Frosty Floral February
Well we may have had some cold and frosty mornings but there is still colour to be found in nature. And even some signs that Spring is on the way….
Some images taken in frosty floral February.
Should you ever visit Montpellier the Saturday market at Arceaux (beneath the aqueduct) is well worth a trip. The aqueduct is very interesting to see too and was the first means of bringing water to the city.
However, I am constantly trying to improve my French so visiting Montpellier market and learning French common names for medicinal plants was a wonderful way to spend a morning.
The market offers an inviting array of fresh fruit and vegetables. The fresh and inspiring aromas of a French producers market.
The herb stall was particularly fascinating for me. Although the scientific names for plants are the same worldwide common names vary considerably. Even between England and Scotland there are differences in some common names for plants.
Some names I knew such as pissenlit, frêne, souci and bourrache. However there were some new ones too. Whenever I write a plant profile for the blog I try and remember to add the French common name to make it a little easier for anyone trying to source in France.
I knew menthe poivrée was peppermint but I didn’t know menthe pouliot was pennyroyal. I was also unaware that cynorrhodon was the French common name for rosehip. I’m not even sure where you would start pronouncing that one! Coquelicot is poppy though I was unsure which poppy. The most bizarre of all chiendent is wheatgrass and here I was looking at it hoping it wasn’t some sort of dogs tooth!!!
Always something new to learn. I really enjoyed the Montpellier market and learning French common names for some medicinal friends.
As an Ayrshire lass I could hardly miss out on the birthday of our national bard, Rabbie Burns.
Much of his work involved love or nature. He was particularly known for his dislike of winter. It seems fitting on his winter birthday to remember
“… leafless trees my fancy please …”
Happy Burns Day!
The wintry west extends his blast
And hail and rain does blaw
Or the stormy north sends driving forth
The blinding sleet and snaw.
While tumbling brown the burn comes down
And roars frae bank to brae
And bird and beast in covert rest
And pass the heartless day.
The sweeping blast, the sky o’ercast.
The joyless winter day
Let others fear, to me more dear
Than all the pride of May
The tempest’s howl, it soothes my soul,
My griefs it seems to join
The leafless trees my fancy please,
Their fate resembles mine!
Thou power supreme, whose mighty scheme
These woes of mine fulfil,
Here firm I rest, they must be best,
Because they are thy will!
Then all I want, O do thou grant,
This one request of mine.
Since to enjoy thou dost deny,
Assist me to resign.
French common name: cardabelle
If you have ever visited the villages of Saint Guilhem-le-Désert or La Couvertoirade you may have noticed the above dried flowerhead nailed to many doors. Known locally as the cardabelle. I saw the cardabelle door charm in both villages mentioned. However, apparently it is common to see on doors in many small villages throughout the area.
The leaves have a similar resemblance to a thistle. Indeed it is in the same botanical family as the thistle and the sunflower. A member of the Asteraceae botanical family. A fascinating flower.
It is native to Southern Europe preferring stoney or rocky places on poorer soils in mountainous areas.
Our guide, Nicholas, informed us the cardabelle is hanging on doors for two very different reasons. First of all it is a bringer of good luck. A protector against evil spirits. A reason one might expect. Secondly it is a useful instrument for weather forecasting!
Yes, you read correctly. Apparently it curls inward when bad weather is due. The images here are from Saint Guilhem-le-Désert on 8th December. It was a particularly cold day there but not wet. The following day was also cold and dry.
Unfortunately it is now an endangered species. Collection of this cardabelle door charm from the wild is now forbidden. However, our guide assures us the same flower-heads have been hanging on these doors in Saint Guilhem for years.
Apparently Carlina species were traditionally cooked and eaten as a globe artichoke substitute. It appears to have had medicinal use for spasms in the digestive tract, gall bladder and liver. Furthermore reputedly an aphrodisiac.
Finally if you are ever in the vicinity of either village they are well worth a visit to see. Both villages have fascinating history with the added bonus of seeing the cardabelle door charms in situ.
At this time of year there are so many winter bugs. Using essential oils for vaporisation in the home or workplace helps support the immune system. If the dreaded lurgy has already hit select essential oils to help with breathing difficulties and congestion.
The following are some of the popular essential oils to support the respiratory system. Incidentally, many of these are trees.
Boswellia carteri contains approximately 40% monoterpenes. Monoterpenes are antiseptic, bactericidal and antiviral (Clarke, 2002). However, Lawless (1995) notes constituents vary dependent on species of Boswellia used. West (2003) recommends frankincense for mucous conditions like catarrh and bronchitis. Monoterpenes aid in fighting infection.
