Tag Archives: Plants For A Medieval Herb Garden in the British Isles

Meadowsweet–Fascinating Herbal Lore


Fragrant meadowsweet is a beautiful white flowering herb with fern-like foliage. A form of meadowsweet grows in our Virginia Mountains, but I don’t see it in the Shenandoah Valley, nor have I grown it in my garden(s). Common in the British Isles, it’s called the Queen of the Meadow, Meadow-Wort, Bridewort, and Meadsweet… The plant blooms from early summer to fall and is native to Europe and western Asia, but has been widely naturalized elsewhere from the earliest times. Meadowsweet was found in Bronze Age (4,000 year-old) burial sites in the Orkneys, Scotland, and Wales, both in plant form and honey mead detected in vessels. The herb was sacred in the far distant past and fresh flowers were left on graves and in mead as tributes for the departed.

(Meadowsweet flowering along beck near Conistone, North Yorkshire. Image from Wikipedia)

Meadowsweet pollen was found in a stone cairn alongside the cremated remains of a young girl above Lake Llyn-y-Fan Fach that lies below the Peak of Black Mountain in Wales. Pottery and flint tools were also discovered with her. Probably no connection, but an ancient legend says a mysterious beautiful lady came out of the waters of Llyn-y-Fan Fach and taught the first of the Physicians about the healing power of plants. They are called The Physicians of Myddfai, and make their first appearance in the Middle Ages. The last of their line died out in the 1800’s, when the story of The Lady of the Lake was first recorded. According to the Lady of the Lake and the Physicians of Myddfai, it’s possible that the Carmarthenshire village of Myddfai may be the birthplace of modern medicine. The legend says this dynasty of herbalists lived and worked there in the 11th and 12th centuries, and some say with magical powers. For more, check out the link above.

In Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale, meadowsweet is known as Meadwort and was one of fifty ingredients in a drink called ‘Save’–must have been an amazing cure-all. The name Bridewort comes from its use as a strewing herb in churches at weddings and often as a bridal garland. Queen Elizabeth 1 favored meadowsweet as her choicest strewing herb in the sixteenth century, but its use far predates the queen.

The entire plant has a pleasing aroma and taste which led to its use in flavoring wines, beers, vinegars, and the ancient honey mead (herbal honey-wine). The dried flowers are added to potpourri. Fresh flowers lend a subtle almond flavor to stewed fruit and jam.

According to A Modern Herbal, meadowsweet (Spiraea Ulmaria) is collected in July, when in full flower. Infuse 1 ounce of the dried herb in a pint of water, sweeten with honey, and administer in wineglassful doses for invalids or for regular use.

Medicinally, meadowsweet (aka Filipendula ulmaria) has a long use in pain relief and is a source of salicylic acid, the basis of aspirin, but in a form that causes less stomach upset than other plant sources. Meadowsweet, Spiraea ulmaria, was made into Bayer aspirin in 1887. Historically, it has also been used for soothing an acidic stomach and calming diarrhea. Simply put, ‘it’s a cooling, aromatic and astringent herb that relieves pain’.(http://www.herbalremediesadvice.org/meadowsweet-herb.html). ***Not to be imbibed by anyone allergic to or intolerant of aspirin. (Image from Wikipedia)

Meadowsweet, water-mint (also known as marsh mint, grows near water, its strong scent not as pleasingly fragrant as other mints), and vervain were the three herbs held most sacred by the Druids. They also had sacred trees which I have touched on in other posts. For those interested in Druids, a useful site on Meadowsweet and Druid Plant Lore is: http://www.druidry.org/druid-way/teaching-and-practice/druid-plant-lore

A beautiful post on meadowsweet: https://whisperingearth.co.uk/2012/07/06/meadowsweet-queen-of-the-meadow-queen-of-the-ditch/

For more on herbs, you might be interested in my book, Plants for a Medieval Herb Garden in the British Isles, available in kindle and print at Amazon.

An illustrated collection of plants that could have been grown in a Medieval Herb or Physic Garden in the British Isles. The major focus of this work is England and Scotland, but also touches on Ireland and Wales. Information is given as to the historic medicinal uses of these plants and the rich lore surrounding them. Journey back to the days when herbs figured into every facet of life, offering relief from the ills of this realm and protection from evil in all its guises.

