Sunday, 4 September 2011

R is for Remedy

Borage, Tansy and English Mace in the garden in mid August
Collecting herbs is a bit of a hobby of mine and has been for many years.  I like to cook with them and although I don't use them for remedies very much, I like to know their history as all-round useful plants. 

Since moving to Wiltshire I have found wild plants growing in this garden that I didn't find in the part of Hampshire where I grew up.  This will have been partly because my part of Hampshire was arable and therefore chemical sprayed to within an inch of its life in the late '60s.  If the wild plants in my Wiltshire garden are pretty or have a medicinal history then I tend let those grow among the cultured flowers.  Woundwort (used on open wounds) and Fumitory (an all round useful remedy) are two that grow profusely here.

A passer-by who had come back to visit the village where she was born told us that in the thirties a lady lived in this house who was locally known as 'The Witch' because she grew medicinal herbs in the garden.  A dour old lady in long skirts with hair tightly drawn back into a bun, she must have seemed intimidating to small children.  Her herb garden was right in the spot where I had chosen to put mine.  So now I preserve wild seedlings on her behalf.  Some may be from her stock.

The Borage, Tansy and English Mace shown in the picture are introductions I have made.

Borage - the crushed leaves smell like cucumber and can be put into salads.  The brilliant blue flowers are favourites with bees and are very pretty frozen into ice cubes to drop into your Pimms on a hot summers day.  Among other things borage was a remedy against the blues.  It was thought to raise the spirits and was used for centuries as a tonic.
Borage self-seeds very, very freely and needs thinning out frequently.

Tansy - old recipes used the leaves for flavour in puddings.  I'm sure I read somewhere that it was used as a strewing herb in houses among the rushes on the floor as a remedy against insects.  It was also used for dyeing fabric.  It was used as a medicinal plant, but is toxic, so was only used only by people who really knew what they were doing.
Tansy is rampant, so be very sure you want it before you plant this one.  Its roots spread underground like mint and it is very difficult to eradicate.  I have been somewhat incautious.

English Mace - one of my favourites.  It's a form of Achillea, or Yarrow, sometimes known as Milfoil and is an old medicinal herb, not used any longer.  Insects love it and it simply has a country look, providing a pleasing backdrop to other plants.


pinkundine said...

That's really interesting :) I saw Ray Mears using woundwart once and thought it was pretty cool. I find it incredible that the ladies who used to grow medicinal gardens were always thought of as witches, there was one in my old village in Devon.