Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Preserving the Harvest - Herbs

Herbalist Deb Fate-Mental taught our guests about herbs - what they were used for and how they were preserved.  Here is her report from Saturday's "Preserving the Harvest".

Deb shares her knowledge of herbs with our guests

Due to the warmer weather this year I was able to bring many fresh herbs as well as a few dried ones for my herb table at Preserving the Harvest.  I grow mainly traditional English herbs along with a few native North American plants.  I brought some good English staples – mugwort, comfrey, roses, violet, dandelion, burdock, yellowdock, horseradish, angelica, hyssop, lavender, witch hazel, oak, yarrow, lady’s mantle – and one native American herb, Lobelia inflata, that became quite popular in the early 19th Century.   I had also made a conserve of rosehips to show people different methods of preservation, along with herbs preserved in oil and ones that had been dried.  In the morning I made electuaries, little herb candies.  The ones I made were for sore throats and contained powered marshmallow root and powdered slippery elm bark held together by honey.  These were used just like we use throat lozenges today (that’s where we get the idea from).  I ended up having quite a few as my voice and throat tired out by early afternoon!   

We had a lot of visitors, many of which were quite curious, asked questions and made comments -- "This, I like!"  There seemed to be several themes running through the day.  The first was the belief that our ancestors gathered much of their medicinals and that they were native American plants. I’ve not seen much documentation of settlers using native American plants until the 19th Century.  Describing them, yes.   Noting how natives used them, yes but our ancestors using them, outside rare occurrences, no.  Our ancestors brought plant seeds with them, along with the women’s Books of Physick, and planted gardens.   English people planted good English herbs.  

The second theme I noticed revolved around isolationism.  This was especially apparent as I was next to Val, who was making mead with popular spices of the day (cinnamon, cloves, pepper, ginger, etc.).  People seemed to think that colonial people moved here to become isolationists and that everything was local and that trade was something to be avoided.  Many people assumed that all those exotic spices were grown here.  I got the same reaction when people found I had used olive oil for preserving the herbs.   “I thought the colonists didn’t want to trade for anything with anyone.”  Really?!!! I heard that several times throughout the day. Needless to say, we had lots of teaching moments.

It was a great day and a wonderful opportunity to educate people.  I think people learn much more about 18th Century life from displays and demonstrations like Preserving the Harvest than they do from watching battle reenactments.  I get asked very few questions at reenactments but was overwhelmed by really good questions on Saturday.  This event was excellent and great fun!

1 comment:

  1. Another good one. Thank you. I will add the link.