Tag 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.

Wham! It’s Spring!


shirley poppies, larkspur, coreopsis tinctoria

(Larkspur, Shirley poppies, Coreopsis tinctoria, in bed along road by Elise)

We flashed from cold nights with the threat of frost and chill winds blowing when we worked in the garden, to full-blown, everything needs to be done NOW–spring. The valley is like that. Whimsical, enchanting, maddening May. I’m torn between admiration for the wondrous beauty bursting out all over, to how the heck are we gonna get everything weeded, planted, mulched, etc. The annual gardening challenge. Even with vital help from daughter, Elise, keeping up with our many gardens is getting beyond us. She has art projects and a job. I’m supposed to be writing stories, and then there’s all the things to do to keep a household afloat and maintain contact with friends and family. Birthdays, graduations, weddings, ball games, recitals…all that stuff called life.

dill and poppies

The fact that certain body parts are complaining about the sudden rush, also has to be taken into account. Mine, not Elise’s. She’s young and in better shape. That’s why we go with the carefree wildflower meadow look as much as we do, and just beat back the worst of the weeds; those declared pretty stay.

Our flower beds are a mix of reseeding heirloom annuals, wildflowers, and perennials that come back from the root, bulbs, some rose, and of course, a lot of herbs. We love herbs, and always want more.

The vegetable garden is a beast in itself to keep up and requires much diligence. although, it doesn’t always get it. We still seem to harvest an abundance of edibles, though. And yes, it’s all organic. We use composted manure, hay, and whatever else we can get our hands on that’s lying about the farm breaking down and no longer of use for feeding cows. The beds that reseed heavily get no mulch, just tending to keep plants in some kind of bounds. I spray an occasional herbal brew on them to feed and fight fungus and some bugs, but only with stuff that doesn’t hurt the bees and butterflies.. If anyone is interested in the particulars, I’m glad to share.

(Dill and heirloom poppies above by Elise)

fuzzy sage with blue larkspur

(Sage and larkspur by Elise)

Sometimes I also receive assistance from the ten and under crowed, but there’s a limit to how much you can count on from a four and six-year-old, or even those who’ve achieved the great age of seven. By the time the grandbabies are of old enough to really enter in, will they still be interested in gardening? That remains to be seen.

The cats are not much help in the garden, but the outside ones look on while I labor. My dogs want to be with me every second, which isn’t possible for tiny Sadie Sue when it gets too hot or cold or much of anything. She peters out pretty fast, so she sits by the kitchen door or looks out the windows and protests loudly. Jilly also wants to be by my side, but will head for the hills, I fear, if not on her lead. Good old Luca can come along. And that’s the gang. I need gardening elves.

wildflowers and reseeding annuals

***Larkspur and coreopsis tinctoria by Elise

I’ve written a book about herbs, Plants For A Medieval Herb Garden in the British Isles. available in print and kindle at Amazon. Many of these herbs are also used today. It’s also in print at Barnes & Noble.

‘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.’

(Images are from late last May and soon to be repeating here, more or less,)

Is It Still January?


2 Heirloom Seeds packages on antique table resized

A most uninspiring month. So I’ve combed through wintry quotes and nah–let’s think spring. Time to peruse my burgeoning stack of seed/plant catalogs and ponder what to plant where, after sorting through the seed saved from last year–of course. Many heirloom varieties reseed themselves outside with no help from me, but a number get their start in my little greenhouse. It’s a happy place, but chilly, as it depends solely on the sun for warmth. I can plug in a space heater, rather costly to run, so don’t much. Built against a hill on the side of the barn near the dairy, the greenhouse is barricaded from bitter northeast winds. That leaves wicked westerly blows and general chilliness.

Beth in solar greenhouse

When the temperature consistently hovers above 20 or so at night, I’ll get out in the heating mats that go beneath the pots. Some are improvised from yogurt/cottage cheese containers filled with Pro-Mix, my favorite soiless potting medium, and my chosen seeds. Bottom heat aids germination in such a cool greenhouse. I also start tuberous begonias and other bulbs. Most anything that appeals to me. The hardy seeds are planted first.

