When I was a teenager I read this book by Mary Stewart, and became instantly fascinated by the world of herbs and the mysteries of folklore and medicine surrounding them. By day, I planted and tended a herb garden at our home. By night (by candlelight because we had no electricity) I studied reference books about herbalism. When I had a pimple, I tried pressing the petal of a calendula flower to it to make the pimple disappear (no joy). When I had a headache, I made a tincture of feverfew and drank it (it tasted so disgusting that it definitely distracted me from the headache). I found some glycerine capsules at the local pharmacy and filled them with crushed herbs to 'medicate' members of my family when they were sick. Don't worry, I was smart enough to research which herbs were safe for consumption and in what manner, before I did all this. I just wasn't smart enough to speak to an actual herbalist, who might have been a little better at achieving the health and beauty results I hoped to achieve.
My favourite two books for discovering new herbs to plant were a small-and-simple guide called "The Pocket Encyclopedia of Herbs," alongside "Complete Herbal," which was written by Nicholas Culpeper in 1653. I love the descriptions and language in Culpeper. About borage, the herb at the top of this post, for example, he said "The leaves and roots are to very good purpose used in putrid fevers to defend the heart, and to resist and to expel the poison or venom of other creatures." Also, he assigned every herb a place in the astrological charts (borage is under Jupiter), and was sometimes (unintentionally) very funny.
And it's these books that bring us (finally! I can hear you cheering!) to the point of this post.
After having a lot of fun painting antique botanical prints for my mail-art recently, I have decided to extend the theme, and paint some of my old friends from these two books. On the back of the envelope, I've shared a tiny tidbit about the herb for the recipient's reading pleasure (or not). Something like this...
ΔΔ "Venus governs it. Ladies' mantle is very proper for inflamed wounds, and to stay bleeding, vomitings, fluxes of all sorts, bruises by falls, and ruptures: and such women or maids as have over great flagging breasts, causing them to grow less and hard..." Culpeper, 1653
ΔΔ "It is a strange coincidence that the leaves can be used for wiping fingers after eating crabs, to wipe away the smell. Crabs, chrysanthemums, wine and the moon are the four autumn joys of our scholars, artists and poets." Chiang Yee, The Silent Traveller in London
ΔΔ "The name of this herb conjures up biblical images of aromatic resins and healing oils... has a strange 'masculine' fragrance -- the kind of musky scent that gives depth to perfumes." The Pocket Encyclopedia of Herbs
ΔΔ "The leaves of mallows, and the roots boiled in wine and water, or in broth with parsley or fennel roots, open the body, and are very convenient in agues, or other distempers of the body, to apply the leaves warmed to the belly." Culpeper, 1653