Geoffrey Soma - Herbalist 'Notes From Beyond The Veil' June 06

Notes From Beyond the Veil


Every month Herbal Haven asks the shade of a well-known herbalist to briefly drift back from those Elysian fields to discuss herbs of particular interest at this time of Year.  Mrs Grieve, who died in 1949, the principle and founder the "The Wins" Medicinal and Commercial Herb School and Farm at Chalfont St Peter, was a president of the British Guild of Herb Growers and Fellow of both the British Science Guild and Royal Horticultural Society but is probably best known as author of the famous Modern Herbal (1931). 


Hello herb fanciers, I'm glad to be back.  I didn't have the best of ends to be honest, banged up in Bedlam by Gerald, my worthless nephew so he could get his greedy hands on my jewellery.  I wish I'd excluded him from my Estate while I had the chance.  I told our Marje to drown him at birth - he had a nasty look even then - but she never listened and I could hardly insist, the authorities were so negative about infanticide when we were young.  Not like now, they positively encourage it!  Anything to keep the young ones out of trouble and off the Dole.


My herbs for this month are Heartsease, the poisonous Arnica, and Calendula.


Heartsease: such a lovely name and such a lovely plant.  it is the wild (uncultivated) pansy otherwise known as Cuddle Me, Loving Idol or Kiss-her-in-the-buttery.  When I was alive I used to like being kissed somewhere else, but then i had to spoon in the orchard, we didn't have a buttery in my house.  To be honest I'm not even sure what a buttery is but those were some of the many traditional country names for this useful medicinal plant.  In olden times it was used in love potions and Shakespeare used it for a love charm in Midsummer Night's Dream, with special relevance as Midummer is now only days away.  AN infusion of Heartsease was also used medicinally in olden times to treat asthma, epilepsy and diseases of the heart.  Gerard used it for inflammation of the lungs and chest and says it is "goode against scabs and itchiness of the whole body and healeth ulcers".  It was formerly in the official US Pharmacopea where it was recommended externally to treat eczema and other skin complaints, and internally for bronchitis.  Heartsease is still used by herbalists today to treat skin complaints partially through a gentle blood-cleansing action.  An infusion (tea) of heartsease leaves and flowers makes a useful wash for itchy skin or drinking the tea can help in the treatment of cystitis, difficulty passing urine and rheumatism due to it's diuretic action.


Arnica: otherwise known as Mountain tobacco or Leopard's bane was formerly in the the official Pharmacopea's of both Britain and the US.  It has always been used externally, usually as a cream, on unbroken skin because of it's toxicity, to treat spains, bruises, and chilblains.  The plant is poisonous if taken internally except in homeopathic doses, and I honestly wish now that I'd prepared dinner for the hated Gerald using Arnica on those horrible long winter nights when he used to inflict his presence on me on the pretext of familial devotion whilst eyeing up my family jewels.


Calendula: the common pot marigold.  Old common names for his plant of beautiful gold flowers include Rudes, Mary Gowles and Oculis Christi.  Stevens, in his 1699 book "The Countrie Farme" wrote that it "was used by the peasantry to strengthen and comfort the heart".  In olden times, before even I was born, the golden petals were used to colour cheese.  Macer (1300s) stated in his herbal that merely to gaze upon marigold flowers would draw evil humours out of the head.  Further, Eleanor Rohdes in her Old English Herbals says "of marygold we learn that Summe use to make theyr here yelow with the floure of this herbe, not beyng contet with the natural colour which god hath given them" but I know Eleanor, she lives on the cloud next door, and she's a right dozy cow, and mouthy with it if you know what I mean.  I wouldn't trust anything she says.  But Culpeper, now there was a herbalist!  And he, God love him (I know I do - but that's another story), says of calendula "herb of the sun, under Leo, they strengthen the heart exceedingly".  Full of resins calendula is anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-bacterial, and is mostly used these days to treat skin problems by drinking tea or as a tincture, as a mild anti-depressive and as an oestrogenic women's herb, reducing period pain and regulating menstrual bleeding - a wash of calendula is very effective in treating thrush.  Use externally as a cream for infections, cuts, grazes, and fungal infections.  Someone very famous once said that calendula was sovereign for the skin, can't remember who mind, my memory's not what it used to be to be honest, and being dead hasn't helped one bit I can tell you, but they were right whoever they were.  And speaking of memory, does anyone know where i put my teeth?  You there, young girl...


[Mrs Grieve's article has been cut short for reasons of space] We at Herbal Haven hope you've enjoyed this month's guest correspondent.  Remember if you are unsure about the use of herbs, always consult a professional before using herbs on yourself.  Next month: Nicholas Culpeper will discuss his plants of the month as well as giving instructions as to how you can easily make herbal infusions and tinctures in your own kitchen.