October in the Garden 2018

We’ve had a busy couple of months, and have also been beset by illness, so the blog has been somewhat neglected again!  Here at last is October’s – look out soon for November!

The garden has started to slow down, and pack up for the winter. We have been busy cutting and raking the wild flower meadow, hoping that it has already shed most of its seed. Early next year we shall dig it over again, to give the annuals like poppy and cornflower a better chance to germinate. Wild flower meadows sound like easy gardening to the uninitiated, who may think it’s gardening by neglect: but it’s actually quite labour – and thought – intensive. If you are hoping to grow mostly perennial wildflowers, the soil has to be quite poor, otherwise the grasses will take over.  An annual meadow, with cornfield flowers, needs a richer soil. Getting the balance is quite an art!

Linda working on the Wildflower Meadow

Thoughts now turn to the spring, so we have been planting some more bulbs of Native Narcissus – the wild daffodil – on the bank near the garden shelter. This gives us something to look forward to in the dark days of winter, but also fits within our collection of medicinal plants. Daffodils and snowdrops both contain the chemical Galantamine, which has recently been getting more attention for its usefulness in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.  [See below for more on wild daffodils]

Meanwhile, the building team have been busy preparing some pipework, ready for connection to mains water. This will be an exciting development – the whole project has been going for over a decade without any water on site! The team have also put in some paving at the bottom of the garden, ready for a new bench that is currently on order.


The Native Wild Daffodil

Wild Daffodil Narcissus pseudonarcissus
This is the native British wild daffodil, sometimes called the Lent or Easter Lily, and is the daffodil referred to in the famous poem by Wordsworth. It  was once common throughout British woodlands and damp pastures, but with modern agricultural developments its numbers have fallen dramatically. It is also easily cross-pollinated with the many larger, hardier garden varieties, so that the true wild daffodil is increasingly difficult to find. Blooming in February and March, it has six pale yellow petals (technically these are called ‘perianths’) around the deeper yellow trumpet, and a light perfume.

Myth and Magic
The word Narcissus is derived from the Greek word narke, meaning numbness or stupor, from which we get our word narcotic. Some people therefore suggest this refers to its ‘intoxicating’ fragrance, while others associate it with the plant’s poisonous nature.

The Greek myth of Narcissus tells of a beautiful youth who, catching sight of his own reflection for the first time in a pond, immediately fell in love and remained, enraptured, by the pool in a terminal decline whereupon the gods turned him into the eponymous flower. We have adopted the myth into psychology, so that we describe a person who is unnaturally obsessed with his or her own appearance and personal needs as a ‘narcissist’.

The daffodil is the national flower of Wales, probably introduced in the 19th century as a  more obviously attractive symbol than the Leek. David Lloyd George, the only Welshman to serve as Prime Minister, was a public advocate of the daffodil; and of course it blooms in early spring, thus happily coinciding with St David’s Day on 1st March.

Medicinal Uses
Culpeper recommended daffodil as an emetic. It is certainly true that, for many plants, ingesting the bulbs, leaves, seeds etc would result in vomiting; but more serious, even fatal, side effects occur if vomiting doesn’t remove their poisons.

Various folk remedies – some still in use – suggest using a syrup or infusion of daffodils in the treatment of ailments as whooping cough, colds and asthma, and the bulbs have been used to make poultices for wounds and burns. However, none of these is recommended by modern medical practitioners.

More recently, the extraction of galantamine, as already mentioned, is making Narcissus pseudonarcissus an important plant in medical terms. Although galantamine medications are not a cure, they can defer the progression of certain symptoms in mild to moderate disease, such as confusion, memory loss, and problems performing every day tasks.

It takes 10 tons of daffodil bulbs to produce 1 kilogram of galantamine. It has been shown that higher levels of galantamine are found in wild daffodils grown at high altitude in the Black Mountains in Wales. One farmer in the Black Mountains is currently extracting galantamine from the leaves of his daffodil crop in a potentially commercial project, although it needs to attract more funding to make this certain.

