Wednesday 8 July 2020

Six Centuries of Rose Recipes and Remedies - Part 2

Maid Marion Rose
Maid Marion Rose © Debs Cook

In part 1 of Six Centuries of Rose Recipes and Remedies I looked at rose remedies and recipes from the 16th through to the 18th centuries, and as I said at the end of that post, today I'm looking at the 19th century through to present day 21st century recipes from two of my favourite herbalists and authors. Roses have played their part in the Middle East and Europe on a culinary and medicinal level for centuries, they originated in Persia, where an extensive rose-water trade began as long ago as the 8th century.

The romance of the rose is illustrated in the arts where the rose has long been drawn on for inspiration. In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Juliet speaks the famous line 'that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet'. Robert Burns described his love as being 'like a red, red rose', and the Greek poetess Sappho, in her 600 B.C. poem 'Song of the Rose', referred to the rose as the 'grace of the earth'. In Renaissance art, the apothecary rose was the most painted of all roses, its red colour (which is actually deep pink) was believed to represent the blood of the Christian martyrs, in honour of these martyrs the petals of the gallica roses were dried and rolled into beads, then strung into beaded chains for religious use which is how rosary beads got their name.

19th Century Recipes

By the 19th century roses were still used in medicinal and also in culinary recipes and they were still found in recipes for home made cosmetics and beauty preparations. Then towards the end of the 20th century, making your own cosmetics and household cleaners fell out of fashion, as manufacturers offered ways to clean your home in a flash with the minimum of effort with handy mass produced chemical concoctions. Using roses medicinally also faded from the radar temporarily, and even the perfume industry in the late 20th century stopped using real rose oil and essence in favour of the cheaper synthetic and mass produced aromas and flavourings. Even worse the rose became something to be valued as nothing more than a colourful and fragrant addition to the garden, although even the fragrance became unimportant in favour of colours and disease resistance.

The 19th century German physician and father of homeopathy Samuel Hahnemann in his book ‘The Organon of the Healing Art’, published in 1810, - which incidentally from its 2nd edition onwards became known as ‘Organon of Medicine’. Described how the mother of Queen Victoria, the Princess of Leiningen had ‘restored her brother the Emperor Alexius, who suffered from faintings, by sprinkling him with rose water.’ He also described how 16th century physician Jacob Horstius had seen great benefits from administering rose vinegar to patients suffering from syncope [fainting]. Hahnemann also believed that the rose possessed a healing power that was most beneficial to certain eye conditions and that the rose was a marvellous restorative.

Interestingly after describing all the uses above for the rose, entries for both the 'Pale Rose' (R. centifolia) and 'Red Rose' (R. gallica), in R.C Wren’s book ‘Potters Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs & Preparations’ first published in 1907, state that the pale rose ‘seldom, if ever, is used internally on account of its fragrancy’ and also that the red rose was ‘seldom used internally’ although Wren did say that an infusion of red roses was ‘used as a flavouring for other medicines’.

Unguentum Aquae Rosae (Ointment of Rose Water)

Roses continued to be a popular cosmetic and medicinal ingredient in the 19th century and most chemist and druggist shops sold rose based cosmetic preparations, syrups, vinegars and ointments in one form or another, so by the mid-19th century pharmacists wanted to have a collection of the recipes they could refer to in their shops to make those preparations on demand. So Peter MacEwan, a well-respected pharmaceutical chemist and editor of ‘The Chemist and Druggist’ magazine, decided that it was time that such a publication should emerge and so ‘Pharmaceutical Formulas: A Book of Useful Recipes for the Drug Trade’ was presented to the pharmacists of the day.

First published in 1864, my 9th edition dates to 1914 and contains the recipe below which was first added to the 2nd edition of the book in 1898. The recipe was for a formula for a fragrant rose cold cream which the author states was ‘taken to be the official representation of cold-cream, and while this preparation is ‘cold-cream’ it should be distinctly understood that the Pharmacopoeia authorities do not publish it as such, or as a standard for retail trade. Cold-cream is not a 'drug' in the sense of the sale of Food and Drugs Acts, but a toilet article, and the officialising of a preparation resembling it does not make a legal drug of it:-

Rose Water, Undiluted - 7 fl. ounces (200ml)
White Beeswax - 1½ ounce (45g)
Spermaceti - 1½ ounce (45g)
Almond Oil - 9 ounce (255ml)
Oil of Rose - 8 minims (0.5ml)

Melt together the white beeswax, spermaceti, and almond oil; pour the mixture into a warmed mortar, and add the rose-water gradually with constant trituration; add the oil of rose; continue the trituration till cold.

N.B. Personally, even if I could obtain it, I wouldn’t use spermaceti today for anything I make for obvious reasons, instead I’d substitute 1 part jojoba oil to 1 part solid coconut oil and mix both together. For this recipe you’d need 22.5g jojoba to 22.5g coconut oil.

Honey of Roses

There were plenty of rose recipes still being prepared daily in English households in the 19th century, most families had their favourites and these were handed down the family or shared with friends and neighbours. Some became popular but the original author of the recipe faded into the past, the recipe below is such a recipe. It was found in an old book that contains many rose recipes, but was simple attributed to ‘anon’.

Take four ounces of dried Red Rose petals, the white heels cut off before they were dried, three pints of boiling water and five pounds of honey. Pour the boiling water on to the dried Rose petals and leave for six hours. Strain and add the honey. Boil to a thick consistency.’ – Anon, 19th Century.

20th Century Recipes

Mrs C F Leyel, a 20th century contemporary of Wren’s, and founder of the Society of Herbalists, included the rose in her book ‘Herbal Delights’ in the ‘Natural Perfumes’ section She obviously didn’t subscribe to Wren’s notions that roses were seldom used medicinally in the 20th century, because in 1937 she wrote that ‘To-day Roses are chiefly used to ease coughs and to comfort the heart. They help the hearing, and are useful at the beginning of hay fever.’ Leyel echoed Culpeper on the power of the rose to aid the ‘retentive faculty’, she added that rose water can be used as a gargle and when ‘mixed with syrup of mulberries is excellent as well as delicious, for quinsies [a throat abcess that forms as a complication of tonsillitis] and sore throats’.

Ice Cream of Roses

I can’t let the 20th century pass by without mentioning one of my favourite writers of herb books, from that century, I refer of course to Mrs C.F. Leyel (1880-1957) also known as Hilda Leyel, found of the Society of Herbalists. Mrs Leyel included the rose in several of her books in ‘Herbal Delights’ it was a ‘Natural Perfume’, in ‘Elixirs of Life’ it appeared in the tonic herbs chapter, and in ‘Hearts-Ease’ Hilda included it amongst the ‘Herbs for the Heart’. She also included recipes using the rose in ‘The Gentle Art of Cookery’ published in 1925, inspiring readers with its 'Dishes from the Arabian Nights', 'The Alchemist's Cupboard' and 'Flower Recipes', the latter chapter containing a wonderful recipe for Rose Ice Cream.

Take one pint of cream, two handfuls of fresh rose petals, yolks of two eggs, sugar. Boil a pint of cream and put into it when it boils two handfuls of fresh rose petals, and leave them for two hours, well covered. Then pass this through a sieve, and mix with the cream the well-beaten yolks of two eggs, and sugar to taste. Add a little cochineal, and put it on the fire, stirring it all the time, but do not let it boil on any account. Put it on ice.’

Glycerine and Rosewater Hand Cream

Another of my favourite 20th century herb authors is Lesley Bremness, I first became aware of her in the early days of my herbal journey when she presented a 5 part programme for Channel 4 in the UK called ‘A World of Herbs’ back in 1989, after watching the programme I bought Lesley’s book ‘The Complete Book of Herbs’ and one of the first home made cosmetic recipes I made was this one from Lesley’s book.

4 Tbsp. Glycerine (60ml)
1 Cup Rosewater (225ml)
4 Tbsp. Cornflour (60ml)
3 Drops Rose Essential Oil
Few drops Pink Cosmetic Colouring (if desired)

'Gently melt the glycerine, rosewater and cornflour together and heat the mixture in a double boiler (or use a glass boil over a pan of water) until the mixture thickens. Allow to cool and then add the rose essential oil, stir the hand cream well. Pour into amber glass jars and label.