(Pics of seeds and me in the greenhouse from last season taken by daughter Elise. She and the grandbabies are my garden assistants. She’s the biggest help by far, but some of the little people try hard.)

watering in the greenhouse

Years ago, hubby dug back into an unused concrete receptacle that once contained cow manure, located in the bank the greenhouse is built against. His goal: to create a dark root cellar. Turns out the sides and ceiling leak, so we have what we term ‘the grouch pond’ after Oscar the Grouch of Sesame Street fame. The kids thought the unintended pond would appeal to him. Oscar likes broccoli and liver flavored ice cream and lives in a garbage can, so why not? I’ve tried gold-fish in the grouch pond, and the occasional frog hops up from the large farm pond in the meadow, and I’ve added water plants. Some of the plants survived. It needs new fish.

Grandbaby Chloe in my flower bed

We’ve started vegetable gardens around the greenhouse in the last few years and found tomatoes and pumpkins thrive there. Some vigorous vines trail up over the greenhouse and the bank. Orange globes appear in unlikely places, which is part of the fun for zealous pumpkin fans such as we. This year we shall have the best pumpkins, the loveliest, most fragrant herbs and flowers, the tastiest vegetables, and sweetest berries. EVER. Our own mini Eden.

I actually believe this and work toward accomplishing it every year. Amazing, really, how undaunted I am. My gardening triumphs keep me going, and the less than stellar results of my efforts fade into the background during the long winter months. Snowy blasts, icy rain, and endless mud combine to bury any discouraging recollections. All are blotted out. Only the glory shines bright, beckoning me to strive once again for the best gardening season ever.

shirley poppiesThe many seed and plant companies I patronize count on this near religious fervor to keep me and countless other gardeners coming back with new orders each year. The worse the winter, the more orders I zap their way. Last year, I was so demented during the long winter, I sent off a LOT. In return, I received box after box from UPS deliveries in the spring. Where to tuck all this bounty in was a challenge. But now, I wonder, what if I seed the entire front yard in wild flowers? How glorious that would be. Sigh. Dream.

I have some vague memory of weeds and quack grass contending with whatever I plant, but in my mind’s eye I see only the wonder of it all.

(Images of Shirley Poppies and my grandbaby Chloe smelling flowers in the garden taken by Elise.)

June in my Garden in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia


Flower Bed along the road 8Husband Dennis was out with his camera this morning and captured some lovely shots of the flower bed along the edge of the yard that borders the road. We’ve had some sumptuously gorgeous days lately with low humidity and blue skies that reach to heaven. This time of year it’s very hard to be in when the garden beckons, and bird calls float through the open windows.

To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers is a delectable form of defeat. ~Beverly Nichols

A morning-glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books. ~Walt Whitman

How can one help shivering with delight when one’s hot fingers close around the stem of a live flower, cool from the shade and stiff with newborn vigor! ~Colette

Flower bed along road 6-16-2014

Flowers have an expression of countenance as much as men or animals. Some seem to smile; some have a sad expression; some are pensive and diffident; others again are plain, honest and upright, like the broad-faced sunflower and the hollyhock. ~Henry Ward Beecher, Star Papers: A Discourse of Flowers
Give me odorous at sunrise a garden of beautiful flowers where I can walk undisturbed. ~Walt Whitman

Flowers really do intoxicate me. ~Vita Sackville-West

Every flower is a soul blossoming in nature. ~Gerard de Nerval

I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers. ~Claude Monet

larkspur and shirley poppies

A flower’s appeal is in its contradictions — so delicate in form yet strong in fragrance, so small in size yet big in beauty, so short in life yet long on effect. ~Terri Guillemets

Let us dance in the sun, wearing wild flowers in our hair… ~Susan Polis Shutz

The flower that follows the sun does so even in cloudy days. ~Robert Leighton

Flower bed along road 4

Image of: Roses, larkspur, Shirley poppies, calendula, asparagus, sage, lamb’s ears, lilies, hollyhocks, coral bells, California poppies, lavender, and numerous other herbs and flowers.

