In my novel, Leap the Wild Water, there is a market-place scene where Megan is introduced to an elderly woman called Martha. Martha is a healer, selling the potions she has made. She embarrasses Megan when offering her a small bottle of Heartsease essence for mending broken hearts.
Martha has a sixth sense for the underlying cause of Megan’s unhappiness. It was this intuitive sixth-sense which set people like Martha apart from others. From ancient times, knowledge of healing herbs was passed down orally through the generations. Ordinary people had a wealth of knowledge about how to treat common ailments which afflicted them or their families. Women like Martha were consulted when usual treatments were ineffective and more intuitive or specialist knowledge was required.
When researching my family history I discovered that my great-great-great grandmother, Mary Jones, nee Morgan, was a herbalist of some renown. Born in 1796, near Strata Florida Abbey (picture above)she moved to Breconshire, Wales in 1838. It was said that people came from all over the county and beyond for her cures, travelling many miles on foot or horseback. Though no written or oral record survives of the remedies she used, they were likely to have been her own unique combinations of plants which were commonly used to treat ailments at that time.
I suppose it must be from this ancestor that I have inherited my love of wildflowers and fascination with their past usage. Personally, I believe that just to walk among nature’s bounty is healing in itself. Walking the Welsh mountains and vales has provided great comfort to me when I have needed it.
Below I have listed a few of the plants which were widely used;
- The bilberries which grow in profusion on the slopes of Welsh mountains were used to treat eye problems. Their efficacy has been borne out in more recent times when British pilots in WW2 were given supplies of bilberry jam to aid their night time vision.
- Pictured above growing in an old quarry, Coltsfoot flower tea was an old remedy for coughs. Also, the shredded leaves were smoked in a pipe to ease a bad cough.
- Dandelion was used to treat diseases of the liver and kidneys. I remember as a child being told that if you picked dandelion flowers you would wet the bed. This was a corruption of the truth as dandelion was originally used to cure bed-wetting in children.
- The flowers and berries of Elder were used to treat colds and fevers.
- The aptly named Feverfew, above, was used to treat fevers and is also known to be an effective remedy for migraines.
- The use of Mugwort can be traced back to pagan times. Mugwort placed under the pillow at night was deemed to produce prophetic dreams. It was also worn as an amulet to ward off evil. The famed physicians of Myddfai, in 13th century Wales, recommended hanging it in the house to ward off flies and fleas. Burning Mugwort inside the house was said to ward off bad spirits.
- Nettle was an ancient remedy for gout.
- Plantain leaves were used as a poultice for wounds.
- RED POPPY
- Pictured above, another remedy offered by the 13th century physicians of Myddfai was an infusion of boiled red poppy seed-heads to aid sleep.
- The appropriately named Self-heal was used to staunch bleeding and treat wounds.
- The effectiveness of St John’s Wort for the treatment of depression has been proven, like many other old remedies, by modern day science.
- An infusion of Wild rose petals was a popular and effective remedy for a broken heart, as was the Heartsease mentioned above.
- WOOD BETONY
- Wood Betony, above, was a common cure for those plagued by nightmares and insomnia.
- Yarrow was valued for its properties of divination.
Herbalists like my ancestor were also guided by the Doctrine of Signatures in divining which plants to use. According to this ancient wisdom, each and every medicinal plant carries a ‘signature’ which donates its proper usage. For example, the spotted leaves of the lungwort plant (pictured above) were said to resemble the insides of lungs, and walnuts were used to treat diseases of the brain due to their strong resemblance to the lobes of the brain. Here is a link to an article on the Doctrine of Signatures on Wikipedia. http://ow.ly/kgFRp Please do not try remedies at home without verifying their safe usage!
Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy; historical suspense novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.
You can read about the books or purchase them by clicking on the links below.
Leap the Wild Water: http://ow.ly/jEoi302jXkd
The Calling of the Raven: http://ow.ly/4uRO302jXmd
Anywhere the Wind Blows: http://ow.ly/73tq302Ov71
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