. The berries are said to aid arthritis. The juice simmered until thick was used as a cough syrup and for colds. The rest of the medicinal was used with great caution and some parts avoided entirely. The inner bark of elder stems and the roots were generally regarded as too dangerous to experiment with, however women drank very small amounts of elderberry bark tea for bad menstrual cramps, to ease the pain of labor and help the child along. I used a potent dose of elderberry bark tea in my historical Native American romance novel, Through the Fire.

Indians and settlers believed that small amounts of potentially poisonous plants could be beneficial under certain circumstances to stimulate the body to heal or maybe because it was fighting off the poison. Native Americans shared their storehouse of knowledge regarding herbal treatments with colonists who used these remedies in combination with those lauded cures they brought with them. Elderberry was also a vital plant in the Old World.

From Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs:

Elderberry Syrup“One of the human race’s earliest plant companions (found in Stone Age sites) the elderberry has developed reputations for great powers of good…as well as great powers of evil. In some parts of the world, no prudent carpenter would make a cradle of elderberry wood for fear of bringing harm to the baby. The elderflower has been involved in human history for centuries, and one story suggests that it takes its name from a unique medicinal dimension. The generic name Sambucus may come from the Greek Sambuke, a musical instrument made from elderberry wood. For centuries the plant has had the reputation of healing the body, but in elderberry’s golden age, it made music to heal the spirit.

During its long association with humanity, the elderberry’s traditions have become an incredible jumble of conflicting currents. It provided the wood for Christ’s cross; it was the home of the goddess Freya. If seen in a dream, it meant illness was on the way; it was such a healthful plant that seventeenth century herbalist John Evelyn called it a remedy ‘against all infirmities whatever.’  It would ward off witches if gathered on the last day of April and put up on the windows and doors of houses; it was very attractive to witches and thus should be avoided after dark.
bird eating elderberriesElderberries worked their way into every aspect of living from dyeing hair black to showing berries just at the right time to signal the beginning of wheat sowing. Shakespeare had something to say about it. One of his characters called it ‘the stinking elder.’ The Shakers used it as a medicinal. The wood of the old stems, hard and fine grained, was prized by the makers of mathematical instruments. The list could go on and on for pages; elderberries stand in our gardens as old friends.”

From: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/elderberry

“Elderberry, or elder, has been used for centuries to treat wounds, when applied to the skin. It is also taken by mouth to treat respiratory illnesses such as cold and flu. In many countries, including Germany, elder flower is used to treat colds and flu. Some evidence suggests that chemicals in elder flower and berries may help reduce swelling in mucous membranes, such as the sinuses, and help relieve nasal congestion. Elder may have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and anticancer properties.”

*Image of elderberry syrup, also below

477900653Plant Description

“European elder is a large shrub or small tree that grows up to 30 feet tall in wet or dry soil in a sunny location. Elder is native to Europe, Africa, and parts of Asia, but it has become widespread in the United States. Deciduous leaves grow in opposite pairs and have five to seven leaflets. Flowers are white and flat-topped with five primary rays. Berries are green, turning red, then black when ripe.”

Parts Used: “The berries and flowers are used as medicine. Berries must be cooked before they are taken. Raw berries contain a chemical similar to cyanide.”

Available Forms: “Elderberry is available as a liquid, syrup, and tincture, as well as in capsule and lozenge forms. Dried elder flower is usually standardized to at least 0.8% flavonoids. Sambucol is standardized to 38% elderberry extract for adults and 19% for children. Sinupret contains 18 mg of elder flower.”

How to Take It: “Do not give elderberry or any product containing elder to a child without first talking to your pediatrician.”

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To Make Your Own Elderberry Syrup:

http://wellnessmama.com/1888/how-to-make-elderberry-syrup-for-flu-prevention/

Or order the Original Sambucus: http://www.naturesway.com/Products/Winter-Season/6970-Sambucus-Original-Syrup.aspx

Don’t Overlook Mullein–Herbal Medicine


Verbascum_densiflorum_'dense-flowered_mullein'Mullein: In Scotland (Aaron’s rod, shepherd’s club, donkey’s ears, cuddy-lugs, Rox) In North America (Indian tobacco, among many other names)

Mullein grows wild in Virginia and most everywhere else in America. I like mullein, a stately plant. The leaves are soft and fuzzy, and the flower heads impressive. Granted, it’s weedy and I don’t want it to take over, but it’s among my favorite weeds. A key herb in America, mullein is mentioned, but without nearly as much emphasis, in Scotland. Apparently, the Indians better mastered its medicinal uses, however, they are similar to those in the UK.