Old Herbal Treatments–Boneset


BonesetBoneset (Ague-weed) is a beautiful native plant found in moist meadows, woodlands, along stream banks, or in swamps across Eastern North America and west to Louisiana and Minnesota.  A member of the aster family, it blooms July–September with flat clusters of white flowers. Once established, boneset resembles a small shrub at 3’ to 4’ tall. The base of the leaves appear to wrap around the stem, as if pierced by the stem. This perforated arrangement of the leaf and stem led to the species name E. perfoliatum. Because the leaves are wrapped around the stem, early herbalists concluded the plant would be useful as a plaster, along with bandages, for setting broken bones. Boneset was also infused as a tea to treat fevers, colds, and digestive ailments. A Modern Herbal suggests the name boneset rose from its use as a treatment for Dengue fever, also known as Break Bone Fever, and declares, ‘Probably no plant in American domestic practice has had more extensive and frequent use.’ The summer flowers attract pollinating insects, such as butterflies. In the fall, the seeds draw a variety of songbirds.

From http://medicinalherbinfo.org/herbs/Boneset.html:

“Boneset was one of early America’s foremost medical plants, a popular panacea of extraordinary powers. Native Americans introduced the settlers to this New World herb. Its name reflects its use during a particularly harsh strain of flu called “break bone fever”. Come cold and flu season, boneset can be invaluable in relieving coughs and upper respiratory congestion. Today, it is chiefly regarded as a weed with an interesting past.”

From another interesting site:http://www.alchemy-works.com/eupatorium_perfoliatum.html

“In West Virginia folk medicine, boneset was simmered with lemon and honey to make a cough syrup. The Eclectic physicians used it with success during the influenza epidemic of 1918-19. In modern herbalism, it is usually combined with elder and willow for fevers with aches, and with scullcap and milkweed for flu.”

Herbal Musings Old and New–Beth Trissel


 

‘Hot lavender, mints, savory, marjoram; The marigold, that goes to bed wi’ the sun, and with him rise weeping.’ ~Shakespeare, Winter’s Tale

