7 Year Tea Party Winners: Susan Craft's winner of her trilogy novels - The Chamomile, Laurel, and Cassia is: Lucy Reynolds, The winner of a copy of The Backcountry Brides is: Tammy Cordery, the winner of a silver quill charm is: Kathy Maher, Choice of one of three books by Carrie Fancett Pagels in paperback: Joy Ellis, A Bouquet of Brides Collection by Pegg Thomas winner is: Becky Smith, Janet Grunst's Selah-Award winning novel, A Heart Set Free, is: Sherry Moe.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Plant Lore. Old Wives' Tales or Old Men's?

To this day we follow many facets of garden lore and herbal remedies for the simple fact some things just plain work. So where do we draw the line in these 'old wives' tales'?  I am not about to discredit what your grandmother told you about gardening... believe you me!

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.


  1. Thanks for visiting. I hope you offer some plant wisdom of your own. I'll check in as much as possible this weekend. Enjoy some spring and maybe some time in your own garden!

  2. This is great Debra. I have heard some of these, like the rope around the garden, fish heads in the garden and others.
    Thanks for sharing
    blessings, Tina

    1. Thanks! There are so many. I even found a google book that was online with all this great 'old' information on each specific plant. I would have loved to share so much of it, but this was a consolidation of various things I found in both herbal medicine and garden folk lore. I am most impressed that there was actually a 1700 pg resource on gardening in the 17th century by a man who had links to the Tudors.

  3. Fascinating article,Debra! Would love to look at those books.

    1. Thank you Carrie. I know they often made large books into several separate books. I'd love to know more about these and who actually could afford to own them.

  4. Thanks Debra. We always used fish emulsion for our gardens.

  5. The more I learn, the more I know I don't know about this era. Research on my current WIP seems to expand, not contract.

    Thank you, Debra for a most useful post.

    1. I agree! Google books online seems to be a great resource for many old books.
      Thanks for leaving a comment!


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