Renowned for its ability to slow down and regulate breathing. This is probably why it is often used as incense in meditation. Perhaps this effect on breathing, combined with the anxiolytic action, is why it is frequently found useful for asthma.
This was always one of my favourite oils. It has got quite expensive though so I tend to use it less frequently these days.
Melaleuca leucadendron, Eucalyptus globulus, Melaleuca viridiflora and Melaleuca alternifolia are members of the Myrtaceae family. Price describes this family particularly beneficial for the respiratory system and highly antiseptic tonic stimulants.
As mentioned these essential oils tend to be more stimulant in action. Although these are great oils to use when you are under the weather if you find them too stimulating it is best to avoid bedtime use.
Balz (1999) notes 1.8-cineole is found in Melaleuca leucadendron, Eucalyptus globulus, Melaleuca viridiflora and Rosmarinus officinalis ct cineole*. This constituent strengthens airways and is expectorant. Price (2000) suggests the major action of 1.8-cineole is its mucolytic property. This property is beneficial for coughs and congestion in the respiratory tract. Penoel (1992) adds although 1.8-cineole often shows a strong bactericidal action, particularly against Staph aureus, it is generally considered much more effective in the treatment of viruses.
So oils with 1.8-cineole definitely win a position on the list of essential oils to help with breathing difficulties and congestion.
*Note: Rosmarinus more commonly known as rosemary is a different botanical family. However, dependent on the growing conditions some plants are particularly high in 1.8-cineole.
Davis (1996) describes Eucalyptus globulus a purifier and recommends using in a burner where there are negative energies. Some sources (including Price, 2000) suggest Eucalyptus globulus too strong for use with babies and young children and generally recommend Eucalyptus smithii as an alternative. I personally would agree and would add Eucalyptus radiata as another alternative.
Price (2002) consider both smithii and globulus high in cineole. However globulus is usually a little higher and may be as high as 85%. The smithii type is considered to have better quenching properties for aromatic medicine/ aromatology use but the globulus type is considered an excellent expectorant and antiseptic with the antiseptic property also beneficial for urinary tract infections like cystitis.
Eucalyptus citriodora has a lemony scent. Frequently added to anti-mosquito blends. This has a very small amount of 1.8 cineole. The chemical composition is predominately aldehydes. Although a useful oil not so beneficial in a winter congestion blend.
Eucalyptus staigeriana has slightly more 1.8 cineole than citriodora but not nearly as much as globulus or smithii. However, it is still useful as it has approximately 30% monoterpenes. However, it will not be just as clearing as globulus or radiata varieties.
Melaleuca leucadendron or cajeput contains between 45-65% of cineole (Davis, 1988). Davis believes cajeput clears nasal passages by reducing mucus production and inhibiting bacterial growth in colds, flu, catarrh and sinusitis. In addition, it has a pain-killing action beneficial for the aches and pains associated with flu, head colds and sore throats.
Members of the Pinaceae family are effective for respiratory disorders particularly catarrh. Pinus sylvestris, more commonly known as Scots Pine, is a powerful air antiseptic and therefore beneficial used in a vaporiser or burner. It has been used for this purpose on burns units as a preventative against infection in severe burn patients (Price, 2000).
A study discussed by Nicholls (1998) highlights its anti-infective action. The study used aromatograms, 50 essential oils and 175 patients with infectious conditions. Pinus sylvestris was one of the oils in the top 10. Definitely a tree oil worthy of a sniff! It is high in those infection busting monoterpenes.
It is one of my personal favourite essential oils to help with breathing difficulties and congestion. I like it blended with a little sweet orange essential oil. In addition it blends well with eucalyptus and lavender. In Scotland I liked walking in the pine forests when feeling a little under the weather.
If travelling, whether air travel or simply the daily commute to work, a handkerchief works well. Simply add two or three drops of your chosen essential oil or blend of oils to a tissue or handkerchief. Ideally keep the tissue in a sealed bag to retain the aroma throughout the day.
Some essential oils will stain so if a favourite cotton handkerchief perhaps add the oil to a paper tissue or handkerchief-sized piece of old cotton sheet instead.
There are so many vaporisation options for the home. A wide range of electric oil diffuser are now available to purchase. The price range of these varies greatly so shop around. Ideally try to find one in use. Some shops selling them often have a model or two you can try in the shop.
If seeking a cheaper option, ceramic burners using tea-lights to warm the essential oil and water mix work well. The disadvantage, for safety, you must remember to blow out the candle if going out or when going to sleep.
I would also recommend you choose one with a large enough water and oil well bowl. Some are particularly small. If the bowl is too small the mix often evaporates before the candle has had chance to burn down. The result is a gloppy mess on the bottom of the ceramic bowl.
