The ultimate secrets of wild herbs were originally all wild plants; in fact, many of the plants now grown in gardens are wild plants in their native countries and are not the result of many years of plant breeding and hybridizing under cultivation. The blue morning glory, for instance, with its exquisitely shaded blue trumpet flowers, is a rampant invader in its native South Africa, as the British white funneled bindweed is an obstinate and recalcitrant colonizer of herbaceous borders, shrubs, and roses.

Beneficial Weeds!

Another name for wild plants that appear unwontedly in gardens is a weed, but many, if not all, of these so-called weeds once had considerable medicinal value, to say nothing of their household and domestic merits. Practically any plant seen during country rambles by the pathside, in pastures and meadows growing in hedges and at the side of streams and ponds probably had some significance to the infirmaries and physicians of the past.

Mugwort Artemisia vulgaris was once used to flavor all sorts of drinks, particularly homemade juices to ward off moths, and as a cold preventative, it is a common weed of wasteland. Eyebright Euphrasia officinal is another small, unremarkable plant, easily trampled underfoot on paths, and with tiny white and lilac tubular flowers. It is a member of the Scrophulariaceae. It was thought by Arab physicians to cure all evils of the eye, and Gerard said that it preserves sight, and being feeble and lost, it restores the same.

Cowslisp (Primula veris) was used to remedy restlessness insomnia and, in general, acting as a sedative or corn poppy of Flanders (Papaver rhoeas), is still a remedy for many ailments, including tonsillitis, anxiety, and coughs. Various species of thistles have been employed for all sorts of needs, including making paper, curdling milk as a tonic and diaphoretic, and so on. Weed herbs in the descriptive list of herbs include dandelion, nettle, elder, horsetail, marshmallow, mullein, and valerian.

Couch grass, that curse of the gardener and nightmare amongst shrubs and herbaceous perennials, was formerly much used for a variety of ailments, including cystitis and rheumatism, has a diuretic effect, and is still a urinary antiseptic. Ground-elder is another invader bent on taking over the whole garden, but its other name, goutweed, gives the game away.

It was also once a valued herb supposed to have great effects on gout and sciatica, though even in Elizabethan times it was often regarded as a nuisance. When it has once taken root, it will hardly be gotten out again, to the annoyance of better herbs. It could not be better described; its very commonness is indicated by the number of vernacular names; it has at least sixteen, among which is “bishop’s weed,” because it was so often found near ruined places and similar buildings, having been introduced by medieval monks as an herb of healing.

Even the ubiquitous bramble, or blackberry, had its place, apart from its delicious jelly and fruits. The jelly was once used to good effect in cases of dropsy. The bark and roots were considered of much value in treating diarrhea and dysentery. The leaves are still recommended as a decoction for treating external ulcers and as a gargle; they are thought to have an anti-diabetic effect, though this is not yet proven.

A country walk can then easily turn into a voyage of discovery if you take a modern herbal with you. They alternatively make notes in advance about herbal or wild plants that used to be herbs. And take a flora for identification. If you have no herbals, take a notebook to enable you to write down details of the plants found, together with sketches or photographs. These will enable you to check with a library copy whether the plants discovered have a history of ancient use. It is perhaps a modern one, but you will find the old dye plants used for shampoos and hair coloring, for skin cleansing, healing poultices, and an endless number of human needs and remedies.

Bergamot, growing wild in a Michigan landscape, is native to North America and is also known as “bee balm” because both bees and hummingbirds are attracted by its blossoms. Hemlock, one of the most common poisonous plants, is often found growing in roadside ditches and on waste ground and bears a dangerous resemblance to cow parsley. Socrates is said to have been killed with the juice of this herb. Cowslip is a common plant in fields, meadows, and hedgerows. It was once used medicinally for restlessness, insomnia, and in general as a sedative.

Poisonous Herbs!

But a word of warning: there are also some secrets about wild herbs and plants that were once used as herbal asemetics, purgatives, and laxatives, which are not known to be poisonous. Don’t experiment too far with flavors of berries or leaves; if in doubt, don’t try it. The following are poisonous wild plants commonly found growing in Britain and North America:. Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade; Bryonia dioica, white bryony; Colchicum autumnale, autumn crocus; Aconitum anglicum, monk’s hood; Conium maculatum, hemlock; Datura stramonium, thornapple; Helleborus niger, Mandragora officinalis, mandrake; Mercurialis perennis, dog mercury; Solanum dulcamara, woody nightshade; Solanum nigra, black nightshade.

Gardener’s Friends!

