Tag Archives: Kitchen garden

Rosemary and Remembering


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

rosemary-in-pot-outdoors-with-lavender-and-geranium-jpg1

Rosemary is one of my favorite herbs, mostly just because. I rarely cook with it, but I love its scent and the wealth of history behind it. The scent is said to stimulate memory so I sniff it frequently and carry little sprigs with me. I have a large potted plant growing in my sun space now that I’ve kept going for several years. In summer, it stays outdoors, but our Shenandoah Valley winters are too cold for the plants to survive. I brought it back in this week.

Known as the herb of remembrance from the time of ancient Greece, rosemary appears in that immoral verse by Shakespeare. My fascination with herbs plays a significant role in my ghostly murder mystery 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. I just completed a paranormal time travel romance, Somewhere My Lady, with flavors of Somewhere My Love, but different. The new addition to my Somewhere in Time series will release in the new year.

A Modern Herbal by Maud Grieve, a wonderful source of herbal lore as well as practical information on the medicinal uses and growing requirements for a myriad of plants, is an invaluable guide. I have volumes one and two of Ms. Grieve’s work and can easily lose myself in their pages. She refers to her herbal as modern, and in comparison to the ancient herbalists it is, but A Modern Herbal is charmingly quaint and published in the early 20th century.

Regarding Rosemary, she says,

Rosemary1The Ancients were well acquainted with the shrub, which had a reputation for strengthening the memory. On this account it became the emblem of fidelity for lovers. It holds a special position among herbs from the symbolism attached to it. Not only was it used at weddings, but also at funerals, for decking churches and banqueting halls at festivals, as incense in religious ceremonies, and in magical spells.

At weddings, it was entwined in the wreath worn by the bride, being first dipped into scented water. Anne of Cleves, we are told, wore such a wreath at her wedding. A Rosemary branch, richly gilded and tied with silken ribands of all colours, was also presented to wedding guests, as a symbol of love and loyalty. Together with an orange stuck with cloves it was given as a New Year‘s gift…

rosemaryIn early times, Rosemary was freely cultivated in kitchen gardens and came to represent the dominant influence of the house mistress ‘Where Rosemary flourished, the woman ruled.’

The Treasury of Botany says:

‘There is a vulgar belief in Gloucestershire and other counties, that Rosemary will not grow well unless where the mistress is “master”; and so touchy are some of the lords of creation upon this point, that we have more than once had reason to suspect them of privately injuring a growing rosemary in order to destroy this evidence of their want of authority.’ (Meanie heads.)
Rosemary was one of the cordial herbs used to flavour ale and wine. It was also used in Christmas decoration.

“Down with the rosemary and so,
Down with the baies and mistletoe,
Down with the holly, ivie all
Wherewith ye deck the Christmas Hall.”—HERRICK.

Rosemary Christmas Trees

rosemary-decorated-for-christmas (1)Although an herb, rosemary is often shaped into lovely miniature Christmas trees. The plant is well suited for this purpose as its essential oils produce a scent similar to pine trees and it has a natural evergreen shape and needle-like leaves.

If you purchase a rosemary plant whether as a Christmas tree or for your indoor herb garden, remember it needs good light and moderate watering. Allow the soil to dry before re-watering to avoid root rot. The most common cause of death for potted rosemary is over watering. In spring transfer your rosemary to a clay pot. The clay will help wick excess water out of the soil. Fertilize monthly to maintain health. To this advice I add that you can also kill them by allowing the plant to dry out, so don’t do that either.

Because rosemary is native to the hot, dry hills of the Mediterranean, growing it indoors can be a problem. You may find you get more dense vigorous growth if it is kept outside during most of the year. Trim the plant periodically to preserve the Christmas tree shape.

And God bless us everyone.

***Rosemary Christmas Trees are available from Jackson & Perkins.

‘Tis the Season for Rosemary


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

Rosemary is one of my favorite herbs, mostly just because. I rarely cook with it, but love its scent 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 major role in my ghostly murder mystery 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.

A Modern Herbal by Maud Grieve, a wonderful source of herbal lore as well as practical information on the medicinal uses and growing requirements for a myriad of plants, is an invaluable guide. I have volumes one and two of Ms. Grieve’s work and can easily lose myself in their pages. She refers to her herbal as modern, and in comparison to the ancient herbalists it is, but A Modern Herbal is charmingly quaint and published in the early 20th century.

Regarding Rosemary, she says,

The Ancients were well acquainted with the shrub, which had a reputation for strengthening the memory. On this account it became the emblem of fidelity for lovers. It holds a special position among herbs from the symbolism attached to it. Not only was it used at weddings, but also at funerals, for decking churches and banqueting halls at festivals, as incense in religious ceremonies, and in magical spells.

At weddings, it was entwined in the wreath worn by the bride, being first dipped into scented water. Anne of Cleves, we are told, wore such a wreath at her wedding. A Rosemary branch, richly gilded and tied with silken ribands of all colours, was also presented to wedding guests, as a symbol of love and loyalty. Together with an orange stuck with cloves it was given as a New Year‘s gift…

In early times, Rosemary was freely cultivated in kitchen gardens and came to represent the dominant influence of the house mistress ‘Where Rosemary flourished, the woman ruled.’

The Treasury of Botany says: ‘There is a vulgar belief in Gloucestershire and other counties, that Rosemary will not grow well unless where the mistress is “master”; and so touchy are some of the lords of creation upon this point, that we have more than once had reason to suspect them of privately injuring a growing rosemary in order to destroy this evidence of their want of authority.’ (Meanie heads.)

Bay-RosemaryRosemary was one of the cordial herbs used to flavour ale and wine. It was also used in Christmas decoration.

“Down with the rosemary and so,

Down with the baies and mistletoe,

Down with the holly, ivie all

Wherewith ye deck the Christmas Hall.”—HERRICK.

Rosemary Christmas TreeRosemary Christmas Trees

Although an herb, rosemary is often shaped into lovely miniature Christmas trees. The plant is well suited for this purpose as its essential oils produce a scent similar to pine trees and it has a natural evergreen shape and needle-like leaves.

If you purchase a rosemary plant whether as a Christmas tree or for your indoor herb garden, remember it needs good light and moderate watering. Allow the soil to dry before re-watering to avoid root rot. The most common cause of death for potted rosemary is over watering. In spring transfer your rosemary to a clay pot. The clay will help wick excess water out of the soil. Fertilize monthly to maintain health. To this advice I add that you can also kill them by allowing the plant to dry out, so don’t do that either.

Because rosemary is native to the hot, dry hills of the Mediterranean, growing it indoors can be a problem. You may find you get more dense vigorous growth if it is kept outside during most of the year. Trim the plant periodically to preserve the Christmas tree shape.~

 

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.

Herbs of Early America and Colonial Williamsburg


“Why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden?” — Old English proverb
I love old-fashioned gardens, particularly those with herbs.  I grow many heirloom flowers and herbs, even  included a lovely garden in my award-winning  Colonial American romance novel set during the American Revolution entitled Enemy of the King.  Herbs 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.)
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 highly 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 Enemy of the King, as well as some herbal cures and treatments.
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 colonial kitchen and medicinal herbs:
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.  A few plants linger here in my garden in the Shenandoah Valley but the first frost will take them anytime now that October is in full swing and a chill wind blowing.
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.  I read 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.
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 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. I’m very pleased.
(Not 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 s and black-eyed Susan.)
ROSEMARY:
A pot of this herb grows in my window in winter, out in the garden now.  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.
From Crabtree and Evelyn: “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.
SAGE:
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 (soon gaining popularity with Native Americans) and 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).
For more on colonial herbs & their uses:
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.
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.
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.
Another 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. Apothecary 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.
*Pics are from our garden,  Colonial Williamsburg, Monticello, and Mt. Vernon. All images are royalty free.

What do Allergies, Herbs, and History All Have in Common?


Me.  Most definitely.

Being passionate about the past, I relish a connection to those who’ve gone before us.  I’m fascinated with history and love old homes, historic sites, all that ties us to the richness of bygone ages.  Intrigued with herbal lore, I often use it in my writing.  Herbs influenced every facet of life in pre-modern times and have changed little over the centuries.  When I hold an aromatic sprig of rosemary in my hand, I’m touching the same plant beloved by the ancients. Some heirloom roses hail from the glory days of Rome.

Amazing.  Awe inspiring.   At least to me, and I suspect to many of you as well.

To further that sense of oneness, and for their many uses, I grow a variety of herbs.  Thyme, basil, sage, and chives are a few in my kitchen garden.  Lavender and scented geraniums are wonderful for their scent alone.  Ladies once wafted the delicate perfume of toilet water.  Porcelain bowls filled with colorful potpourri scented musty parlors.

Before taking the leap into penning historical novels, I wrote vignettes on rural life. I’ve compiled these into a memoir on gardening and country life, Shenandoah Watercolors, a 2012 EPIC eBOOK Award finalist available in kindle at Amazon.

At one time, I had a modest herb business and gave talks on herbal lore to local groups much as Julia Maury did in my light paranormal romance Somewhere My Love.

Back to my herbal enterprise, with the faithful assistance of my long-suffering mother we grew and dried herbs and flowers for wreath making and potpourri which we sold in the fall.  Herbs and heirloom flower seedlings were raised in the small greenhouse my hubby built me and sold in the spring.  Any profits were swiftly overrun by subsequent visits to the allergist,whom I’ve seen regularly for years now and still get four shots at a crack.  It seems I developed every allergy latent within me by exposure to all these pollens.

*Note, If you’re allergic to ragweed, avoid an herb called Sweet Annie and the Artemisia family.  But I’m considered to rank in the top ten percent of allergy sufferers in the nation, so what are the odds of that?

After being run indoors and my gardening curtailed, I took up writing and have used my love of plants there.  I’m still an avid gardener, though with shots, meds and limits.  Is it spring yet?  My nose says yes. :)

Herbs Of Colonial Williamsburg and Early America


I love old-fashioned gardens, particularly those with herbs.  I grow many of my own heirloom flowers and herbs, even  included a lovely garden in my award-winning  Colonial American romance novel set during the American Revolution entitled Enemy of the King.  Actually, herbs 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.)

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 and 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.

From: Dooryard Garden Colonial Herbs:

“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 highly 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 Enemy of the King, 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 colonial kitchen and medicinal herbs:

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.  A few plants linger here in my garden in the Shenandoah Valley but the first frost will take them anytime now that October is in full swing and a chill wind blowing.

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 was 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.

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.

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.  I read 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.

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 below.  I’ve grown catmint for years and the same plants are still there blooming faithfully each year, about late spring.         

“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 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. I haven’t had success in getting it to live for some reason.  Need to try again.

(Image of butterfly on flowering catmint 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.

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 s and black-eyed Susan.)

ROSEMARY: A pot of this herb is growing in my window.  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.

From Crabtree and Evelyn: “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.  *Image of lavender with roses 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.

SAGE:

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 (soon gaining popularity with Native Americans) and also 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).

For more on colonial herbs and their uses:http://www.chaddsfordhistory.org/history/herbs4.htm

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.

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:

To understand the colonial use of herbs, we contemporaries must understand the basis on which decisions were made. 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.

Another 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. Apothecary gardens 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.
*Pics are from our garden,  Colonial Williamsburg, Monticello, and Mt. Vernon. One of an old apothecary desk laden with supplies

A Perfect Summer’s Day In The Garden


“It’s the longest day of the year, one to bottle and take out when November is come and the day ends at 5:00. I will tip the bottle over and pour liquid sunlight all over the gray autumnal shadows as they seep over the hills and into the meadow…the scents too, new mown hay, lavender, attar of roses, and the gleeful chatter of birds.” ~ Beth Trissel, from my nonfiction book,  Shenandoah Watercolors

While the light was pure this morning, my talented art major daughter took some pictures of the garden.  This is of our double-flowered apricot hollyhocks.

“This morning glows like a green-gold sun drop and every blade of grass glistens in the light. The newly washed spires of larkspur stand tall to greet the day. Fellows on every side, yellow lilies, bright-eyed pansies, lavender candytuft, crimson yarrow, and white asters all sit up straighter as if answering an unspoken summons and shine. Is it magic or June in the Valley? Is there a difference? ” ~ Shenandoah Watercolors

“Several plants reign supreme because of Elise. ‘Magic flowers,’ yellow evening primrose, have taken over a generous quadrant at the edge of the vegetable garden. She rushes me out at twilight to view the wonder as they pop open, charged with fragrance. Hummingbird moths swoop in like little fairies to feed on the blossoms.