“If you set it,
the cats will eat it,
If you sow it,
the cats don’t know it.”
~Philip Miller, The Gardener’s Dictionary, Referring to Catnip
“Salt is a preservative. It really holds flavor. For example, if you chop up some fresh herbs, or even just garlic, the salt will extract the moisture and preserve the flavor.” ~ Sally Schneider
“The Herbs ought to be distilled when they are in their greatest vigor, and so ought the Flowers also.” ~Nicholas Culpeper
“The intense perfumes of the wild herbs as we trod them underfoot made us feel almost drunk.” ~Jacqueline du Pre
“I plant rosemary all over the garden, so pleasant is it to know that at every few steps one may draw the kindly branchlets through one’s hand, and have the enjoyment of their incomparable incense; and I grow it against walls, so that the sun may draw out its inexhaustible sweetness to greet me as I pass ….”
–  Gertrude Jekyll
“There’s fennel for you, and columbines; there’s rue for you: and here’s some for me; we may call it herb of grace o’ Sundays. O! you must wear your rue with a difference.  There’s a daisy; I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died.” ~Shakespeare, Hamlet
“Thine eyes are springs in whose serene And silent waters heaven is seen. Their lashes are the herbs that look On their young figures in the brook.” ~William C. Bryant
“Waters are distilled out of Herbs, Flowers, Fruits, and Roots.”
~Nicholas Culpeper
“We have finally started to notice that there is real curative value in local herbs and remedies. In fact, we are also becoming aware that there are little or no side effects to most natural remedies, and that they are often more effective than Western medicine.”  ~Anne Wilson Schaef
“The basil tuft, that waves
Its fragrant blossom over graves.”
~Thomas Moore, Lalla Rookhm, Light of the Harem
“See how Aurora throws her fair Fresh-quilted colours through the air: Get up, sweet-slug-a-bed, and see The dew-bespangling herb and tree.” ~ Herrick, Robert ~Corinna’s Going a Maying
“As for rosemary, I let it run all over my garden walls, not
only because my bees love it but because it is the herb
sacred to remembrance and to friendship, whence a
sprig of it hath a dumb language.”
–  Sir Thomas Moore
“Eat leeks in oile and ramsines in May,
And all the year after physicians may play.”
(Ramsines were old-fashioned broad-leafed leeks.)
“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.
“When daisies pied and violets blue, and lady-smocks all silver white. And Cuckoo-buds of yellow hue, do paint the meadows with delight. ~William Shakespeare, 1595.
Women with child that eat quinces will bear wise children. ~Dodoens, 1578.
Gardening with herbs, which is becoming increasingly popular, is indulged in by those who like subtlety in their plants in preference to brilliance.”
–   Helen Morgenthau Fox
“And because the Breath of Flowers is farre Sweeter in the Aire (where it comes and Gose, like the Warbling of Musick) than in the hand, therefore nothing is more fit for delight, than to know what be the Flowers and the Plants that doe best perfume the Aire.” ~ Francis Bacon, 1625
“Caesar….saith, that all the Britons do colour themselves with Woad, which giveth a blew colour…” John Gerard, 1597
“You have got to own your days and live them, each one of them, every one of them, or else the years go right by and none of them belong to you.” ~Herb Gardner
“Once you get people laughing, they’re listening and you can tell them almost anything.” ~ Herb Gardner
(***These last two quotes snuck in here because his name is Herb Gardner, so he came up on my search and I liked them.)
Would You Marry Me?
“According to old wives’ tales, borage was sometimes
smuggled into the drink of  prospective husbands
to give them the courage to propose marriage.”
–  Mary Campbell, A Basket of Herbs
“As Rosemary is to the Spirit, so Lavender is to the Soul.”
–  Anonymous
“As for the garden of mint, the very smell of it alone recovers and refreshes our spirits, as the taste stirs up our appetite for meat.” ~   Pliny the Elder
“How could such sweet and wholesome hours
Be reckoned but with herbs and flowers?”
–  Andrew Marvel
“How I would love to be transported into a scented
Elizabethan garden with herbs and honeysuckles,  a knot garden and roses clambering over a simple arbor ….” ~Rosemary Verey
“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance;
pray, love, remember; and there is pansies,
that’s for thoughts.”
–    Shakespeare, Hamlet
“The first gatherings of the garden in May of salads, radishes and herbs made me feel like a mother about her baby – how could anything so beautiful be mine.  And this emotion of wonder filled me for each vegetable as it was gathered every year.  There is nothing that is comparable to it, as satisfactory or as thrilling, as gathering the vegetables one has grown.”
~  Alice B. Toklas

Herb Gardens of Colonial America and Williamsburg–Beth Trissel


monticello in spring


“No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.” ~Thomas Jefferson

As much as I converse with sages and heroes, they have very little of my love and admiration. I long for rural and domestic scene, for the warbling of birds and the prattling of my children.  ~John Adams

painted lady butterfly on catmint

I love old-fashioned gardens, particularly those with herbs. I grow many heirloom flowers and herbs, even included a lovely garden in my Colonial American historical romance novel set during the American Revolution, Enemy of the King. (For the post I did on the garden in the novel click here.)

apricot hollyhocks croppedHerbs and old-time flowers are in all my stories, more or less,  but back to the plants. (Image from our garden.  Photo by daughter Elise, as are all others taken of our garden from last year before the big wind tore through and knocked everything down. I’ll have to discover whether any of these heirloom apricot hollyhocks survived later this spring.)

Not only were the colonists acquiring native plants and the knowledge of their uses from American Indians, but they brought cherished plants with them from The Old World (seeds, rootstock).  By the mid to latter 1700′s, the variety of herbs and vegetables grown encompassed all those known to the Western World–or potentially could have.

The colonial kitchen garden was planted outside the back door, so these vital herbs were at the ready.  In addition to using the herbs fresh, many plants were bound together in bunches and hung upside down to dry from the kitchen rafters.  Dried roots were stored for later use. Tinctures and decoctions made from plant leaves and stems were administered in liquid form.

