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September in the Garden 2017

Our annual Heritage Open Day came around once again, and we arrived early on Saturday morning, 9th September, to set up the site. Sadly for us the day was very wet, which made this task quite challenging! Banners were hoisted and balloons blown in the hope that some people would come on this dreary morning. Even our gazebo could not be used as we discovered, rather late in the process, that it might be shower proof but certainly not rain proof! This meant that we had to house our stalls of herbal products and remedies within the bath chamber itself….

Despite this rather damp scene, a steady stream of people started arriving soon after 10 am and continued to arrive throughout the day. In all we had over a hundred visitors, many of who hadn’t been before. The prize for furthest travelled goes to two visitors from Australia, who were in Congleton for the weekend. The garden did its best to provide colour and interest, with garlic chives among those still standing upright!

Garlic Chives defying the rain

On arrival visitors were first greeted by Judith and members of the garden team minding our plants stall. Nino gave his popular history tours throughout the day – and Wendy came from Tesco to supply us all with cake!

Wet welcome to the Plant Stall – Judith’s under the umbrella!

Highlight of the day must go once again to the tours of the Physic Garden by our regular supporter and leading herbalist Barbara Wilkinson. Despite the constant rain, she gave informative and entertaining talks about the medicinal plants we can find in our gardens at this time of year. Barbara is so knowledgeable, and so obviously enjoys showing others the natural herbal treasures lie all around us. She was supported by one of her students of herbalism, Lucienne; her fellow herbalist Caroline brought a range of herbal remedies for visitors to try; while June had brought a number of lovely handmade herbal products.

Barbara and audience – hardy types!

We’d like to say a big thank you to all who braved the elements to support us on the day.

In the garden we are starting to say goodbye to our varied and often wet summer, as the first chills of autumn are in the air, but there is still much colour and many plants, like the Rudbeckia and Nasturtium, will go on blooming well into October. [See below for more about Nasturtium]

Rudbeckia’s sunny spikes

Nick and Andrew, meanwhile, have installed our new service gate, which  will  make bringing things onto the site so much easier. They have also been preparing the ground for the arrival of a rainwater harvesting tank, which is to be buried underground nearby.

NM

Nasturtiums in the Physic Garden

Nasturtium     Tropaeolum majus
This brightly coloured plant is native to South America, principally Bolivia and Peru, and was not introduced to Europe until the middle of the sixteenth century. It was then known as Indian Cress, because the Americas were often referred to as ‘The Indies’ in those days, and the plant could be used like cress in salads, and like watercress has a sharp flavour. Nasturtium officinale is the Latin name for Watercress, which no doubt contributed to our plant’s modern common name. Some people use the alternative name Nasturtian – or perhaps simply find it easier to pronounce.

The name Tropaeolum comes from the Greek work tropaion, being the stand on which armour was hung (as a trophy – see the connection?). The great botanist Linnaeus, who gave it this name in his classification of plant families, considered the leaves shield-like and the flowers like helmets.

Myth and Magic
Elisabeth Christina von Linnė, daughter of Linnaeus, submitted a paper to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in which she described her observations of Nasturtium flowers emitting small flashes of lightning. The English physician and natural historian Erasmus Darwin referred to this paper in one of his botanical publications, and to another scientist’s observation of the same phenomenon…

Some folk tales have it that nasturtium is a protective plant, keeping away unwanted visitors – maybe in parallel to its horticultural properties (see below).

Medicinal Properties
Most parts of the plant can be used medicinally, including the leaves (fresh or dried), the flowers, and the seed pod. It is a plant with excellent antibacterial, anti-fungal and antibiotic properties and it contains a high proportion of Vitamin C.

It may be prescribed by medical herbalists to provide treatment for infections of both the urinary tract and the respiratory tract. As a disinfectant it may be used to treat wounds, grazes and cuts. The Vitamin C content is helpful in treating scurvy, and the seed pods have a strong laxative effect.

