Notes on the Cultivation of Medicinal Plants and Herbs.

Also the gathering, drying, and storing of wild plants and herbs.

There have been a great many articles printed and published since the outbreak of the European War on the above subject, but none of the writers seem to grasp the subject properly from a Herbalist's point of view, as the herbs and plants chiefly recommended for cultivation are those of a deadly poisonous nature (such as Belladonna, Henbane, Hemlock, Black Nightshade, Foxglove, and a great many others). These may be very well for the allopaths, the homoeopaths, or eclectics, but not for the real, true Herbalist practitioner. The Herbalist practitioner believes in the use of non-poisonous herbs, which he finds are more suitable for the cure of diseases than those that are poisonous; and therefore more in accord with the laws of Vital Force.

The herbs which the Herbalist makes use of are numerous, and therefore worth the attention of the cultivator—that is, the market gardener, the farmer, the cottage-gardener, or the allotment gardener; for herbs, both culinary and medicinal, can be grown for profit with very little trouble or care. Some years since, before the introduction of foreign herbs became so common, medicinal and culinary herbs were grown in abundance in Lancashire and parts of Cheshire; and when full-grown were cut, tied in small bunches, then in bundles of one dozen each, and afterwards carted or sent by railway to the markets, and sold to the people at so much per bundle. Men engaged in this work made excellent livings and good profit. But since the introduction of cheap foreign herbs, cultivation ih these parts has nearly become extinct; all the same the grower of herbs in this country can almost always be sure of an average price of one penny per lb., when cut and sold in a fresh green state. Yet neither the merchant nor anyone else must expect our English herbs at the same price as foreign, as there is a very great difference between English and foreign herbs, both as to therapeutic and medicinal values. Some of the herbs which the Herbalists use, and which may be culivated, are the following:—Thyme, Peppermint, Spearmint, Common Sage, Red Sage, Pennyroyal, Sweet or Knotted Marjoram, Summer Savory, Winter Savory, Tarragon, Lemon Thyme, Agrimony, Stinking Arrach, Wood Avens, Balm, Wood Betony, Great Burnet, Horymint (commonly called Sweet Horehound), Burdock Leaves, Camomile Herb, Chickweed, Comfrey Herb, Dandelion, Dwarf Elder, Sweet Fennel, Feverfew or Featherfew, Fumitory, Germander, Golden Rod, Ground Ivy, Holy Thistle (that is, Milk Thistle), Horehound, White Common Hyssop, Yellow Hyssop, Jacob's Ladder or Greek Valerian, Yellow Loosestrife, Marshmallows, Motherwort, Black Horehound, Black Currant Leaves, Pellitory of the Wall, Raspberry Leaves, Scullcap, Southernwood, Tansy, Valerian, Vervain, and Wormwood. All these may be, and have been, cultivated in Lancashire with great profit to the grower, and may be so again; but each sort, when cut and bunched for market, must be clear of grass and weeds and faded brown leaves. Yet some of the so-called weeds, if cultivated by themselves, bunched, and taken to market, will result in profit. Taking all the herbs in this list, if cultivated, the price paid to the grower should average 1d. (1d = one penny or 1/12 of a shilling. -Henriette.) per lb. when in their green state. With regard to the collection of wild English herbs, which are more numerous than the cultivated ones, these can be gathered in very large quantities by the collector and a price of from 1d. to 4d. per lb. obtained in their fresh green state; but they must be free from dirt, grass, and old or faded leaves.

And now a word or two about collecting and drying herbs, no matter whether they be cultivated or wild. All herbs should be got or cut in dry weather, and all faded leaves pulled off, kept very straight (with all their heads together), tied up in small bunches, and hung on wire lines in a forked form, head downwards, in a dry, warm room, where a current of air can pass through them. They will then dry with all their natural colour and retain all their medicinal virtues. They should not on any account be dried in the sun, or in the open air, or on the tops of sheds or outhouses, or on room floors. Neither should they be dried in very hot houses or in kilns, for those that are dried thus lose the greatest part of their nature and break up into dust. Those that are dried in the sun, or in the open, or on sheds, or on outhouses, are spoiled through showers of rain coming down on them, and they turn black and musty, and lose their nature. The same may be said of those that are dried on a room floor, besides perhaps being trampled upon. There are scores of people who collect and dry their herbs in the manner above described, but it is not the right way. When they are properly dried, which takes about a fortnight, they should be wrapped in brown paper and kept in a dry place; they will then preserve their nature for ten or even twenty years.

The proper time for the gathering of flowers such as Coltsfoot, Dandelion, and all composite flowers should be while they are in bud. If composite flowers are collected in full bloom they will seed as they dry. They should be tied together by their stalks and hung up to dry, as they will then open out without their down or floss (which would otherwise accompany them). The flowers of other tribes of plants should be collected when they are fully open, putting them on the finest wire netting to dry. Seeds should be collected when ripening, and, after drying, they should be well threshed and sieved through fine hair or wire sieves. Roots should never be got up, no matter whether they be from annual, biennial, or perennial plants, until after the plants have flowered and fallen back, for if they are obtained before, they do not retain all their nature or possess all their therapeutic, medicinal principles. (The roots of annual plants are dead when the plants have flowered and fallen back. -Henriette.) Barks should never be got from the living tree, nor from one that has been cut down in Spring, but always from those that have been cut down in Autumn; the bark should be stripped off in the following Spring and then dried for use. They will then keep almost any length of time. Even entire plants for medicinal use, of any and every description, should not be got until after they have flowered and are falling back, because if they are gathered before that time they do not possess all their therapeutic, medicinal principles or properties.

Now it must always be understood that there are four periods or eras in the life of every plant in every one year of its growth, namely: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. In Spring they begin to show vigour, and come into new life; in Summer they are in their full manhood, vigour, and life, capable of fulfilling the purpose for which they were sent, namely, reproduction of their kind or species; and Autumn is a time when they are falling back and getting ready to go to rest. It is at this time that other elements are; drawn from the soil and atmosphere and absorbed into the plants, which, by their combination with the elements already there, assist in producing therapeutic, medicinal principles that were not there before. This is the time to secure them for medicinal purposes. Winter is a time of rest and sleep for all plants.

Common Plants and their Uses in Medicine was written by Richard Lawrence Hool, F.N.A.M.H., in 1922.