A small but select group of us met this week whilst the Garden House trip to Somerset took place. We basked in Brighton’s sunshine. Lucila took responsibility for the plant identification, and did a magnificent job – revealing the ways in which many ordinary plants have been used as remedies over the generations.
Warning: This article is for information only. Garden House is not advocating the use of any of these plants for medicinal purposes. Always seek advice from a G.P.
Alchemilla mollis, also known as Lady’s Mantle, is a common herbaceous perennial with frothy greenish-yellow flowers and attractive scalloped leaves on which dewdrops shimmer. It self-seeds throughout the garden and although it can be invasive, it is useful as a cut flower. There is also an alpine form: Alchemilla alpina, with a distinctive silvery margin around the leaves. The name relates to the word “alchemy”, and in the past, it was thought that the mercurial droplets which lie on the foliage were the purest form of water and had magical powers.
Chiefly regarded as a herb for women, it has traditionally been used as an infusion to treat uterine problems – such as menstrual / menopausal disorders. Herbalists also rate it for its anti-inflammatory properties. Cut back hard after flowering and it will flower again in September.
The name may either derive from the Latin “valere” – to be healthy, or possibly from an early herbalist called Valeris. It was used in ancient times as a cure for insomnia and much scientific research has been carried out on the plant because of its historical use as a sedative, antiseptic and anticonvulsant. Herbalists use the root as a traditional herbal medicine to treat mild nervous tension and to aid sleep.
The common hawthorn is also known as the May tree, because it flowers in that month. A deciduous native, the hawthorn is hermaphrodite since both male and female reproductive parts are contained within each flower. Red haws (berries) develop following pollination and these are a valuable food source for many birds – one of the reasons this tree is a popular choice in gardens. Often used as a hedging plant and in woodland settings, it is of great importance in supporting wildlife. In traditional medicine, hawthorn was used for its calming properties, and it may be useful in treating cardiovascular disease, though further study is still needed.
Traditionally known as a “cure-all”, plantain is a perennial which is generally regarded as a weed. However, numerous herbals mention its use as a remedy, and in Anglo Saxon times it was one of nine “sacred” herbs. Historically, it has been used for wounds and skin conditions (such as eczema) and as an antidote to venom. (Luckily there aren’t too many poisonous snakes at Garden House.) Herbalists use it for blisters, insect bites and rashes.
Peter Rabbit was given chamomile tea by his mother after he had overindulged in Mr McGregor’s garden – and its flowers are still used to make tea today. It is said to have calming properties. It can also be planted as a small lawn, but is tricky to maintain; perhaps a chamomile seat is the best solution……
Lucila introduced us to “Herbarium”, a box of 100 illustrated reference cards, each featuring a herb for growing, cooking with and healing. Author: Caz Hildebrand; publisher, Thames and Hudson.
One of the best-known contemporary experts on herbs and their uses is Jekka McVicar, with many publications to her name.
Jobs for the week
- The ongoing compost development project
- Planting, staking and tying-in dahlias using big stakes
Now, make sure to do a good job, and keep those stakes at the same height!
- Plant out white sunflowers and the climbing annual thunbergia around the “Brighton Dome” obelisk
- Pull out all the forget-me-nots as they have now gone to seed; water all pots in the greenhouse
- Take all plants out from the cold frames; weed and give them a good drink; leave to enjoy the sun
And they did.