Other Uses

Culinary
The flowers and leaves are well known as decorative and pungent additions to salads, or chopped into butter or cream cheese. Even spicier in flavour, the young seed pods can be cooked or pickled as a look-alike substitute for capers, or ground up and added to sauces and stews. In Alsace, the wine-making process is sometimes enhanced with the addition of nasturtium flowers.

Horticultural
As a companion plant, nasturtium protects against pests, especially alongside cucurbits (cucumber, melon, pumpkin) and brassicas (cabbage, broccoli). Some gardeners plant it under fruit trees for the same reason. A concoction of the leaves can be used to spray against insects.  Nasturtium’s bright colours and rambling habit make it highly decorative: the great Impressionist Monet chose to grow it in his garden! Nasturtium can also produce more flowers in poor soil than in rich.

Cosmetic
Nasturtium preparations have been proposed to counteract hair loss: used in a shampoo, or ground into a paste and applied directly to the scalp.

WARNING – like most other healing plants, if not prepared properly any part of this plant can prove toxic, and you are advised not to try homemade concoctions.

JO

Acknowledgements: thanks to the following for much of this information
http://www.Healingweeds.blogspot.co.uk
http://www.Herbal-supplement-resource.com
http://www.Botanical-online.com
http://www.Medicinalherbinfo.org
http://www.En.wikipedia.org
http://www.Gardenfairy.com

 

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August in the Garden 2017

Our on/off summer continues, with one dry day followed by a very wet one. Of course, this is great growing weather, and everything is in full flower, but although it is only August nature has been showing signs already of the autumn to come. There is an abundance of fruits starting to crop and many mushrooms are already making themselves known. So there is plenty for visitors to see, and this month started with a visit from a local gardening group organised by Sue Stanmore. They have been meeting regularly since 1994 and have outings based on their love for all things garden related.

Linda and Lyn, pear tree fan, soft fruit bushes

The grass is keeping us busy in this good growing period; but a new mowing hazard this year has been frog spotting! Our pond attracts all sorts of wildlife; and we helped it along earlier this year with the introduction of frogspawn. Now amongst the grass hide many small frogs, which have to be carefully removed before the mower reaps its harvest.

A froglet in the grass

Around the pond we have often seen the glittering of damselflies and also larger brown dragonflies, but one day we had a special surprise. As we were about to leave from our day’s work, Lynda and Lyn spotted a large green dragonfly called a Southern Hawker. It seemed oblivious to the onlookers, and we noticed that it was looking for little ledges on the very edge of the pond and arching its tail underneath them. It was apparent that this female dragonfly had chosen our pond to lay her eggs. We watched for some twenty minutes before she flew away again.

Our very own female Southern Hawker

Last year we started laying a stone pathway between the garden shelter and the entrance, as this area gets the most footfall and often becomes muddy. We originally left the areas between the stone flags to grass over, but this didn’t really work. Ros had the great idea of infilling between the stones with smaller cobbles* collected around the site. This will be a slow job, but Ros has taken to it stoically, and meticulously selects and lays each cobble by hand in the traditional way. Once laid, they will last for many years, and are easily replaced if any become dislodged. Since Ros started this task, it’s amazing how many times I have noticed this type of work on period yards and pathways, especially at National Trust properties. I’ve learned to appreciate with what skill and effort such cobbles were laid.

*We described this in February’s blog, where you can learn about the local name ‘duck stones’ and other stone-related items of interest! JO

Ros laying cobbles

Among the medicinal plants that are keeping the Physic Garden colourful in late summer we must mention the Black Cohosh. This plant is native to the Eastern states of North America, though grown as a garden ornamental here, and it is indeed a striking individual. From its rosette of dark leaves rises a long stem, topped with a spike of flowers.
[See below for more about Black Cohosh]

Black Cohosh in full flower

NM

Black Cohosh Actaea racemosa
Black cohosh is a plant native to rich, shady woods in eastern areas of North America, and was long known to Native American peoples. The word “cohosh” comes from the Algonquin term for “rough”, referring to the plant’s gnarled root structure. The medicinal properties of the plant are derived from this portion of the plant. A member of the buttercup family, black cohosh has many common names including squawroot, black snakeroot, bugbane, bugwort and baneberry. (‘Bane’ in a plant name indicates poison).

