|The cottager and smallholder in this country greatly neglect either to grow or collect herbs. You, as a thrifty housewife, often do not realise how much they can be used in preparing appetising meals or in saving the doctor’s bills by making simple medicines from the herbs and so called weeds which often abound in your back garden.
Now first let me tell you about that wonderful plant, the common garden Sage. This plant grows wild in Southern Europe and has become acclimatised in Britain, France and Germany. It is fragrant and aromatic and contains a camphorated essential oil, the whole plant is strongly scented and has a warm, sharp, slightly bitter taste. You all know its uses in stuffings and seasoning sausages, pork, duck and geese, etc., but possibly you have never thought why it is so used. It is used for sauces and stuffings because of its great antiseptic properties; it prevents meats becoming tainted and helps you to digest heavy rich food. Here is a recipe for making a simple, wholesome and delicious sauce.
Chop finely 1 oz. of onion, 1 oz. fresh or dried Sage leaves; add 4 tablespoonsful of water and simmer slowly for a few minutes, then add to this 1 oz. of breadcrumbs, 1 teaspoonful of pepper and salt mixed together and quarter of a pint of soup, stock, gravy or melted butter and finish off with simmering a few minutes longer. Little additions of this sort to your meals make them more tasty and enjoyable.
Sophia Emma Magdalene Grieve 1858-1941
Now for the homely medicinal uses of Sage. If you are bothered with indigestion, chop up some tender Sage leaves finely, sprinkle them on bread and butter sandwiches and eat for your tea. And make some Sage tea just as you would your ordinary beverage and drink a cup full cold, after your meals.
This infusion is also very beneficial where there is kidney trouble. For sore throats, make a stronger brew and mix with a little honey and gargle well two or three times daily. When I had diphtheria, this gargle greatly relieved and cleansed my throat. If you have red inflamed eyes, make a wash for them by soaking Sage seeds in water overnight – they are full of mucilage and make a thin gummy liquid – bathe your eyes with that water a few times, it will strengthen your eyes and take away the redness from the lids. Or if you have a racking headache, make a snuff of dried Sage leaves, you will sneeze well and your headache disappear. Many people make a tobacco of Sage leaves and like smoking it: they find it helpful for bronchial and catarrhal colds and coughs. Sage oil is splendid for rubbing rheumaticky joints, and for ulcerous sores, cuts and abrasions. Just try what an ointment made with Sage leaves will do for you.
I haven’t time this morning to tell you about Thyme, Mint and Marjoram, though they too can be used for many different purposes, but what I do want to tell smallholders and farmers who may be listening is all the nice things you can do for yourselves with Dandelions.
This plant was originally a native of Greece, but it is now to be found growing abundantly all over Europe, Asia and North America. All of you, farmers and smallholders alike, should collect and utilise this weed, instead of burning it on rubbish heaps – in so doing, you are burning money. In ploughing time, if you collect the roots out of the furrows and roughly clean them of leaves and mud, I can give you the name of a man who would give you £10 to £12 a ton put on rail.
It may interest and encourage you to hear this man’s herb-romance. Four years ago, being tired of the poverty resulting in a small way, he started with 10 shillings capital to collect and dry herbs (weeds, you would call them). He got interested in the work and succeeded more and more and now today, with pluck, grit and hard work, he has orders amounting to hundreds of tons from chemical manufacturers and he employs between 40 and 50 collectors, is enlarging his plant and has a comfortable money balance in the bank, and he generously acknowledges that I have helped him to this position.
Dandelion flowers give both nectar and pollen in early spring when the bee’s harvest from fruit trees is nearly over. Birds are very fond of the seeds, pigs eat the whole plant greedily; horses, sheep and cattle will not eat it, but when cows do, it is said to increase their milk. It is a valuable food for rabbits, especially at breeding time. For use in the kitchen, in spring the young leaves soaked over night in water and shaken out make a nice salad alone or mixed with sliced cold potatoes, beetroot, tomatoes, lettuce, watercress, etc., and by adding the young flower buds you get a delicious filling for sandwiches for tea. Always tear your leaves into pieces, do not use a knife in preparing them. For a cooked vegetable, boil and prepare the leaves in the same way as you cook spinach.
The dried leaves are often used to make herb-beers and digestive and diet tea; this proves an excellent stomachic. In the Midlands, where there are furnaces and potteries, herb-beers are in great request by the workmen, especially Dandelion Stout, also a fermented drink made of Dandelions, Nettles and Docks. You can make a good wine from Dandelion flowers, but take care not to drink too much of it at a time, or you will find it too exhilerating.
A good coffee is made from the roots, roasted and ground; its flavour is improved by adding a spoonful of chocolate or real coffee to the brew. Dandelion coffee soothes and gives peaceful sleep and it has an excellent cleansing effect on one’s inside, and best of all, tell the girls it will clear their complexions and brighten their eyes. By its constant use it will remove pimples and make them bright and merry.
For medicinal purposes we read of the Arabian physicians using it as long ago as the tenth and eleventh centuries and In Britain we find it mentioned in the Welsh medicines of the thirteenth century. Taraxacum is the Latin name for Dandelion and under that name you know it as pills. For medicine, the root is best dug in late autumn, when it is full of sap, which is thick, sweet and albuminous.