Research is also being carried out in Denmark using daffodil compounds in depression; and a study from China suggests potential in the treatment of some cancers.

Warning – Daffodils are POISONOUS
Ingesting any part of the daffodil is likely to result in nausea, respiratory collapse, paralysis, and even death.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Thanks to the following for much of this information:

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September in the Garden 2018

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.

Herb Society 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.

Trying out the Tudor games

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.

Delicious drinks from the garden and locally sourced apples

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.

Vanessa with the plants for sale

The plants, as well as a number of second hand books, were offered in exchange for voluntary donations.

A varied selection of books

A raffle also helped us raise funds – all going towards essential maintenance.

The raffle prize 

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.

Common Ragweed

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!

Medicinal Uses
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.

Other uses
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

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August in the Garden 2018

We’ve been so busy this summer that actually writing the blog has been neglected, but finally we’ve got it together – August’s is a real joint effort!

The hot dry weather continued, but with some welcome rain later in the month to give us a break from watering. Our lack of rainfall this year reminds us that we tend to take our water supply for granted, and that it must be devastating to live in the really drought-ridden areas of the world.  Some plants do thrive in these long hot days, however. Linda has been cultivating a grape vine at home until it is ready to be planted at the Bath House. The variety is Bacchus, like our garden seat ornament, and it produced fruits this year, though they are small and slightly tart – perhaps not ready for wine!

Linda with the grape harvest!

This month saw us included in the judging for Britain in Bloom – a much briefer visit than for the regional competition, but the judges seemed to appreciate what they saw, and we look forward to hearing the outcome. We also had a visit by about thirty people invited by the local Family History Society. Nino gave them a talk about the history of the Bath House, and the garden team showed them around the Physic Garden.

Different visitors to the garden earlier this year were a number of very busy mining bees, a name given to a group of solitary bee species. Some freshly dug ground at the top of the site proved perfect for their nesting needs. As they were a little like wasps in appearance, we were uncertain at first as to whether they might deliver a sting in their tail for our volunteers, but a little research showed that their stay would be short and welcome. There are 250 different species of solitary bee in Britain, but they are all non-aggressive and their stings are often too small to penetrate human skin. Our bees were females seeking a site for their nest burrows where they construct small cells containing a ball of pollen mixed with nectar. A single egg is laid on this and then each cell is sealed. To find out more about these fascinating creatures, try this link:

The picture below shows one of many different species you might find in your garden
(image courtesy of Steven Falk)

Tawny mining bee

These bees are highly beneficial in any garden, aerating the soil and pollinating many different types of plants. We were able to leave the burrows undisturbed and hope that the new bees emerged unscathed. The area can be dug over in autumn or winter when they’ve flown. If you are lucky enough to have some mining bees in your garden, the advice is   “Let the bees be!”

Our jobs for the month have included clearing out the tool store to make way for new tools, which are to be funded by an award from a local grant provider. Or at least attempting a clear-out – everyone has their favourite among the old and battered collection!   We were pleased to see the bike rack finished, too – perhaps people will now stop leaning their bikes agains the buildings and trees!

The new bike rack installed

We also pruned the soft fruit, and the fan trained fruit trees. It has been a excellent year for cultivated and wild fruit as the lack of late frosts and the hot summer have produced excellent crops. In our hedges, sloes and elderberries have delighted volunteers and local birds whilst our cultivated raspberry and currant bushes are developing very well. Our plum and quince trees are also maturing, and the single Victoria plum – the first fruit on our young tree – was shared amongst the five gardeners present, and very tasty it was too!

On the Bank Holiday weekend the site was used for the first time as a venue for the annual Congleton Jazz and Blues Festival. The traditional opening event is an umbrella parade, and about a hundred people, led by The Beartown Stompers, marched or strolled through the town to the Physic Garden.

Umbrella Parade

The band then played in the garden, and a good time was had by all, relaxing on the lawn in the sunshine, listening to good music.

A garden full of music

Listening to the Stompers


Thanks for mining bees information and image to

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July in the Garden 2018

The relentless hot summer continues. Our plants are really suffering: I’ve never seen roses looking “fried” before,  and swathes of green lawns turned sandy brown. However, leaving our grass to grow longer before cutting it seems to have worked quite well (pre-planned, of course!), as it was able to develop a good root system, and withstand the dry weather –  and was still looking green while other lawns had turned brown. When we do decide it’s time to mow, our regular volunteer Nat will turn up with his new ride-on mower – that really helps to “cut down” our work!

The main event in July was the visit by the RHS judges for Congleton In Bloom – It’s Your Neighbourhood. We were able to show them the progress that has been made on the rainwater harvesting system, and on the new areas of planting near the garden shelter. They wanted to know more about the heritage aspects of the site, too, as this forms such an important part of our overall project. The garden was looking reasonably full of life, despite the drought, and the judges seemed to enjoy their visit. Awarded Outstanding for two years, we hope we will attain this level again, and we were much encouraged when a week later we were selected to take part in the National competition.

All smiles on judging day

Much of our time during these weeks had been devoted to carrying water to the most vulnerable plants – those that were still establishing roots. The meadow, however, was left to its own devices, and consequently has not been quite as colourful as in previous years. It did develop an interesting striped pattern, though, despite our careful mixing of the seeds before sowing. Our theory is that a heavy downpour of rain just after sowing caused the seeds to be re-sorted by weight, with the large round seeds of Corn Cockle finding their way to the lowest contours, while the Corn Chamomile stayed at the top.

The judges and volunteers

The Wild Carrot, which does its own sowing without our intervention, has been very abundant, and buzzes with insects, particularly soldier beetles. Soldier beetles are common across Europe, feeding on small insects as well as nectar and pollen. Their bright red colour is a warning to predators that they are poisonous, so these little exhibitionists have no hesitation in mating in full view on the white flowers. [See below for more about Wild Carrot]. Perhaps the dark red middle flower acts as a decoy to bring them in.

Wild Carrot with soldier beetles – notice the red central flower

We decided this summer, for the first time, to top up the pond with mains water, which we would normally prefer not to use, due to the chlorine content. The pond then rewarded us with two new sightings in time for In Bloom judging day. Firstly, several nymphs were seen climbing the reed stems, so the eggs laid by the dragonfly last year have clearly survived (see blog for August 2017).

And secondly, with perfect timing,  our water lily opened its first ever flower.

Our first water lily bloom

Apart from In Bloom, we were involved in another Congleton event this month, the biennial Congleton Carnival parade, which raises funds for local good causes. The theme this year was Heroes and Villains. The men of our team dressed as First World War returnees demanding the vote for all men, not just the wealthy and landowning. The women dressed as suffragists, with a nod to Congleton’s very own Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy. No villains in our team! Unlike the drenching rain on 2016’s parade, we had sunshine all day, and the fun was enjoyed by the many onlookers who came to cheer us on.

Our Heroines

Back on the site, construction works continued, as Nick has built the standpipe connection ready for United Utilities to connect our mains water supply. We’re now waiting for them to get back to us, so that soon we will have all the basic facilities we need for the future development and maintenance of our precious heritage site. Meanwhile Nick, Andrew and David have prepared the ground for a bike rack by the main entrance, which will recycle yet again the orange-painted recycled bicycle from the Round Britain bike race!

Preparing the ground for the bike rack


Wild Carrot Daucus carota
Wild Carrot is a native of Europe and South West Asia, though now also widely naturalised in the Americas and beyond. In the UK it is seen most often in the south and east.