Black Cohosh has been introduced into Europe as a garden ornamental. It is referred to by two different Latin names, depending on the source: Actaea racemosa and Cimifuga racemosa. It appears that Linnaeus, the great botanist who first started classifying plants into families, named it Actaea, but later scientists changed it to Cimifuga. Recently, gene studies have proved Linnaeus was correct after all!

Myth and Magic
Ancient peoples in North America believed that good health resulted from the harmony of body, mind and spirit, and their medicines, using materials they found in nature, were designed to restore this balance. Their knowledge of herbal remedies was extensive, and they shared this knowledge with European settlers, enabling them to recover from conditions they had formerly expected to be incurable. (Unfortunately, some of the European diseases were previously unknown in America, and they all too often indeed proved fatal for the native peoples).

Many traditional Native American medicines are available today, and preparations from the root of Black Cohosh are among them. The plant has been used for centuries to reduce menstrual cramps and the symptoms of menopause. Some therapists also believe in its power as a soothing medicine in both physical and mental / emotional conditions.

Medicinal Uses
In the UK this plant is included in the Traditional Herbal Registration Scheme, although this doesn’t mean it has been tested clinically, just that it has been recognised officially. Research has not conclusively confirmed claims for Black Cohosh, with differing views among academics and medics.

Nonetheless, it is  widely prescribed as a complementary / herbal therapy for menopausal symptoms including hot flushes, mood-swings, irritability, disturbed sleep; and for painful or stressful symptoms of menstruation. It has also been suggested, less frequently, as an anti-inflammatory in cases of arthritis and neuralgia.

Warning
Current advice is that black cohosh should not be taken by breast-feeding or pregnant women, or those trying to become pregnant. Women who have hormone-related cancers should talk to their doctor before taking it.There is also a suggestion that it may affect liver function, so anyone with a liver condition should also avoid it.

Like other members of the buttercup family, black cohosh contains toxins, and unsupervised ingestion of any part of the plant could cause severe poisoning.

Acknowledgements    Thanks for much of the above information to the following:
 – http://www.herbsformentalhealth.com
http://www.rhs.org.uk
http://www.thepoisongarden.co.uk
http://www.thesacredscience.com
http://www.umm.edu (University of Maryland, USA)
http://www.webmd.boots.com

JO

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NEWS FLASH!

September sees the nationwide scheme of Heritage Open Days; and this year we will be holding our Open Day on Saturday 9th September, from 10am till 4pm. There will be history tours during the day, talks on medicinal plants by herbalist Barbara Wilkinson at 11am and 1pm, etc…  More information on the Heritage Open Days website – www.heritageopendays.org.uk

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July in the Garden 2017

As July continues with summer sunshine and showers, it’s time once again for the Royal Horticultural Society’s judges to visit us as part of Congleton’s In Bloom entry. Last year, our first entry in the “It’s your Neighbourhood” category was fortunate enough to be awarded “Outstanding”, Level 5. It will be hard to improve on that, but we were able to show the judges just how much our volunteers had added since last year, and how we had taken on board the judges’ previous comments. This year’s two judges seemed very impressed with our project. One judge suggested an interesting planting scheme for either side of the garden shelter, which we will consider for next year.

The Judges,with John and Linda, in the Garden

Whilst doing the tour with the judges we noticed the top of the garden shelter was again becoming covered in moss and small plants, even baby sycamores, and so we had a go at clearing these away. They like to root themselves in the lime: these little intruders eventually attract moisture into the structure and start to destroy it. Buddleia, despite being a wonderful plant to attract butterflies, is another nuisance on old buildings: I often notice it in cracks or ledges, potentially destroying them.