It is also worth remembering that herbal weeds may well do well on one’s garden plants, provided they can be kept under reasonable control. A light weed cover will keep the soil moist for longer and provide shade for roots. Hoeing such a cover before it flowers and seeds provides a kind of instant green manure that improves or maintains a good soil structure. Chamomile is said to be the plant doctor because, in some way, the secretions given off by the roots help unhealthy young plants recover.

Red clover, Trifolium pretense, will add to the nitrogen content of the soil, and pieces of the hollow stems of Angelica will trap earwigs. Compost material can be encouraged to rot down by adding nettle tops to it, and valerian, dandelion leaves, chamomile, and yarrow leaves mixed together with nettles form a ready-made accelerator used in thin layers as the heap is built.

Create your own nature reserve!

So, if there is enough space to spare in the garden from growing ornamentals, fruit, and vegetable crops,. It is a good idea to turn it into a kind of controlled nature reserve in which weeds or wild herbs can be left to grow naturally without any particular plan of action. Naturally, the more rampant varieties, such as bramble bindweed, nettle, ground elder, and horsetail, will need checking, but if these are likely to be a problem, don’t introduce them. Stick to the smaller herbaceous and annual plants, such as scarlet pimpernel, corn poppy, chickweed (Stellaria media), wild marjoram, alexanders, burdock, wild chicory, foxglove, meadowsweet soapwort, teasel, and dyer’s weld, to name just a few.

You can have a pretty nature reserve without much difficulty paths in it could consist of clover, yarrow, and chamomile, clipped occasionally or even mown, and the flowering plants could be mixed with various grasses for a completely natural effect. Such a mixture is what has come to be called a flowering meadow, which is left untouched except for cutting immediately after the majority of plants have flowered, usually about the middle of midsummer. This ensures speeding for next year and encourages the greatest number of species. The cut material should be left to lie.

But you can alternatively just grow the flowering wild plants and be a little more formal, and at the same time more decorative, by planting them in beds, so that the contrast between this section and the rest of the garden is not so great. Some of the prettiest varieties are: yellow archangel, Lamiastrum galeobdolon; bellflower, Campanula trachelium; bluebell, Endymion non-scriptus; broom, Cytisus scoparius; dyers greenwood, Genista tinctoria; bugle, Ajuga reptans; meadow buttercup, Ranunculus acris; red campion, Silene dioica; greater celandine, Chelidonium majus; lesser celandine, Ranunculus ficaria; wild chicory, Cichorium nintybus cowslip; Primula veris.

There are also dandelion, evening primrose, foxglove, harebell, heart’s ease, herb Robert, purple loosestrife, mullein, ox-eyes daisy, field scabious, devil’s bit, sea holly, tansy, teasel, thistles, thrift, and yellow rattle, practically all of which have had or still have some herbal use.

Birds, bees, and other fauna!

You will also find that by growing all these native plants, you will attract a good many other living species, representatives of the insect, animal, bird, and aquatic orders, particularly butterflies, moths, and pollinating insects generally such as bees, hoverflies, and lacewings.

So, species of birds may have never seen them in the garden before as they discover seeds or berries, which are part of their essential diets. However, frogs and toads, newts if you sink a pond, water snails, beetles, and other aquatics. A heap of mown hay and leaves will encourage hedgehogs to hibernate; voles field mince, and perhaps even dormice, will appear.

The average suburban garden is something of a nature reserve in its own right, and insects alone that can be seen in it may consist of over 200 species of moths, more than 80 sorts of bees and wasps, and nearly two dozen butterflies. Hoverflies, also called flower flies, in particular, may be abundant, getting on for 100 different species, and these not only do no harm but do a great deal of good, partly by pollinating and partly by the larvae feeding on greenflies.

Moths mostly fly and feed after dark, in particular at dusk and dawn, and the garden or nature reserve that contains an abundance of scented plants, especially those whose perfume comes out at night, will attract moths in quantity, as will their larvae, the caterpillars.

A patch of the garden meadow devoted to this kind of plant may cause visitors to wonder why you have allowed it to revert to a wilderness. However, the good that it will do to the rest of the garden in restoring and maintaining a natural balance and the fact that native plants are being conserved and increased more than justify its presence. Indeed, in the modern world, such areas are now essential if plant, animal, and insect species are not to disappear forever. So it is very important to know about the real secrets of wild herbs.

The ultimate secrets of wild herbs were originally all wild plants; in fact, many of the plants now grown in gardens are wild plants in their native countries
The ultimate secrets of wild herbs were originally all wild plants; in fact, many of the plants now grown in gardens are wild plants in their native countries.

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