I have several nicknames, my husband endearingly calls me the Septic Ferret, this has nothing to do with my personal hygiene but was a result of his response to me calling him a lazy old goat at precisely the moment during an episode of Blackadder in which Baldrick had clearly done something unspeakable. Such billet doux as we send each other (please remember to feed the dog/electrician arrives at midday/we are out of milk) are invariably signed off sfx or luvlog. Beat that Cyrano de Bergerac.
However, it is my most recently acquired nickname that is relevant today. Professor Smellie Sprout. Again this has nothing to do with overcooked Christmas vegetables. This name was given to me by my knitting group on hearing that I had recently completed a certificate course in Herbology at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. .
[Oh and I got a distinction by the way]
Much mirth ensued until I cured a very swollen ankle with my sore muscle salve , and offers of beatification followed. Sainthood is not my thing, I couldn’t keep up the good behaviour for a start, but herbs most certainly are.
[Did I tell you I got a distinction?]
So in October 2020 I start fours years of training to become a fully fledged, officially registered Smellie Sprout at the School of Plant Medicine in Cork. In the meantime I need to keep my hand in so I have been writing up my Materia Medica. I imagine most people write up theirs electronically. I don’t, not least, because come the apocalypse when the internet is but a dimly lit memory my Materia Medica will still be going strong.
Even its box is a thing of beauty, and apparently an office appliance no less.
On one of the first mornings when I could wander around the garden without the need for wellies and waterproofs I began to take photographs to attach to the notes. It’s surprising how much medicine you can plant in your garden.
Verbena officinalis Vervain. The subject of my first monograph. One of the oldest sacred herbs for the Romans, Greeks and Druids. Useful for tension headaches, migraine and may also have a role, in conjunction with some antibiotics, in the control of MRSA.
Hypericum perforatum St John’s Wort. Well known as an antidepressant it is also an important external wound healer.
Tanacetum parthenium Feverfew. Best known for the treatment of migraine (and its ability to self seed with gay abandon) it is also an anti-inflammatory and is used in the alleviation of arthritis pain.
Borago officinalis Borage. One of my favourite garden herbs, so pretty and a delicious addition to summer drinks. A cooling herb it was once called “cool-tankard”. “Borage for courage” is an oft-quoted expression indicating its ability to restore life and vitality to the downhearted and those weighed down by mental exhaustion.
Artemisia verlotiorum Chinese Mugwort. One of the many medicinal Artemisia, one of the digestive bitters and strongly linked to the female reproductive system.
Artemisia absinthium Wormwood. Forever to be linked to the era of Toulouse Lautrec and the apparent hallucinations brought on drinking copious amounts of absinthe. The hallucinations were believed to be the result of the high levels of thujone in the plant, although that has now been debunked. Today its extreme bitterness makes it a valuable member of the digestive bitters group of herbs and may also help the body cope with infection and fever.
Verbascum thapsus Mullien. Unsurprisingly also known as Aaron’s rod, it provides dramatic structure in the garden both when flowering and as a dry autumnal stem. Primarily a respiratory remedy, reducing inflammation and increasing fluid production. During a long and nasty viral infection this summer I drank mullein tea every day and can confirm that it is an excellent expectorant and soothing plant.
Leonurus cardiaca Motherwort. A member of the mint family, the clue is in the common name, motherwort has a long association with the female reproductive system and motherhood. Its Latin name indicates its use as a cardiac tonic.
Foeniculum vulgare Fennel. Almost ready to harvest the seeds. A carminative, aiding digestion, antispasmodic and often used to relieve colic.
Matricaria chamomilla Roman Chamomile. This isn’t doing quite as well this year since the husband “weeded” my original plants earlier this summer. These are the replacements and with only two flowers thus far my harvest will be very low this year!
Lavendula sp Lavender complete with friend. I’ve been cutting and drying all summer, we have about six bushes which have been very productive this year.
And here it is drying in the kitchen.
Time to write up all the notes now.
Love Gillie x