She doesn’t like the bats that also come. I love the nighthawks. Dill is also taking over because black swallowtail butterflies lay their eggs on its leaves and hatch into little caterpillars which she watches closely, puts some into jars and feeds until they make a chrysalis, then one day they emerge with wet crumpled wings and she releases them to the sky.

I feel a bit like those uncertain butterflies, taking those first tentative flights. “~ Shenandoah Watercolors

“The best place to seek God is in a garden.  You can dig for him there.”  ~George Bernard Shaw

“Brilliant yellow gold finches streaked across the garden today and landed on the fence beside the hollyhocks. I love these birds, one of my absolute favorites. In midsummer, when the sunflowers bloom, they gather in chattering clusters to feed on the seeds. Their wings flash in the sun as they suspend on flower heads and peck away, and meticulously open each seed. I’ve never heard such euphoric birds, continually exclaiming over their finds. They have a lot to say and do not keep secrets well.

If I were to confide in birds, it would not be them, or to crows, loudly proclaiming the latest gossip. Warblers are fairy creatures, but not silent fairies. Possibly to wolves––no. They howl. Frogs croak and gribbit. Turtles are quiet. Tell all to turtles, then. Box or painted ones. Snappers are treacherous and would as soon bite you as listen.” ~ Shenandoah Watercolors

“The larkspur is in full bloom, a sea of blue and pink spires rise above a mass of poppies. Delphinium is a more glorious shade of blue but I lost so many blooms to gusting winds and winter cold that I finally became discouraged with cultivating those beauties. And so I content myself with larkspur, simpler but a survivor as are so many of the old heirloom flowers. Someday I will be an heirloom. Maybe I already am. But there are not many people in this world like me as there are seedlings of larkspur. ” ~Shenandoah Watercolors

*Note, I recently took the plunge and planted more delphinium seedlings, so we shall see.  One must try and nurture that which we love.

“I’ve enough spare flowers to fill a meadow and make butterflies and bees giddy with delight, but who would tend them? Only the most ‘satisfactory’ plants could compete with the grass and weeds that would choke them out. How do wild flowers survive? Queen Ann’s lace, tiny red poppies, and blue chicory run free along our unruly roadsides. Orange day lilies too, but they are tough with gnarly roots.”~Shenandoah Watercolors 

“A sea of herbs and flowers continually change with the season. Some perennials are lost each winter and new ones are planted by Elise and me, others by the birds. I’ve a wild aster that blooms in late spring, covered with small white flowers. It’s very pretty really, although hard to contain. I like white flowers. They glow at dusk while all else fades. ” ~Shenandoah Watercolors

“Earth laughs in flowers.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I’m particularly drawn to the heirloom varieties and the English cottage garden look. Even with these fairly trouble free plants it still takes considerable effort to fight the weeds and curtail the extremely aggressive flowers.

Years ago, I met a gardener who referred to the varieties that take over the garden on their march to the sea as ‘highly successful.’  So are weeds. The beds I tend could never be called orderly and can best be described as a happy confusion of plants. And we’ve nothing to sit on outside, so one simply strolls about and then comes back indoors. And one works one’s tail off.”~ Shenandoah Watercolors

“My job? To tend this bit of earth, but mostly to savor and learn.”~

*Roman Chamomile and Evening Primrose

Shenandoah Watercolors is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble~

Herbal Lore, History, and Allergies


Being passionate about the past, I relish a connection to those who’ve gone before us.  I’m fascinated with history and love old homes, historic sites, all that ties us to the richness of bygone ages.  Intrigued with herbal lore, I often use it in my writing.  Herbs influenced every facet of life in pre-modern times and have changed little over the centuries. When I hold an aromatic sprig of rosemary in my hand, I’m touching the same plant beloved by the ancients. Some heirloom roses hail from the glory days of Rome.

To further that sense of oneness, and for their many uses, I grow a variety of herbs.  Thyme, basil, sage, and chives are a few in my kitchen garden.  Lavender and scented geraniums are wonderful for their scent alone.  Ladies once wafted the delicate perfume of toilet water.  Porcelain bowls filled with colorful potpourri scented musty parlors.

Before taking the leap into penning historical novels, I wrote vignettes on rural life. I’ve compiled these into a memoir on gardening and country life, Shenandoah Watercolors, a 2012 EPIC eBOOK Award finalist available in kindle at Amazon.

At one time, I had a modest herb business and gave talks on herbal lore to local groups much as Julia Maury did in my light paranormal romance Somewhere My Love.