The wild carrot is a biennial, producing in the first year a low mound of greyish-green, hairy, highly-dissected leaves;and only flowers in the second year. The young root is edible, but it’s too woody to be palatable in the second year. After the attractive flowers, the wild carrot gives us continuing pleasure as the umbel folds inwards and produces a rugby ball shaped seed head. Once the seeds have dispersed on the wind, the seed head remains, like a decorative miniature bird’s nest, to give garden interest over the winter.

Wild Carrot seedheads  

Carrots belong to an enormous family of plants that also includes celery, coriander, fennel, parsley, angelica – and hemlock. Formerly referred to as Umbelliferae, referring to the umbrella-like shape of their many-flowered heads held up on ‘spokes’ above the leaves, this family of 3000 species is now also known as Apiaceae, from the Greek word for celery.

There are many umbellifers similar in appearance to the wild carrot – a lacy cap of white flowers, serrated leaves etc – but it is the only one to have a darker, reddish, flower in the centre, which can be used to identify it with certainty. Unfortunately, this distinguishing feature is not apparent in all specimens so, to be sure you’re not picking one of its very toxic relatives, look for the carrot’s hairy stems – the poisonous plants have smooth ones. Also, a big clue is the scent of the plant: it smells like carrot!

A further warning: some people are sensitive to the sap, which can cause contact dermatitis.

Myth and Magic
I have not found any age-old stories relating to magical properties, although some people might find the change of hue magical. Cultivation of carrots wasn’t recorded in the UK until the 17thcentury, but they were familiar enough for Culpeper to state in his Herbal of 1653: “Garden carrots are so well known that they need no description.” But: they were  purple, the orange variety only just being developed around that time in the Netherlands.

There is an odd myth or two about the plant’s common name – or is it even this plant?According to a number of sources, a common name for wild carrot is Queen Anne’s Lace,  even in the republican USA.  Other sources say that name refers to Cow Parsley, a related plant: I knew that one myself, when I was a child in rural Yorkshire. However, one legend says that Queen Anne travelled around the country in May, and the white flowers of carrot seemed to be decorating her route.  I think this actually supports the cow parsley option – since it comes into flower in May, while wild carrot blooms from June onwards.

The other story goes that Anne pricked her finger while making lace, and the dark red central flower represents the droplet of blood on the fine fabric. The puzzle is, which Queen Anne?  The first British Queen Anne was the wife of James I (VI of Scotland), but why would a plant rare in Scotland be commonly named after a Scottish consort who only became queen of the rest of the kingdom in 1609 and died in 1616?  The only actual monarch named Anne reigned from 1702-1714. She had eighteen pregnancies, though only four live births, and no child survived to adulthood. One could speculate that the lace may refer to baby clothes or perhaps, more sadly, to their shrouds.

Medicinal Properties
Wild carrot has a long history of medicinal application, certainly as far back as the Roman Empire, when Aulus Cornelius Celsus (25BC–50AD) mentioned the use of wild carrot seeds in his work De Medicina. Seeds, stems, roots and leaves may all be used in medicine as in cooking. It was even used as a contraceptive in former times as it induces uterine contractions. It was – and still is by some herbalists – used for:

  • Digestive disorders: calming the stomach, easing flatulence, increasing urine flow.
  • Gout: eliminating waste material from the kidneys.
  • Menstruation: stimulating flow (women who might be pregnant should avoid it).
  • Diabetes: the modern herbalist Juliette de Baïracli Levy(1912–2009) wrote that eating carrot leaves helps control blood sugar levels. and used it in her dietary programmes.


Acknowledgments  – thanks for much information to the following:
http://www.earthstar.blog  (photo of wild carrot with beetles)
And of course to my copy of Nicolas Culpeper’s Herbal

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June in the Garden 2018

As we guessed, May turned out to be the warmest on record, and June has matched and even surpassed that. Sadly, the plants that were enjoying the warm growing conditions are now struggling with the excessive heat, and despite greatly increased watering we may lose some of our more delicate and newly planted items. One of the new Yew pyramids is showing signs of distress already.  Our rainwater harvester hasn’t had any rain to harvest!