“Throughout colonial New England, on rural farms and in small villages, the dooryard was the focal point for many daily projects. Generally sited to receive the warm southern sun, and protected by the barn and other outbuildings from bitter northwest winds, this area was used for such activities as washing clothes, making soap and candles, chopping wood and processing meat.

The colonial woman’s dooryard garden, along with her larger vegetable gardens, was expected to provide many of the foods, flavorings, medicines and chemicals necessary for a largely self-sufficient household with little cash. Plants such as madder and woad were used to dye cloth, southernwood and pennyroyal served as insect repellents, basil and sage improved and sometimes masked the flavors of food. Since most households were isolated from medical care, herbs such as yarrow, angelica, feverfew and valerian were used to treat common ailments or aided in childbirth.”~

*For more on planting your own dooryard garden refer to the informative link above.~

I’ve read of tansy grown outside the back door to repel ants from coming into colonial homes.  Tansy is an attractive, robust herb with gold button flowers.  Be warned that it needs space, forming dense clumps. The sap attracts ants so maybe the idea is the ants cluster around the tansy and stay out of the house. Imagine the rich blend of fragrances in a colonial kitchen, the spicy scent of  dried herbs mingled with wood smoke from the hearth, the stew simmering in a big iron kettle and savory meat roasting over the flames. Delightful.  Also mentioned in my Colonial American romance novel as well as some herbal cures and treatments.

From: The Gardens of Colonial Williamsburg:

Colonists often mentioned what plants they were growing when they wrote to friends and relatives back home in Europe. Many of these letters survive and have served as a guide to planting the reconstructed gardens. Archaeologists have found seeds from some of the original plants in Williamsburg, and can do soil analysis to tell exactly what type of plant was grown in a particular spot. While most of the trees, shrubs and plants seen today in Williamsburg are authentic to the Colonial period, astute observers will notice an abundance of crepe myrtles, pruned as trees in the Southern tradition. That’s because John D. Rockefeller, who financed the restoration, loved crepe myrtles and wanted them in the restored city. And since he was paying the bills …”

“Many of Williamsburg’s gardens reflect the Dutch-English patterns, popular during the reign of William and Mary. This garden style, characterized by geometric symmetry within an enclosed space, was common in England in the late 17th and early 18th century. The emerging trend toward naturalistic gardens in contemporary England did not appeal to the settlers in Virginia, where a natural landscape did not need to be re-created. To them, a garden was nature tamed, trimmed and enclosed. Like many travelers, the colonists attempted to reproduce the homes they had left behind. Frequently they brought seeds of favorite plants and bulbs to rebuild a version of their old gardens. Garden paths were made of gravel, crushed oyster shells and bits of broken brick. Walkways paved with brick would have been too expensive.

Some favorite kitchen and medicinal herbs from Colonial America:

Basil, also called St. Josephwort, was grown for commercial use in Virginia before the American Revolution.

Used as a flavoring,  particularly in salads and soups, pea soup, the clove fragrance of basil improved the taste of foods.  Also a strewing herb.  And the leaves were dried for use in snuff  to relieve headaches and colds.  I love the fragrance and flavor of basil.  Several vintage varieties of basil are emerging from the newly seeded pots I sowed in the greenhouse a week ago. 

BEE BALM: 

(Image by daughter Elise)

Used for bee stings. Bee Balm is a member of the mint family. It is native to North America but colonists soon sent seeds to Europe for their friends to plant and enjoy. Tea brewed from its leaves was called Oswego tea and used as a substitute for china tea after the 1773 Boston Tea Party.

I am a big fan of bee balm, growing it with more or less success depending on the season.  The flowers really do attract butterflies and hummingbirds.  I set out new plants every year and have done so again this spring with high hopes that they will spread as they have done in the past but not so much in recent years. Too much drought, I suspect, even though I try to water.

CARAWAY: 

The roots were cooked and eaten like carrots, and the seeds chewed or added to cheese, fruit and baked goods.  Caraway seed is an aid to digestion. I’m not a fan of caraway.  No, not even a little bit, but included it for those of you who are, plus it’s historical.

