At the beginning of May the delightful Karen Kenny came to talk to us about herbs. Karen is always a very entertaining and informative speaker and she started off with a brief history of herbs. They have been been used throughout history and many are mentioned in an ancient papyrus which dates back to 2700 B.C! Herbs have had many uses over the centuries including being linked to magic. They also have medicinal uses, some are used for dyeing cloth, as insecticides, for flavouring foods , in perfumes and – years ago – for strewing on floors to disguise unpleasant smells.
Karen brought a selection with her, although some were not what we traditionally think of as herbs. Elderflower was Karen’s most important herb as it has so many uses. Years ago it was put over and around the doors on the last day of April to protect the house and inhabitants from witchcraft, but today’s uses are somewhat more normal. The wood can be used and many people remember as children making peashooters and popguns from the stems. In spring if you boil the leaves with soft soap the liquid is very good for killing off aphids and it gives roses a resistance to blackspot. Karen recommended making fritters with the flowers; delicious with honey and cream! From the berries a thick jelly called Elderflower Rob can be made which is very good for coughs and colds when taken in hot water, and a normal jelly is very good with game. A lovely purple dye can be made from the berries too, and a green dye from the leaves.
Onion is another extremely useful herb which has been in use since ancient times. Eaten raw it is very good for your health and longevity. It is said to help lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Next out of Karen’s basket was chickweed which we all tried, some liking it more than others! Try it in a salad. It also has medicinal uses for cooling and soothing wounds. Lemon Balm followed and that did have a nice taste and makes a refreshing tea. It’s also said to prevent baldness! Mares tail was not what we thought of as a herb but not only was it used to scour pots and pans in olden days, being very granular, but the fresh juice of the first shoots is good for mouth ulcers.
We learnt that Goosegrass was used for dressing wounds and ulcers and you can use the seeds to make coffee. It is supposed to induce sleep. Sweet Cicely had a lovely aniseed taste, it has antiseptic qualities and a sweetening effect, good with rhubarb. Its brown seeds were used to polish furniture. Last out of the basket were nettles. They are an astringent and good for acne and lowering the blood pressure. They make a good soup too.
Karen stressed that it was important not to forget the many uses plants can have, as much of this knowledge will be lost if we do not pass it on to the next generation. So, if you begin to notice lots of ladies round the village picking plants, you’ll know what we’re doing!