Back to my herbal enterprise, with the faithful assistance of my long-suffering mother we grew and dried herbs and flowers for wreath making and potpourri which we sold in the fall.  Herbs and heirloom flower seedlings were raised in the small greenhouse my hubby built me and sold in the spring.  Any profits were swiftly overrun by subsequent visits to the allergist,whom I’ve seen regularly for years now and still get four shots at a crack.  It seems I developed every allergy latent within me by exposure to all these pollens.  *Note, If you’re allergic to ragweed, avoid an herb called Sweet Annie and the Artemisia family.  But I’m considered to rank in the top ten percent of allergy sufferers in the nation, so what are the odds of that?

After being run indoors and my gardening curtailed, I took up writing and have used my love of plants there.  I’m still an avid gardener, though with shots, meds and limits.  Is it spring yet?  My nose says yes. 🙂

About Thyme


“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows
Quite overcanopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with elgantine.” ~ Shakespeare

Thyme: We love thyme and grow many different varieties…the creeping sorts with their various scents, lemon, nutmeg,  caraway…the woolly kind that feels fuzzy beneath your fingers, the silver-edged and standard varieties that grow in the shape of small shrubs, all ideal for the front of the perennial flower border.  However they don’t always survive our winters her in the Shenandoah Valley so we are frequently adding new plants.  It’s safe to say we’re mad about thyme.

From A Modern Herbal:

The Garden Thyme is an ‘improved’ cultivated form of the Wild Thyme of the mountains of Spain and other European countries bordering on the Mediterranean, flourishing also in Asia Minor, Algeria and Tunis, and is a near relation to our own Wild Thyme (Thymus serpyllum), which has broader leaves (the margins not reflexed as in the Garden Thyme) and a weaker odour.

It is cultivated now in most countries with temperate climates, though we do not know at what period it was first introduced into northern countries. It was certainly commonly cultivated in England before the middle of the sixteenth century, and is figured and described by Gerard.

Description: T. vulgaris is a perennial with a woody, fibrous root. The plant has an agreeable aromatic smell and a warm pungent taste. The fragrance of its leaves is due to an essential oil, which gives it its flavouring value for culinary purposes, and is also the source of its medicinal properties. It is in flower from May to August.

There are three varieties usually grown for use, the broad-leaved, narrow-leaved and variegated: the narrow-leaved, with small, greyish-green leaves, is more aromatic than the broad-leaved, and is also known as Winter or German Thyme. The fragrant Lemon Thyme, likewise grown in gardens, has a lemon flavour, and rather broader leaves than the ordinary Garden Thyme, is not recurved at the margins, and ranks as a variety of T. serpyllum, the Wild Thyme. It is of a more trailing habit and of still smaller growth than the common Garden Thyme, and keeps its foliage better in the winter, though is generally considered to be not as hardy as the common Thyme. Another variety, the Silver Thyme, is the hardiest of all and has perhaps the best flavour. There is a variety, also, called the Orange Thyme, which Dr. Kitchener, in The Cook’s Oracle, describes as a delicious herb that deserves to be better known. This and other varieties of Thyme, including the Caraway Thyme, which was used to rub the baron of beef, before it was roasted, and so came to be called ‘Herbe Baronne,’ are all worth cultivating.

The name Thyme, in its Greek form, was first given to the plant by the Greeks as a derivative of a word which meant ‘to fumigate,’ either because they used it as incense, for its balsamic odour, or because it was taken as a type of all sweet-smelling herbs. Others derive the name from the Greek word thumus, signifying courage, the plant being held in ancient and mediaeval days to be a great source of invigoration, its cordial qualities inspiring courage. The antiseptic properties of Thyme were fully recognized in classic times, there being a reference in Virgil’s Georgics to its use as a fumigator, and Pliny tells us that, when burnt, it puts to flight all venomous creatures.

Lady Northcote (in The Herb Garden) says that among the Greeks, Thyme denoted graceful elegance; ‘to smell of Thyme’ was an expression of praise, applied to those whose style was admirable. It was an emblem of activity, bravery and energy, and in the days of chivalry it was the custom for ladies to embroider a bee hovering over a sprig of Thyme on the scarves they presented to their knights. In the south of France, Wild Thyme is a symbol of extreme Republicanism, tufts of it being sent with the summons to a Republican meeting.

