A (not so) Modern Herbal

I always have fun digging around book stores. It’s like a grand treasure hunt, because a really good book is often hard to distinguish. One can’t rely on cover alone, and skimming through the pages can lend only the most transient of impressions. I guess it’s really a hit or miss, unless you buy the book for the pictures or patterns or recipes, which I often do.

I remember a particular purchase of mine quite well. In places like Half-Price Books, I always migrate to certain sections. Needlecraft, cooking, gardening, history, science, and languages. Usually in that order; the way the places are set up. This time I went, and when in gardening, wandered to the herbal shelf nearby. At once I saw a tome titled in green, ‘A Modern Herbal.’

It looked anything but modern, and when I looked inside, it said it had first been published in 1931; author Mrs. M. Grieve, F.R.H.S. My copy was not so old, but the text was glorious. I couldn’t understand two sentences together of it.

There were, however, some wonderful botanical drawings.

This particular set is of lemon (left) and lavender (right).

Here are some snippets of entries, just to illustrate how incomprehensible it is.

Chamomile, common.

Parts Used Medicinally.

The whole plant is odiferous and of value, but the quality is chiefly centred in the flower-heads or capitula, the part employed medicinally, the herb itself being used in the manufacture of herb beers

Medicinal Action and Uses

Tonic, stomachic, anodyne, and antispasmodic. The official preparations are a decoction, an infusion, the extract and the oil…Chamomile Tea is an old-fashioned but extremely efficacious remedy for hysterical and nervous affections in women and is also used as an emmenagogue. It has a wonderfully soothing, sedative and absolutely harmless effect. It is considered a preventive and the sole certain remedy for nightmare.

Lilacs (White and Mauve)


A shrub or small tree up to 20 feet in height producing a crowd of erect stems, occasionally a trunk over 2 feet in girth, clothed with spirally arranged flakes of bark. Shoot and leaves smooth, leaves heart-shaped or ovate, 2 to 6 inches long, from 3/4 to almost as much wide near the base; stalk 3/4 to 1 1/2 inch long. Panicles pyramidal, 6 to 8 inches long, usually in pairs from the terminal buds; flowers fragrant; corolla tube 1/3 to 1/2 inch long; lobes concave; calyx and flower-stalks have gland tipped down; seed vessels smooth, 5/8 inch long, beaked. (WHEW)



Yarrow, in eastern counties, is termed Yarroway, and there is a curious mode of divination with its serrated leaf, with which the inside of the nose is tickled while the following lines are spoken. If the operation causes the nose to bleed, it is a certain omen of success:

‘Yarroway, Yarroway, bear a white blow,  If my love love me, my nose will bleed now.’

See why I like it? Were I a practicing herbalist, I suppose I would value the recipes for infusions and decoctions rather more than I do. But as I don’t, I enjoy the folk tales and bits of history and etymology thrown around. Though to really read it, I would need a dictionary handy.

I suppose, once upon a time, it was the household expert on ailments and natural treatments. Pity we don’t have an equivalent today. I just have a tea cupboard.



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