Friday, 4 February 2011

Getting in touch with our Elders

Do you ever find yourself feeling amazed by the wonder of a particular plant? Or is it just that I'm a bit of a plant geek?

I've been reading up on the medicinal uses of various different native plants, with a view to planting them out in the forest garden to be used for skin care products. I heard that elderflowers can be used in cleansing lotions for dry skin. We have quite a few elder trees already, so I looked it up to see if others agree about this use for it and to find out more about other uses.

Wow, elder can be used for just about everything! And every part seems useful in some way. I'll give you a bit of a breakdown, so you get the idea. All of the following is quoted from Tess Darwin's 'Scots Herbal':

Wounds, burns, chilblains and other skin problems, scarlet fever, measles and other diseases that cause rashes and spots, pleurisy, constipation, colds, sore throat, flu, inflamed eyes, pain, headache and piles.

Rheumatism, syphilis, consipation, colic, diarrhoea, epilepsy and piles

catarrh, flu, asthma, coughs, colds, fever and sciatica

Bark and root:
dropsy, epilepsy, asthma and croup

Bruises, sprains, chilblains, wounds, dropsy, inflamed eyes, blocked nose and nervous headache.

The leaves can also be used as an insect repellant for yourself or for your plants. All parts can be used as plant dyes - the berries make blue and violet dyes, the leaves make yellow and green and the bark grey.

The stems can easily be hollowed out by pushing out the pith and the wood is fairly hard and close grained, so you can use it for... traditionally it's been used for pipes, musical instruments, blowing air into a fire and as a children's pop gun.

I've been trying to make a whistle:

It kind of blows me away that a plant can have so many uses. And such a common plant too - it grows like a weed around here. I'm frequently having to uproot new saplings that have sprouted up in completely unsuitable spots. So it makes me wonder... How have plants ended up being so good for us? Is it co-evolution? Was elder always a part of our world? It certainly seems to have been very well known for these uses since some of the earliest herbals were written down at least. And how is it that we've lost this knowledge? Such a shame!

Of course it's obvious why we've lost this knowledge. Medicine is bought in now. We don't tend to trust our own judgement of our health needs. We either put up with being ill or go to a doctor for him/her to prescribe medicine. Well I rather like the idea of making up my own remedies from the plants I have to hand. Starting with our elders. Actually, come to think of it, I've already started!

What are your favourite home remedies? And how about your favourite medicinal plants?

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