Herb Uses in the 1600s
At the herb garden, you can learn how the colonists used herbs in the 1600s. The herb garden can be found along the front of the Iron Works House, along its eastern side, and along a small portion of the back of the house. Each plant has an interpretive sign discussing how that plant was used. Look for different plants to bloom throughout the spring and summer and into the early fall. Consult a physician before using any herbs as a form of medical treatment.
Betony: Stachys officinalis
The tea was used to stimulate the appetite and to relieve "souer belchings." Other cures included jaundice, epilepsy, gout, migraines, asthma, bronchitis, and as an antidote to poisons. The herb can be applied to wounds or made into a smoking mixture. The fresh plant yields a yellow dye.
Chamomile: Anthemis nobilis
This low-growing, matty plant was once a popular lawn while Chamomile tea is still a desired beverage known for its calming effect. The herb was also used to brew beer. Syrups and oils were remedies for jaundice, swollen joints, painful menses, and nausea and to relieve flatulence.
Clary: Salvia sclarea
The large leaves were fried to make a sort of pancake which also was supposed to relieve sore backs. Clary wine was used as an aphrodisiac and the ground-up seeds to make an eyewash. Used today in the perfume industry as a source of muscatel oil.
Red Bergamot: Monarda didyma
The orange flavor the leaves depart as a tea made Bergamot a quick favorite of the British settlers. Also known as Oswego Tea, it became one of the few American natives to make the trip back to England. Also one of the "Liberty Teas" during the American Revolution.
Rose: Rosa damascene & Rosa alba
When John Winthrop the Younger went to England, he was instructed to bring Roses back to the "New World." Rose hips are a good source of Vitamin C and are still used to make tea. The petals were used in potpourris.
Strawberry: Fragaria vesca
The refreshing taste of the berry is enough to make this plant a favorite. Strawberry wine was also made and Strawberry Tea was one of the Liberty Teas during the Revolution. Used to help fasten the teeth," to prevent scurvy and to treat gonorrhea. An astringent, it was used to make a whiter complexion.
Burnet: Sanguisobra minor
The cucumber taste of this herb makes it a novel addition to salads and teas. Also used to relieve stomach upsets and respiratory infections. Was often added to Claret "to drive away melancholy."
Costmary: Chrysanthemum balsamita
The sweet minty flavor and scent of Costmary made it a popular culinary and "strewing" or scenting herb. It was an herbal beer ingredient, hence the name Alecost. The seed was used to rid children of worms.
Mint: Menth sp.
There are three species of mints in this garden and two others on the site. (Look for the water mint by the pier). Characteristics of the mints include square stems, opposite leaves, and whorls of flowers. Most were used for cooking and scenting.
Tansy: Tanacetum vulgare
This herb was rubbed on meat to keep flies away, to help preserve the meat and to overpower the tast of spoiled meat. The leaves were made into an omelet or pancake for Lent and also acted as a purgative and wormkiller. Boiled in beer it was believed to prevent miscarriages though in large doeses it is an abortive.
Tarragon: Artemisia dracunculus
Most commonly seen today in the form of Tarragon Vinegar, though it has other culinary uses and is used in some liqueurs. Formerly a culinary herb and was also used to relieve insomnia, stimulate the appetite, promote menstruation and soothe toothaches.
Winter Savory: Satueja montana
Due to the stimulant effect of Savory, it has been considered an aphrodisiac. Savor tea's remedies include treatment for PMS, nausea and indigestion. As a culinary herb it was used to preserve and over power the taste of spoiled meat.
Dyes and Textiles
Agrimony: Agrimonia eupatoria
Agrimony was a primary source of yellow dye and an ingredient in herbal beer. Medically, it was believed to cleanse the liver and kidneys.
Blue Flax: Linum perenne
Flax has historically been grown as a source of linen cloth, linseed oil and liniment. Liniment has excellent anti-inflammatory properties and may be used as a salve for burns. The Egyptians used linen to wrap mummies and first paper was made from Flax.
