What about our colonial ancestors?
Along with knowing what worked when using herbs and plants to treat illnesses, enhance meals, and wardrobes, success with garden plants relied on knowledge passed down and around. What may seem like an old wives tale might just be based on some 'old husbands' as well.
John Gerard was the author of a huge tome of horticultural knowledge (published in 1597) called both THE HERBALL and THE GENERAL HISTORY OF PLANTS. Granted much of the 1200 page book was taken from an earlier Dutch work by Rembert Doedens, Gerard added to it with experience in his own English gardens. After Gerard's death, someone took on the task of updating it to a 1700 page resource which was the standard for plant knowledge throughout the 17th Century.
Another expert in the field was Nicholas Culpeper who was a physician expounding the benefits of herbs. He was a rebel in his time, angering the medical professionals and even being accused of encouraging witchcraft. He created a herbal book for 'the masses' that they might be able to treat themselves rather than be subject to charlatan doctors who thought bloodletting would heal all.
Culpepper was one of the first 'battlefield surgeons' recorded during the English Civil War.
His book, The English Physician, was a radical resource!
Using experience, stories of herbal usage and garden lore gathered strength over the centuries. Some make sense today because they are truly based on plant needs and human physical needs. Some are just plain entertaining. What plant wisdom have you heard? What old tales valued in colonial times still hang around? Do you use any herbal remedies?
If a pregnant woman plants any type of plant, it will grow well.
Plant seeds of tuberous (plants that ripen underground) in the afternoon for best growth
Excessive activity in small animals and birds that lasts all day means bad weather is coming
The 12 days after Christmas predict the weather for the following 12 months.
(Likewise, rain on Easter Sunday means rain on the next seven Sundays)
Expect rain within 3 days if a half moon's tip points down
If spring flowers bloom again in the fall, expect a 'sorrowful winter'.
Transplant flowers in the light of the moon.
Placing rusty nails around your plants will help them grow
Bury fish heads in with your roses
A rope around a garden will keep out snakes
As a horticulturalist, I know there's good reason why some things work, and I enjoy hearing about all those that don't. An entire series of posts could focus on the lore of herbal remedies and you can be there is good basis for their success. I'm fascinated with herbal remedies and love to study them. Kudos to these two 'fathers' of 'old wives tales' and the printers who put together these huge books which became the standard for planting and using plants for food and health.
As for the list above, I can tell you that I did have some spring flowers bloom again last fall and we certainly had a sorrowful winter! For colonial gardeners, I'm pretty sure the truth was - living from the land takes a lot of hard work and common sense. That hasn't changed a bit.