You can also add four or five drops to a bowl of hot water. Lean over this bowl for steam inhalation. Please take great care to avoid stinging eyes or burning your face. Keep a safe distance and keep your eyes closed. Some of the stronger more potent oils may sting your eyes. Steam inhalation is a great way to help clear congestion in the nose and head.
Essential oils do not disperse in water. Blend a couple of drops in ether a tablespoonful of oil or full fat milk. Add this to the bathtub for a soak, sit back, relax and breathe.
These days fewer and fewer homes have bathtubs. In these situations use a basin and prepare as a foot or hand bath instead.
A decongestant salve is ideal to rub on your chest when you go to bed at night. Choose an oil you find relaxing to aid sleep in addition to helping breathing. I like frankincense in a decongestant salve with a little drop of warming ginger too. Experiment with blends to see what works best for you.
Finally if you would like to find out a little more about using essential oils to help with breathing difficulties and congestion look out for the next Thyme Breaks essential oils course.
Well after a long Droughtlander… Season 3 eventually hit our television screens in September. The following is the Outlander Season 3 Summary of Medicinal Plant Remedies.
Finally in episode 3 a medicinal plant, milk thistle, enters a scene and Murtagh is back!
However, Jamie and Murtagh are in Ardmuir prison and Murtagh is poorly. He has had enough dam thistles. They chat about Claire. Click here to read more about milk thistle or Carduus marianus.
Claire and Jamie are yet to be reunited. Consequently, Claire is still in Boston, in the future, though her life is just about to change…
Probably, the most eagerly anticipated episode. Claire and Jamie reunited after 20 years.
The morning after, Claire is sitting in the brothel parlour eating breakfast. Due to mistaking Claire as the new girl, Dorcas offers to show Claire where the tubs are
“…ye can soak yer parts in warm water”. – Dorcas
“Make sure ye show the jars of sweet herbs. Put them in the water. Madame Jeanne likes us to smell sweet”. – Peggy
Sweet herbs are most probably aromatic plants from the Lamiaceae botanical family. Herbs such as lavender, rosemary, lemon balm, perhaps mint too.
Mollie suggests a warm bath helps stop a bairn from coming. As a result, Claire sees the opportunity to utilise her herbal knowledge
“Actually, mugwort is quite effective for stopping pregnancy. You take it as a warm infusion” – Claire
You may remember in Season 2, Episode 2 titled “Not in Scotland Anymore”, Claire visits an apothecary store in France. There she meets and befriends Master Raymond.
After discovering Suzette (the lady’s maid) and Murtagh together, Claire returns to the apothecary in Episode 3. As a result, she asks Master Raymond’s help for birth control for Suzette. Master Raymond recommends mugwort.
Wow that was a bit of rollercoaster episode…. Claire rushes off to the apothecary for plant medicines to try to save the exciseman from his severe head wound.
While there she meets Archibald Campbell asking advice for his sister Margaret. His request is for anything that might calm her nerves. In particular he mentions mandrake root and hemlock.
Mandrake root (Atropa mandragora) and Hemlock (Conium maculatum) are out of modern use. Hemlock is sedative to the motor nerves and muscles (Menzies-Trull). In Margaret’s case, her brother Archibald, probably heard of its use for excitability and mania. Hemlock is on the poison schedule.
Mandrake root had many traditional uses. Also believed sedative. Podophyllum peltatum is the American mandrake. A different species. I understand this is digestive in action.
For the exciseman, Claire purchases a bottle of laudanum, some ground yarrow root and tormentil. Claire would select laudanum, opium based, as a painkiller.
Herbalists today prefer the aerial parts of yarrow (Achillea millefolium) rather than the root. It is astringent so Claire probably would have decocted the root to use to reduce bleeding. In addition, tormentil (Potentilla tormentilla or P. erecta) is also an astringent wound healer. It is high in tannins.
Thereafter, upon returning to the brothel and the ailing exciseman, she tries her hand at trepanation! Although Claire successfully releases the clot the exciseman inevitably ends up Crème de Menthe!
Later Claire visits Margaret Campbell. Her brother had given her a few drops of laudanum to keep her calm prior to Claire’s arrival. Poor Margaret certainly is very sombre, at least initially!
Margaret has trouble sleeping and has nightmares. She sits staring at the wall. Claire diagnoses a mental disorder.
She recommends mistletoe tea with a few drops of tansy oil. In addition she proposes valerian tea to help her sleep. Finally she insists no more laudanum!
