The main event in September was our Open Day, part of the national Heritage Open Days weekends, and also of our own local Congleton Heritage and Antiques Festival. It was very well attended, with about 150 visitors coming to hear Nino and Ros give guided tours of the Bath House, and Barbara Wilkinson of the Herb Society give her fascinating talks about the medicinal properties of the plants in the garden. The Herb Society also provided an interesting and colourful stall.
We had borrowed a marquee to house a number of stalls, including one from Little Moreton Hall, where visitors (both young and old) could try their hand at heritage games and children’s activities.
We had our own produce to sell, as Lyn had made elderflower cordial, and Linda had made blackcurrant jam, both using the harvest from the Physic Garden. We also sold apple juice and cider vinegar made at the Old Saw Mill local community cooperative.
Our plant stall carried home grown plants, as well as a tray of plants kindly given by the local nursery, RPG Herbs. We occasionally help them with plants and seedlings from the garden that they need for a particular project; and we are very grateful when the favour is returned.
The plants, as well as a number of second hand books, were offered in exchange for voluntary donations.
A raffle also helped us raise funds – all going towards essential maintenance.
The prize was a basket of goodies, all made by our volunteers, using ingredients grown in the garden. The lucky winner, from Biddulph, had taken care to increase her chances by buying several strips of tickets.
As ever, we get many visitors who have lived locally for years but are discovering the garden for the first time – and we are very pleased to share the secret. However, in September another visitor to the garden was less welcome. It was a mystery weed that popped up on the disturbed ground of the building site.
We have identified it as Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisifolia), an invasive American plant. It is used in native American medicine, and can apparently help to remove heavy metals from the soil, but it also tops the US list of the worst plants causing allergic reactions. On balance, we decided to pull it up. You can read more about it below.
Common Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisifolia)
Here at the Bath House & Physic Garden we are reluctant to name any plant a ‘weed’ – they are just plants that are growing in the wrong place. However, this intruder from the USA is an exception as it doesn’t have beauty or usefulness to recommend it, and it would rapidly colonise any patch of disturbed ground to the detriment of plants we want to encourage. Its flowers are small and greenish, and as they contain no nectar they attract no bees, butterflies or other welcome pollinators. Instead, the pollen is wind-borne, straight up the noses of every hay-fever sufferer for miles around.
North American native people cultivated this plant as a crop, thousands of years ago, but they gave it up in favour of maize well before the earliest Europeans set foot on the continent. It is now considered a noxious weed, and its seeds can unfortunately lie dormant for up to forty years waiting for the right conditions, which include most of Europe, where it has gradually established itself over a few hundred years. Carl Linnaeus, the botanist who organised plants into ‘family groups’ with Latin names, including introductions from outside Europe, gave it the completely inappropriate name Ambrosia, we don’t know why: one theory is that other botanists had so named ‘similar’ plants in the Mediterranean area, so he followed their lead.
Myth and Magic
Ambrosia (meaning mortality) was the food – or drink – of the ancient Greek gods, usually linked with their other form of sustenance, Nectar. In Homer, nectar is usually the drink and ambrosia the food, but other sources reverse it. In one of Aristophanes’ plays, for instance, a character says, ” I dreamed the goddess poured ambrosia over your head out of a ladle.” But, of course, ambrosia could be both a liquid and a food, like honey. Not so our invasive plant with the same name, sadly!
Native Americans in various parts of North America used this plant and Giant Ragweed (Ambrosia trifida) medicinally, as well as making an oil from the seeds. The leaves of ragweed have been used as an astringent and as an emetic, and it has been said that tea made from the leaves is useful in a number of ailments including fevers. Chewing the root is said to have a sedative effect, and a laxative tea can also be made from the root. The juice from its crushed leaves can be applied to insect bites to soothe irritation.
WARNING: We do not encourage making remedies at home, and you should consult a professional in herbal medicine if you are interested in pursuing this line of therapy. And please note: some people get a rash just from touching the leaves, and the pollen is certainly a top allergen.
Ragweed has been used as a food crop, and potentially the proteins and oils could be of use. Giant Ragweed can be used in dyeing: pale green from leaves, red from flower heads.
Acknowledgments We are grateful to the following US sites for much of our information