Herbal medicine is a complementary therapy that uses plants or plant extracts to treat illness.

A Brief history[]

The healing properties of many herbs has been known since earliest times, there being archaeological evidence of their usage over 7000 years ago, but the first comprehensive record of plants of herbal value was compiled in the fourth century BC by Hippocrates, the Greek physician known as the 'Father Of Medicine'. In ancient civilisations medicine was closely linked to religion, and when the legions of Rome spread accross the territories that they had conquered they brought with them customs and a way of life that changed the ways of the indigenous peoples. After the soldiers came the administrators and governers, and with them the monks, who brought not only their religious beliefs but practical knowledge in the fields of nutrition, health and medicine. They also introduced many herbs which became established in their monastery gardens, these evolving into the middle ages into what were known as ‘Physick Gardens’, where a variety of herbs grown for their health giving properties could be cultivated. The first of these was at Oxford, established in 1621. The Chelsea Physic Garden, set up by the Society of Apothecaries, followed in 1673. The development of printing in the fifteenth century saw the production of many ‘Herbals’, these were magnificent books featuring descriptions and illustrations of plants along with their healing properties and details of their preparation. One of these was produced by John Gerard (1545-1612), who although dedicated, tended to be rather fanciful in many of the properties he attributed to herbs, and many of his more far fetched remedies are still quoted by those who oppose the use of herbs in healing sickness. He was succeeded by Nicholas Culpepper (1616-54), one of the best known British herbal healers. Despite his tremendous knowledge, and the fact that his ‘Complete Herbal’ produced in 1649 is still today a respected work, he died penniless, accused of ‘witchcraft’ by his more orthodox contemporary doctors due to the amazing numbers of cures he effected. Indeed, much indiginous knowledge of native herb lore was lost or supressed by both the Protestant and Catholic churches during the 300 year period that we now know as the era of the witch hunts.

The 'Doctrine of Signatures'[]

Paracelsus, a German physician, propounded his ‘Doctrine Of Signatures’ around this time, his belief being that the appearance and general characteristics of a plant gave clues as to it’s healing and useful properties, having been placed there as a ‘signature’ of God. For example lungwort (Sticta pulmonaria) was held to be a cure for complaints of the chest due to it’s spotted leaves that give the plant a resemblance to the human lung. Indeed, lungwort is mucilaginous, and is widely recognised as a treatment for pulmonary complaints. Similarly, according to the Doctrine of Signatures, willow (Salix spp) was observed to thrive in cold, wet conditions, and was thus believed to be a treatment for the rhuematic pains suffered by farmers and gardeners working outdoors in such conditions. Analaysis has shown however that one active ingredient of willow bark is salicin, which, used internally, relieves and soothes the cramping fire of ‘the screws’, and aspirin (derived from willow bark) is recommended today as one of the best remedies for chronic rhuematism.

The 21st century[]

Indeed, in the 21st century, much herb-lore that had once been held as superstition or ‘old wives tales’ is now being acknowledged as being based very much upon scientifically proven fact, and many reliable published modern herbals are now available. The modern grower can easily incorporate elements of the ‘physic garden’ into their own garden or allotment by growing a selection of medicinal plants in order to create their own outdoor ‘first aid kit’ which can be administered in forms such as tisanes, infusions, decoctions, poltices or compresses, although of course it is advisable that no medicinal treatment for serious complaints using herbal cures should be undertaken without qualified supervision.

A list of herbal treatments[]

(Disclaimer: The following is intended for information and guidance only)

Acid Indigestion[]

  • Meadow sweet - drink an infusion of flowers and leaves
  • Mint - drink an infusion of leaves


  • Burdock- drink an infusion of herb


  • Dandelion- drink an infusion
  • Agrimony- drink an infusion regularly
  • Nettle- drink an infusion of herb


  • Meadowsweet - drink an infusion of flowers


  • Butterbur - drink a decoction
  • Hawthorn - leaves added to tea

Bad Breath[]

  • Parsley- chew leaves
  • Carraway- chew seeds


  • Chickweed- leaf poultice of fresh plant

Broken Bones[]

  • Comfrey- crushed roots applied as plaster


  • Lady’s mantle- drink an infusion
  • Marigold - wash with infusion
  • Comfrey - drink decoction or infusion


  • Coltsfoot- make into syrup


  • Marshmallow - drink infusion or decoction of root
  • Horehound - make into candy
  • Horsetail - drink infusion or spoonfuls of juice


  • Yarrow - drink infusion
  • Horehound- make into candy

Confinement (following)[]

  • Lady’s mantle - drink an infusion


  • Eyebright - use professional preparation


  • Plantain - seeds made into jelly with water


  • Coltsfoot - make into syrup
  • Horehound- make into candy
  • Comfrey- drink infusion of fresh flowers & leaves, or fresh juice
  • Mullein- drink infusion


  • Burdock- drink an infusion of herb
  • Chamomile- apply infusion to scalp


  • Sweet cicely- add to food in place of sugar


  • Blackberry- drink decoction of root or leaves
  • Meadowsweet- drink infusion of leaves


  • Sphagnum- sterile wound dressing
  • Onions- juice is mildly effective


  • Always use professional preparations on the eyes- Rues, comfrey, eyebright, chickweed, agrimony and horsetail are all used by herbalists.


  • Mints- drink infusion
  • Chamomile- drink infusion
  • Fennel- chew a few seeds


  • Feverfew- a leaf or two each day
  • Chamomile- drink infusion


  • Mint- drink infusion or chew leaves


  • [[Chamomile]- drink infusion
  • Mints- drink infusion

Insect repellant[]

  • Rue- hang bunches of herbs in room or store clothes with moth bags
  • Yarrow- use in bunches or moth bags
  • Southernwood- use in bunches or moth bags


  • Chamomile- drink infusion
  • Hops- dried hops in pillow

Intestinal tonic[]

  • Marshmalow- drink infusion
  • Plantain- seeds made into jelly with water
  • Meadowsweet- drink infusion of leaves


  • Rue- rub it on


  • Lemon verbena- drink infusion
  • Mint- drink infusion


  • Yarrow- a few leaves up the nose
  • Nettle sting
  • Dock- rub leave son the rash


  • Dandelion- drink an infusion of the elaves
  • Horsetail- drink infusion of the leaves
  • Agrimony- drink infusion of the leaves
  • Burdock- drink infusion of the leaves
  • Chickweed- drink infusion of the leaves
  • Rue- drink infusion of the leaves
  • Comfrey- drink infusion of the leaves
  • Meadowsweet- drink infusion of the flowers


  • Cleavers- crushed as a poultice
  • Burdock- drink infusion of the leaves
  • Elder- wash face frequently in an infusion
  • Periwinkle- ask herbalist for ointment


  • Mistletoe- slowly chew a berry

Teething of children[]

  • Orris root- chew


  • Greater celandine- apply juice to wart

Wound dressing[]

  • Sphagnum moss- apply to wounds