Old English Roses


Excerpt from my herbal, Plants for a Medieval Herb Garden in the British Isles:

rosebud

(Old fashioned rosebud)

The English Tudor Rose is the heraldic floral emblem of England. The red rose was the badge of the House of Lancaster during the English War of the Roses. The badge for the House of York was the white rose. When Henry V11 took the crown of England from Richard 111 in battle, 1485, he ended that particular war. He introduced the Tudor rose, combining a red rose, representing the House of Lancaster, and a white rose, representing the House of York, as a symbol of unity after the English civil wars of the 15th century which later came to be called the Wars of the Roses.

The exact species of the Lancaster’s Red Rose is uncertain, but it’s thought to be Rosa gallica officinalis, also known as the Apothecary’s Rose, possibly the first cultivated rose. We used to have this ancient variety, but it finally succumbed to a hard winter and needs to be replaced.

Galica Rose

Rosa gallica officinalis

“My wild Irish Rose,

The sweetest flow’r that grows.” ~Chauncey Olcott

I have an old-time rosebud salve that I love made by the American based Rosebud Perfume Company, founded in 1895 by George F. Smith. They still carry the original salve but have expanded their product line; all are gluten-free, a plus for those of us who are severely intolerant.

Roses have an ancient history. The first cultivated rose likely originated in Persia and spread out from there. The part used is the flower, although the hips are also employed in tea, jam, jellies, syrups… The hips are high in vitamin C and antioxidants. Some varieties of roses produce better hips for this use than others. Rosa canina, commonly known as the dog rose, is one that does.

Back to the flowers. The most favored rose for medicinal use is the above mentioned dark red rose, R. gallica, also known as the Provins Rose and the Apothecary’s Rose. Only flower-buds just about to open are collected, and the lighter colored lower portion is cut off from the deep red upper part. For making a confection, they are used in the fresh state. For an infusion, the flowers are thoroughly dried first and stored out of humidity.

Abraham Darby Rose by David Austen

(Abraham Darby Rose from our garden)

The old pink cabbage rose is used for making rose water by distilling the fresh petals. A soothing ointment of rose water (cold cream) is also made by blending melted wax and almond oil with rose-water and rose oil.

Culpepper gives many uses for red, white, and damask rose cordials and conserves in the treatment of internal maladies including fever, jaundice, joint aches, weakness of the heart and stomach, fainting, an aid to digestion and fighting infection, comforting the heart and strengthening the spirit. Rose ointment is recommended for most any skin condition.

In his 18th century Family Herbal, John Hill gives a recipe for Honey of Roses that sounds delightful. He specifies using red roses. And I doubt he means modern cultivars, but old.

Honey of Roses Recipe: “Cut the white heels from some red rose buds, and lay them to dry in a place where there is a draught of air; when they are dried, put half a pound of them into a stone jar, and pour on them three pints of boiling water; stir them well, and let them stand twelve hours; then press off the liquor (liquid) and when it has settled, add to it five pounds of honey; boil it well, and when it is of the consistence of thick syrup, put it by for use. It is good against mouth sores, and on many other occasions.” (Which means it has many other uses.)

Nonfiction Herbal

Nonfiction Herbal

Plants for a Medieval Herb Garden in the British Isles available in kindle and print at Amazon.

An illustrated collection of plants that could have been grown in a Medieval Herb or Physic Garden in the British Isles. The major focus of this work is England and Scotland, but also touches on Ireland and Wales. Information is given as to the historic medicinal uses of these plants and the rich lore surrounding them.

Journey back to the days when herbs figured into every facet of life, offering relief from the ills of this realm and protection from evil in all its guises.~

“It was June, and the world smelled of roses. The sunshine was like powdered gold over the grassy hillside.” ― Maud Hart Lovelace, Betsy-Tacy and Tib

186025443

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


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

Nonfiction Herbal

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

An illustrated collection of plants that could have been grown in a Medieval Herb or Physic Garden in the British Isles. The major focus of this work is England and Scotland, but also touches on Ireland and Wales.

Information is given as to the historic medicinal uses of these plants and the rich lore surrounding them. Journey back to the days when herbs figured into every facet of life, offering relief from the ills of this realm and protection from evil in all its guises.

“To be taken with a mixture of pounded frogs” ~ Herbal Lore


agrimonyAgrimony is dark green with numerous soft hairs that aid in its seedpods sticking to any person or dog passing by, the reason it’s not in my garden, though I’m pondering a spot for it somewhere on our farm. The slender spikes of yellow flowers rising from this plant give it the English name, ‘Church Steeples’. Agrimony has a lengthy bloom time and the spicy scent of the flowers are compared to apricots. The leaves, when dried, retain much of their fragrance and have been a much sought after addition to tea.

Agrimony

Herbalists over the centuries have extolled the virtues of agrimony. Its name comes from the Greek ‘Argemone’ for healing to the eyes. From ancient times, agrimony has been used for many ailments and injuries, particularly skin eruptions and wounds. It’s the origin of the French herbal lotion eau de arquebasade, a treatment for gunshot wounds. Agrimony has an age-old reputation as a popular medicinal herb among country folk. Easy to grow or gather, the plant was heavily relied upon and employed as a spring tonic, blood purifier, gargle, a remedy for coughs, fevers, sores, jaundice…It also produces green, gold, and yellow dyes, and is used in tanning leather. In A Modern Herbal, Ms. Grieve relates, “In the time of Chaucer, when we find its name appearing in the form of Egrimoyne, it was used with Mugwort and vinegar for ‘a bad back’ and ‘alle woundes’: and one of these old writers recommends it to be taken with a mixture of pounded frogs and human blood, as a remedy for all internal hemorrhages.”

Agrimony, Flower Herb
I have to stop right here and comment. Pounded frogs and human blood mixed with Agrimony for all internal hemorrhages. Hmmm…it wonders me, as the Pennsylvania Dutch say, whose blood we’re to mix in. Probably someone else’s. And what would the proportions of pounded frog be to the herb and blood? No exact measurements are given. Just a spoonful of this and a cup of that. I suspect it would take more than a spoonful of sugar to help that medicine go down.
The herbalist Gerard declares: “A decoction of the leaves is good for them that have naughty livers.” Got that? It treats naughty livers.

agrimony, Herb, acrimony, Herbal Plant, Herbal Medicine,
Beyond its healing attributes, agrimony is reputed to have magical properties. In The Scots Herbal, Tess Darwin says the Gaelic name, mur-druidhean, may derive from the use of agrimony by healers to treat spiritual troubles. She relates the account of an unfortunate Scotsman, Ferquhar Ferguson, tried for witchcraft in 1716 after he admitted using agrimony to cure elf-shotten people. Apparently, a common affliction. Ferguson maintained a voice he heard while sleeping instructed him to pull the plant in the name of the Holy Trinity.
Elf-shot are persons or animals who’ve fallen ill after being shot by the arrows of malevolent elves. Don’t you hate it when that happens? Especially when the treatment gets you landed on trial for witchcraft. The poor man was guided by the Holy Trinity, what more did they want?

agrimony_herb_imgAlso from A Modern Herbal: “The magic power of Agrimony is mentioned in an old English medical manuscript: ‘If it be leyd under mann’s heed, He shal sleepyn as he were deed; He shal never drede ne wakyn, Till fro under his heed it be takyn.’” (That’s darn useful to know.)

“The herb that can’t be got is the one that heals.” ~ Irish Saying

***An excerpt from my herbal, Plants for A Medieval Herb Garden in the British Isles, available in Print and kindle at: http://www.amazon.com/Plants-Medieval-Garden-British-Isles-ebook/dp/B00IOGHYVU

Nonfiction Herbal

Nonfiction Herbal

An illustrated collection of plants that could have been grown in a Medieval Herb or Physic Garden in the British Isles. The major focus of this work is England and Scotland, but also touches on Ireland and Wales. Information is given as to the historic medicinal uses of these plants and the rich lore surrounding them.

Journey back to the days when herbs figured into every facet of life, offering relief from the ills of this realm and protection from evil in all its guises.

Wham! It’s Spring!


shirley poppies, larkspur, coreopsis tinctoria

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

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

dill and poppies

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

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

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

(Dill and heirloom poppies above by Elise)

fuzzy sage with blue larkspur

(Sage and larkspur by Elise)

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

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

wildflowers and reseeding annuals

***Larkspur and coreopsis tinctoria by Elise

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

‘An illustrated collection of plants that could have been grown in a Medieval Herb or Physic Garden in the British Isles. The major focus of this work is England and Scotland, but also touches on Ireland and Wales. Information is given as to the historic medicinal uses of these plants and the rich lore surrounding them. Journey back to the days when herbs figured into every facet of life, offering relief from the ills of this realm and protection from evil in all its guises.’

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