Vanessa and David  work on the roof

In preparation for the judges’ visit, one of our volunteers, ex-teacher Marion, produced laminated copies of some of the excellent pictorial information sheets created by Wildlife Watch* to place around the site. They give visitors an insight into some of the wild flora and fauna they may see whilst visiting us, and contain further information via bar codes for those who can scan them with mobile phones. We plan to create our own Nature Spotter sheets for school visits and for specific aspects of our garden in future.                       * http://www.wildlifewatch.org.uk

The stand with Nature Spotter sheets

Again focusing on education, we want to provide more points of interest inside the Bath House itself to appeal to visitors of all ages. With this in mind, we recently acquired a shop mannequin, to be dressed in Edwardian fashion to represent our very own herbalist, Emily Elizabeth Waller. We hope to dress a male mannequin too, as either John Bradshaw, previous owner of the site, or Dr Fern, who was the last known regular bather in our plunge pool. The mannequins came courtesy of House of Fraser in Manchester, and much mirth was had as I transported them back to Congleton in the back of my car! A big thank you to the House of Fraser for kindly donating these to us.

A Model Volunteer?

Elsewhere in the garden, late summer plants are coming into full bloom, among them   Hollyhocks and Hemp Agrimony. [See below for more about Hemp Agrimony].

Hollyhock

NM

Hemp Agrimony   Eupatorium cannabinum

Hemp Agrimony in bloom

Native to Europe and widespread, particularly in damp shady areas, this hardy plant is attractive to pollinating insects such as bees, beetles and butterflies. Despite its name, it is not related either to Hemp (i.e. cannabis) or Agrimony, two other quite distinct plants. It may have got its name from the shape of its leaves, which resemble those of hemp. In earlier centuries it went by a number of different and equally confusing names, including Water Agrimony, Bastard Agrimony, Water Hemp, Gravel Root, even Hemlock Parsley.

Confusingly, the other Agrimony’s Latin name is Agrimonia Eupatoria, which doesn’t exactly help to distinguish between the two! Hemp Agrimony doesn’t even look like Agrimony, which has a spike of yellow flowers, but it is similar in appearance to Valerian! (see May’s blog)

Myth and Magic
Pliny wrote that a powerful king, Mithridates Eupator, (120-63 BC), who was also an alchemist, was one of the first people to use this plant for its medicinal properties, which may have influenced the botanists who later gave the plant its Latin name. Culpeper said it was called “eupatorium and hepatorium because it strengthens the liver.

The plant was known to some as Holy Rope, because they thought it was used to make the rope that bound Jesus Christ. Another name was Ague Weed, as it was believed to relieve fevers, and even prevent them.

In the Middle Ages, laying the plant on bread was supposed to prevent its becoming mouldy; and its juice was rubbed on cattle and horses to keep away biting insects. Culpeper refers to burning the herb to create smoke, that would not only drive away wasps, but also ‘strengthen the lungs’ – certainly not recommended today.

Medicinal Uses
Hemp Agrimony has been used for millennia in medicine. The Anglo-Saxons even used it to treat wounds, but long before that it was used in cases of fever, digestive trouble, coughs and colds.It is recorded as being used as: Expectorant, Stimulant, Mild laxative, Relief of fever, Insect repellent, Diuretic, Emetic

The leaves and roots of the plant are used, fresh and dried, in different preparations today, both in herbal and homeopathic medicine.

JO

Acknowledgments: Thanks for much of this information to the following:
http://www.lewespriory.org.uk
http://www.pfaf.org
http://www.rhs.org.uk
http://www.herbs-treatandtaste.blogspot.co.uk
http://www.herbal-supplement-resource.com
Culpeper’s Complete Herbal

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June in the Garden 2017

Is it global warming or just climate change? We seem to be having a series of wet summers over the past few years, and this June in part we have had many rainy days. I of course have to say “in part”, because those cool wet days were preceded by a record-breaking heat-wave with temperatures touching 30 degrees! When you spend a lot of time in any garden you get to realise just how reliant our plants are on the ever-changing weather, and all this rain and then days of sunshine has meant gardeners are almost chained to their lawn mowers, as the grass puts on its summer growth spurt. Some new additions to the Physic Garden have burst into view, too: the wonderful variegated leaves of Milk Thistle and the glorious blue flowers of Chicory.

