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Tour of the herbal medicine garden at Cregneash on the Isle of Man, where traditional plant medicines still grow. Includes a video of the garden and plants and a discussion on how people in the past, with no access to doctors or hospitals, used plants to heal.
A hundred years ago, a veggie patch was much more than just a leisure garden. It was survival, especially in a place like the Isle of Man. These days the Island is quaint and modern, and the thought of having to grow your own food is far from most people’s minds. It’s something that you do for fun, perhaps for mindfulness, but not a necessity.
Up until the middle of the 20th century, there were still cottages on the Isle of Man with dirt floors. In the decades before that, this isolated rock in the Irish Sea had to be far more self-sufficient. If the boat doesn’t arrive with the daily delivery of food, the local supermarket shelves empty with panic buying. In the past, you had to grow your own or have something to swap to be able to put fresh food on the table.
When it came to medicine, growing your own was even more essential. If you came down with a cough or sore throat, you would have soothing candies made of marshmallow or white horehound. Broken bones would be treated with comfrey, and worts would be removed using greater celandine. The list goes on.
Traditional Herbalism Preserved
This way of life is preserved in the incredible Manx National Heritage site, Cregneash. A living folk village, Cregneash was once a small crofters community that scratched a living from the soil and the sea. Its picturesque stone cottages are to this day maintained in a way that is sympathetic to the past. Inside them, you’ll find traditional furnishings, crafts, and MNH staff who explain what life was like. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a demonstration.
- More on the Gardens of Cregneash
- Ways to Use Plants for Healing Skincare
- How to Create a Herbal First Aid Kit
Often overlooked, the gardens outside show the types of edibles and herbal remedies people would have grown. Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Cregneash’s head gardener, Karen Griffiths, to learn about them. Sitting outside Ned Beg’s cottage, we discussed the importance of the veg patches around the village. Each crofter would have had space to grow vegetables, soft fruit like gooseberries and black currants, and of course, herbal remedies.
Medicinal Plants Used in the Past
In the video below, you can watch my interview with Karen. She takes us on a fascinating journey back to the past as we walk around the gardens of Cregneash, including the plants that the crofters would have used for herbal remedies. Sweet cicely that would have been used instead of sugar, and Weld, a plant brought to the Island by the Vikings. You can also find the video on the Lovely Greens YouTube channel. Some of the herbal remedies introduced include:
- Evening primrose
- Greater celandine
- Lemon balm
- Saracen’s woundwort