Perhaps because the plant is widely distributed in America, it was more greatly appreciated. The Indians smoked the dried leaves or made a smudge of them over the coals of a dying campfire and inhaled the medicinal smoke for treatment of asthma and lung conditions. The fumes were used to revive an unconscious patient. Mullein was used to ease coughs. An ounce of dried leaves were simmered in water or milk for ten minutes, strained, sweetened with honey or maple sugar, and the infusion sipped warm. This was also considered useful for diarrhea.

I’ve read of mullein leaves placed inside moccasins to sooth sore feet. The dried flowers were soaked in edible oil for several weeks, and the oil then used externally for earaches, piles, sunburn, rashes, inflammation, and internally for coughs, lung and chest trouble. Mullein oil was considered effective against disease germs and a natural antibiotic.

‘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.

Old-Time Remedies from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia


With all the colds and flu about, and slipping on the ice, I thought this post might come in handy.

These cures are recorded in Shenandoah Voices written by late Shenandoah Valley historian and author John Heatwole.  I knew John and much admired him.  He’s left a wealth of information behind in his books. He interviewed country and mountain people and compiled their remedies. The images are from the valley and mountains and all taken by my family.

Early spring in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia
‘For a sprained ankle take catnip, sprinkle salt on it and bind it to the ankle.’

‘Mullein tea’ was also used for sprained ankles. The leaves of the mullein plant were boiled in vinegar and water and the ankle was bathed in it while it was still warm.

Turpentine was also rubbed on a sprain. You never covered it or it would burn.

Catnip tea was made for children with the colic. I mix a little catnip in with my mint for tea. It’s good and soothing.

Queen Anne’s Lace made into a tea is said to relieve backache. (You don’t want to confuse Queen Anne’s Lace with poisonous hemlock.)

summer hills and pasture in the Shenandoah Valley

Sage and honey tea is a good brew to give to someone with pneumonia. Drinking tea made from aromatic sage is said to keep a woman’s hair from turning gray prematurely.

Lobelia tea was used by Thomsonian herb doctor Gabe Heatwole as a purge. Lobelia is an annual or perennial plant of the bellflower family. It’s very pretty and does not want to grow at my house, prefers a moist creek bank. *Lobelia is also called ‘the puke herb’, thus the reference to its being used as a purge.

Goldenseal and Comfort Root (Pinelands Hibiscus or Cut-leaf Hibiscus) teas are good for an upset stomach.

If you have kidney problems, swamp root tea can be used for relief. *Swamp root is one of those old patent medicines that originated in the late 1800’s, akin to snake oil.

fallpix

Greasy mustard plaster was used on the sufferer’s chest for a deep cold. To avoid being burned by the mustard, this plaster was made with lard and spread on a cloth that could be laid on the sufferer’s chest without burning. Another non-burning plaster was made with mustard, lard, and egg whites.

A family in Singers Glen used a mustard and lard poultice for pneumonia. When the patient’s chest started to turn red, it was removed. The patient was washed off thoroughly, and then a hot onion poultice was applied.

My very country mother-in-law spoke of using mustard plasters on the chest laid over a piece of old flannel.

Old Home in the Blue Ridge Mountains

For a bad cold or pleurisy, they’d put lard on your chest with salt sprinkled on it of a night.

A tea made of peppermint leaves will stop a stomachache. *I drink peppermint tea for my stomach and it really does help.

Pennyroyal tea was used to break a fever, for upset stomach and to treat the common cold. It’s of the same family as mint and yields aromatic oil, but it has health cautions. *Never Ever imbibe the essential oil as it’s deadly. The leaves may be brewed into a tea, but do not drink pennyroyal tea if pregnant. It can cause miscarriage. Go easy on pennyroyal in general.

During the Civil War, some Valley soldiers chewed slippery elm bark when in battle or on the march. It was said to relieve thirst and hunger.

Miss Gray Pifer of Mt. Crawford said that ‘horehound grew down near the creek. Mama made a horehound syrup with brown sugar for coughs.’

I love horehound drops.

