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lacock abbey

Earlier this week we took the apprentices for a stroll around nearby Lacock Abbey (home of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films). Like many National Trust properties during school holidays a ‘trail’ had been arranged. We wound our way around the grounds, walled vegetable garden and cloisters in a bid to find ten ‘simples’ . These were plants used by apothecaries and herbalists to heal and soothe in times past.

By the time we were halfway round we were feeling quite at home. All the plants we’d found are growing in our own garden. What’s more, we are using them in much the same way as did the herbalists of old. I have  loved monastic herb gardens since my uni days studying Anglo Saxon and Middle English and so I thought I’d share with you my top ten ‘simples’ in an attempt to encourage you to grow and use some of them yourself.

Lavender – beautiful to look at, smells great and oh so useful. Use it in pillows to aid sleep or in the bath to soothe and calm. Rub fresh flowers onto skin to keep flies at bay 0r use it to make biscuits and ice cream. And bees love it too. Better in a sunny spot and needs good drainage.

Rosemary – use an infusion of rosemary to rinse dark hair to keep it super shiny or throw a few twigs on the barbecue to perfume the air. Rosemary tea makes a good antiseptic gargle, banishing halitosis and dare I say it, reducing flatulence……..My boys loved finding this out!!

Catmint – the leaves and flower tops can be mashed to make a poultice for external bruises and freshly picked roots can be added to salad. Bunches hung in the hen house will help to repel rats …and cats love it.

Thyme – strongly antiseptic so great for sore gums and sore throats as well as its usual culinary uses. Put it in the worst soil in your garden for a good flavour.  but make sure it doesn’t get too wet.

Garlic – the juice acts as an insect repellant and helps to neutralise stings and bites although you  may not want to use it too often if you want to keep your friends. Eaten,  it is said to lower blood pressure , repel worms and is a great digestive tonic.

Lady’s Mantle – used by herbalists for centuries to treat menstrual disorders and can also be used after dental treatment as a mouthrinse. Young leaves can be torn into small pieces and included in a salad.

Chamomile – used as an effective hair rinse for blondes and drunk as a tea it can calm and improve the appetite.

Sage – we use it in a cabbage stir fry to accompany sausages and to make stuffing. It’s also good as a gargle when mixed with cider vinegar to soothe a sore throat.

Nasturtium – attracts blackfly away from cabbages and broad beans so great in the veg garden. We eat the fresh flowers in salads in moderation. The leaves contain vitamin C and iron.

Valerian – plant it near your veg because its roots release phosphorus and help to stimulate earthworm activity. Has been used for thosands of years as a sedative and relaxant. Recently used by James Wong in a hot chocolate drink so good for A level students and their parents right now. Be warned if you break up the roots whilst transplanting, all the cats in the neighbourhood will appear in your garden