Medicinal Herbs-have We Lost Touch?

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman

I have often wondered how the general populace would fair, if for some reason there was a shortage of modern day medicines, and they had to rely , as our ancestors did, on home made preparations to maintain their health.How many of us would be able to go out into the countryside and gather the herb required to make a preparation to alleviate their symptoms. ? Indeed, how many would be able to identify the herb they have bee advised to seek.?

In archaic times our ancestors would be capable of identifying the plant and the part of the plant they would require to make an infusion, decoction, tincture, ointment, cream and lotions etc,.

The fields, lanes, meadows and byways were nature's medicine chest. Doctors {physicians} were unaffordable to the masses. Thus a basic knowledge of wild herbs was essential to their well being. Even up to the 1930s-1940s a basic knowledge of wild herbs was known to many and they were still commonly used to treat a variety of common ailments and wounds. Alas, since then the majority have lost touch with nature in general and the uses of wild flora in particular.

Our forefathers who had a relative with a broken limb  would have ventured out into the fields to seek out Symphytum officinale -the common comfrey. he would then have dug up the roots which would then have been crushed to a pulp and packed around the affected limb. The mixture would dry hard to the consistency of Plaster of Paris and effectively served the same purpose knitting the broken bone together. hence the country title for the plant of knitbone.

The same roots, together with chicory and dandelion roots were utilised to make a coffee which compared in taste with the real thing, but lacked the unwanted caffeine. The fresh young leaves made a good green vegetable, eaten regularly by country people. When I was employed in the dispensary producing herbal medicine I was often instructed to make an ointment where extract from comfrey was the main ingredient. The ointment was applied to varicose veins with good effect. Within the cells tissues of comfrey is the chemical "allantain" the only natural source of the chemical which has proven healing agents which helps in reducing swellings.

Comfrey

The common comfrey was a much sought after plant in days gone by. Photograph courtesy of Nova at wikimedia commons.
The common comfrey was a much sought after plant in days gone by. Photograph courtesy of Nova at wikimedia commons.

Betony

Betony Stachys officinalis, was once considered to be a sovereign remedy for all maladies of the head, and as general tonic. The plant is aromatic.The powdered herb was employed as the main component of a snuff which produced sneezing relieving the symptoms of head ailments such as blocked sinuses.

The common colt'sfoot Tussilago farfara was much in demand by those that were suffering from coughs and bronchial complaints. Indeed, tussilago derives from the Latin name for a cough tussis. The leaves of this plant contain high levels of sodium, calcium and magnesium. The juice of the leaves was converted into a syrup for coughs. They were also candied into a sick that was sold at the pharmacy until quite recently. Colt'sfoot was also utilised as a herbal tobacco to alleviate the symptoms of asthma helping to clear the passage of the respiratory system without the harmful effects of ordinary tobacco. Colt'sfoot tea, sweetened with honey or liquorice was taken to relieve colds and the symptoms of asthma.

Top Coltsfoot foliage. Bottom betony

If our ancestors had a cough they would seek out the leaves of coltsfoot.
If our ancestors had a cough they would seek out the leaves of coltsfoot.
Betony was utilised as a snuff to clear the head. Photograph courtesy of Augustin Roche {Nova}
Betony was utilised as a snuff to clear the head. Photograph courtesy of Augustin Roche {Nova}

WOUNDWORTS.

A group of plants known as the woundworts' were also much sought after, these include the Yarrow Achillea millefolium, Lady's mantle,Alchemilla vulgaris, Marsh woundwort,Stachys palustris and the hedge woundwort,Stachys sylvatica. I have used the latter on many occasions over the years during my forays into the countryside. On one such occasion I cut my hand on a piece of broken glass which had been left in the vegetation. the cut was not wide but deep and bled heavily. i employed the leaf of this plant to the wound and held it firmly till the bleeding had subsided. A fresh leaf then replaced the original one which was discarded. I kept the wound covered by the foliage until I arrived home. It was then left in place and covered by a sticking plaster which remained in place until the following morning. When it was removed the wound was closed and clean. Modern day science has confirmed that the foliage contains natural anti-septic qualities.

Apart from their fame as a woundwort, the foliage of yarrow has astringent properties that help to stop the symptoms of diarrhoea. Just chewing the leaf of this plant has a binding affect and alleviates the symptoms.

Yarrow

Yarrow is one of the oldest known wound herbs. It was employed by the Anglo Saxons to heal wounds caused by swords and other weapons. Photograph courtesy of Pritchard. Wikimedia commons.
Yarrow is one of the oldest known wound herbs. It was employed by the Anglo Saxons to heal wounds caused by swords and other weapons. Photograph courtesy of Pritchard. Wikimedia commons.

Identify your plants

It would be much more difficult to name a plant that has not been used medicinally at one time or another for one ailment or another in days gone by.{ even the poisonous ones} Plants such as chamomile infused as a tea is still popular today. But could the majority who enjoy this beverage be able to go out in to the countryside and identify it growing in the wild?.

One plant that is easily identified by almost everyone is the stinging nettle, we are warned at a young age to shun the plant because of its stinging hairs which are painful. However. how many know the benefits this common "weed" can bestow on man. So that I do not repeat these benefits, you may wish to see my hub "NETTLES JUST A WEED ? YOU MUST BE JOKING, which deals with them in greater detail.

Plants have been utilised by man in many ways to produce the scents of household items , a good example of these is the smell of pine in disinfectant, magnolia in air fresheners, Lavender in soaps, creams, soaps and products for bath water, the list goes on and on.