Over the years I dispensed with the cornflour and added 125ml of coconut oil, the resulting hand cream melts in to the skin and the hand cream lasts a lot longer.

21st Century Recipes

There are many superb herb books in the 21st century, technically both of the authors I’ve chosen are from the 20th century as their herbal careers started in that era, like mine, but both ladies continue to delight my herbal book shelf and show me things about herbs that I didn’t know, from them both I’ve learnt a lot and I cherish their books.

Herbalist Anne McIntyre Rose Aroma Therapy
© Debs Cook

Balancing Tincture for Menopause Symptoms

Anne McIntyre is my first choice, she is a Fellow of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (FNIMH), a Member of the Ayurvedic Practitioners' Association (MAPA), and has been practising herbal medicine for over 30 years. She is also the author of around 20 books on herbal medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, the majority of which are in my book collection. Anne has a deep appreciation for the rose as a powerful herbal healer, which became evident hearing her remedy for the blues that she gave a few years ago when I went on a herb walk she was giving, her rosy remedy involved ‘1 sniff [of a scented rose] 3 times a day’ now that's what I call real aroma therapy! I've had the pleasure of listening to talks given by Anne several times and worked with her when I was a trustee of the Herb Society and she became the HS President. The recipe below for a tincture to balance the hormones during the menopause comes from Anne’s 2011 book ‘Drugs in Pots’ and is used with her kind permission.

This blend supports hormonal and emotional balance. Motherwort, sage, rose and chamomile are cooling for hot flushes and are helpful to the liver. Sage promotes digestion and absorption, while rose and motherwort balance hormones and enhance mental equilibrium.

Ingredients: To make 400ml (14 floz) tincture you will need: -

250 g (9oz) each fresh herbs or 100 g (3½oz) dried red sage leaves, motherwort, lady's mantle. Chamomile and rose petals. 500 ml (17 floz) brandy or vodka


1) Place the herbs into a large glass jar.

2) Pour over brandy or vodka and screw the lid on. Leave to macerate fora minimum of 2-3 weeks, up to 6 months.

3) Press through a fine mesh sieve or use a wine press, squeezing as much of the liquid as possible before discarding the herb.

4 Label clearly and store in dark glass bottles.

How to Use:

Take 1-2 teaspoons 3 times daily in a little water. You may continue for at least 3 weeks, and up to 3 months, to benefit from the long-term benefits of the herbs.

Rose Petal Glycerite

Julie Bruton-Seal is my next 21st century herbal choice, her first herbal book ‘Hedgerow Medicine’ co-written with her husband Matthew Seal was published in 2008 and reviewing her book for the Herb Society was how I became aware of Julie who is a practising medical herbalist, iridologist and natural healer, and also a Council member of the Association of Master Herbalists (AMH).

Julie is the author of 5 herb books to date, her 4th ‘The Herbalist's Bible: John Parkinson's Lost Classic Rediscovered’ was released in 2014 and I had the pleasure of proof reading some of the book for Julie and Matthew and I can highly recommend it, I also reviewed the book for my blog. In 2017 'Wayside Medicine: Forgotten Plants to Make Your Own Herbal Remedies' was released and like the Kitchen and Hedgerow Medicine books before them this book is a must have for the 21st century herb lover, gardener and those people like me with an interest in how we used herbs historically.

From Julie’s book Hedgerow Medicine, I learnt about the benefits of glycerites, which are fluid extracts of herbs similar to tinctures but made with vegetable glycerine, so suitable for people that can’t take alcohol. Julie sells vegetable glycerine via her website if you have trouble obtaining it locally.

Take fragrant rose petals and put them in a jar with a mixture of vegetable glycerine and 40% water. Put the jar on a sunny window ledge or in a warm place. Stir occasionally to keep the petals beneath the surface of the liquid. You can add more petals over the season, removing any that have turned transparent. When the last petals have lost their colour, strain off the liquid and bottle. It should have a powerful aroma of rose, and taste heavenly.

Uses: 1 teaspoonful as needed for sore throats or viral infections. For a 'broken heart' or grief, mix half and half with hawthorn tincture and take 1 teaspoonful several times a day. Rose glycerite is a pleasant addition to many herbal tinctures and formulae. As a face lotion for dry or delicate skin, mix half and half with water and apply daily.

Thus for now my dip into six centuries of rose recipes ends, I hope that it has inspired you to make a rose recipe of your own, I have a very good feeling this is a subject I’ll revisit in the future, look out for ‘more rose recipes’ and maybe ‘even more rose recipes’ because there are many other old recipes out there and other stories to tell, as well as looking at the aromatherapy aspects of the rose and ways we can use the rose to make kitchen medicine today.

Tuesday 7 July 2020

The William Turner Garden, Morpeth, Northumberland

William Turner Garden, 2009
William Turner Garden, September 2009
© Debs Cook

As I've mentioned before some of my posts have been moved over from my old blog and I'm taking the opportunity to update them with new information, e.g. garden closures where applicable, changes to the layouts, plus any additional facts I've come across since my original visit and to add more photos where possible. This post refers to a visit I made to the garden in Northumberland back in September 2009. Whilst there we also visited the Chester Walled Garden in Hexham, I never wrote about that visit and its now sadly been closed down back in 2010, so I will write a piece and add soon.

These retro herbal journeys serve a double purpose, as the Coronavirus lockdown has 'grounded' my herbal expeditions this year with many places being closed until the virus goes away, or they are open but in a limited way and are harder to safely access, my herbal core needs a therapeutic lift and by looking back at places I've visited I can remember the days out I've taken and look forward and plan days out maybe later this year and in subsequent years.

Entry on Rosemary from
William Turner's A New Herball
The William Turner Garden is dedicated to the  Morpeth man born in 1508, he was responsible for some very pioneering work in botany and medicine, earning him the posthumous title of 'The Father of English Botany'. Turner will be a herbalist I write more about in the future, his life has a lot of political intrigue and twists and turns to it, but he is best known for his book "A New Herball", which was originally published in three parts between 1551 and 1568 and was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I.

Turner's herbal provided a landmark in the history of botany and herbalism, breaking new ground in its accuracy of observation and its scientific detail. It was the first original book to be written about the botanical and medicinal aspects of plants in English, and the first to include reliable descriptions of the plants themselves and the places where they grew.

Previous English language herbals were all translations of the original Greek texts, and the quality and accuracy of the translations varied greatly. Turner kept the translations from the Greek for the medicinal uses of the herbs he wrote about, but he also added his personal experiences from when he used or prescribed any of the plants. A New Herball contained over 300 species of plants, and those that didn't have a common English name, Turner gave them one where there had been none before.

The William Turner Garden is situated on the edge of the formal gardens in Carlisle Park in Morpeth, and consists of a 'Physick Garden', a long border that contains herbs that were first brought to the UK in the 16th century and the garden was further enhanced in 2012 when the William Turner Woodland Bank was added to it by the Morpeth Lions Club. The club planted 40 trees on the steep bank above the formal beds, many of which were species referred to in Turner's Herball, including Almond, Medlar and Quince.

Carl Linnaeus was a friend of Turner's and named the plant family Turneraceae after him which consists of 120 species in 10 genera (as of 2020) and includes the herb Damiana (Turnera diffusa). Turner was responsible for naming several plants including Monkshood (Aconitum napellus), the Spindle Tree (Euonymous europaeus) 'It may be called Englishe longe cherry tree. The female is plituous in Englande and the butchers make prickes of it' and Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris).

What struck me as odd in 2009 and still today is that there are woodcuts and paintings of Gerard, Culpeper, and other herbal writers if the 16th century, but I have never seen a likeness of Turner, only images of pages of his herbal, given he was Dean of Wells Cathedral and rubbed shoulders with many of his peers, I find it hard to believe no likenesses exist, maybe one does and I haven't found it, I will update if I ever do!

I had a little niggle whilst I wandered around the garden in 2009, because one of the info boards tells visitors that the physick garden is planted with herbs which were used in medicine in Turners time, it then mentions Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) and refers to its ability to control irregular heartbeats. In actual fact this property wasn't scientifically and medically recognised until 1785 long after Turner's time. Turner recommended foxglove for treating "farcye" which is I believe is a contagious horse disease which can be transmitted to humans. He recommends putting it between the horses saddle and back and calls it an excellent remedy, he wouldn't have been familiar with the use for treating heart conditions.

