by Joseph Nolan, Medical Herbalist
Whilst out for walk with my toddler recently, a story I’d heard from another herbalist came to mind: “What have I got?” It comes from a doctor’s daughter, who, living on the continent during the war, had been given the task of gathering wild herbs, the only available medicines at the time. It had, through necessity, become her habit to scout out what plants were on hand wherever she was and to see what she had got. So, on the local cycle path the other day, my little one and I looked around and took stock of what we had. And it really was quite a lot.
There was Yarrow for helping bleeding, wounds and small infections as well as menstrual problems, bad skin, allergies,and viral infections.
Then we found Elder which is great for coughs, colds, fevers, hay fever and allergies, runny noses, ear nose and throat infections and poor immunity not to mention mottled skin, sprains, strains, bumps and bruises.
It’s always lovely to see roses – wild or planted – especially when you take into account that they can be used for digestive disturbances and diarrhoea, anxiety and insomnia, menopausal complaints, winter immunity and viral infections, bad skin and high blood pressure. Not just a pretty face.
Staying with flowers, Californian Poppies, and quite a lot of different poppies in fact, grow in peculiar profusion and come in very handy for sleep and obsessive type-anxiety, combating addictions and calming over-stimulated children.
Birch is useful for aches and pains, arthritis, fevers, the morose mood that accompanies chronic pain and as a spring tonic. Tapping the trees in early springtime is traditional in northern climates, with the syrup used to flavour drinks and dainties.
Nettles were in plentiful supply on our walk which was good to see because, not only are they important for butterflies, they are also extremely efficacious for allergies and hay fever. They’re also great for anaemia, kidney problems, male reproductive problems, as a diuretic and detoxifier and as wonderful healthy and sustaining spring vegetable. And at the end of the summer, when the nettles are tall, those long tough fibres can be used to make surprisingly soft supple and extremely durable cloth.
There are Raspberries for eating, of course, but their big soft leaves are also perfect for pregnancy and for strengthening the bladder and tissues of the pelvis in women and men.
Hiding in the hedgerow we found Hawthorns aplenty, which we can use for high blood pressure, arrhythmias, poor circulation, blood vessel problems, heart problems, insomnia, anxiety and depression. And the berries taste great in brandy!
Sticky Willy, or Cleavers, clamber over much in the neighbourhood and we can use it for all kinds of swelling, as a detoxifier, for infections, tonsillitis, swollen glands and as a spring tonic with birch and nettle.
The list is almost endless. We’ve got Goutweed and Pilewort, Crampbark and Knitbone, Cherry for relentless coughs, Oak for strong teeth and gums, Couchgrass for bladder irritation and infections, Dandelion for constipation and Apples for snacking.
We have got quite a lot. And now we are well stocked indeed!