Milk Thistle

Chicory

One of our garden’s great successes this year has been the wild flower area, now a riot of red, blue, yellow, white and green. When I started this project I thought that growing wild flowers would be easy: don’t you just spread the seed and sit back and nature does the rest? It turns out to have been anything but! The area we now have has been dug over by hand at least four times to remove invasive and troublesome plants such as dock and creeping buttercup, and any docks remaining were regularly nipped in the bud before they could shed their many seeds. It may seem odd that we are getting rid of wild flowers from a wild flower meadow, but the old adage is true: a weed is a plant in the wrong place, and these two are good examples. The thick couch grass was also a problem, choking off much of the competition, so we thinned this out and added Yellow Rattle to weaken the couch grass roots. We gave the area a late spring mow, (not too low), to give the emerging wild flowers a better chance to fight the couch. We also top up the wild flower seed bank each year for good measure, but we don’t add fertiliser – this actually hinders wild flower growth, whereas they thrive in a nutrient-poor soil. After all this effort we can enjoy the well-deserved fruits of our labour!

Wild Flower Meadow

Nick has been repairing the archway that leads to our site, where many of the bricks had been – deliberately or accidentally? – removed. We replaced them with reclaimed period Cheshire curved bricks, with a new redwood frame behind them for support.

The repaired archway

The garden team have been nurturing seedlings since March, coaxing plants into reaching their peak performance for our stall at the annual Congleton Food and Drink Festival on 11th June. We have a stall to sell plants and raise awareness of the garden, though this year our poppies sulked in their pots and cornflowers shivered through the cold spring, but did not quite go blue. Nevertheless we managed a good display, supplemented by plants from a local nursery. The festival was very well attended, with many people visiting the stall (including our newly re-elected MP) and taking an interest in the medicinal properties of our plants. We gave out leaflets, sold plants … and even made a small profit.

Linda Ros and Linda with our Food Festival stall

We end this month’s blog with a cautionary tale, told by one of our gardening team, Linda. The scene is the Physic Garden, on a sunny Monday. Linda takes up the story:

“Will I rue the day?” That is what I jokingly asked Ros and Lyn as I held back the Rue plant with my bare arm while planting our sunflowers. Ros said that I might, as the sap is an irritant. I didn’t seem to be affected so I carried on planting, enjoying the pleasant fragrance of the rue. The next day was also sunny, so I went to water the new plants, including the sunflowers, brushing my arm against the rue again.

By the time I got home my arm was really itchy and red, like sunburn, with a few blisters forming. I took an antihistamine tablet, which helped briefly. I read about ‘rue rash’ on the Internet, and it is apparently a photo-toxin, the rash being triggered by the sun.

A local pharmacist prescribed Hydrocortisone cream, which helped but not as well as I expected, so after another week I went to our local health shop who suggested Aloe Vera gel with a drop of lavender oil. What a relief – the burning cooled quickly! The skin has carried on improving so some three weeks later my arm has a nice tan, with just a shadow of the rash, the blisters having healed.

I definitely rued the day I treated the Rue plant so disrespectfully!

Linda rued her rash act!

We are all relieved that Linda has made a good recovery, but it has certainly made us think about the hidden hazards of gardening. [More about the positive as well as negative properties of Rue below]

NM

RUE Ruta graveolens

Rue – Ruta graveolens

Nicholas Culpeper, who calls the plant Garden Rue to distinguish it from (unrelated) Meadow Rue, wrote in the 17th century about the plant’s many medicinal properties and prefaced his article by this statement: Garden Rue is so well known, both by this name and the name herb of grace, that I shall not write any description of it…

Not a helpful start to many modern readers, who might never come across it in years of gardening. But it was once a very familiar herb, known to Hippocrates, Aristotle and Pliny in ancient Greek and Roman times, and grown by ordinary gardeners since. Some writers say it is native to the Balkan states, others that it originated in North Africa, but it is certainly  found commonly in southern Europe, and by trade and colonisation it has reached the rest of Europe, North and South America, and the Far East.