Culpeper used Foxglove in ale along with Polypody (Polypodium vulgare) to cure the 'falling sickness' better known today as epilepsy, the remedy being best to treat people that had been troubled by the condition for 20 years or more. He also recommends the use of Foxglove for making an ointment for scabby heads and wounds. Robinson's New Family Herbal also lists the use of foxglove in ointment form attributing it to the Italians who used it to heal any fresh and 'green' wounds, the ointment was made from the juice of the foxglove leaves and lard and was applied to scrofulous sores with good effect.

The day we visited the weather was glorious, but because our visit took place in mid September many of the herbs had gone over, but there was still plenty of interest. Bee's and butterflies were drinking in the nectar and weaving a dizzy pattern of activity around the garden.

As well as information boards about Turner and his life, all the herbs in the display beds had small plaques like the Sorrel one seen above. Each plaque detailed the way Turner used the herb and underneath there was information the way we still use the herb today.

Herbs were also arranged in beds like this one "Herbs for Rheumatism and Painful Joints" which included Comfrey, Marjoram and Lily of the Valley, although Turner doesn't add much about Lily of the Valley in his herbal beyond mentioning its name, but Gerard does say that Lily of the Valley 'The flowers of the Valley Lily distilled with wine, and drunk the quantity of a spoonful, restoreth speech unto those that have the dumb palsy and that are fallen into the apoplexy, and is good against the gout, and comforteth the heart.'

The garden was first opened in 1999 and as time passed the plants did what plants do and migrated to places they weren't supposed to be, some had thrived at the expense of more delicate herbs and some that were originally part of the planting scheme had died off, so in 2019 the Friends of William Turner Group drew up a new planting scheme that would "focus on sustainability and also low maintenance with plants from the Herball chosen to reflect those needs." The group also intend to add new species to the garden over the coming year. I am scheduling a visit in 2021 (coronavirus willing) to Northumberland this time to visit Bede's World and also the Dilston Physic Garden, so whilst there I'll make time to revisit the William Turner Garden to see how it has evolved.

What I will say about this small garden is if you are travelling a long way then make sure you are visiting other gardens in the area, or that you have other places to visit in Morpeth, if you do then add this pretty little garden to your itinerary but I wouldn't recommend going if that's the only place you're going to visit, because its rather small, but if you're going to visit other places in the area, make sure you stop by, Carlisle Park is free to enter and is currently being redeveloped (2020) to include more facilities including a tea room.

Thursday 2 July 2020

Six Centuries of Rose Recipes and Remedies - Part 1

Rose 'Wild Eve'
Rose 'Wild Eve' © Debs Cook

I have a very, very soft and fragrant spot for roses, their heady fragrance, vibrant colours and their silk or sometimes velvet like textures have captivated me since I was a young girl, but the roses have to be fragrant to for me or they are pointless, roses delight the senses with their aroma. In the garden I have many roses, less now than I used to have, and as the garden is being redesigned there is scope to add more, and you can bet that whichever ones I do plant will be fragrant.

The first documented medicinal use of the rose occurred in Theophrastus' ‘Historia Plantarum’ written around the 3rd century B.C. in which he described the properties of the ‘hundred-petalled rose’. By the 1st century A.D. Dioscorides included remedies in his ‘De Materia Medica’ for rose salves and preparations that could treat the eyes, ears, gums and even soothe the intestines, he also described the manufacture of ‘Rhodides’, which were small pomanders made from powdered rose petals, spikenard and myrrh which he said were ‘worn around women’s necks instead of necklaces’ and were primarily used to disguise the smell of body odour. Pliny the Elder also from the 1st century A.D. described 12 varieties of roses that grew in Greece, the most often quoted is his ‘Milesian Rose’ which by its description was most likely the rose we know today as Rosa gallica or the Damask Rose.

This article on the way herbalists and cooks have used the rose over the centuries was inspired by ‘Rose Recipes from Olden Times’ an old book written by Eleanour Sinclair-Rohde in 1939, Rohde is one of the female 20th century herbal authors that I have been researching this past few weeks for an article I will be uploading soon. As I re-read the opening to the book it struck me that a lot of what she said back in 1939 still rang true today. ‘In the days when Roses were valued more for their fragrance, sweet flavour, and medicinal virtues than for their beauty, the petals were used in countless ways. Most folk associate flower recipes with old vellum-bound volumes and regard the recipes therein contained as being of little more than antiquarian interest. Indeed the phrase "Rose recipes" conjures up visions of sixteenth and seventeenth century still rooms, busy housewives and attendant maids in picturesque costumes bringing in great baskets of freshly gathered Roses. It is true that many of the old recipes or "receipts" as the word was more commonly spelt are too complicated for these hurried times but many are simple and practical.

When you think of the ways our ancestors used the rose to scent their homes in times gone by it makes you hanker for those fragrant days, well at least in part! Dried rose petals were laid among clothes and linens, the powdered petals were added to home made candles, they made rose pot-pourri and sweet bags, Ms Rohde informs us of that fact adding that ‘rose petals figured largely in the old sweet bags used not merely for scenting linen but to hang on wing arm-chairs. ‘The mixture of dried Rose petals, mint leaves and powdered cloves recommended in ‘Rams Little Dodeon’, 1606 has a most pleasing fragrance.

Cosmetically they used roses to make soaps, face powders, perfumes, ointments, creams, vinegars, lotions and scented waters. They cooked with them, using them to make conserves, jellies, cakes, puddings, sauces to accompany both sweet and savoury dishes, made wine with them and sweets treats such as Turkish delight. So many of those uses have disappeared in households across the UK today, as people favour buying mass produced food, cosmetics and cleaning products, but it’s simple to make your own, just look to the past and adapt those recipes for the future.

In part one I'll begin by looking at 16th, 17th and 18th century rose uses and continue with the 19th to 21st centuries in part two. The English poet and writer Gervase Markham, born in Cotham ca 1568, Nottinghamshire wrote ‘Countrey Contentments or The English Huswife’ published in 1623 in which he recommended a rose based remedy to cure the ‘frenzy’ which he described as arising from a ‘hot cause’. When this occurred Markham instructed the reader to ‘rub the browes and all his head over with oyle of Roses, Vinegar, and Populeon [an ointment made from the buds of the Black Poplar tree (Populus nigra)].

16th Century Recipes

Rose Water - Anthony Ascham a 16th curate, astrologer and botanical writer from Yorkshire, published a herbal in 1550 ‘A Lyttel Herbal of the Properties of Herbs, &c. made and gathered in the year 1550’, which included his recipe for making Rose Water.

Some do put rose water in a glass and they put roses with their dew thereto and they make it to boile in water, then they set it in the sune tyll it be readde and this water is beste.’ Ascham also added his observation that ‘drye roses put to the nose to smell do comforte the braine and the harte and quencheth sprites.’ - Anthony Ascham's, 1550.

Sweet Briar Rose
(Rosa rubiginosa)
© Debs Cook
'To Make an Especial Sweet Powder for Sweet Bags'

A few years after Ascham’s book was published, Sir Hugh Platt was born, Hugh grew to be a well-respected author and inventor in 16th century London, he was one of Elizabeth I courtiers an accomplished gardener who wrote about agriculture. He was also a collector of receipts for preserving fruits, distilling, cooking, housewifery, cosmetics, and the dyeing of hair. The word receipt is an old word for recipe and was often used to differentiate between a culinary and medicinal recipe.

One of Platt’s recipe books ‘Delightes for Ladies: to adorn their persons, tables, closets, and distillatories with beauties, banquets, perfumes and waters’ included several delightful recipes using both fresh and dried roses. The recipe below is Platt’s version of a scented sachets which during the Middle-Ages were referred to as a ‘plague-bag’, then they were used to keep parasites and disease at bay, by Platt’s time they were being used to fragrance linen and clothing, so became more floral and ‘sweet’ in fragrance.

Take of Red and Damask Rose-leaves of each two ounces, of the purest Orris one pound, of Cloves three drams, Coriander seed one dram, Cyprus and Calamus of each halfe an ounce, Benzoin and the Storax of each three drams; beat them all save the Benzoin and the Storax and powder them by themselves, then take of Muske and Civet, of each twentie graines, mix these with a little of the foresaid powder with a warm Pestle, and so little by little you may mix it with all the rest, and so with Rose leaves dried you may put it up into your sweet Bags and so keepe them seven yeares.’ - Sir Hugh Platt, 1594.

N.B. Platt refers to rose leaves in this recipe, the recipe was in actual fact calling for rose petals. Often in old books and manuscripts up until the early 18th century, rose petals are referred to as leaves, this was due to the fact that the old roses popular in the receipts of the day were referred to as the ‘Cabbage Rose’ or ‘Cabbage Leaved Rose’. The exception to the rule is when recipes for making tea using wild roses were documented, those teas actually used the green leaves of the wild rose in their making.

By the late 16th century, John Gerard included descriptions for 6 varieties of roses, concluding that the Damask Rose was the best kind to use for scent, ‘meat and medicine’. Gerard like many before him believed that the distilled water of roses was good for the ‘strengthning of the heart, and refreshing of the spirits, and likewise for all things that require a gentle cooling’. He also described using the rose water to flavour junket, cakes and sauces and its use to soothe the eyes ‘It mitigateth the paine of the eies proceeding from a hot cause, bringeth sleep, which also the fresh roses themselves provoke through their sweet and pleasant smell.

17th Century Recipes

Damask Rose
(Rosa × damascena)
© Debs Cook
Herbalist Nicholas Culpeper focused mainly on red roses in his herbal, echoing Dioscorides and Pliny’s uses amongst others, ‘Red roses..’ said Culpeper ‘do strengthen the heart, stomach and liver, and the retentive faculty [memory]; they mitigate the pains that arise from heat, assuage inflammations, procure rest and sleep, stay running of the reins and fluxes of the belly; the juice of them does purge and cleanse the body of choler [bile] and phlegm.

Like Gerard before him, Culpeper believed the Damask Rose was the most aromatic rose, he described uses for a syrup made from the damask rose that was an excellent purgative that was good for ‘purging choler’, although I’m positive that the super charged version of his recipe with added fly agaric would not make it in to herbal remedy books of today.

King Edward VI's Perfume

17th century recipes for roses included many recipes for perfuming the home, one such recipe appeared in ‘The Queen's Closet Opened’ which was first published in 1655 and is credited on to a W.M. who was cook to Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I. The book was a phenomenal success allegedly containing the recipes that had been enjoyed by the royal family over the years and before the dawn of the 18th century it had been reprinted 10 times. Sweet waters such as the one in the recipe below were used to perfume the air and as washing waters for the hands.

Take twelve spoonfulls of right red rose water, the weight of six pence in fine powder of sugar, and boyl it on hot Embers and coals softly and the house will smell as though it were full of Roses, but you must burn the Sweet Cypress wood before to take away the gross ayre.’ - W. M., 1655.

Syrup of Roses Jar
Syrup jar used for Syrup of Roses,
England, 1670-1740.
Credit: Science Museum, London.
The Oil Commonly Called the Spirit of Roses

Another popular work of the 17th century was ‘The Art of Distillation’ first published in 1651 and written by John French who described himself as a Dr. of Physick, the work was published in six volumes. In volume 2 a variety of waters both medicinal and cosmetic containing rose petals were described, these included ‘Bezeard Water’, ‘Dr. Stephen’s Water’, ‘Aqua Imperialis’ and ‘Dr Mathias Palsy Water’.

John French was a respected English physician who practised and studied during the time that alchemy was fast becoming the credible science of chemistry. He was well known for his extensive knowledge of chemistry and was respected by scientists of the time such as the chemist and physicist Robert Boyle.

Take of Damask, or Red Roses, being fresh, many as you please, infuse them in as much warm water as is sufficient for the space of twenty four houres; then strain, and press them, and repeat the infusion severall times with pressing, until the liquor become fully impregnated, which then must be distilled in an Alembick with a refrigerator, let the Spirit which swims on the Water be separated and the water kept for a new infusion. This kind of Spirit may be made by bruising the Roses with Salt, or laying a laye of Roses, and another of Salt, and so keeping them half a year or more, which then must be distilled in as much common water or Rose water as is sufficient.’ John French, 1651.

18th Century Recipes

Sir John Hill wrote of four types of roses the Wild or Dog Rose then known as ‘Rosa sylvestris’ now known as ‘Rosa canina’ a tea of the buds he described as being ‘an excellent medicine for overflowings of the menses’. Of the Damask Rose (Rosa damascena) he recommended that the flowers were turned into syrup which he credited with being ‘an excellent purge for children’ adding that there was ‘not a better medicine for grown people, who are subject to be costive [constipated]’. Of the White Rose (Rosa alba) he credited it with the same properties as the wild rose being an excellent treatment for heavy menstruation, adding that the white rose was also good against ‘the bleeding of the piles’. The same properties were ascribed to the Red Rose (Rosa rubra), a tincture made from this type of rose Hill believed strengthened the stomach and ‘prevents vomitings, and is a powerful as well as a pleasant remedy against all fluxes [dysentery].’

To Make Rose Drops

Eliza Smith was the author of a classic 18th century book known as ‘The Compleat Housewife, or Accomplish'd Gentlewoman's Companion’ which was similar in content to Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management published in the 19th century. Smith’s book, first published in 1727 contained culinary recipes, instructions for home decorating, tips on dealing with household problems like removing mildew, and it also included receipts for home remedies for treating a variety of ailments common at the time, such as smallpox.

Eliza was a housekeeper to some of the most fashionable and well to do families of the early 18th century, she died around 1732 but her book was reprinted 18 times after her death, and was one of the most popular domestic books of the 18th century, and is reputed to be the first English cookery book to be published in America in 1742.

The roses and sugar must be beat separately into a very fine powder, and both sifted; to a pound of sugar an ounce of red roses, they must be mixed together, and then wet with as much juice of Lemon as will make it into a stiff paste; set it on a slow fire in a silver porringer, and stir it well; and when it is scalding hot quite through take it off and drop in small portions on a paper; set them near the fire, the next day they will come off’. - Eliza Smith, 1727.

Method of Scenting Snuff

Five young women taking snuff.
Stipple print circa 1825.
Credit: Wellcome Collection.
Roses even found their way in to recipes for fragrancing snuff, which was first made popular in the 16th century, snuff was a powdered form of tobacco that was fragranced with herbs, spices and other aromatic ingredients, the resulting mixtures were sniffed up the nose, it became popular in England after the Great Plague of London in 1665 when people believed it could purify the lungs and nose and help eradicate the airborne beasties that caused disease.

It wasn't just men that partook in a sniff of snuff, many women indulged in the practice as you can see from the stipple print here. Later in 1761 Sir John Hill concluded nasal cancer could develop if people used snuff; he reported five cases of 'polyps, a swelling in the nostril adherent with the symptoms of open cancer'

In 1772 an English translation of ‘Le Toilette de Flore’ written by Pierre-Joseph Buchoz, a French physician, lawyer and naturalist appeared in London, containing remedies and skin preparations for most ailments that the lady of the day would have relied on to keep her family well appeared under the title of ‘The Toilet of Flora’. Amongst the recipes were ones scented with roses which including floral snuff recipes.

The flowers that most readily communicate their flavour to Snuff are Orange Flowers, Musk Roses, Jasmine, and Tuberoses. You must procure a box lined with dry white paper; in this strow your Snuff on the bottom about the thickness of an inch, over which place a thin layer of Flowers, then another layer of Snuff, and continue to lay your Flowers and Snuff alternately in this manner, until the box is full. After they have lain together four and twenty hours, sift your Snuff through a sieve to separate it from the Flowers, which are to be thrown away, and fresh ones applied in their room in the former method. Continue to do this till the Snuff is sufficiently scented; then put it into a canister, which keep close stopped.’- Pierre-Joseph Buchoz, 1771.

The recipes above represented a tiny fraction of the ones that are contained in old medical texts and reciept books, I may revisit the rose recipes from the 16th to 18th centuries in the future, part 2 of this article will follow soon and will look at 19th and 20th century rose recipes, and will conclude with a look at the modern way roses are used in the 21st century.

Rosemary's Latin Name Has Changed!

Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)
Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus syn. Rosmarinus officinalis)
© Debs Cook

As some of you know I've been on a bit of a herbal sabbatical, so this little snippet of news escaped me until yesterday, I'm sharing it in the event that it may have escaped others as well. Rosemary has been known by the Latin name of Rosmarinus officinalis since Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus published his 'Species Plantarum' in 1753, which is when the international system of naming plants established by Linnaeus began. Back then Sage was in the genus Salvia and Rosemary was in the genus Rosmarinus because both plants were deemed to belong to two different genera.

However back in 2017 rosemary was sent off to the plant version of  Ancestry DNA and after ananlysis it turned out like with humans that rosemary wasn't part of one family but another, so the members of the RHS Nomenclature and Taxonomy Advisory Group got  together and in 2019 they agreed to absorb all the plants in the Rosmarinus genus into the genus Salvia. The group decided that the differences between sage and rosemary weren't sufficient to make them distinctly different, so from now on Rosemary will be known by the Latin name of 'Salvia rosmarinus'!

There's an old joke that I first heard in the 90's about botanists getting bored when it rains so they decide to rename a plant or mess with the genus information to relieve the boredom, did they do that this time? Apparently not, according to Country Life magazine "...the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and many other of the world’s leading plant authorities, agree with the RHS’s view of Rosmarinus, having been convinced by molecular studies that place it in an enlarged and diverse, but genetically coherent genus Salvia. This does not mean that rosemary ‘is not a separate species of plant’, let alone one and the same as culinary sage (Salvia officinalis). Its revised status as a new Salvia species, far from diminishing ‘rosemary’, only heightens its importance."

The two herbs have always been members of the Lamiaceae plant family along with Basil, Mint, Marjoram, Lavender, Hyssop and Thyme and many other herbs, and the new Latin name change doesn't change that fact. DNA studies showed that rosemary belonged with the salvia's and not a genus in its own right, once that fact presented itself the scientists were left with 3 choices: -

1) Do nothing and ignore the differences, they could, but it wouldn't help with further study.

2) They could continue to recognise rosemary as a genus on its own, but that would mean changing the names of more than 700 species of Salvia.

3) The third option, and the one they decided to go with, is to absorb rosemary into the Salvia's as a subgenus. This third choice resulted in only 15 name changes, a lot less than 700 if they'd continued to recognise Rosemary as having its own genus. As well as Rosemary's Latin name change, Russian Sage formerly Perovskia atriplicifoli has also been absorbed into the salvia genus and will from 2019 onwards be known as Salvia yangii, a tad annoying for me as I've only recently mastered Russian Sage's old Latin name lol!

It will be several years until we see Rosemary appear in garden centres and herb nurseries with its new Latin name, plant labels are made and purchased in batches, so garden centres will want to use the old labels up first. I think it will also take a while for the herbal community to unlearn the Latin name we've always known it as. I know I will find it will need some getting used to, and of course even though it will now be incorrect you can still call it by its old Latin name, but henceforth the correct name for the herb is Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus syn, Rosmarinus officinalis), we should count our blessings that at least they left the common name alone!

Tuesday 23 June 2020

Natural and Effective Herbal Bug Repellents

Hartington, Derbyshire
Hartington, Derbyshire © Debs Cook

Out with Simon yesterday for a lovely walk along the Hartington stretch of the Tissington Trail, and we hadn't gone very far when Simon started swatting and flaying his arms about trying to deter some flying beastie from eating him. Luckily I was carrying some of my trusty home made Bug Busting Spray (recipe at end of this post) with me. Its one of those things I always carry in my bag in the warmer months of the year. A couple of squirts of the spray and he was no longer worried about the flying beasts that were troubling him moments before, after he'd been sprayed, you could visibly see the beasties flying away to avoid him, and he declared I 'rocked' lol!

Not everyone knows how to make their own bug busting spray, so they reach for sprays that contain things like DDT or other chemical nasties. All that you need is a few bottles of essential oils in your bug busting armoury and a carrier to ensure you get the irritating beasties to buzz off and leave you alone, so you can get on with enjoying the your summer walks, picnics or just sitting in the garden with a good book and a G&T!

Long before the advent of using man-made chemicals like DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) which was first synthesised in the late 19th century, to eradicate bugs, man was using plant based products to deter them, we have plants that have natural chemicals in them which can be used to get rid of pests: -

Pyrethrum derived from the Dalmatian chrysanthemum (Tanacetum cinerariifolium) which contains a series of constituents called pyrethrins that attack the nervous systems of all insects, and inhibit female mosquitoes from biting.

Derris there are several plants in the Derris family that contain a compound called rotenone including the Tuba Root (Derris elliptica), and other roots from members of the derris family. Rotenone is a powerful broad-spectrum insecticide and fish poison, however the use of derris as an insecticide was banned by the EU back in 2010 due to its potential neurotoxicity.

Quassia comes from a small evergreen tropical shrub known as Bitter Ash (Quassia amara) it is another plant that was utilised for its insecticidal properties having been particularly effective dealing with aphids and  the Colorado potato beetle, the plant contains the compounds quassin and neoquassin which both have insecticidal properties.

Tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) was used to provide the compound nicotine to make an insecticide until the late 20th century, at the end of WWII around 2,500 tons of nicotine were being used on crops to eradicate pests, but the use declined in the late 20th century due to the discovery that the effects of nicotine on on humans and livestock were poisonous.

The four plants above being now know to contain toxic components that were shown to be do more harm than good, not only to the environment but to our health as well, have been replaced by more environmentally friendly products in more recent history. If you’re a gardener you may be interested in my article on Herbal First Aid for the Garden which looks at using herbs to eradicate pests and diseases in the garden, many of those same herbs can be used to help protect us.

Over the past 10 years research has been carried out on the ability of using ‘plant extracts as potential mosquito larvicides’. The plants being tested include to eradicate mosquito larvae include:- Ashwaghanda, Eucalyptus, Holy Basil, Moringa, Orange, Pepper and Turmeric. In 2011 researchers in Thailand looked at the ‘Efficacy of herbal Essential Oils as Insecticide’, focusing on Sweet Basil, Citronella, Clove, Eucalyptus, Lemongrass, Orange and Ylang-Ylang essential oils, as a means of using their insecticidal properties to control three different types of insects, the Anopheles dirus, the bug species which plays a major role in malaria transmission. Culex quinquefasciatus aka the Southern House Mosquito and Aedes aegypti aka the Yellow Fever Mosquito, of the oils studied, the study concluded that lemongrass oil had the most potential “to be used as an insecticide against 3 species of mosquitoes”.

Wild Bergamot is among two Monarda plants that are being studied to act as a mosquito repellents, especially on the Yellow Fever Mosquito, a study conducted by the Department of Pharmacognosy, at the University of Mississippi in 2013 concluded that: - "Systematic bioassay-guided fractionation of essential oils of both Monarda species was performed to identify the active repellent compounds, and isolated pure compounds were individually tested for repellency. Of the isolated compounds, carvacrol, thymol, eugenol, and carvacrol methyl ether were found to be the repellent compounds. Active repellent compounds were also tested for larvicidal activity against 1-day-old Aedes aegypti larvae. Thymol was the best larvicide among the tested individual compounds (LD50 of 13.9 ppm)."

Rose Geranium Flower

Essential Oils with Bug Busting Properties

Horse Flies MidgesMosquitoes
Rose Geranium
Tea Tree
Rose Geranium
Melissa (Lemon Balm)
Rose Geranium
Juniper Berry
Rose Geranium

Five of the Best Essential Oils that Naturally Repel Bugs

Scanning across the lists there are five oils common to eradicate all pests, these being Citronella, Eucalyptus, Geranium, Lavender and Peppermint oils, so having those 5 oils in your bug busting armoury will enable you to reduce the number of flying beasties that can make summer a misery.

1. Citronella – This oil is one of the most popular oils for keeping mosquitoes at bay because it has brilliant insect repelling properties, it contains citronellol, citral, citronellal, geraniol, nerol and the terpene ketone borneol which all add to the insect repelling properties of the oil. The geraniol in particular is a most effective plant-based mosquito repellent and is found in other oils including bergamot, jasmine, lemon, mandarin, melissa and rose. Oils like lemongrass and melissa can be used as a substitute if you don’t have any citronella oil, you can add citronella oil to candles and vaporisers’ outdoors to keep mosquitoes at bay, as well as using the oil is sprays for the body and surroundings.

