Wednesday, April 22, 2015

18th Century Headache? …sniff this and call me in the morning

Photograph of Webb House Colonial Revival Garden,by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons
In our 21st century lives, we often reach for bottles of pills when illness strikes. Back in the 18th century, however, you were more likely to go out to the herb garden or even forage for plants in the forest to relieve your distress. This week, I’ve gathered a list of some of the commonly used medicinal plants our ancestors depended upon. Some were ingested, some rubbed on the skin, and some strewn on the floor for freshening the air and deterring vermin. You may even have some growing in your own backyard. Think of it as Nature's Medicine Cabinet!

BASIL - Sometimes called St. Joseph's Wort, it was used dried as snuff to relieve headaches and colds as well as a strewing herb.

BEE BALM - Used for bee stings. Tea brewed from its leaves was called Oswego tea and was used as a substitute for Chinese tea imported from England after the 1773 Boston Tea Party (and the 1774 Edenton Tea Party, too, of course!)

CARAWAY - The boiled roots of caraway were eaten by Native Americans and recommended for those with a cold or weak stomach.
Photograph of Chamomile by H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

CHAMOMILE - Infused as a tea for indigestion, gas, and stomachaches. Also used as a strewing herb and insect repellent.

COMFREY - Used as a poultice to heal wounds and reduce swelling.

CORIANDER. The seeds were chewed as a breath freshener.

ELECAMPANE - Used to treat skin diseases in sheep and horses; also as a diuretic and for coughs (for people!)

FEVERFEW - For "female hysteria," melancholia, headache, and constipation.

GERMANDER - For gout, rheumatism, fever, and melancholy.

HOREHOUND - Used to make a cough syrup, often in combination with honey and other herbs. Mixed with plantain for snakebites. Soaked in fresh milk to repel flies.

HYSSOP - Strewn on the floor to prevent the spread of infection; also used to treat respiratory illnesses.
Photograph of Lemon Balm by P. Wagner via Wikimedia

LAVENDER – The oil was rubbed into the temples for headache, strewn on the floor and also used as an insect repellent.

LEMON BALM - Infused as a tea for headaches, indigestion, nausea. Distilled as a treatment to clean and heal wounds.

LOVAGE - Used to treat kidney stones.

MARJORAM –Used  to cure insomnia, nasal congestion, and loss of appetite.

PARSLEY - Seeds used as a diuretic.
Photograph of Pennyroyal by H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

PENNYROYAL - Strewing herb. Flea and mosquito repellent.

PEPPERMINT – The leaves were chewed to sweeten the breath and drunk in tea to aid digestion.

PLANTAIN - (The herb; not the banana-like fruit.) Used as a poultice to heal wounds, and the seeds to prevent miscarriage. 

QUEEN ANNE’S LACE - Used as a diuretic and for kidney stones; the seeds were used for birth control.

ROSE HIPS – Used to prevent scurvy. (Very high in Vitamin C.)

ROSEMARY - Oil used as a rub for sore muscles. Promotes liver functions.

RUE - Externally to cure warts, ringworm, and poisonous bites. Internally as a treatment for colic and epilepsy. Decocted for earaches. (Decoction is the boiling or heating of a plant to derive its concentrated essence.)

SAGE - Used in combination with other herbs for headaches. Decocted and as a mouthwash for sore throats and infected gums.
Photograph of St. John's Wort by Anne Burgess via Wikimedia Commons

SORREL – Used as a poultice for infected wounds. (And to remove stains from linen.)

SPEARMINT – Used as a breath freshener and for indigestion.

ST. JOHN’S WORT - Leaves used to treat burns and wounds. Flowers used as a tincture for melancholy.

STINGING NETTLES - A mixture of the seeds, bayberries, gunpowder, and honey was used for rheumatism.

TANSY - Its seed was used as a vermifuge (to kill internal parasites like roundworms) for children; the root was also used to treat gout.

THYME – Used as an antiseptic and for toothaches, gout, headaches, and to cure nightmares. Sprigs of thyme were placed on lard and butter to keep them from becoming rancid.

YARROW - Leaves were chewed for toothaches.

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Make a Wish!...a brief history of birthday tradtions

" April"--Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry by Limbourg Brothers
April is a pretty big birthday month in my little corner of the world with several friends celebrating their natal days, including my own on the sixth. It set me to wondering about some of our traditions and just how they got started. Thanks to the wonders of the Web I ran across several interesting articles and I'm happy to share some of the research with you this week.

By Jeff Dahl (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

You can't celebrate a birthday without the aid of a calendar of sorts so the first festivities originated after the advent of means to mark the passing of time. Ancient Egyptian astronomers used the stars to note the passing of one year to the next since the movement of the heavenly bodies was constant and observable. It is no great surprise, then, that some of the earliest recorded birthday celebrations were for those of the Pharaohs who were considered gods on earth. Most birthday parties of the ancient world were reserved for royalty and this may be the origin of the later day wearing of special birthday crowns. We're all kings and queens on our birthdays! A little later on, the Greeks celebrated their goddess, Artemis, by baking moon-shaped cakes and lighting them with candles to simulate lunar light. Romans followed by being the first to celebrate the birthdays of mere mortals, with those reaching their fiftieth birthdays given special recognition with cakes made from wheat flour, olive oil, honey and grated cheese. Of course, those special days were reserved for the male population until around the 12th century when us lowly females were deemed worthy of celebration. 

By Francesca Cesa Bianchi, Milano via Wikimedia Commons
In the good old pagan days, it was thought that people were surrounded by evil spirits who especially liked to gather about on special days such as birthdays. In order to ward off such dangerous influences, the birthday honoree would be surrounded by friends and family who would bring good wishes and positive thoughts to the occasion (and if they brought gifts, so much the better!) These were noisy events with the notion that such loud revelry would discourage malevolent spirits. Noise maker, anyone? And what's a birthday without blowing out a bunch of candles and making a silent wish as the smoke of the extinguished flames drifts upward? To the ancients, smoke sent prayers and wishes skyward to the realms of the gods who might grant such desires.

Mildred and Patty Hill
Marilyn Monroe sings "Happy Birthday Mr. President"
Yale Joel/Life Magazine/Time&Life Pictures, Getty Images
It seems the ubiquitous song, "Happy Birthday to You", has been around forever but it's a relatively new tradition. The melody was written in 1893 for a class of kindergartners by sisters Mildred and Patty Hill who penned the song  as "Good Morning to All". At some point, soon thereafter, the lyrics were changed to "Happy Birthday" and the little tune has been sung with gusto and varying levels of musicality ever since. (You might recall Marilyn Monroe's infamous public Madison Square Garden rendition to President John Kennedy in 1962.) 

So, next time you celebrate a birthday, break out the noise makers, wear a paper crown, and make a good wish when you blow out the candles on your cake as your well-wishers gather around singing "Happy Birthday to You!"

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now!