I WOULD dearly love to be remembered as a storyteller.
I like to recall (gardening) tales and traditions especially those from past times, but since modern medicine took us mostly beyond the reach of herbal remedies, no one much bothers anymore with the history of herbs and plants of medicinal value.
I mourn this loss and I’m concerned that today, most of our ancient oral associations will be lost.
These are stories that have been spoken of from one generation to the next, and how they benefited our ancestors live healthier lives.
They relied on specific plants in the same way as people today rely on homeopathic and prescribed medicine.
So, let me rectify the situation now and tell you something of the extraordinary uses that garden plants were put to long, long ago.
Modern medicine is of course wonderful (and I believe, is mainly responsible for our longevity today) but was there ever any real harm in adding a few fresh leaves of wild garlic (Allium ursinum) to a salad in order to help digestive problems, rheumatism, high blood pressure, and asthma? I think not.
Diarrhoea was treated with common Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) and it also was an ingredient in making a cough syrup.
Its seeds were mashed and used in the treatment of eczema and other skin complaints. What was so wrong with using St. John’s Worth (Hypericum) to ease and control depression?
Nowadays it is thankfully under investigation for possible use in treating Aids.
Then there’s everyone’s favourite scented plant, Lavender, widely used in the past as a blood cleanser, tonic, diuretic and kidney stone dissolver.
The scourge of our highways and waste ground Old Man’s Beard (Clematis vitalba) was also used in early homeopathy to treat skin rashes, swollen glands, rheumatism, even male sexual disorders.
If cattle fell sick centuries ago, farmers used to bore a hole through the animal’s ear and therein insert a piece of Hellebore root.
The practice was still popular in the 17th century as evidenced in herbalist John Gerard’s writings.
Today we grow Hellebores for ornamental purposes only, never medicinal. These have many virtues and only one vice. Their greatest virtue is early flowering in a range of colours which are hard to describe.
It is like the spectrum for shades of fine wine, from a white that is yellowy green to deep claret red and all the colours and mixtures between the two.
Their only vice is a nasty virus which leads to distortion and stunting of the plant, even death in severe cases.
Commonly called Hellebore ‘black death’, classic symptoms include black veins along leaves stems and flowers. Affected specimens should be dug up and destroyed for there is no cure. As I write, many are in full flower and the young leaves just below are slowly emerging.
The plants would benefit even now from an application of manure, compost or other form of organic feeding.