2. Eucalyptus - Has natural insecticidal and anti-parasitic properties so can be added used in sprays to deter flying insects and pests, the oil has been studied as a repellent against the mosquito, in particular two of the constituents found in eucalyptus, namely p-menthane-3,8-diol and eucamol and whether they are as effective as DEET, in some cases the constituents found in eucalyptus were found to be more effective. The 1996 study conducted by the Department of Medical Parasitology, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine concluded that “Repellents, applied to the legs and feet at doses chosen as used in practice, gave complete protection from biting for between 6 and 7.75 h, depending upon the formulation type, with no significant difference between PMD and deet in terms of efficacy and duration of protection.

3. Geranium – The oil of geranium is a well-known tick repellent, studies have also found it to be effective at eradicating head lice, the oil contains four major constituents: - citronellol (38%), geraniol (16%), citronellyl formate (10.4%), and linalool (6.45%) which are all have natural insecticidal properties. A study on the Insecticidal and Biting Deterrent Activity of Rose Scented Geranium Oils concluded that “rose-scented geranium essential oils and pure compounds from this study have shown promising results as insecticides, which warrants further research to establish them as potential biopesticides. One of the pure compounds, geranic acid, showed highest biting deterrent activity, which was statistically similar to that of DEET. Further research, through intensive in vivo bioassays, is needed to explore the possibility of using this compound as a deterrent/repellent in human protection.” Geraniol is found in the five oils we’ve selected here and as well as being kryptonite for ticks, it’s also a very effective plant-based mosquito repellent.

4. Lavender – This fragrant essential oil is most often associated with its ability to relax the mind and help to de-stress the body, but lavender is also a good oil for helping to banish bugs like flies, moths and mosquitoes. Ketones in lavender oil include camphor which acts as an natural repellent, and the oil has been used for its insecticidal and vermifuge use for centuries, during the medieval period water made from lavender flowers was used as a hair rinse to help prevent head lice and the herb was often scattered around the floors to prevent pests in the home such as moths, fleas and lice.

5. Peppermint - Another useful oil to have on hand is peppermint oil, it’s the arch nemesis of all the biting beasties in our table above, it’s also on the fly exclusion zone for house flies and fleas hate it, as do ants. A few years ago on a holiday in France, the cottage we were staying in was plagued with ants. I always take a basic herbal kit with me that contains a variety of herbal products which includes some essential oils and peppermint is one of those oils. I smeared the peppermint oil around the doors, windows and any other places the ants were getting in to the cottage and within an hour we saw a decrease in ant numbers, by day 3 there were NO ants getting in anywhere, and you could see them taking a wide berth to avoid the peppermint, result!

You can chose also to make your own special blends targeted at one specific insect using theessential oils listed in the table above, or make my Bug Busting Spray.

Mrs Cook's Bug Busting Spray

100ml Distilled Witch Hazel, Perfumers Alcohol or Vodka
10 Drops Citronella Essential Oil
10 Drops Eucalyptus Essential Oil
10 Drops Lemongrass Essential Oil
10 Drops Lavender Essential Oil
5 Drops Geranium Essential Oil
5 Drops Tea Tree Essential Oil
120ml Glass or Plastic Spray Bottle with Cap

Method: The spray is simplicity in itself to make, simply take a clean glass or plastic spray bottle large enough to hold 110ml of liquid, you can use plastic but sometimes essential oils can eat away at the plastic if left long term. Add the witch hazel to the bottle and add the essential oils to this. To use shake the spray bottle to make sure that all the essential oils are mixed in with your carrier solution and spray the bug repellent on to the skin.

N.B. I use perfumers alcohol to make my spray but this isn't so easy to obtain, so use Distilled Witch Hazel which should be available at a local chemist or pharmacy or failing that use Vodka instead, try to get one that is 100 proof, standard 80 proof (40% alcohol) is fine.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to source the most up to date and accurate information, I cannot guarantee that remedies in my articles are effective, when in doubt, consult your GP or a qualified Medicinal Herbalist. Remember also that herbal remedies and essential oils can be dangerous under certain circumstances therefore you should always seek medical advice before self-treating with a home made remedy, especially if you are pregnant, breast feeding or suffer from any known illness which could be adversely affected by self-treatment.

Sunday 14 June 2020

Herbal Things To Do With Children

My stepson has grown in to a fine young man, he's now married with a young family, which now makes me a Nanna, I refuse to be a Grandma that would make me old(er) lol! When they were younger my nephews and niece would come to stay occasionally (the two youngest still do) and whilst they were here, I would share my love of all things herbal with them.

I enjoyed doing this and it seems they loved it to, after one stay several years ago my niece got taken around the school garden and she correctly identified the herb chives growing in their garden and proudly told the teacher all the things you could do with chives, including eating the flowers!

Hearing that news made me smile in a very proud auntie way then and it still makes me smile today, she's now a teenager and will most likely have forgotten that visit but I have the photos haha! My youngest nephew on his last visit took home with him lemon balm, chocolate mint and fennel plants and he uses them regularly as he's quite the budding young chef, its been a standard to teach all three of them how to make mint tea, make parsley sauce and bake a cake of some description with herbs in the ingredients. I can now look forward to teaching my grand children the wonder of herbs and show them how to identify wild herbs and flowers and I can't wait. Whilst I'm (im)patiently waiting for this covid thing to go away so I can once again spend time with them all, thought that it would be a good idea to share my tips with others so they can help turn the children they know into budding young herbaholic's to. If anybody is interested I can recommend a couple of books and resources to help, so leave me a comment below.

There are many ways to enhance the appreciation and understanding of herbs with children, you can engage children in a wide range of activities where they can use and explore herbs without really trying. If you're a teacher or volunteer at your local school, then you can organise school visits to herb gardens, add herbs to nature tables and involve children in class projects looking at growing herbs, their historical uses or using them in crafts, children can learn about wildlife that use herbs as a food source, create a garden to encourage beneficial insects into the area, a herbal butterfly garden can be a delight to children of all ages.

Local flora in your area can also be used as a resource, blackberries, elderberries, nettles and dandelions are also herbs and have had many uses historically in herbal medicine and as food. Some of them can also be used as dyes and to make clothing!

Aside from the child friendly herbal projects that I will be adding to this section, I plan to write a series of information sheets aimed at children that will include general information about the herb, historical information and uses and suggestions to make or do something with each herb. Whilst I work on adding all this, here is a list of ten things you can do with your child to help them explore the fascinating world of herbs.

1. Plan, design and plant a herb garden. If you don't have the space for a outdoor garden, consider growing herbs on the classroom windowsill or on a table close to a window and make a table herb garden.

2. Take a herb Survey. Get your child to do a 'herb survey' of the herbs and spices in the home, once you have a list, get them to look where the herbs and spices come from and what they can be used for.

3. Go on a herb walk. Most local councils offer guided herb walks of some description, not all are suitable for children, but most are. Ask in your local area and see what is on offer, then take the child on a herbal field trip.

4. Make herbal crafts. Pick herb leaves and make decorated paper items, in the same way that potato prints are produced, or press herbs and use them to create decorated items. You can produce gift tags, cards and calenders using both these methods. Make herb pot pourri, herbal vinegar or grow fresh herb plants and give them as gifts.

5. Start a child's herbal or journal. Let the children browse some old herb books online to give them an idea of what they look like, then ask them which herbs they'd like to include, get them to find out as much as they can about the herb in question, write a poem or story, draw the herb and learn its uses, if you have more than 1 child get them to do a herb each and share what they learn. If you're doing this with a class of children, assign each child a herb and get them to draw the herb they've been assigned and write some facts and information about the herb. When all the assignments are complete, put them all together as 'Class 2c's Herbal'.

6. Discover some old herbal uses and folklore. Older children may enjoy interviewing grandparents or other elderly people and asking them if they have any stories about herbs or ways that herbs were used.

7. Compile a child friendly herb recipe book. Pick a variety of favourite culinary herbs and get children to research recipes containing these herbs. If facilities allow make up some of the recipes and get the child to pick the top 10 and produce a small herbal recipe book of their favourite recipes. For younger children this can just be simple things like chives in scrambled eggs. I'll be adding recipes for making herb teas, parsley sauce, herb cakes and biscuits and other items that you can try.

