« Previous | Main | Next »

Find out more about herbalism

Martin Hughes-Games Martin Hughes-Games | 19:55 UK time, Friday, 30 October 2009

For those of you that don't know, I'm a bit of a botany geek. I'm quite clued up on British plants and flowers, and also really interested in herbalism and the healing properties of plants. So I jumped at the chance to go out for a ramble with medical herbalist Christina Stapeley to find out more.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.

Using common plants for medical purposes is an historical practise and a complicated science. The oldest recorded history of herbalism in the UK takes us way back to the Roman invasion. The Romans brought with them a wealth of knowledge that had been gleaned together from other civilisations.

Getting up close and personal with herbaceous plants
Martin picking herbs

It's easy to forget that long ago, before the days of modern medicine, herbalism was the best, if not the only, way that people could fight disease, heal injury and treat all manner of ailments related to everything from allergy and digestion to fertility and fatigue. It also set the foundation for much of our medical knowledge today.

My stroll in the Wiltshire hills gave me a chance to see some of our common plants in a new light and learn about how they can be used in clever ways.
In many cases botanical substances that we consider useful, serve to protect the plant against bacteria, insects and herbivores. We're not the only species to have learnt the benefits of plant extracts: just recently it was discovered that blue tits line their nests with aromatic substances to deter bacteria.

The best way to learn more about herbalism is to go on a guided walk. Many organisations including the Wildlife Trusts run events throughout the year where you can learn about wildflowers and other plants and their useful properties.

However, be careful, because where some plants heal, others are very toxic (for example, foxglove, hemlock and deadly nightshade) and some wildflowers are illegal to pick.

Self-heal herb

A few well-known plants with medical uses:

Stinging nettles extracts are used to treat rheumatism, arthritis and aching joints.

Elderberry has been shown to be effective in treating Influenza B.

Self-heals are used to stop bleeding when chewed and applied to cuts.

Ginger compounds are active against some types of diarrhoea.

Red clover extracts have been used to treat symptoms of menopause as well as easing eczema, coughs and even asthma.

Learn more about Herbalism from these websites:

Herbs in History

Wildflower Information: Herbs and medicinal flowers

The Herb Society: Herbs in Medicine

The National Institute of Medical Herbalists: Herbal medicine

Grow your own medical cabinet by planting a wildflower meadow. See these links for information:

BBC Breathing Places: Find nature events near you

BBC Gardening: Create a wildflower meadow

Plant Press: Wildlife Habitats


More from this blog...

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.