Owl Cat in the garden

(Owl Cat in one of my flower/herb beds)

In Page County a woman said that her grandfather smoked a corncob pipe, and if a child in the family had an earache, he’d blow smoke in the ear as a cure.  She also said for spider bite, you should cut a piece from a new potato and hold it against the bite. Eventually the potato will turn black as it absorbs the poison.

*I was bitten at night while sleeping in my bed by a spider. Fortunately it wasn’t poisonous, but it really stung and I was up putting on witch hazel, rosebud salve, aloe, Benadryl, and, and, and. Forgot about using a potato. Never did find that darn spider.

“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

The Lovely Willow and its Cures


“All a green willow is my garland.” ~John Heywood

weeping willow

The beautiful willow tree has an ancient, varied history of use and lore, depending on which culture is referenced. While regarded as a cure-all in America, it had strong pagan associations in early Scotland.

From The Scot’s Herbal by Tess Darwin: “Willows were one of the first trees to appear in Scotland after the last Ice Age and no doubt this versatile species has been used since prehistoric times for a great variety of purposes.

In addition to many practical uses of willows for basketry, rope, house building, fencing, beehives, lobster pots and coracle frames, it was a magic tree. A willow wand symbolized the goddess, and was used for divination—the original magic wand. Willow was one of the druids sacred woods…the word wicca (the craft and wisdom of witches) is said to be derived from the use of willow to make a wicker frame to build an effigy of the Celtic God Balder, king/consort to the queen/goddess, ceremonially sacrificed on Beltane.

Weeping Willow

Fear of the power of willow persisted long into Christian times: witches’ broomsticks sometimes had a willow shaft, and persecuted witches from North Berkshire were said to sail in willow winnowing riddles. In central Perthshire willow wands were reportedly used to work the evil eye. Black magic worked with willow could be counteracted by rowan.

On the other hand, a branch of willow catkins in the home is still believed to bring good health; this may relate to its medicinal uses. The bark contains acetylsalicylic acid (the main constituent of aspirin) and has long been used as a pain killer.”

In America, the willow is considered “one of Nature’s most valuable gifts to mankind.” From Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants by Bradford Angier. He goes on to say, “The North American Indians soon discovered that tea decocted and steeped from the cambium of the majority of willows was important for arthritis and for reducing fever and many pains—this centuries before the isolating and marketing of aspirin. The ashes of burned willow twigs were blended with water and used for gonorrhea.

pussy-willow-hatsWillow roots were powdered with stones and turned to in an effort to dry up sores from syphilis. The settlers soon joined the Indians in using potent teas brewed from the cambium or inner bark of the bitter willows to treat venereal disease. The dried and powdered bitter bark, astringent and detergent, was applied to the navels of newborn babies. It was utilized to stop severe bleeding, as were the crushed young green leaves, the bark, and the seeds, also stuffed up the nostrils to stop nosebleeds. These were also used for toothache.”

And the uses go on, including a spring tonic made of steeped willow roots, an Indian practice adopted by the settlers. The roots were used to kill and expel worms and willow tea to bathe sore eyes. Some settlers also shared in the Indian practice of using pussy willow catkins as an aphrodisiac. Probably in the form of a bark tea, but it doesn’t say.

I vote for spring.

The Love and Lore of Violets


An excerpt from my herbal, Plants for A Medieval Herb Garden in the British Isles:

“Who are the violets now
That strew the lap of the new-come spring?” ~ Shakespeare: Richard II

SweetViolets008

Violet (Viola Odorata). Part Used: Flowers (dried). The leaves and whole plant (fresh).

Sweet violets grow at the edge of forests and clearings and can be detected by their scent. Sometimes they appear as unwanted guests in yards and gardens, but we like violets and encourage them here. Violets have a long history reaching deep into the misty past. There are over two hundred species in the world; five are native to Great Britain. Sweet violets are usually dark purple, but may be white. The flowers are full of honey and appealing to bees, but usually bloom before bees are really out from as early as late February into April.

Viola OdorataViolets imbue liquids with their color and fragrance and make a divine perfume. A medicinal syrup of violets is given as a laxative considered mild enough for children, and for a variety of other ailments. Old herbalists recommended the syrup for ague (acute fever), inflammation of the eyes, insomnia, pleurisy, jaundice, and many other illnesses. They had great faith in its healing attributes. Among other components, violets contain salicylic acid which is used to make aspirin.