This little plant, so familiar also in its wild form, has never been known in England by any familiar name, though occasionally ‘Thyme’ is qualified in some way, such as ‘Running Thyme,’ or ‘Mother-of-Thyme.’ ‘Mother Thyme’ was probably derived from the use of the plant in uterine disorders, in the same way that ‘Motherwort’ (Leonurus Cardiaca) has received its popular name for use in domestic medicine.

The affection of bees for Thyme is well known and the fine flavour of the honey of Mount Hymettus near Athens was said to be due to the Wild Thyme with which it was covered (probably T. vulgaris), the honey from this spot being of such especial flavour and sweetness that in the minds and writings of the Ancients, sweetness and Thyme were indissolubly united. ‘Thyme, for the time it lasteth, yieldeth most and best honie and therefor in old time was accounted chief,’ says an old English writer. Large clumps of either Garden or Wild Thyme may with advantage be grown in the garden about 10 feet away from the hives.

Though apparently not in general use as a culinary herb among the ancients, it was employed by the Romans to give an aromatic flavour to cheese (and also to liqueurs)

According to Culpepper, Thyme is: ‘a noble strengthener of the lungs, as notable a one as grows, nor is there a better remedy growing for hooping cough. It purgeth the body of phlegm and is an excellent remedy for shortness of breath. It is so harmless you need not fear the use of it. An ointment made of it takes away hot swellings and warts, helps the sciatica and dullness of sight and takes away any pains and hardness of the spleen: it is excellent for those that are troubled with the gout and the herb taken anyway inwardly is of great comfort to the stomach.’

Gerard says it will ‘cure sciatica and pains in the head,’ and is healing in leprosy and the falling sickness.

Oil of Thyme is employed as a rubefacient and counter-irritant in rheumatism, etc. Thyme enters into the formula for Herb Tobacco, and employed in this form is good for digestion, headache and drowsiness. In Perfumery, Essence of Thyme is used for cosmetics and rice powder. It is also used for embalming corpses. The dried flowers have been often used in the same way as lavender, to preserve linen from insects.

In this country, Thyme is principally in request for culinary requirements, for its use in flavouring stuffings, sauces, pickles, stews, soups, jugged hare, etc. The Spaniards infuse it in the pickle with which they preserve their olives.

All the different species of Thyme and Marjoram yield fragrant oils extensively used by manufacturing perfumers for scenting soaps. When dried and ground, they enter into the composition of sachet powders.

THYMOL, a most valuable crystalline phenol, is the basis of the fragrant volatile Essence of Sweet Thyme.  Thymol is a powerful antiseptic for both internal and external use; it is also employed as a deodorant and local anesthetic. It is extensively used to medicate gauze and wool for surgical dressings. It resembles carbolic acid in its action, but is less irritant to wounds, while its germicidal action is greater. It is therefore preferable as a dressing and during recent years has been one of the most extensively used antiseptics. (*By recent wars, I think she means WW1 and WW11).~

Herbs of Colonial Williamsburg and Early America


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 and 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.

From Dooryard Garden Colonial Herbs:

“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 highly 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.

From The Gardens of Colonial Williamsburg:

Topiary

“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.

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 …”~

Some favorite colonial kitchen and medicinal herbs:

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.  A few plants linger here in my garden in the Shenandoah Valley but the first frost will take them anytime now that October is in full swing and a chill wind blowing.

BEE BALM
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 was 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.

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.

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.  I read 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.

CHAMOMILE

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 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.

Chives

Flavored dishes and the flowers added color to arrangements.  Onions and garlic figured prominently in treating many colonial ailments and were thought to offer protection from evil spirits.  I grow and like chives.

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.

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. I haven’t had success in getting it to live for some reason.  Need to try again.

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.

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.

ROSEMARY: A pot of this herb is growing in my window.  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.

From Crabtree and Evelyn: “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.

SAGE: 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 (soon gaining popularity with Native Americans) and also 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.

THYME: I love thyme and 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.

For more on colonial herbs and their uses: http://www.chaddsfordhistory.org/history/herbs4.htm

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.

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:

To understand the colonial use of herbs, we contemporaries must understand the basis on which decisions were made.

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.

Another 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. Apothecary gardens 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.
*Pics are from Colonial Williamsburg, Monticello, and Mt. Vernon