Myth and Magic
The name Herb of Grace may refer to its use, tied in bunches, to sprinkle holy water in medieval churches. According to legend it was also sometimes used, in the same period, as an ingredient in a concoction known as Four Thieves’ Vinegar, which was supposed to protect against plague.

The herb was considered in some regions to ward off magical spells. It is also said that the suit of clubs on playing cards is a representation of its leaf.

Rue may be a familiar name to some from the scene in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, in which poor mad Ophelia distributes rosemary and other wild herbs: “There’s rue for you, and some for me; we may call it herb of grace o’Sundays.” An intriguing theory about why she kept some rue for herself can be read in the following website: http://www.craftyscreenwriting.com

Medicinal Properties
Historically, Rue was used as an antidote to poison and the plague, as a remedy to relieve pain, and along with alleviating the uncomfortable effects of gas and colic, was thought to expel worms from the body. It was known to be effective in a range of women’s health conditions, including assisting contraception and producing abortion, the latter in particular risking the death not only of the foetus but also the mother.

Remedies may be prepared from fresh and dried plants, or from essential oils. Modern herbalists may recommend preparations from rue:
– to ease muscular sprains and aches
– to lessen abdominal symptoms such as bloating and wind
– as an anti-septic or anti-fungal for skin conditions
– to rid the hair of lice

Beneficial uses of rue are also acknowledged by conventional and homeopathic medicine, especially for pain relief in muscular sprains and aches. In a herbal tea, it may calm the nerves and assist digestion.

Other uses
Rue is edible but very bitter, and can be toxic even in small quantities. Recipes suggest:
– Add to fruity sauces (tomato, plums etc) while cooking – but remove before serving;
– Use as an ingredient in herbal vinegars and pickled vegetables;
– Add sparingly to green salads.

Extracts of rue are also used for cosmetics, hair preparations and insect repellents, and it is said by some gardeners to be effective in keeping cats away.

WARNING
Although it is considered edible, it should never be eaten in large amounts, and never by children or pregnant women. As described in the main blog, close contact with the plant combined with sunshine can result in a burning, blistering allergic reaction.

JO

Acknowledgments  Thanks for much of this information to the following:
http://www.herbwisdom.com
http://www.anniesremedy.com
http://www.stylecraze.com
http://www.webmd.boots.com
http://www.chowhound,com
Culpeper’s Complete Herbal

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May in the Garden 2017

We hosted our first Spring Open Day this year on a fine dry Saturday, and welcomed more than a hundred visitors. They were treated to my talks on the history of the site and buildings, and Barbara Wilkinson of The Herb Society took them round the garden giving fascinating insights into the medicinal plants. There was also a seed swap, and stalls selling herbs and locally produced apple juice. Several visitors signed up to become volunteers and we raised over £100 for the project. Our thanks to you all.

Open Day May 2017

Our next public event will be for Heritage Open Days on Saturday 9th September – but you can pop into the garden at any reasonable time.

Meanwhile we are making progress with our plans for a toilet building, and need to find the correct ground levels so that access can be as easy as possible into our rather awkward site. It never ceases to amaze me just how many skills we have within our group and this was yet one more occasion. I arrived armed with long lengths of timber and a spirit level, only to find Nick was already prepared with a professional surveyor’s theodolite and measuring stick. Yet another of Nick’s hidden talents!

Nick and theodolite

The cockerel weathervane having flown off in a storm last winter, we were pleased to welcome him back after major repairs by a local metal working firm, Belmont Fabrication.

The cockerel is at home again!

We often give tours of the site to small groups, and the month of May is a great time to do this with so many of our flowers now in bloom: what looked to be bare earth back in February is now verdant green and teeming with flowers and insects. The Congleton Trefoil Guild were the latest group to enjoy a history tour and garden visit one evening this month. The Trefoil Guild is a branch of Girlguiding and offers its members (men and women over18) personal and social opportunities whilst supporting Guiding and Scouting. For more information visit http://www.trefoilguild.co.uk

The frogspawn we added to our pond in April has now developed into tadpoles that are growing apace, and they can be seen with their long black tails gathering around the rocks in the sunshine, visible in this photo just above the mint.