8. Take an historical look at herbs. Get your child to look at the way the Romans, Tudors, Elizabethans or Victorians used herbs, what did they use them for? How does it differ to the way we use them today? Maybe they can drawer these uses or think of ways the herbs could still be used today?

9. Research the way herbs were used. Herbs have been used in many different ways through the ages, to dye cloth, scent the home, preserve food, used to prevent pests and diseases. Get your child to discover these uses and then experiment in the kitchen or classroom with herbal dyes, make lavender wands, tussie mussies and pot pourri. Again I'll be adding posts with information on making all these things, plus a simple salve and other items that older children can make and use.

10. Take a look at herbs as medicine. How has medicine changed over the years? Did we use herbs more in history than we do now? If so what herbs were used and what remedies did our grandparents and great grandparents use? Did they really rub their chests with goose fat? What were mustard plasters? Check your local museum to see if they have any herbal medicine displays. The Old Herb Operating Theatre Museum & Herb Garret in London covers the history of medicine and medicinal use of herbs, they also have a resource pack available to purchase.

That should keep you going for a while, if you have any ideas for things to include or topics you'd like to see added to the Herbal Haven Herbs for Children section then leave me a message. I look forward to watching this resource grow.

Herbs Through the Ages: Elecampane

Elecampane Flowers
Elecampane Flowers © Debs Cook

I'm patiently waiting for this perennial beauty to flower in my garden and whilst I do I thought I'd write a little about its use through the ages. Elecampane (Inula helenium) is said to get the Helenium part of its name to honour Helen of Troy, the Ancient Greeks believed that it was from her tears that the first elecampane plants sprang. It is an herbaceous, perennial plant, native to central and northern Europe and north-west Asia, now found growing in North America which grows to a height of 1.5 metres. It has an erect, stout, furrowed stem, which branches near the top. The leaves are alternate, ovate, pointed, and serrated along the edges, mid-green in colour on the upper surface, the under surface is covered in a velvety coating of fine white hairs, upper leaves are veined and 15-45cm in length. The flowers are borne as terminal heads of deep yellow rayed flowers with many fine petals which look similar to sunflowers and are 5-9cm in diameter. Other names that elecampane has been referred to include: - Inula, Wild Sunflower, Horseheal, Yellow Starwort, Scabwort, Velvet Dock, Elfdock, Elfwort, Enule Campagne, Enula Campana, Echter Alant, Grande Aunée, Helenio, Inule Aunée and Inule Hélénie.

The Greeks used elecampane root to aid digestion and considered it to have a particular affinity with the stomach, but it was also used for a variety of other uses. Dioscorides in the 1st century A.D. administered a drink to patients made from a decoction of elecampane sweetened with a little honey to help to promote urine and menstrual flow. The root he once again mixed with honey and turned it into a syrup which was used to help ease “coughs, asthma, hernias, convulsions, gaseousness, and the bites of venomous creatures, being generally warming.” Dioscorides also liked to use the leaves boiled in wine, which he then strained and applied as a fomentation to help ease sciatica, he also described how it was preserved, it was first dried “and afterwards boiled, then steeped in cold water and put into a decoction and kept in jars for use. Pounded and taken in a drink it is good for bloody excretions.

The 11th century Abbess Hildegard Von Bingen described elecampane as being warm and dry in nature, she employed the root to help ease lung complaints and to relieve migraines, she infused the root in wine and gave the infusion to her patients to drink. If wine wasn’t available she counselled that an infusion could instead be made in a hydromel (honey and water).

Elecampane has long been valued as a healing herb for external wounds, the Spanish conquistadors employed used elecampane to make surgical dressings and poultices for wounds; the powerful antiseptic and antibacterial properties of the root helped to heal putrefying wounds. 17th century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper recommended elecampane to guard against putrefaction and as a means of helping to “remove cramps or convulsions, the pains of gout, [and] the sciatica”.

Whilst 18th century herbalist William Salmon in his book the ‘Botanologia’ published in 1710, gave a list of 22 herbal preparations that could be made from elecampane root. Salmon wrote “From the Root of this Herb you, may make the following Preparations, viz. I. A juice. 2. An Essence. 3. A Syrup. 4. A Decoction or Infusion. 5. A Powder. 6. An Electuary 7. An Ointment. 8. A Balsam 9. A Cataplasm. 10. A Distilled Water. 11. A Spirituous Tincture. 12. An Acid Tincture. 13. An Oily Tincture. 14. A Saline Tincture. 15. A Spirit. 16. A Distilled Oil. 17. Potentiates or Powers [A potentiate was a substance used to augment the activity of a remedy, synergistically.] 18. An Elixir. 19. A Fixed Salt. 20. Sanguis or Blood. 21. The Preserve or Conserve. 22. Enulamel or Honey of Elecampane.” Salmon described the root as being “hot and dry in the third degree” and considered it to be a specific for “old Coughs, Catarrhs, and tartarous matter obstructing the Lungs.

It wasn’t just humans that elecampane's wound healing properties were used, the root got one of its common names of Horse-heal due to the fact that farriers often used elecampane to heal scabs and sores on the heels of horses to help prevent them going lame, the bruised roots were mixed with hog fat to make a salve for applying to horses suffering from the scab. Decoctions and infusions of the root were added to washes for inflamed skin, and used to make poultices and fomentations, the tincture and infusions was also be added to balms and salves to help wounds to heal.

In the 16th century John Gerard recommended using Elecampane for treating shortness of breath, writing that “[elecampane] is good for the shortnesse of breath and an old cough, and for such as cannot breathe unlesse they hold their neckes upright”, there was also a belief that sucking on a piece of elecampane root could protect a person from poisonous vapours and foul air. The Elizabethan’s were rather fond of candied elecampane root, it was a popular sweetmeat of the time, and the roots were also used to make teas and tisanes or lozenges for sore throats, coughs and were used to treat whooping cough. Sir John Hill in the 18th century recommended that the best way of taking elecampane root for coughs was to take a little of the candied root and to hold it “almost continually in the mouth, swallowed gently, so that it will take effect much better than by a larger dose swallowed at once”.

Elecampane Leaf & Bud
Elecampane Leaf & Bud
The medical botanists of the 19th century used a tincture of elecampane as part of a wash to clean wounds and help them to heal. Throughout historical herbal texts you can find references to elecampane being used to help ease asthma and chest complaints, candied elecampane root was once sold in England as a means of treating asthmatic conditions; where it remained a popular sweetmeat in London for easing asthma and chest complaints right up to the mid-19th century. An old recipe involved pounding the root together with sugar, and boiling it up with water to which a little cochineal colouring was added, the resultant mix was then stamped out into rounds and consumed when a person suffered from coughs or asthma.

Elecampane root is one of the ingredients alongside wormwood that goes to make the famous French liqueur Absinthe. The root wasn’t just drunk for pleasure, a decoction was used as a gargle in the way we use mouthwash today, which was believed to strengthen the gums so that teeth that were loose would once again become ‘fast’ in the mouth and prevent the teeth from falling out. The root was chewed to help fix the teeth back into the gums, after Pliny the Elder back in the 1st century A.D. wrote that “being chewed fasting, doth fasten the teeth”, the root was also believed to help stop tooth decay and to prevent teeth from going bad and putrefying.

Saturday 13 June 2020

10 Universally Useful Herbs

Mint and Lavender two perennial favourites.

I often get asked what herbs I would recommend for someone new to herb gardening or for someone with a small garden? Before I recommend any herbs I always ask, ‘what do you want to do with them?’ I get blank looks sometimes because people haven’t fully decided what they want to do with the herbs other than grow them; they may cook with them, use them in crafts or have a go at making their own beauty treatments, some may even wish to make some simple home remedies with the herbs they grow, but if they haven’t found their ‘herbal feet’, advising what they’d be best growing can be a little difficult.

To help in this situation I developed my list of 10 ‘Multi-Purpose Herbs’ for beginners, the 10 that I wouldn't be without, and in fact couldn't be without, and the ones I feel should be the skeleton of every herb garden, the ones used to build the bones that the rest of the herb garden can grow around.

