Folklore of Scotland’s Plantlife: Scottish Medicinal Plants
Posted on Dec 05, 2014 by Myles Farnbank
Discover the medicinal properties of Scotland’s most iconic plants.
In the third in the series of blogs on the folklore of Scotland’s wildlife, Director of Training, Myles Farnbank explores the traditional uses of three common and well-known Scottish native plants.
Check out earlier articles here:
The root boiled in milk was a treatment for diarrhoea. Externally, the plant is good at stopping blood flow for cuts etc. Steeped in boiling water it has been applied as a lotion to help relieve sunburn and also cosmetically as a compress to tone up flabby skin.
Long boiling converts the roots into a gum, which has been eaten as an emergency food. This has been a major source of carbohydrate in areas where the potato harvest failed. A tea has been made from the rhizomes.
A red dye is obtained from the roots. Until relatively recently large quantities were used in leather tanning and treating fishing nets and lines, especially where oak or other tree sources where scarce.
Bog Myrtle (Myrica gale)
The leaves are normally used as a tea. Prior to the arrival of quinine it was used as a general fever remedy. It has also been used as a cure for ulcers. An infusion of the leaf tops has also been used as a cure for worms.
The aromatic fruits and leaves are used either fresh or dried to flavour soups, stews etc. They are sometimes put in beer and ale to improve the flavour and increase foaming. The dried leaves make a delicate and palatable tea.
A wax covering on the fruit and leaves was extracted by scalding the fruit with boiling water and immersing for a few minutes. The wax floats to the surface and was then skimmed off and strained through a muslin cloth and used to make aromatic candles. Yellow and brown dyes can be obtained from the stem tips. The plant repels moths and insects in general and is an ingredient in a commercial insect repellant. A fragrant essential oil is obtained from the fruits. A cosmetics company has recently produced an anti-ageing cream using Bog Myrtle.
Common Heather (Calluna Vulgaris)
Heather is a particularly good antiseptic and diuretic, disinfecting the urinary tract and mildly increasing urine production. The plant was macerated and made into a liniment for treating rheumatism, arthritis and gout, whilst a hot poultice was a traditional remedy for chilblains. An infusion of the flowering shoots was used in the treatment of coughs, colds, bladder and kidney disorders.
A tea can be made from the flowering stems. A kind of mead was once brewed from the flowers and the young shoots have been used instead of hops to flavour beer and to make wine. The nectar produces a thicker honey than the other heather species.
The branches have (or have had) many uses, including, thatching, as a foundation in wattle-&-daub walls, as a bedding or a stuffing for mattresses, for insulation, basketry, rope making, floor matting and for making brooms. After the second world war and as a result of a timber shortage, a factory was set up near Glasgow to make floor tiles out of compressed heather stems. The rootstock can be made into musical pipes and carved into knife handles. A yellow orange dye is obtained from the flowering tops.
Do you remember any stories or myths surrounding Scotland’s plants or wildlife?
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