As a countryside ranger I often lead walks which takes in the wild flora and their usefulness to man. I am always surprised that even the adult members of the group I am leading fail to recognise common plants with the exception of the common daisy and dandelion { two other beneficial herbs} . However, the numbers that attend the walks lead me to believe there is a lot of interest in the subject. People want to recognise the plant and whether or not it is beneficial in herbal medicine or edible in culinary preparations. Which gives me hope that in future we will regain our knowledge of nature and her benefits.

Plants have been an important part of other alternative medicines , in particular the Bach flower remedies. Fellow hubber Shalini Kagal has written some excellent hubs on this subject and is well worth a visit. Benefits of plants have been well documented by len7288, also worthy of the attention of any one interested in the subject.

The wild species of flora beneficial to human health are far too numerous to be dealt with in the confines of a single hub and I shall return to them over the coming months.

Chamomile . Bottom ox eyed daisy

Chamomile is still drank regularly in the form of an herbal tea.
Chamomile is still drank regularly in the form of an herbal tea.
The large ox-eye daisy was once utilised in medicine.
The large ox-eye daisy was once utilised in medicine.

More by this Author


Comments 21 comments

D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

An excellent plant which you are wise to utilise. It has many virtues. Have you seen my hub about the comfrey. Best wishes to you.


aslanlight profile image

aslanlight 5 years ago from England

I grow Comfrey in the garden and make ointment with it. My friends and myself have healed various aches, pains and wounds with it. It's an amazing herb.

A wonderful hub!


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Pollyannalana, thank you for reading .identification of herbs is essential.There are many organisations that have walks being led by people who will help you identify herbs. Practice makes perfect.Your right natural medicine is preferable as far as I am concerned.


Pollyannalana profile image

Pollyannalana 6 years ago from US

Great hub, one of my top interests and you do wonder how they knew all this in the past or found out and only 'Clan of the Cave Bear' comes to mind, lol. I want to read your others too,

I know our laws but I go for what God gave me over chemicals that can kill me or cause worse problems, I use herbs daily but I have never gone searching and I would love to. I recognize greens from my Mom but that is as far as it goes.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

pippap, thank you for reading and for leaving your kind comments.


pippap profile image

pippap 6 years ago from Surrey, BC

Informative hub complimented by pictures of the plants you're talking about - great hub. We can always use hubs that promote the natural life.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Kaie Arwen thank you for reading and for taking the time to comment.And thank you for the compliment regarding Green Lotus.


Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 6 years ago

In answer to your first paragraph.......... I don't know one person who would even begin to know how to take care of themselves with medicinal herbs......... except maybe Green Lotus......... you are both quite knowledgeable.

The answer to have we lost touch............ Yes, we have!

Thanks,

Kaie


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Hi wrenfrost56, nice to meet you. Thank you for reading and for taking the time to leave your appreciated comments.


wrenfrost56 profile image

wrenfrost56 6 years ago from U.K.

Great hub D.A.L, lots of useful information and lovely pictures.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

hypnodude, thank you very much for your kind and encourging comments.


hypnodude profile image

hypnodude 6 years ago from Italy

I forgot to say up to now that being a ranger was my dream since I was five years old, so I feel a little of envy. :) I love your hubs, one better than the others. Rated, bookmarked and stumbled. Have a great day!


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Hi Carol wish you well with your new herb garden.Thank you for leaving your appreciated comment.

Linda, there are several ways to add to your interest concerning plants.medicinal and culinary uses and a plethora of other ways flora has been utilised by man. I think we should respect them for without the oxygen they produce we could not live.


Linda Myshrall 6 years ago

Hi D.A.L., This is absolutely fascinating! I have long been a plant lover and gardener, but, for the most part, my interest in them has been either in looking at them or eating them. This is a whole new area of interest--thanks for the jolt to a mind that goes numb more often than I'd like! Best, Linda


reddog1027 6 years ago

D.A.L., its always nice to read an informative, well balanced hub on herbal medicine. I enjoyed it immensely. My summer project is going to be a medicinal herb garden.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

IzzyM, thank you for reading. Hope it has helped you to identify them now and be able to put a name to them.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK

Great hub full of interesting information:) Of course, all modern medicine has its roots in these plants. I used to have a list but its true they are nearly all plant deriratives. Like deadly nightshade or the opium poppy, to name but two.

I recognised a lot of the photos you put up, but didn't know their names, far less their uses!


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

haaris-1 nice to meet you. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. Will come to your hub soon.

Sufidreamer- thank you for reading. As a fellow Lancastrian I am not surprised your gran was knowledgeable in such things. Maybe you could do a hub about the herbs in Greece, and as you know many of the Latin names derived from that Country.

Darlene my friend thank you for reading and for leaving your appreciated comment. Always nice to hear from you.


Darlene Sabella profile image

Darlene Sabella 6 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

Hello my friend, what an awesome hub, and yes where are our medicine men...gathering the roots and flowers. We are in the wrong generation I must say, or maybe you can be our Shaman, I will vote for you to be our medicine man of our village...Great hub


Sufidreamer profile image

Sufidreamer 6 years ago from Sparti, Greece

Good Hub, D.A.L - I am glad that there are people like you keeping the art alive. My gran was a mine of information about healing plants, but so few people listen.

Folk medicine is still alive in this part of the world - lots of wonderful herbal remedies that work well - Greek mountain tea, thyme honey. All good stuff :)


haaris_1 profile image

haaris_1 6 years ago

Hi, D.A.L , your content was really informative and i agree that we should have little awarenwss of the common herbs, For that matter ive also published a hub: http://hubpages.com/health/haarisj it will tel u that how increadible medicine "Black Cumin" is. I'll be waiting for you valued comments... Have a nice day :)

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working