Golden Marguerite: Anthemis tinctora
Also known as Dyer's Weed, the principal use of this plant was to yield yellow, khaki or gold dyes, depending on the time the flowers were harvested. Other common names include "the stinking chamomile" and currently, Mayweed. Also used to treat colic and hysteria.
Madder: Rubia tinctorum
Madder is the source of the brilliant scarlet used by the 18th century British soldiers. Other hues of orange, pink and violet could also be obtained. The root was used to treat bruises, cure jaundice and as a diuretic. The tea can be used to promote menstruation.
Soapwort: Saponaria officinalis
Can be toxic if taken internally. As the name implies, Soapwort produces a lather and is effective in removing grease. Currently used to clean old fabrics. Was and can be used as an expectorant, to relieve poison ivy and syphilis.
Lavender: Lavandula vera
Lavender is known for its scenting properties but it is also an anti-bacterial, anti-spasmodic and both a sedative and stimulant.It was used to treat epilepsy, migraines, dizziness, fainting spells, and to dispel the fetus of a stillbirth. The oil was rubbed on the skin to discourage ticks.
Violets: Violeta ordorata
Highly prized for its beauty and scent, the Sweet Violet is still used in the perfume industry and to color medicines. The leaf is a good source of Vitamin C and was added to salads or fried with sugar for a confection. Roots are an expectorant.
17th Century Medicinal Uses:
Many herbs had more than one use. Depending on the amount used, herbs could be useful or deadly. Consult your physician before using herbs for medicinal uses.
Archangel: Lamium album (white) &L. galeobdolon (yellow)
Archangel was used to drive away melancholy and is still used to treat PMS. Believed useful in treating "corrupt" sores, ulcers, hemorrhoids and burns. Also known as Dead Nettle.
Bugle: Ajug reptans
Also known as Carpenters Weed, Bugles' primary function was to stop bleeding and is used to arrest internal hemorrhaging. Bugle was thought to be a cure for gangrene, to help with delirium tremens and to relieve ulcers.
Comfrey: Symphtum officinale
The root of Comfrey was made into poulitice, which acted like a cast, for healing broken bones, hence the old common name of Knitbone. Cures included infected sores and gastric and duodenal ulcers. Comfrey does help regenerate cell growth.
Garlic: Allium sativum
Garlic is an anti-bacterial and fungicide and until WWI was commonly used as an anti-bacterial. Medical uses included curing herbal poisonings, dysentery and other contagious diseases. Garlic does lower blood pressure and is effective against angina.
Horehound: Marrubium vulgare
The syrup from this plant, as a cough remedy, and Horehound candy have both retained their popularity. Poultices were made to treat ulcerous wounds and tea to promote menstruation. Horehound also had a reputation as an antivenin.
Lady's Mantle: Alchemilla vulgaris
Lady's Mantle seems to have been a "must" for every woman's garden for it was used to relieve all feminine ills. It was an astringent and the dew was collected from the leaves to restore a youthful skin tone. Prolonged use does ease menopause and excessive menstruation.
Lamb's Ear: Stachys lanata
This plant was often included in the formal knot gardens or "grey" herb gardens. It had no culinary uses. The large, soft wooly leavers were a colonial "Band-Aid."
Lavender Cotton: Santolina chamaecyparissus
Lavender cotton may be used internally to kill intestinal worms or externally for ringworm. Was used to promote and regulate menstruation and as an antidote for venomous bites and stings. Most commonly used as a hedge plant in formal knot gardens.
Lemon Balm: Melissa officians
Lemon balm has historically been cultivated for honey bees. It is a mild sedative and is still used to relieve headaches, cramps, and insect bites.
Roman Wormwood: Artemisia pontica
Large habitual dosages of Artemisias lead to a breakdown of the nervous system. Similar to, though milder than, Wormwood. May be used to stimulate the appetite but the bitter taste overpowers subsequent foods Also used to cure gout and jaundice.
Last updated: July 2, 2021