herbs


herbs
   Plants grown, or collected from the wild, to be used medicinally or as flavourings; herb gardens were a feature of medieval monasteries, and of country households for several centuries. Wild plants have presumably always been gathered, as was still being done well into the 20th century by many country people, some of whom were locally famous for home-made remedies with which they treated their neighbours. In Mary Barton ((1848), chapter 2), Mrs Gaskell describes a Manchester woman who would walk far to the fields to gather 'all manner of hedgerow, ditch and field plants, which we are accustomed to call valueless, but which have a powerful effect either for good or for evil [abortion?], and consequently are much used among the poor'; these she hung up to dry in her hovel.
   Several Anglo-Saxon manuscripts give instructions on the medical uses of herbs, sometimes with accompanying verbal charms, prayers, and ritual actions; they were presumably used by monks. For the early modern period, there is relevant material in botanical and medical books such as John Ger-rard's The Herball (1597) and Nicholas Culpeper's The Physical Directory (1649) and The English Physician (1652), though much of it came from continental sources. John Wesley's Primitive Physic or an Easy and Natural Method of Curing Most Diseases (1747) gives many herbal cures, and was frequently reprinted in the 18th and 19th centuries. But the great bulk of herbal knowledge must always have been passed on orally, and in home-made 'recipe' books listing ointments, poultices, infusions, distillations, fumigations, and oils for use on humans or animals.
   ■ For early herb-lore, see Bonser, 1963; Hunt, 1990. For a detailed modern regional study, see Hatfield, 1994. See also Vickery, 1995; Barbara Griggs, Green Pharmacy: A History of Herbal Medicine (1981); Chamberlain, 1981; Agnes Arber, Herbals (1912; 3rd edn., 1986). Most local folklore collections and many books on country life include some information on the topic.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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