Many plants, of course, have already bloomed and are showing their seed heads and fruits. We have had currants of every colour, and a marvellous crop of delicious raspberries, much enjoyed by the volunteers as a treat for their hard work.  In our wild flower garden the Red Campion, attractive to butterflies and bees, has shed its petals and is now offering up extraordinary ‘vases’ of seed.  In former times the crushed seed was believed to be a cure for snake bite, but it is not recognised as a medicinal herb nowadays. However, it is one of many plants containing saponin (sapo being the Latin for soap) and its root can be simmered in hot water to create a soap substitute useful for washing clothes.  Red campion is a widely distributed native plant, with a myriad of different common names depending where you live – just a few of these are Scalded Apples, Soldier’s Buttons, Devil’s Flower, Mary’s Rose, Ragged Robin and Gipsy Flower… Do you know of a local Cheshire name?

Red Campion seed heads

Summers at the Bath House are filled with community events and visits. We joined in the Food and Drink Fair again this year, which in the glorious sunshine attracted more than its usual crowds. We had a very good pitch near to Wetherspoons, and sold a large variety of herbs, some grown by our volunteers and others sourced locally.

Great day at the Food & Drink Festival

We also gave out information about growing plants at home, and leaflets on the Bath House.  One of the easier plants, flourishing particularly in shadier areas, is the foxglove: a biennial, it pops up when you’re not expecting it!

Our foxgloves

Extended summer days allow us to put on evening tours for interested groups, and this month we welcomed the local branch of The Women’s Register. They are (according to their website) “ interested in everything and talk about anything”! Nino gave his history tour of the Bath House and Garden Shelter, and Vanessa, Lyn, Linda and Ros took them on a tour of the Physic Garden.

The Women’s Register group at the Shelter

An exciting development for the garden is a new connection with the College of Naturopathic Medicines*, introduced to us by Barbara Wilkinson, our regular friend and mentor from the Herb Society*.  We hosted a recent study day on site, when students from all over the country learned about identifying herbs and about their traditional and modern use in medicine. We too learned many things, and on this occasion found a new use for the wonderful hawthorn tree: it sheltered us from the fierce sunshine!  We hope our Physic Garden’s range of medicinal plants will become a regular teaching resource for these students.[See below for more information about Hawthorn]

Visitors from the College of Naturopathic Medicine

By the way, we have been working on the website, too, this month – you may have noticed a new page, “About the Garden”. Please take a look!

*Further information about these organisations from  http://www.herbsociety.org.uk    and http://www.naturopathy-uk.com

HAWTHORN  Crataegus monogyna
In May, its masses of creamy-white blossom colour our hedgerows. During the autumn and winter, red fruits known as ‘haws’ appear. All year round, its sharp thorns make it an ideal, fast-growing, hedging plant. And from these characteristics come its most common names: May Tree, Thorn, Hawthorn, and Quickthorn.

Hawthorn is one of the UK’s most familiar native trees, as much is grown for hedging and has been for centuries, especially in the period between 1750 and 1850, when the Act of Enclosure saw thousands of acres of common land divided up by hedges.  More recently, people moving into brand new local authority houses after the Second World War were often given a bundle of hawthorn ‘slips’, or cuttings, to create a hedge around their gardens, and many of these hedges survive, half a century later. ‘Thorn’ also appears in many place names, more than that of any other tree: a survival from Anglo-Saxon field and boundary names. And even the name we now apply to the berry, ‘haw’, is believed to derive from the Old English word for hedge, so the tree is really a ‘hedge-thorn’.

Common hawthorn supports a wide range of wildlife, including hundreds of different insect, particularly the caterpillars of many types of moth. Its flowers are eaten by dormice and provide nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinators, and the haws are a food source for many birds and small mammals.

Myth and Magic
This tree is the only British plant named after the month in which it usually blooms. The magnificent multitudes of creamy white flowers are a signature of May throughout Britain, except in Scotland, where it usually doesn’t bloom until June… which is a good excuse for looking at this plant in our June blog!