Claire would have recommended the combination of Viscum album (mistletoe) and Valerian officinalis (valerian) for Margaret’s nervous disposition. Mistletoe is a sedative and tonic for anxiety, nervousness and panic attacks. Valerian is a muscle relaxant and sedative for anxiety, nervous tension and excitability. Both herbs very much still in use by herbalists today.
Keen Outlander fans may remember Claire gave Angus her port which included valerian. This was the episode titled The Gathering and before her marriage to Jamie. She planned to make Agnus sleepy. Unconscious he would miss her escape from Castle Leoch. Fortunately she tripped over a sleeping Jamie in the stables before being able to steal away with a horse.
The Monestir de Sant Quirze de Colera was discovered, quite by luck, on a recent trip to northern Spain.
Unfortunately it was a dreich day (good Scottish weather word). Fortunately not cold but very wet. Still even the bad weather did not dampen the visit. A remarkably beautiful area with a fascinating 9th century Benedictine monastery.
It has proven quite difficult to find information about the monastery. Any I have found is mostly in Catalan or occasionally, Spanish. Unfortunately neither language of which I have much knowledge. However, both the Monasteries de Catalunya and the Província de Girona Art Medieval websites are worth a look for the stunning photographs alone.
Stories abound. A document apparently suggests two brothers Libenci and Assinari took possession of the Albera range of valleys and mountains from the Saracens during the time of Charlemagne. Whether or not these two brothers founded the monastery is unknown. However, this appears to be the general belief.
The protected Albera range is stunning and so tranquil. A flora and fauna lovers paradise. Interestingly it is one of the last areas in the Iberian peninsula to find the Hermann tortoise in its natural environment. I didn’t see one but being sun worshippers I’m sure they were all hiding away from the bad weather. There is always next time.
Many plants grow around the monastery. This led to a wonder of what medicinals the Benedictine monks utilised.
On researching I found a particularly interesting paper from the Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Titled, The Pharmacy of the Benedictine Monks and published in 2012. The study concentrated on old prescriptions from a monastery in Brazil. However, as a Benedictine monastery the knowledge, and plants it would seem, were largely acquired from France. Strongly influenced by Galenic/Hippocratic medicine. In fact some 84% of the medicinals were not Brazilian natives.
The root of Gentiana lutea, recorded in several prescriptions as an aperitif and tonic, is still in use medicinally. A bitter digestive remedy. It seems plant roots were more frequently utilised. The authors surmised this may be due to preservation issues.
Other herbs included elderflower, lavender, dandelion, peppermint, juniper, ash, wormwood, hyssop, chamomile, sweet violet, soapwort, valerian. All herbs still in use today and plants I could imagine growing near the Monestir de Sant Quirze de Colera.
If ever in the beautiful natural reserve of the Albera area, the Monestir de Sant Quirze de Colera is well worth a detour.
As a special halloween treat, or perhaps trick, I thought we would look at a macabre medley of medical ministrations! Some of the gory ancient medical treatments in the search for good health!
There is centuries of evidence of our ancestors boring into skulls (trepanation).
Many theories abound as to why this was done. While some consider a ritualistic cause the general belief is medical intervention.
Seems likely this was for pain relief perhaps following trauma. A release of pressure from headaches and other neurological conditions such as epileptic convulsions.
Any Outlander fans, of books or TV series, may remember Jamie Fraser bloodied and battered, after taking punishment for Laoghaire at Castle Leoch. Mrs Fitz brought leeches for reducing swelling. She pointed out to Claire they were of no use after the bruising has set.
Although the above is a fictional account, leeches were used. Most commonly utilised in cleaning wounds to avoid infection.
I learnt of one ancient treatment, which I found particularly horrific, at the apothecary of St Lizier.
This treatment, utilised to treat sciatica, contained dog oil and 500 g of worms marinated in hot oil.
The dog oil recipe contained four small puppies! In the image of the old oil jars you can just see to the left the word ‘chien’. The jar reads ‘H. de chien’ translating as oil of dog. Poor puppies. I cannot imagine this treatment of worms and puppies provided any benefit to the sciatica patient. Certainly no life for the poor puppies or indeed, the worms!
Thankfully the above treatments have fallen out of favour.
I have written previously about my visit to New Orleans and Voodoo. Looking through some old photographs recently reminded me of this trip. The photographs included in this post are from an enjoyable visit to the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum seven years ago.
I do love visiting old pharmacies and seeing all the old herb bottles and jars and drawers and accoutrements.
The one in New Orleans was a wonderful example. In true New Orleans style some Voodoo potions are included in the exhibits. Should you ever visit New Orleans the pharmacy museum is well worth a visit.
There were many things I enjoyed about the museum. Especially relevant, the information on plants and herbs was of particular interest to me.