(Image of colonial kitchen)

CATNIP:  

A tea brewed from the leaves was used to treat stomach ache and head colds. Catnip was also steeped in wine and imbibed that way. If a woman wanted to increase her fertility she might soak in a catnip sitz bath. Catnip will take over the garden if you let it, but I like the scent, and the plant, though kind of weedy, is appealing in full flower. Very cheery.

Of course, cats are big fans of catnip.They get quite intoxicated by the scent. Although this kitty seems rather relaxed. I have cats who literally roll on the catnip in the garden and nibble it. They also like the related herb catmint, pictured down below. I’ve grown catmint for years and the same plants are still there blooming faithfully each year, about late spring.       

Chamomile:

“Camomill is put to divers and sundry uses, both for pleasure and profit, both for the sick and the sound, in bathing to comfort and strengthen the sound and to ease the pain of the diseased.”~John Parkinson

Another herb commonly grown in Colonial Williamsburg was Chamomile, a lovely herb.  I grow both the lower ground cover variety and the annual reseeding kinds, known as Roman and German chamomile. In early summer the Roman chamomile forms a mat covered with daisy like flowers and the scent is delightful.  I clip off the faded flowers for regrowth and fresh blooms, but the best show is early on.

In early America, the flowers brewed into a tea were used to treat stomach complaints and dispel cold and aches.  A sugary syrup made with the flowers was thought to treat jaundice and dropsy.  Chamomile flowers in the bath are an aid to skin irritations.  It’s known as the gentle soothing herb. Chamomile is a strewing herb and insect repellent.  It’s also just darn cheerful.  A very happy herb to grow.  Lifts the spirits just to look at it and the fragrance is appealing, soothingly nice.

Chives:  

Who doesn’t like chives?  As long as you don’t get too carried away adding the chopped stems to food.  Chives flavored dishes and the flowers added color to arrangements in early America.  Onions and garlic figured prominently in treating many colonial ailments and were thought to offer protection from evil spirits.  I grow and like chives.  The purple blossoms are pretty in late spring.  I also grow a variety called garlic chives that are white when they flower later in the season, quite pretty, and add good flavor in cooking.  They also reseed freely so bear that in mind.

DILL: 

A favorite in our garden, partly because the caterpillars of the Eastern Black Swallowtail butterflies feed on the leaves and make their chrysalis on the stems, fun to watch, but also because dill smells wonderful and tastes good.  Colonial Americans grew dill to flavor stews and pickles, also for its healthful properties.  Again, another soothing herb.

They also used it to treat hiccups. But I don’t know if that works.  I don’t know that a lot of what they did worked.  It all depended on the herb and whether that plant actually possessed the properties colonists thought it did. (This image of dill in our garden is growing along with an old-fashioned poppy I got seed for from Monticello). 

HYSSOP: A popular medicinal herb in early America.  I used to grow hyssop but it died out and needs replanting.  The fragrance is potent and not altogether pleasing, but the plant is pretty.  The blooms come in pink, white or blue.  I prefer the blue color.  The colonists used hyssop tea mixed with honey and the herb ‘rue’ as an expectorant.  That doesn’t appeal to me.  I’d rather use the bruised leaves, as they did, applied with sugar to a “greene wound.”  Hyssop was thought to fight infection and to kill head lice when soaked in oil.  An oil of leaves and flowers was applied to arthritic joints.  Also used as a strewing herb.

PENNYROYAL:

Strewing herb. Flea and mosquito repellent.  I love the pungent scent of pennyroyal. After several failed attempts, pennyroyal has formed a low, fragrant mat in our garden and is spreading nicely. At least, it was, until this past winter. A few tiny patches have survived and I’m hoping it will make a comeback. It’s so very delightful. (This pic isn’t pennyroyal, but an image of a butterfly on flowering catmint as mentioned above)

MINTS: 

We have a variety of mints on a determined march to the sea in our yard and garden but we love the intoxicating scent and mint tea is a huge favorite, so we pull only a little of it out.  In colonial America, they drank spearmint to comfort the nerves.  I should also think as an aid to the stomach which the mint family is rightly known for.  In cooking, mint was boiled with fish or dried and added with pennyroyal to puddings and green peas. Also a strewing herb. And I can certainly see why! (Image of apple mint).

PARSLEY: 

I like the flat leaf variety and grow it.  Parsley was used in early America to dispel the gamey taste from wild meats, like venison. The boiled roots were thought to remove “obstructions of the liver” and to promote urine production. 

(This image of parsley in our garden shows it growing beside asparagus and black-eyed Susans.)

ROSEMARY:

A pot of this herb grows in my window, but several have made it through the winter this year with protection. Rosemary was important in colonial times and popular in Williamsburg. An oil made from the flowers was applied to restore eyesight and remove spots and scars on the skin. Compresses of the leaves and oils were used for the head and heart to relieve painful joints and muscles, or “sinews.”

Rosemary was often potted up and kept inside for the winter. The farther north you live the less likely you are to see rosemary in flower.  I seldom get the plants to that size.  Rosemary isn’t happy inside in winter here, but clings to life.

HOREHOUND: 

Used to make a cough syrup. Often used with honey and other herbs. Mixed with plaintain for snakebites. Soaked in fresh milk to repel flies. The leaves are used for flavoring beer, cough drops, honey and for making tea.  I have grown horehound and the plants definitely need room to spread.  I love horehound drops.  It does sooth the throat.

 LAVENDER:

Strewing herb and insect repellent.  Essential in English lavender water.  Recipes found their way to colonial America, as did the plants.  Lavender blossoms have long been dried and used in sachets and potpourri to freshen clothes, linens, rooms,  and to repel insects.  An excellent site on English Lavender Water and more on the herb. *Used to rinse hair.

“This light, refreshing potion is perhaps the oldest known and most frequently used lavender product. Recipes for it were exchanged by women of the Roman era, books throughout Europe and Colonial America. Ours is classic English lavender infused with fresh floral and citrus notes.”

I definitely want a bottle or two. I love lavender, am forever planting new varieties trying to get some to survive our winters.  We have heavy soil, so am amending that and someone suggested growing the lavender in among stones that hold heat to warm the plants.  *Images of lavender in our garden.  The wooden stakes we use not only help support sagging plants but also discourage large farm dogs from sitting on them.  So we use a lot of stakes and large sticks fallen from various trees.  Also called ‘marking sticks’ so we remember where we’ve planted a row of seeds or new seedling.

fuzzy sage with blue larkspurSAGE:

“Why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden?” ~ Old English proverb

A favorite in our garden, sage has been grown for untold ages, as have all these herbs.  Sage was a culinary favorite in colonial America, and soon gained popularity with Native Americans, and was an important  medicinal herb for a plethora of illnesses.  As a spring tonic to cleanse the body, colonists fasted on sage with butter and parsley. Sage brewed into an ale was given to women to aid in delivery.  Sage has may other uses, as a tea sweetened with honey for sore throat or as a gargle.  Sage reduces perspiration and was used for fevers. And so on. (Image of fuzzy sage and larkspur in our garden)

THYME:

I love thyme.  We grow many varieties.  The species of thyme grown by the colonists was an upright, wild variety that survived the cold winters.  I need to find this one. The best I can do is the English thyme which seems to be hardier than the French. Some of the creeping thymes do well here. Colonists used thyme for melancholy, spleenic conditions, flatulence and toothache. (One of several kinds of creeping thyme we grow in our garden).

A wonderful sounding book that I would like to get is Flowers and Herbs of Early America~
It’s a beautiful big hardback book and rather pricey so we shall see. Recommended by the Colonial Williamsburg Historical Society–available at the Amazon link above.

This past summer I purchased two lovely hardback books while visiting in Colonial Williamsburg:The Gardens of Colonial Williamsburg by Kent Brinkley and Gordon Chappell. And, Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way by Wesley Greene.