“Ne’er cast a clout ’til May is out” – in other words, don’t throw off your winter clothes until the hawthorn tree is in bloom, or until the end of the month of May. Yes, the original meaning of this centuries’ old saying is disputed, but since then we’ve had changes in both the calendar and the climate, so it works either way!

As a child in rural Yorkshire, I would nibble the young leaves, which we called ‘Bread and Cheese’. But we were told never to  bring the beautiful flowering branches into the house: that was deemed extremely unlucky, even bringing death on the house. Botanists have recently discovered that the chemical trimethylamine present in hawthorn blossom is also one of the first chemicals formed in decaying animal tissue. In earlier times, that smell would be very familiar, so this may be why the blossom became associated with death. (It has alternatively been suggested that the taboo arose because the white petals and red anthers were reminders of Christ’s bloody bandages.)

The traditional May Pole was originally made from hawthorn, and hawthorn was said to make the best magic wands.  The 13thcentury Scottish mystic and poet, Thomas the Rhymer, met the Faery Queen by a hawthorn bush. She led him into the Faery Underworld, but upon his return he found he had been absent for seven years.  In Ireland, many of the isolated trees found in the landscape were hawthorns, said to be inhabited by fairies: damaging them was said to bring down the anger, often murderous, of their supernatural guardians .

Medicinal Uses
There are many different species of hawthorn, but in Britain the two most common species offer us very similar medicinal benefits, so we can use either one as medicine or food.  These species are Common Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna (this has one seed per berry), and Midland Hawthorn Cratageus laevigata (two seeds and more deeply indented leaves).  The young leaves, flower buds and berries are all edible, and the whole plant has extremely valuable medicinal properties, which have long been known in folk medicine for remedial action in heart disease and high blood pressure.

Modern herbalists know it for treating angina and arrhythmia, as it increases the blood flow to the heart muscles and restores normal heart beat. It is also used as an anti-spasmodic, diuretic, sedative, tonic and even, combined with ginkgo, to enhance poor memory by improving blood supply to the brain. As a heart tonic it is normally presented  as a tea or a tincture.

The bark is astringent and has been used to treat malaria and other fevers.  Even eating the berries can stimulate the increased performance of anti-oxidants.

As always, it is inadvisable to self-medicate without guidance, and people already taking prescribed heart medicines should seek professional advice.

Culinary uses
Fresh new leaves, emerging flower buds, and flowers can be usefully added to salads in the early spring. You could add a dressing; or mix the young leaves with grated roots such as beetroot, carrot, and ginger.  Fresh berries can be preserved in sauces, jams and jellies, or added to chutney. Dried, the fruits can be chopped and sprinkled on cereal or added to your morning muesli.

Other uses
Bark, twigs, berries, blossom and leaves can all be used in dyeing, though the range of colour and depth of hue is variable. For example: the red berries may produce only a pale pink or even grey; wool dyed with blossoms and leaves turns pale lemony yellow; and wool becomes golden if the dye is made using twigs and leaves.

A tree with many, many gifts to offer us!


Acknowledgements  – thanks to many contributors on the following websites:`




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May in the Garden 2018

What a glorious month! Good weather throughout, though this in itself can add to the gardeners’ workload! New helpers Nat and Declan are now regularly cutting the grass, which is growing apace despite the dry weather. With so many young plants, and this prolonged warm spell, we’ve had to do extra watering. We’ve turned to our water butts and watering cans, as although Nick has now finished building the rainwater harvesting system, it’s not very effective without some actual rain…

The weather was a bonus for our second Spring Open Day. This year we borrowed a marquee from Congleton Community Projects and (after we’d mastered its construction!), it made a great focal point as well as accommodating our visiting stall holders.

Assembly of Marquee – nearly there

Stands for herbal products and for Congleton’s locally pressed apple juice from the Old Saw Mill were there, alongside Alsager Spinners, Weavers and Dyers.

Old Saw Mill Apple Juice? Let’s drink to that!

The Alsager craftswomen showed us just how many shades can be obtained from commonly found plants. Many wild flowers, but also rhubarb, beetroot, apple-tree bark and elderberries produce beautiful dyes and we learned how you can achieve glorious colours, even in your own kitchen, using ancient, simple techniques. We were pleased  that our own dye plants were coming into bloom, such as Dyer’s Camomile – see below.

A rainbow of dyed wools

Further down the garden we had another stand selling plants we’d raised ourselves and others sourced locally, as well as a selection of second hand gardening books.  Visitors also enjoyed Nino’s guided history tours and the much-celebrated tours of the garden guided by our regular expert, professional herbalist Barbara Wilkinson of The Herb Society.

We estimate about 200 people visited during the day, and we were pleased that we’d managed to provide an interesting range of activities and displays for them. Thanks to everyone who contributed, both in preparation and on the day, and to those who expressed an interest in joining the team we extend a hearty welcome!


Dyer’s Camomile     Anthemis tinctoria or Cota tinctoria

Dyer’s Camomile

Originating as a wild flower in southern, central and eastern Europe and the near East, this plant has long been cultivated in Britain as a dye plant. There are many sub-species, hybrids and garden varieties, and other common names are Golden Marguerite, Yellow Camomile and Golden Camomile.

Dyer’s Camomile is a bushy plant with masses of long-lasting, yellow daisy-like flowers above its pleasantly scented dark green leaves. Although classed as a perennial, it tends to go leggy and die after a couple of years so, as it is grown easily from seed, it’s probably better treated as an annual. Drought-tolerant and a magnet for bees and butterflies, it is an attractive addition to a cottage garden or herbaceous border.

Weld, (Reseda luteola), also known as dyer’s weed,  was traditionally used in this country to create yellow dyes, but the arrival of dyer’s camomile brought further choices of hue.

The leaves can be used to create a light green dye, but it is the flowers that produce the range of yellow shades that can be used on any natural fabric, though apparently they work better on wool or silk, rather than cotton. From palest yellow through gold to near-khaki, depending on the dyer’s use of additives, the colour palette is wide.

The flowers once harvested can be used immediately or left to dry, and the warm yellows they produce are a useful complement to the lemon yellows obtained from weld. This  is also an asset when over-dyeing, producing different shades of green and orange.

A harvest of Dyer’s Camomile

Medicinal Uses
The well-known reference book A Modern Herbal by Mrs Grieve, published in the 1930s, mentions Dyer’s Camomile. Her book is quoted widely to suggest this plant has medicinal properties – anti-spasmodic, emetic, and useful in the treatment of piles. However, these uses are based on a one-line footnote to her description of the Mayweed or Stinking Camomile (Anthemis cotula), where she says Anthemis tinctoria has similar properties and yields a yellow dye.

I haven’t been able to find any other reputable reference to this specific plant’s medicinal uses, and it may be that the common name camomile, used for many quite unrelated plants, has produced this confusion.

Camomile or Chamomile?
Twinings the tea company says traditionally no H in English as it was always spelled thus in the Middle Ages, and that the H spelling comes from its Greek name khamaimēlon. Wikipedia states that the H version is American, the non-H spelling being UK English.  Interestingly, however, that bastion of traditional British gardening, the Royal Horticultural Society, spells it with the H.

And what does the definitive English dictionary, the OED, say?
Camomile, no H – but hedges its bets by showing the derivations: ” Middle English: from Old French camomille, from late Latin chamomilla, from Greek khamaimēlon ‘earth-apple’ (because of the apple-like smell of its flowers).”

So, the choice is yours!


Acknowledgements – thanks to the following for much of the information above
http://www.naturesrainbow.co.uk  (also thanks for the picture of harvested flowers)
http://www.botanical.com  – the main source for a Modern Herbal  (quoted by many websites)

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