These bones can be used for all the main areas that gardeners usually cultivate herbs, and all but two of them are perennial, they’d also fit nicely into cottage style gardens and can be added to allotment gardens to help bring in wildlife and add some seasoning to your fruit and veg!

Growing them will enable you to add flavour to your cooking, make simple remedies, make your own face creams and herbal gifts and use them around the home for cleaning. The bonus is they’re all relatively easy to grow and don’t need you to do that much to them once established, beyond a haircut and some division every so often.

Below is my guide to 10 universally useful herbs for the garden each entry includes my favourite seed and plant varieties to grow, please take in to account that I'm recommending seeds and plants available in the UK, that I have direct knowledge of from a growing and using point of view, some varieties may be available in other countries, but not all will be.

Herbaholic's 10 Universally Useful Herbs

– Easy to grow and the varieties and ‘flavours’ are endless, I cook with it, make herb teas my favourite is fresh basil with added orange peel and juice, yum! I add basil to herbal bath sachets, it goes in to lots of recipes in the kitchen both sweet and savoury. Basil is really easy to grow from seed, sow in early spring on a sunny windowsill or in a greenhouse then transplant out when all signs of frost have gone. Taking care not to disturb the roots, this is the most common cause of basil casualties, they don’t like having their roots messed with. You can also sow seeds direct into the place you want the seeds to grow in late spring.

Herbaholic's Favourite Varieties: ‘Sweet Genovese’, ‘Aristotle’ & ‘Pluto’.

2) Bergamot – I use this herb for teas, the leaves go into salads, the flowers into fruit salads, dried for pot pourri and it gets added to various body pampering recipes. It’s colourful and the bees and hoverflies love it! Sow seeds on the surface of your compost and give a light covering of vermiculite, the seed grows better in a heated propagator. Bergamot loves to grow in light soil that can retain a little moisture.

The flowers of bergamot will last longer if you grow the plants where they only get sun in the morning.

Herbaholic's Favourite Varieties: ‘Bergamot’ aka Red Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) and ‘Wild Bee Balm’ aka Lemon Bergamot (Monarda citriodora).

– I add it to home made sleep pillows, bath bags, make sprays to protect seedlings from damping off, and planting it near other herbs and plants can help to strengthen them. There are two types of chamomile grown commonly in herb gardens, Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) which is perennial and German chamomile (Matricaria recutia) an annual, I grow both as they have slightly different uses but for a beginner I’d recommend going with the perennial variety. That said if you want to grow chamomile for adding to teas and tisanes then grow German Chamomile as it has a slightly sweeter flavour and isn't as bitter. Grow Chamomile seeds as per Bergamot minus the heat.

Herbaholic's Favourite Varieties: ‘Flore Pleno’ (Chamaemelum nobile) a pretty double flowered variety.

4) Lavender – I’d be lost without this herb! I grow purple, pink and white varieties with a mix of scents, the bees and butterflies love lavender so much as well, nothing beats an afternoon in the garden on a Summer's day smelling the scent of this herb gently wafting upwards listening to the soft buzz of the bees gathering its nectar, bliss. I cook sweet and savoury dishes with it; I dry the flowers and use them along with the chamomile in sleep pillows and bath bags. I infused them with beeswax and other ingredients to make my own furniture polish and the flowers get added to a bath soaks for when I’ve been doing too much in the garden. Grow from seed in a heated propagator, or from cuttings taken in the autumn.

Herbaholic's Favourite Varieties: ‘Hidcote’, ‘Lavender Lady’, ‘Rosea’ (pink) & ‘Ellagance Ice’ (white).

10 Universal Herbs
Image © Debs Cook

 5) Lemon Balm – This is the herb that tells me that spring is finally here, it’s one of the first to emerge in my garden and gets used in a myriad of ways, lemon balm pesto is my favourite recipe, the leaves are full of a citronella like substance which can help deter pests, try rubbing some on your arms and head if you get bitten by midges, the infused oil can be used to make a rather beneficial salve for cold sores. Lemon balm tea is very refreshing hot or cold, I have found that warm lemon balm tea, made from fresh lemon balm to be wonderfully soothing for toothache, fresh lemon balm leaves can also be used to polish wood leaving behind their delightful fragrance. Sow seed under glass in early spring with a light covering of vermiculite; pot the seedlings on and once established plant out into the garden.

Herbaholic's Favourite Varieties: ‘All Gold’ & ‘Citronella’.

6) Marigold/Calendula – Such a useful herb, the petals can be used as a saffron substitute, the flowers can make home remedies, be sprinkled on salads, they can be dried and used in crafts and they’re yet another herb that will bring the bees, hover flies and lacewings into your garden. I make tincture from the flower heads that I use when making my gardeners hand cream. It’s an annual herb but it will readily and easily self-seed, you can sow in modules at the beginning of spring or in late spring sow directly where you want them to grow. Slugs do love feasting on newly emerged calendula so make sure you give them some slug proofing! There are many varieties of calendula, if you want to use them in home remedies ensure that your chosen seeds are C. officinalis.

Herbaholic's Favourite Varieties:
‘Orange King’ & ‘Calendula Long Flowering Mix’.

7) Mint – You can’t beat fresh mint tea, it’s something I’m very fond of, my favourite mint is Chocolate Mint but that's not exactly an all-rounder, if you have the space though it's one I'd highly recommend for teas and for adding to cakes! You can use this wonderfully aromatic herb in herbal beauty products, in sachets to deter pests, in culinary recipes from dips to ice cream and planted near doors and windows it will help to keep ants at bay, it really does work! It’s easy enough to grow from seed, sow the seeds under glass, a gentle heat will help them germinate quicker. Transplant seedlings into large pots though, unless you want a garden full of mint, never plant directly into the ground or you will have a mint garden and not a herb garden!

Herbaholic's Favourite Varieties: ‘Moroccan Mint’, ‘Tashkent’ & ‘Spearmint’ (M. spicata).

8) Rosemary – Is a perfect herb to add as a focal point to your herb garden or bed, its perennial and hardy down to 9.4°C (15°F). Here roasted veggies get sprinkled with freshly chopped rosemary, I make shortbread with it, I make infusions that get turned into creams and shampoos, the dried leaves go in pot pourri and scented sachets to deter moths, and I make herb vinegar that get used to clean work surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom. Don’t use the vinegar on marble surfaces, they will disintegrate due to the acid in the vinegar! Sow rosemary in spring using a part vermiculite part seed compost mix, and give the pots some bottom heat, rosemary can very easily fall prey to damping off disease so give them a spray of chamomile infusion to help prevent this.

Herbaholic's Favourite Varieties:
‘Miss Jessops Upright’ & ‘Beneden Blue’ AGM.

9) Sage – A terrific companion plant, when planted next to cabbages and brassicas, it can help deter cabbage white butterflies. The variegated varieties make terrific plants for tubs and baskets but for medicinal use plant purple sage, other sages will work, but for infusions and mouthwashes purple or English sage is best. Sage makes a lovely herbal rinse of dark hair, leaves scattered in hot water can be used as a facial steam. Fresh leaves can be used in the kitchen, and they make a nice addition to a foot bath to help ease tired aching feet that have been doing lots of gardening. Sow the seed in small pots with a covering of vermiculite on a sunny windowsill, once the seedlings are big enough to handle pot on or plant out where you want them to grow. Note that the variegated varieties are perennial, but will need protecting from frost or they will die!

Herbaholic's Favourite Varieties:
‘Purpurascens’, ‘Tricolor’ & ‘Icterina’.

10) Thyme – Every gardener should have more thyme, the flowers are edible, the bees love them and it has so many uses. I grow several varieties but I’d never be without common garden thyme and lemon scented, both get used an awful lot in my house. Herb butters, herbal shampoos, dried leaves go in sleep sachets and bath herb blends and they get turned into vinegar used in the same way as the rosemary vinegars. Sow seeds in mid to late spring, they are very delicate so sprinkle them lightly on the surface of your compost and do not cover, and they’ll need a little gentle heat to help them along. Once the seedlings are big enough to handle pot on or plant out.

Herbaholic's Favourite Varieties:
‘Orange Scented Thyme’, ‘Doone Valley’, ‘Silver Queen’, ‘Porlock’ & ‘Common Thyme’.