Right now, July, the lane is at its lushest: the flowers at their zenith. The number of species here suggests that the hedges are truly ancient. It's almost overwhelming, the sheer exuberance of summer: the glorious fizz of multi-species blossoming, and all the now-flying fledglings – the larks and sparrows, finches, tits and yellowhammers.
Unlike separated active-ingredient derivatives, or synthesised pharmaceutical equivalents, it's also the case that on the whole herbs work better, if more slowly, than the drug-industry medicines through our using their alkaloids in the naturally-occurring combination. They then work in synergy together, and in harmony in the body, without most of the toxic side-effects that so many allopathic medicines create (obviously there are occasions where modern pharmaceuticals are life-savers – I don't mean to suggest otherwise; I'm talking about more daily minor illnesses).
Such joy, then, to see herbs in abundance in the hedgerows – so many species in a matter of yards. Here are some of them. (And if perchance you want to be a good bard in the ancient Celtic tradition, you need to know about plants – as well as the state of moon and tide at any given moment, the latter at any given point on the seacoast of your land...)
A note of caution: many of these herbs are benign. Some though are toxic in certain doses, so shouldn't be used without consultation with a medical herbalist.
One of the bedstraws. There's a yellow bedstraw that can be used in dyeing wool, but this one, delicately perfumed, is good for drying and adding to lingerie drawers or linen-chests/airing cupboards. It used to be strewn on medieval floors to help disguise smells from unwashed bodies, dogs who'd rolled in fox-shit, dead rats, mouldy crusts &c...
... not to be confused with cleavers, or goose-grass – the one kids (and some adults) love to chuck at the back of the person in front because it sticks (hence its name). This is a major herb in the medicine chest: I give it to any of the animals who needs a bit of a boost, as it helps cleanse the blood and ups the immune system. Ditto for myself; I might stir a little into a wild-garlic-and-nettle soup in spring.
The lovely foxglove, of course. Its active ingredient is digitalis, from which the pharmas extract/make Digoxin, a major heart-medicine (THIS IS POISONOUS).
Rosebay willowherb. I don't know of any healing properties associated with this plant, but it's a tonic to look at.
The little wild St John's Wort, from which comes an anti-anxiety medicine. It's best not to use this, too, unless you know what you're doing; or look it up. The little five-petalled faces (yes, as I've said before, five-petalled flowers are dedicated to the Goddess) are just as pretty but less showy than in its garden cultivar, the Rose of Sharon.
Meadowsweet. Some countryfolk still call it 'love and marriage': it smells sweet till you get up close, then you notice a bitter, cloying undercurrent! It's excellent for headaches, and can help joint pains; like willow, its active ingredient is salicylic acid, which is the active ingredient in aspirin. You can make a brew of leaves, stems, roots of this without fear of toxicity.
Rose-petal tea uplifts the heart. I put this one in for my little companion, Hessary, who died three years ago to the day I took these photos, on Friday. The dog rose (rosa canina) is a big favourite of mine; in combination with honeysuckle at the moment its scent drifts on the breeze our way, in the early evening.
erased the moorland distances.
Lanes are at their heartbreaking
fullest: buttercup, bluebell, campion,
Queen Anne’s lace, buds of dog rose.
And this is also an act of love:
to see another over a threshold.
© Roselle Angwin, 2010; in All the Missing Names of Love (IDP 2012)