18th century methods for producing herbal remedies:

Tincture: herb is soaked in alcohol, strained and used.

Decoction: This method was used for tougher parts of the herb plants, the roots, stem and bark. The herb is boiled in water until water is reduced by 1/2 to 1/3.

Infusion: Immersing the herb in water as in tea.

Distilled: Infusing the herb with water, boiling same and catching the condensed steam. Makes a condensed form of an infusion.

From COLONIAL USE OF HERBS:

We contemporaries must understand the basis on which decisions were made in early America. Colonists based portions of their world view on teachings of early Greek writers. Theories about alchemy and astrology and concepts such as the four cardinal humors influenced many of the colonists’ agricultural, dietary and medical practices. The four cardinal humors were the body fluids: blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. The conditions and proportions of these affected the physical and mental health of the individual.

There were thought to be four basic human temperaments:

  • Yellow bile or choler – hot and dry, characterized by a fiery nature and a bilious complexion.
  • Phlegmatic (phlegm) – cold and moist, characterized by apathy and a pale complexion.
  • Melancholic (black bile or choler) – cold and dry, characterized by depression and sullenness.
  • Sanguine (blood) – hot and moist, characterized by great appetites and capacities, and a ruddy complexion.

The educated colonist would study an herbal, a book containing the names and descriptions of herbs, or plants in general, with their properties and virtues. The earliest herbal written in the English language was published in London in 1525. Additionally, much knowledge was passed along from parent to child, since many colonists were illiterate.

Most herbals listed the qualities of temperature of each plant – hot, cold, dry and moist – paralleling the four elements – fire, air, earth and water. These characteristics were said to be reflected in the human temperament.

In almost all individuals one humor was thought to dominate the personality. There were certain potential health disorders or imbalances associated with each humor. For example, the sanguine person was believed to be amusing and good-natured, but prone to overindulgence. Diarrhea or gout could be a problem for such an individual, so cool, dry herbs like burdock or figwort were used to cleanse the system.

Overly cooling foods were given when a patient had a fever, but those same foods were considered unsafe if consumed by a well person. Foods had to be combined to produce the proper combination for a healthy person.Melons were chilling, so they were served with ginger or pepper, warming spices. Lettuce was cold and moist, so hot and dry pepper, hot and moist olive oil and cold and dry vinegar dressed it. Vinegar, itself, was considered cooling, so it had to be enhanced with peppercorns, coriander seeds or other warmers. Otherwise, vinegar would “make leane” and cause melancholy.

young girls in colonial garb at historic farmAnother old idea of the period was the “Doctrine of Signatures” or “Law of Similars”. This was the notion that a plant looked like the human organ or symptom of the disease it could benefit. Plants containing a milky juice, like lettuce, were thought to “propogate milk in nursing mothers”. The walnut, which looks somewhat like a brain, when properly prepared and laid upon the crown of the head, was said to comfort “the brain and head mightily”.

The use of herbs and plants in the colonial household was carefully decided based on the knowledge and observations of the time.

 A very interesting article on  Apothecary Herbal Healing“Before pharmacists, there were apothecaries. During the Colonial period in America, apothecaries dispensed medicines, including herbal remedies. Apothecaries functioned as pharmacists and doctors. Their skills with herbs made apothecaries reliable resources for people seeking healing from any ailment. 

herbs_pennyroyalApothecary gardens  (link to a site that tells how to plant one) provided herbs to aid healing. The art of apothecary continues in the modern era. Herbalists grow their own herbs and treat ailments just as their colonial foremothers-and fathers. The term, apothecary, came to be used for the store where the apothecary operated. Apothecaries are the ancestors of modern pharmacies or drug stores.”~

***In conclusion, herbal treatments may or may not have been administered based on an actual knowledge of how that plant’s properties affected a particular condition.  Some remedies were tried and true while superstition influenced other supposed treatments and cures.

For more on Colonial Herbs and their uses visit: http://www.chaddsfordhistory.org/history/herbs4.htm

 

*Pics are from our garden,  Colonial Williamsburg, Monticello, and Mt. Vernon. All images are royalty free.