If farmers and nurserymen would grow between their crops or lines such things as parsley, horseradish, etc., for which there is an enormous demand by manufacturing chemists (apart from the culinary side) the proceeds from these would help them materially in these hard, depressed agricultural times.
Now I want to tell you about Parsley, a common little garden plant you know, yet quite a wonderful one in the many uses it has. There is a very big trade in it. I know of a firm which has used ninety tons of it this season; just imagine the number of little plants it takes to make ninety tons of these little leaves and roots. The best leaves were dried and put into bottles and packets for the culinary trade; the stems and roots and surplus coarse pickings left over from the culinary trade were put into a still to get the oil known as apiol to chemists for the medicinal trade. Parsley proved a very valuable medicine during the War.
Years ago Parsley used to be called Perceley and its Latin or botanical name means “growing on a rock” where it is found wild, you see it likes-lime and chalk; so when you plant the seed in your gardens remember the kind of soil it likes best to grow in and the soil must also be rich and moist and partially shaded. The seed is tricky to germinate – sometimes it starts growing a month after planting but if it doesn’t appear leave your patch alone as the germs sometimes won’t think about waking up and starting to grow for 6 months. The best kind to grow is the crisped curled one,because the commoner kind is more like fool’s parsley, a nasty poisonous weed, and you could never mistake the nice crisped curly bright green leaves of the good kind.
There are thirty-seven different kinds of Parsley, so there are lots to choose from if you want variety. Authorities differ a good deal as to what country Parsley originally came from, but Linnaeus, the great botanist, who wrote a great deal about plants, decided its first home was Sardinia, and it was first grown in England in Edward VI’s reign, 1548. In ancient days it was held in great esteem by the Greeks, who made it into wreaths to crown their victors at the Isthmian games, and edged their garden borders with it and Rue.
There is a very funny thing about Parsley – if you chop up some of its leaves with Garlic, the Garlic will hardly smell at all. So if you have a fancy to eat raw or cooked onions with your meals, before you go to the dance-hall, chew a leaf or two of Parsley and, hey presto, your breath then becomes like new mown hay. You must not let your parrots eat it or it kills them and other small birds, but hares and rabbits will come long distances to steal it from your borders as they love it and so do sheep. It is said to prevent foot rot among sheep if you will let them have a good quantity of it to eat. Of course, you domesticated housewives all know the uses of Parsley in cookery; finely chopped and sprinkled on potatoes, chops and steaks and vegetable marrows, or fried in butter a bright crisp green and served with rissoles, etc., and as flavourings in sauces, soups, stuffings and minced for salads. It is specially good for potato and tomato salad; as a garnish, and for winter use you can dry and powder it and keep it in bottles. The stems are dried and powdered for culinary colouring and you can collect the seeds carefully sun-dried and sell to nurserymen.
Now for its medicinal uses; in the form of apiol it is largely used in malarial disorders, and in Brittany for ague. A decoction of the root does great service in kidney troubles and years ago they distilled water of Parsley and gave it to children as you give them dill water now. Dr. Fernie in his “Meals Medicinal” gives a funny little bit about it in poetry – here it is:-
“One morning in the garden bed the
onion and the carrot said Unto the
parsley group: ‘Oh when shall we
three meat again, In thunder,
lightning, hail or rain?’ ‘Alas!’
replied in tones of pain The parsley,
‘In the soup’.”
Now to finish, I’d like to make a little suggestion to help farmers. Some time ago I read a newspaper article headed “A Million Acres Deserted by Plough”, and the thought occurred to me, all of those acres need not go out of cultivation if some of the farmers would grow culinary herbs. The demand for these in the trade is enormous, and if they would put down by the hundred acres, Mint, Sage, Thyme, Tarragon, I would introduce them to a market where 20 tons of each would be welcomed, and a guarantee given them that their crops would be bought for cash. Men, with cares lying idle I beg of you to consider this matter very seriously. It is no fairy tale I am telling you but solid absolute truth. Those of you who grow Brussel Sprouts for the markets have to allow their fields alternate years to lie fallow because you know otherwise you would get club root disease in it. Now why don’t you fallow your ground by growing culinary herbs on it – such as Sage and Thyme – which need no manuring and would sweeten and purify your soil, giving you the following season finer crops of Brussel Sprouts free from disease.
Sophia Emma Magdalene Grieve (1858-1941) was the Principal and Founder of The Whins Medicinal and Commercial Herb School and Farm at Chalfont St. Peter in Buckinghamshire, England. Mrs Grieve was a Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society with an encyclopedic knowledge of medicinal plants. The training school gave tuition and practical courses in all branches of herb growing, collecting, drying and marketing. She had an extensive herbal garden in Chalfont St. Peter, and during World War 1 trained people in the harvesting, drying and preparation of medicinal herbs, to help remedy the shortage of medicinal supplies. In this effort she started publishing informative pamphlets. Mrs Grieve was President of the British Guild of Herb Growers, and Fellow of the British Science Guild. “Lost demesnes : Irish landscape gardening, 1660-1845 “. This article originally appeared in the Winter 1980 issue of The Herbal Review.