As with primroses, violets have been associated with death, particularly of the young. This is referred to by the poets, including Shakespeare in Hamlet. Ancient Britons used violet flowers as a cosmetic, and in a Celtic poem they are recommended to be employed steeped in goats’ milk to increase female beauty. In the Anglo-Saxon translation of the Herbarium of Apuleius (tenth century), the herb V. purpureum is recommended ‘for new wounds and eke for old’ and for ‘hardness of the maw.’ In Macer’s Herbal (tenth century) the Violet is among the many herbs which were considered powerful against ‘wykked sperytis.’  (A Modern Herbal)

Gar Flower Web Blue Violet

Askham’s Herbal Violet Recipe for Insomnia: “For the that may not slepe for sickness seeth this herb in water and at even let him soke well hys feete in the water to the ancles, wha he goeth to bed, bind of this herbe to his temples.”

spray of beautiful dark blue violets

To Make Syrup of Violets: Tale 1 lb. of Sweet Violet flowers freshly picked, add 2 ½ pints of boiling water, infuse these for twenty-four hours in a glazed china vessel, then pour off the liquid and strain it gently through muslin; afterwards add double its weight of the finest loaf sugar and make it into a syrup, but without letting it boil. (A Modern Herbal)

“Viola Odorata is an ancient heirloom, which the Greeks used in love potions, and beloved by our grandmothers and their grandmothers because of its sweet perfume, delicate purple to deep bluish purple flower and heart-shaped leaves.” ~ Quote from Cherry Gal, an interesting website that sells heirloom violet seeds, amongst other offerings.

violet“I know a bank, where the wild thyme blows Where ox-lips, and the nodding violet grows; Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine, With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine.” ~ William Shakespeare

“Look at us, said the violets blooming at her feet, all last winter we slept in the seeming death but at the right time God awakened us, and here we are to comfort you.” ~Edward Payson Rod

“You can’t be suspicious of a tree, or accuse a bird or a squirrel of subversion or challenge the ideology of a violet.” ~Hal Borland, Sundial of the Seasons, 1964

Rosemary, the Herb of Remembrance


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

Rosemary is the herb that we leave on graves and a fitting one 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 immoral verse by Shakespeare. My fascination with herbs plays a significant role in my historical-light 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.

‘Tis the Season for RosemaryRosemary 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 rosemaryA 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. (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

Pokeroot (The Cancer Root)


127002629Some of poke’s many names are: Red Ink Plant, Virginia Poke, and Ink Berry. The ripe, deeply purple to reddish-purple berries are among the very first natural inks of the new world. So enduring is ink made from pokeroot berries that it is still to be seen in museums. The berries also produce multitudes of black seeds which the birds love and are said to become intoxicated from eating. I haven’t really noticed any birds on a ‘pokeberry high,’ odd considering the vigorous stands of poke growing here and there. Maybe I’m not paying proper attention, or just think that’s how birds are. Come to think of it, we do have extremely euphoric birds in late summer.

pokeshootAs to the edible shoots, these fat young sprouts grow beside the withered remains of the former season’s plants, the only part that’s not potentially poisonous. Tender shoots gathered in the spring were so popular that they were carried back to Europe by early explorers and proclaimed delicious. The mature and then poisonous stalks take on a purplish hue in place of the appealing green of the younger plants. *Warning, when poke shoots change from green to that deeper reddish-purple color, they’re no longer edible.

Pokeweed berriesMedicinal uses: The large poisonous roots were collected and dried in the fall. Indians and colonists cut the dried root into pieces and steeped a level tablespoonful of the root in two cups of boiling water, then drained the liquid and dosed themselves sparingly by the spoonful. In small doses, it stimulates the glandular network by acting similarly to cortisone. Poke was believed to be the most effective drug that could favorably alter the course of an ailment, having the power to stimulate the body to heal, assuming the patient wasn’t overdosed.  It can also make you quite sick and even prove fatal. One of those ‘Oops, guess that was too much,’ treatments. Tea was also brewed from the ripe berries, and used sparingly. Poultices and salves made from the roots and berries were more safely applied than imbibing the tea. Good old pokeroot salve.

***Pokeroot is also known as the cancer root and has some amazing possibilities in treating various cancers. For more visit this fascinating link: http://www.quantumagriculture.com/node/203

‘To Be Taken With A Mixture of Pounded Frogs…’ ~Herbal Lore


Agrimony:  Used from ancient times to treat many ailments and injuries, it’s also reputed to have magical properties.

From A Modern Herbal:

The plant is found abundantly throughout England, on hedge-banks and the sides of fields, in dry thickets and on all waste places. In Scotland it is much more local and does not penetrate very far northward. (It also grows in America)

Agrimony has an old reputation as a popular, domestic medicinal herb, being a simple well-known to all country-folk. It belongs to the Rose order of plants, and its slender spikes of yellow flowers, which are in bloom from June to early September, and the singularly beautiful form of its much-cut-into leaves, make it one of the most graceful of our smaller herbs.

The whole plant is deep green and covered with soft hairs, and has a slightly aromatic scent; even the small root is sweet scented, especially in spring. The spikes of flowers emit a most refreshing and spicy odour like that of apricots. The leaves when dry retain most of their fragrant odour, as well as the flowers, and Agrimony was once much sought after as a substitute or addition to tea, adding a peculiar delicacy and aroma to its flavour. Agrimony is one of the plants from the dried leaves of which in some country districts is brewed what is called ‘a spring drink,’ or ‘diet drink,’ a compound made by the infusion of several herbs and drunk in spring time as a purifier of the blood. In France, where herbal teas or tisanes are more employed than here, it is stated that Agrimony tea, for its fragrancy, as well as for its virtues, is often drunk as a beverage at table.

The long flower-spikes of Agrimony have caused the name of ‘Church Steeples’ to be given the plant in some parts of the country. It also bears the title of ‘Cockeburr,’ ‘Sticklewort’ or ‘Stickwort,’ because its seed-vessels cling by the hooked ends of their stiff hairs to any person or animal coming into contact with the plant. It was, Gerard informs us, at one time called Philanthropos, according to some old writers, on account of its beneficent and valuable properties, others saying that the name arose from the circumstance of the seeds clinging to the garments of passers-by, as if desirous of accompanying them, and Gerard inclines to this latter interpretation of the name.

*Image above is from an interesting  site Herbal Simples, about healing herbs.

The whole plant yields a yellow dye: when gathered in September, the colour given is pale, much like that called nankeen; later in the year the dye is of a darker hue and will dye wool of a deep yellow. As it gives a good dye at all times and is a common plant, easily cultivated, it seems to deserve the notice of dyers.

History: The name Agrimony is from Argemone, a word given by the Greeks to plants which were healing to the eyes, the name Eupatoria refers to Mithridates Eupator, a king who was a renowned concoctor of herbal remedies. The magic power of Agrimony is mentioned in an old English medical manuscript:

‘If it be leyd under mann’s heed, He shal sleepyn as he were deed; He shal never drede ne wakyn,Till fro under his heed it be takyn.’ (That’s darn useful to know.)

*Image above is from another interesting herbal site called Every Green Herb.

Agrimony was one of the most famous vulnerary herbs. (Vulnerary *is a plant used in the treatment of wounds). The Anglo-Saxons, who called it Garclive, taught that it would heal wounds, snake bites, warts, etc. In the time of Chaucer, when we find its name appearing in the form of Egrimoyne, it was used with Mugwort and vinegar for ‘a bad back’ and ‘alle woundes’: and one of these old writers recommends it to be taken with a mixture of pounded frogs and human blood, as a remedy for all internal hemorrhages.”

*I have to stop right here and comment.  Pounded frogs and human blood mixed with Agrimony for all internal hemorrhages.  Hmmm…it wonders me, as the Pennsylvania Dutch say, whose blood we’re to mix in.  Probably someone else’s.  And what would the proportions of pounded frog be to the herb and blood?  No exact proportions given.  Just a spoonful of this and a cup of that.  I suspect it would take more than a spoonful of sugar to help that medicine go down.

I also like where the author goes on to say that Agrimony “has had a great reputation for curing jaundice and other liver complaints. Gerard believed in its efficacy. He says: ‘A decoction of the leaves is good for them that have naughty livers.’”  Got that?  It treats naughty livers.

Pliny called it an ‘herb of princely authoritie.’ Dioscorides stated that it was not only ‘a remedy for them that have bad livers,’ but also ‘for such as are bitten with serpents.’ Dr. Hill, who from 1751 to 1771 published several works on Herbal medicine, recommends ‘an infusion of 6 oz. of the crown of the root in a quart of boiling water, sweetened with honey and half a pint drank three times a day,’ as an effectual remedy for jaundice. It gives tone to the system and promotes assimilation of food.”