This settler’s quote from 1760 mentions ginseng and sarsaparilla. Nowadays, both plants well-known and in use by European herbalists, particularly ginseng. At the time, sarsaparilla would have been less well-known in the UK. It is a woody vine from the Smilax genus. Found growing in southern Europe and throughout Asia.
The ginseng mentioned here is probably Panax quinquefolius or American ginseng. In Europe P. ginseng, the Asian or Chinese ginseng, is more popular. However, in 1760 ginseng would have been relatively unknown in European medicine.
In addition, I enjoyed reading the botanical magic and superstitions. There are many ticks in the forests in this area in France. How-in-ever, I doubt very much I would fancy walking around with a piece of fennel in my right shoe. That would be a little too uncomfortable, I fear!
However, I may source a dollar bill to wrap around a horse chestnut next time I fear my winter EDF electricity bill hitting my postbox.
My friend Sue, who happens to be an ecologist, recently attended a tree seminar. She mentioned the London Tree Officers are planting non-native weird and wonderful trees in Hackney. The magnificent London plane trees are suffering with Massaria, a fungal disease.
Of course, Massaria is not the only tree disease and the London plane is not the only native tree to be suffering. Consider the damage caused to native trees from Dutch Elm Disease and Chalara, more commonly known as ash dieback.
Hence, finding trees that will grow and will “thrive and survive” is becoming difficult for the London Tree Officers. And so, the weird array of non-natives in Hackney. These include trees known commonly as the Paper Mulberry and the Bee-Bee Tree. Apparently “people like them and we have to adapt”. Incidentally both are Asian species.
This raised a little debate between two friends. Sue, the ecologist, and Ian, our tree-hugging, Woodland Trust loving, nature photographer guru friend. Ian was definitely in the pro-native tree group.
The problem is we have so many non native alien plant species in Europe now. Some pose no major issues and blend in like they have always belonged… others… well.
My house here in France had a maturely planted garden when I bought it. Some 40+ trees. It’s not a big garden. Too many large trees. Some had to go. I’ve always liked a ‘practical’ rather than ‘pretty’ garden. That’s not to say something can’t be both but things growing ought to serve a purpose – food, medicine… I decided if not native, nor practical, it could go on the “to go” list. But it was difficult.
Right at front of the house was a very large false acacia. Non-native. In flower it was beautiful. However, I couldn’t park my car as ants, covering the tree for the sweet flowers, fell in the car. Suffice to say driving with ants crawling up your legs is not good. The acacia was working its way toward the chopping list. I kept thinking I can’t really put it on the list because it inconveniences me, right?
Then I got a crack right through the floor of the house. The acacia had to go before any serious structural damage occurred. That was nearly 5 years ago. I still cannot get rid of it. It pops up everywhere. During the summer it was so dry everything was dying. That bloody acacia kept on appearing.
I’ve searched internet, forums, gardening groups, you-name-it trying to find a solution to no avail. I was disheartened further when one woman advised she had been trying to eradicate it for 17 years!!!!
It is on the non-European and non U.K. invasive species list. Not to be planted. I can see why. My house is near the river and there are some growing there. I wonder did previous owners plant in my garden or did it move in to my garden of its own accord?!? Someone planted it somewhere near to start this alien attack!
the Japanese knotweed!
There is a patch some 3 km from my house. Having written about this previously I won’t go into too much detail again. However, every time I walk past this patch of knotweed my heart sinks. I decided I had to start thinking more positively about these aliens 👽. They are after all going nowhere. I started to look at the knotweed in particular.
The trouble is many of these invasive species cannot be removed. We need to hope that somehow a way of control is found. They are affecting structures, and more importantly, our native plant species.
I love the smell of broom. It is scrumptiously sweet. A native European shrub and, of course, a native medicinal. However, in the States it is commonly called Scotch Broom because those first Scottish immigrants decided to bring it with them. Consequently it is on the invasive non native alien plant species list in the States. It is not a problem in Europe. They have no idea what controls growth in Europe. We, us humans, are the bampots that keep doing this.
That being said we have some non-natives that have lived here merrily, blending in for years. Some have become very useful. Thinking of medicinal plants… echinacea springs to mind. Everyone knows it. It grows very happily here in Europe and hasn’t caused any problem. Have I used it medicinally – yes. However it is not my first port of call. I prefer to choose European natives.
Nicholas Culpeper, a London herbalist, from mid 1600’s famously believed the medicinals we need grow nearby. I have always found this to be true. It helps immensely, in practice, if you know the area where your patient lives and what grows abundantly there.
That’s my rant on non native alien plant species over for the day….