Tadpoles in the pond

Among the varied array of plants adding structure and colour to our garden this month, not to mention attracting the bees, we could single out the majestic angelica, and the pretty pink native Valerian, which has been used medicinally for centuries [See below].

Bee visiting Angelica

Another attractive feature is the heart shaped bed at the lower end of our garden. Its border has been planted with Chives, known for  their culinary and medicinal uses but perhaps underrated for their lovely spikey purple flowers, very popular with our bees and other pollinators.

Chives used as edging to the herb bed

I happened to be in the garden during a very strong wind storm and the bees had decided it was too dangerous to fly so were clinging for dear life to the individual chive flowers, with their wings tucked tightly into their bodies.

Bee on chives

NM

Common Valerian Valeriana officinalis

Valerian in bloom

Valerian is a native plant, often growing near water, tall, with many branching stems topped with white or pale pink flowers, and attractive to butterflies and bees. It has a recognisable scent, which some people find pleasantly musky, while others refer to its similarity to dirty socks… Ancient writers apparently called the plant phu – like ‘pooh’ – so were obviously in the latter camp!

Not to be confused with Red Valerian, (no relation), introduced as an ornamental, and now a widespread garden escapee, which prefers dry, well drained conditions, tolerates lime, and seen locally growing out of walls and taking over patches of wasteland – this is Centranthus ruber, native to warmer Mediterranean climes, with no medicinal value, though its vivid blooms are attractive both to gardeners and to bees, and in some countries the leaves are added to salads. Wind-borne seeds quickly set up home – free plants!

Myth and Magic
Valerian’s name may derive from the Latin verb valere, meaning to be healthy.

The herb was used by magicians and sorcerers in love potions; and in herbal pillows to induce sleep. It was also claimed to tame wild animals and attract rats. There is a theory that the Pied Piper of Hamelin may have been using valerian root as well as music!

Valerian was hung in their homes by the ancient Greeks to keep evil spirits away, and by the Celts to prevent lightning strikes.

Medicinal Uses
It is the root of Valerian that is usually indicated when describing medicinal properties, although the leaves can be dried and made into a tea or tisane. It has been used as a medicinal herb for at least two millennia, with many ancient texts describing its properties: Galen used it to treat insomnia, Pliny believed it brought pain relief and Dioscorides wrote that it was both a diuretic and an antidote to poison.

In medieval times, valerian was used for so many therapies that it was also known by the name of ‘All-heal’ . In the 16th century, Gerard’s Herball said it was excellent ‘… for such as be troubled with croup … and also for those that are bruised with falls’. In the following century, Nicholas Culpeper recommended its use for coughs, headaches, ‘dimness of the eyes’, flatulence – and even against the plague.

Valerian was used in the treatment of ‘shell shock’ in World War One, and was listed in both UK and US official pharmacopoeia up to the middle of the 20th century. Valerian remedies are widely available over the counter today in many European countries.

Modern medicinal herbalists still prescribe valerian extract – in tea, tincture, capsule or tablet form – as Culpeper did, for colds, fevers and shortness of breath.
Its greatest medicinal value, however, is as a sedative. It is frequently prescribed for insomnia; modern scientific research supports this, having identified those of its properties that affect the central nervous system, and recent studies show that it is as effective as some synthetic drugs without the unpleasant side-effects.

WARNING: as with any tranquillising drug, users should not take alcohol, nor drive any machinery, when using valerian; and pregnant women should avoid it. Also, prolonged use of larger doses can result in headaches, nausea, and other symptoms of poisoning.

JO

Acknowledgments – thanks to the following for some of the information above: http://www.victoriananursery.co.uk
http://www.theguardian.com
http://www.rhs.org.uk
http://www.theherbalacademy.com
http://www.theherbgardener.blogspot.co.uk
Culpeper’s Complete Herbal

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