Again from A Modern Herbal: It formed an ingredient of the famous arquebusade water as prepared against wounds inflicted by an arquebus, or hand-gun, and was mentioned by Philip de Comines, in his account of the battle of Morat in 1476. In France, the eau de arquebusade is still applied for sprains and bruises, being carefully made from many aromatic herbs.

It was at one time included in the London Materia Medica as a vulnerary herb, but modern official medicine does not recognize its virtues, though it is still fully appreciated in herbal practice as a mild astringent and tonic, useful in coughs, diarrhea and relaxed bowels. By pouring a pint of boiling water on a handful of the dried herb – stem, leaves and flowers – an excellent gargle may be made for a relaxed throat, and a teacupful of the same infusion is recommended, taken cold three or four times in the day for looseness in the bowels, also for passive losses of blood. It may be given either in infusion or decoction.

Constituents: Agrimony contains a particular volatile oil, which may be obtained from the plant by distillation and also a bitter principle. It yields in addition 5 per cent of tannin, so that its use in cottage medicine for gargles and as an astringent applicant to indolent ulcers and wounds is well justified. Owing to this presence of tannin, its use has been recommended in dressing leather.

Agrimony is also considered a very useful agent in skin eruptions and diseases of the blood, pimples, blotches, etc. A strong decoction of the root and leaves, sweetened with honey or sugar, has been taken successfully to cure scrofulous sores, being administered two or three times a day, in doses of a wineglassful, persistently for several months. The same decoction is also often employed in rural districts as an application to ulcers.

Preparation: In North America, it is said to be used in fevers with great success, by the Indians and Canadians.

In former days, it was sometimes given as a vermifuge, (*serving to expel worms and other parasites from the intestinal tract) though that use is obsolete.

In the Middle Ages, it was said to have magic powers, if laid under a man’s head inducing heavy sleep till removed, but no narcotic properties are ascribed to it.

Green (Universal Herbal, 1832) tells us that ‘its root appears to possess the properties of Peruvian bark in a very considerable degree, without manifesting any of its inconvenient qualities, and if taken in pretty large doses, either in decoction or powder, seldom fails to cure the ague.’

Culpepper (1652) recommends it, in addition to the uses already enumerated, for gout, ‘either used outwardly in an oil or ointment, or inwardly, in an electuary or syrup, or concreted juice.’ He praises its use externally, stating how sores may be cured ‘by bathing and fomenting them with a decoction of this plant,’ and that it heals ‘all inward wounds, bruises, hurts and other distempers.’ He continues: ‘The decoction of the herb, made with wine and drunk, is good against the biting and stinging of serpents . . . it also helpeth the colic, cleanseth the breath and relieves the cough. A draught of the decoction taken warm before the fit first relieves and in time removes the tertian and quartian ague.’ It ‘draweth forth thorns, splinters of wood, or any such thing in the flesh. It helpeth to strengthen members that are out of joint.’”

From Herb Magic.com: “AGRIMONY is an herb that is said to turn back jinxes that have already been made, roots that have already been laid, and curses that have already been cast. Combined with Slippery Elm Bark, it is said to break spells involving Slander and Lies…combined with Rue, it is said to send back the Evil Eye (Mal Occhio) even after the Eye has already taken effect. Combined with Salt, it is said to un-make Hexes and Witchcraft.”  They add, “We make no claims for AGRIMONY, and sell it as a Curio only.”

*I make no claims either and am only quoting from and commenting on what I’ve researched.

This is a terrific site: The Medieval Gardener:

Regarding Agrimony it says: “This perennial with its tall yellow spires (to 24 inches) is a native European plant often found growing wild in the Middle Ages. Recorded in the inventories of Charlemagne’s gardens (but not in the Capitulare de Villis ) and the Anglo Saxon dictionary source of Aelfric, it was highly regarded for its general healing and magical powers and was believed by the Anglo Saxons to heal wounds, warts and snake bites. If laid under a pillow, they further believed it had magical powers to induce a deep sleep until removal. Another 14th century reference claims it for the treatment of back problems along with mugwort and vinegar. Agrimony was also used as a strewing herb and, bundled with rue, broom, maidenhair and ground ivy, was used to identify witches. Today we are aware of the tannin content of agrimony and use its lovely apricot scented dried flowers and leaves to make herbal teas as well as astringent infusions, and to attract bees in the garden.” ~ Contributed by B. F. Wedlake