Herb gardening, and I use a scythe

Today we worked clearing out a bed of herbs that had been sadly overrun, hard work but most satisfying. The lemon balm smelled most divine. It was a beautiful day today, mostly sunny and warm.

Honestly, there may be nothing I’d rather be doing than working in an herb bed on a day like this.

An overall view of this afternoon’s progress.

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I wanted to learn more about herbs in this place, so here a few of the herbs I was working to clear around, the pictures probably give an idea of how much weeding remains to be done. These descriptions are all from Mrs. M. Grieve’s herbal, which I quite love.

Myrrhis Oderata – Sweet Cicely

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Sweet Cicely is very attractive to bees; in the north of England it is said that the seeds are used to polish and scent oak floors and furniture. In Germany they are still very generally used in cookery. The old herbalists describe the plant as ‘so harmless you cannot use it amiss.’ The roots were supposed to be not only excellent in a salad, but when boiled and eaten with oil and vinegar, to be ‘very good for old people that are dull and without courage; it rejoiceth and comforteth the heart and increaseth their lust and strength.’

Tanacetum vulgare – Tansy

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It is connected with some interesting old customs observed at Easter time, when even archbishops and bishops played handball with men of their congregation, and a Tansy cake was the reward of the victors. These Tansy cakes were made from the young leaves of the plant, mixed with eggs, and were thought to purify the humours of the body after the limited fare of Lent. In time, this custom obtained a kind of symbolism, and Tansies, as these cakes were called, came to be eaten on Easter Day as a remembrance of the bitter herbs eaten by the Jews at the Passover. Coles (1656) says the origin of eating it in the spring is because Tansy is very wholesome after the salt fish consumed during Lent, and counteracts the ill-effects which the ‘moist and cold constitution of winter has made on people . . . though many understand it not, and some simple people take it for a matter of superstition to do so.’

‘This balsamic plant,’ says Boerhaave (the Danish physician), ‘will supply the place of nutmegs and cinnamon,’ and the young leaves, shredded, serve as a flavouring for puddings and omelets. Gerard tells us that Tansy Teas were highly esteemed in Lent as well as Tansy puddings.

Culpepper says: ‘Of Tansie. The root eaten, is a singular remedy for the gout: the rich may bestow the cost to preserve it.’

Prunella vulgaris – Self-heal

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The Self-Heal holds an equal place with Bugle in the esteem of herbalists.

Cole, in Adam in Eden (1657), says:

‘It is called by modern writers (for neither the ancient Greek nor Latin writers knew it) Brunella, from Brunellen, which is a name given unto it by the Germans, because it cureth that inflammation of the mouth which they call “die Breuen,” yet the general name of it in Latin nowadays is Prunella, as being a word of a more gentile pronunciation.’

Cole further explains that the disease in question ‘is common to soldiers when they Iye in camp, but especially in garrisons, coming with an extraordinary inflammation or swelling, as well in the mouth as throat, the very signature of the Throat which the form of the Floures so represent signifying as much’ – an instance of the doctrine of signatures of which William Cole was such a ready exponent.

‘There is not a better Wound herbe,’ says Gerard, ‘in the world than that of SelfHeale is, the very name importing it to be very admirable upon this account and indeed the Virtues doe make it good, for this very herbe without the mixture of any other ingredient, being onely bruised and wrought with the point of a knife upon a trencher or the like, will be brought into the form of a salve, which will heal any green wounde even in the first intention, after a very wonderful manner, The decoction of Prunell made with wine and water doth join together and make whole and sound all wounds, both inward and outward, even as Bugle doth. To be short, it serveth for the same that the Bugle serveth and in the world there are not two better wound herbs as hath been often proved.’

Melissa officinalis – Lemon Balm

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(My favourite)

The word Balm is an abbreviation of Balsam, the chief of sweet-smelling oils. It is so called from its honeyed sweetness It was highly esteemed by Paracelsus, who believed it would completely revivify a man. It was formerly esteemed of great use in all complaints supposed to proceed from a disordered state of the nervous system. The London Dispensary (1696) says: ‘An essence of Balm, given in Canary wine, every morning will renew youth, strengthen the brain, relieve languishing nature and prevent baldness.’ John Evelyn wrote: ‘Balm is sovereign for the brain, strengthening the memory and powerfully chasing away melancholy.’ Balm steeped in wine we are told again, ‘comforts the heart and driveth away melancholy and sadness.’ Formerly a spirit of Balm, combined with lemon-peel, nutmeg and angelica root, enjoyed a great reputation under the name of Carmelite water, being deemed highly useful against nervous headache and neuralgic affections.

Many virtues were formerly ascribed to this plant. Gerard says: ‘It is profitably planted where bees are kept. The hives of bees being rubbed with the leaves of bawme, causeth the bees to keep together, and causeth others to come with them.’ And again quoting Pliny, ‘When they are strayed away, they do find their way home by it.’ Pliny says: ‘It is of so great virtue that though it be but tied to his sword that hath given the wound it stauncheth the blood.’ Gerard also tells us: ‘The juice of Balm glueth together greene wounds,’ and gives the opinion of Pliny and Dioscorides that ‘Balm, being leaves steeped in wine, and the wine drunk, and the leaves applied externally, were considered to be a certain cure for the bites of venomous beasts and the stings of scorpions. It is now recognized as a scientific fact that the balsamic oils of aromatic plants make excellent surgical dressings: they give off ozone and thus exercise anti-putrescent effects. Being chemical hydrocarbons, they contain so little oxygen that in wounds dressed with the fixed balsamic herbal oils, the atomic germs of disease are starved out, and the resinous parts of these balsamic oils, as they dry upon the sore or wound, seal it up and effectually exclude all noxious air.

John Hussey, of Sydenham, who lived to the age of 116, breakfasted for fifty years on Balm tea sweetened with honey, and herb teas were the usual breakfasts of Llewelyn Prince of Glamorgan, who died in his 108th year. Carmelite water, of which Balm was the chief ingredient, was drunk daily by the Emperor Charles V.

I used a scythe to cut grass for the first time this morning as well! It’s harder than it looks, and although using a scythe I wasn’t actually scything but ‘mowing’ in the proper terminology.

I also did more weeding on a bed of broad beans and some volunteer potatoes, and got one and a half episodes of Night Vale in.

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And to finish it all off, I milked the goat once again. I was better this time. Exciting day…

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