All things Herbal

The healing power of Plants and Herbs has fascinated me ever since I can remember and
I can trace my love of all things floral back to when I was a little girl visiting my Nan. I can remember the magical feeling of my Nan’s garden, bursting with loads of colourful, fragrant blooms and magnificent foliage and of course, not forgetting the swing. There was always something going on my Nan’s garden; and nearly every plant had a specific purpose, whether it was for the kitchen, treating ailments, or keeping up appearances.
As a child my Nan would rub Dock Leaves onto my skin when I had been stung by Nettle or she would be warning me not to pick Dandelion because they would make me wet the bed! I can remember childishly questioning how and why certain Plants could have certain effects on my body, and that childish curiosity never left me. Fortunately for me my Nan never tired of encouraging me and she continuously amazed and enthralled me with her tales her knowledge and her wisdom in simple country remedies and folk lore. Remedies and cures which have been tried and tested and passed down from generation to generation.

Herbs and Plants and Trees share a relationship with humanity that much is evident.
Herbalism is the study and exploration of that relationship. We would do well to devote more time to the listening of Nature and what she can teach us in her gentle breezes and torrential storms.
The simple language of Buttercup, the enticement of wild Strawberry and the deadly appeal of Bella donna are moments that when first experienced have stayed with me forever.

For me Herbs, Plants and Trees are magical creations working as one with Mother Earth. Their Roots are embedded into Her, their Leaves and Flowers are bathed in sunlight, moonlight and starlight, blown by the winds and washed by the rains. They feed and nurture Her and in return are fed and nurtured by Her. How much more magical can you get than that.

Of course it’s not all about my fluffy approach and outlook - there is a science to herbal medicine. Botany, taxonomy, phytology, herbology - to name just a few.
The question of magick being a science is not something I am going to discuss and deliberate here, not yet anyway. I’m just going to concentrate on the science and reasoning of Herbs and Plants in the medical and physiological sense for now.

Nicholas Culpepper (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicholas_Culpeper) explained the interaction between the Plant kingdom and humanity in a way my young mind understood the best, and which I also related to the most, above all other written authority on the subject.
This excerpt is from the Introduction to the 1835 edition of The Complete Herbal and is a philosophy I have adhered to since first reading it.

"This not being pleasing, and less profitable to me, I consulted with my two brothers, DR. REASON and DR. EXPERIENCE, and took a voyage to visit my mother NATURE, by whose advice, together with the help of Dr. DILIGENCE, I at last obtained my desire; and, being warned by MR. HONESTY, a stranger in our days, to publish it to the world, I have done it."

I will explain in my own words and endeavour to do the great man justice.

The body consists of five elements each represented by Earth, Air, Fire, Water and a fifth one being Spirit. These well known elements were then named as humours and designated a corresponding bodily fluid all except Spirit which is beyond bodily functions:
Earth = Black Bile
Air=Yellow Bile
Water= Phlegm

These 4 humours need to be well balanced for the creation of the fifth. Your body is a temple and within your body you can reach spiritual enlightenment.

For good health these 4 humours need to be well balanced. An excess or deficit of one or more will result in illness and bad health – whether it be physically or psychologically.

As well as being assigned a bodily fluid – these humours are also given a season, a body organ and a temperament:

Earth = Black Bile, Autumn, Spleen, Melancholy (sadness, dejection, despondency, seriousness, gloomy, blue, dispirited, sorrowful, dismal, doleful, glum, downcast)

Air = Yellow Bile, Summer, Liver, Choleric (wrathful, testy, impatient, touchy)

Fire = Blood, Spring, Heart, Sanguine (enthusiastic, buoyant, animated, lively, spirited)

Water = Phlegm, Winter, Brain, Phlegmatic (stoical, cool, cold, uninterested, dull, torpid, collected, unruffled, placid, quiet)

Culpeper, though his approach was contemporary in his day his ideas were in not.
The concept of the humours originated in ancient Greece with Hippocrates and Aristotle and is a theory that, though not applied in conventional medicine these days is still apparent in Ayuvedic, Chinese and Herbal medicine.
Each plant contains qualities, either one or more but certainly one prevalent, of the humours and it is through the study of the human body, the humours themselves and the qualities and compounds of plants that we learn how and why plant remedies effect and alters our bodies and wellbeing.

Galen is another name affiliated with the humours, a famous physician to the Roman Emperor Aurelius, he developed the ideas from Hippocrates and Aristotle who, it is thought, derived their ideas from ancient Egypt and/or India.
It is apparent to see the similarities with Indian medicine but so little is known about ancient Egyptian medicine that I cannot clarify one way or the other.

Culpeper struck a chord with me most, I suppose, because his well known publication The English Physician (ISBN 81-7030-615-9. (click here for the electronic version http://www.med.yale.edu/library/historical/culpeper/culpeper.htm )
Complete Herbal
(Published by W. Foulsham & Co, New York. ISBN: 0-572-00203-3. Click here for a revised electronic version http://www.bibliomania.com/2/1/66/113/frameset.html )
are books that were constantly thumbed through by myself as a young girl. Though his olde worlde text was enough in itself to enthrall, he wrote with passion and from personal experience. He also added a ruling planet and star sign to each plant which appealed greatly to my young self just discovering the joys and complexities of astrology.

I will be including a small index on some of the more common Herbs, their healing properties and preparations. I will of course add to this over time. I hope this will give some of you an insight into the wonderful world of nature and all She has to provide us. Next time you have a headache or cold or indigestion, try reaching for a cup of Herbal tea instead of the paracetamols and anti-biotics, you might just be amazed.

The information contained here is from experience, studying and documentation I have gathered over the past 20 years. To give credit to each and every snippet of my knowledge would be a pointless and fruitless task. I have included links and references where applicable.
Of course the greatest source has been my Nan – someone who shaped and directed my life far more than she ever realised and unfortunately far more than I ever got the chance to tell her so.
This blog is dedicated to my Nan – the person who taught me the love and light of the Forget-me-not.

God bless you Nanny.

No comments: