Website of poet Elizabeth Rimmer

Mrs Grieve

  • The Charm of Nine Herbs (4) Nettle


    Nettle this is called * powerful against sickness.

    It drives out pain * it is powerful against sickness.

    This is the herb * that fought with the serpent,

    It has might against poison, * might against infection,

    might against the evil one * who wanders the land.

    No controversy about this one – everyone agrees that ‘stiÞe’ is nettle, and all the herbal traditions agree that it is powerful against fevers and inflammation – notoriously used against rheumatism by Roman soldiers – good for the kidneys, and a very useful antihistamine. In many countries the fibres from nettles were used to make a thread that could be woven like linen, ropes, or fishing nets. I have not found any reference to a herb that ‘fought with the serpent’ anywhere, so I can’t account for that, but Grieve says that nettles planted around beehives will deter frogs. I can’t say I ever thought frogs might be a problem, but there you go.

  • Half a Hundred Herbs Week 49 – Daisy

    daisyI had to look hard for this photo. I am sure I must have taken many pictures with daisies in them, but they seem to have been at the back of the chorus, with larger more showy herbs taking the limelight. And yet every poet, from Chaucer to Alice Oswald seems to have written about them and loved them. We’ve all made daisy chains, we’ve all looked for the first daisies in spring, which some people say doesn’t start until you can put your foot on nine daisies at the same time (seven in some places). They seem to flower earlier and earlier and to get into the most pristine of lawns (good, I say), but for a long time I didn’t know of any herbal use to which they could be put.

    Then I came across a book called How to Enjoy Your Weeds by Audrey Wynne Hatfield, whose The Magic of Herbs had started me on the whole herbal enterprise. She says they were used as an ointment for bruises, and for treating varicose veins, and has a recipe for something called ‘daisy whisky’. It takes a gallon of flowers, however, so I don’t see myself trying this any time soon. Mrs Grieve says the taste is very bitter and acrid, so much so that insects won’t attack it, and that a decoction of the leaves has been used as a pesticide, so although it has a history of treating liver complaints and scurvy, I think it might be as well not to take it internally.


    These moon daisies are not just larger versions, but an entirely different species, Leucanthemum vulgare, as opposed to the bellis perennis above. It is used externally like the smaller daisy, but can also be used internally to treat asthma and catarrh and bronchitis. It grows wild everywhere especially along the hedges and motorway verges, getting more ragged as the summer goes on, but so welcome in April.

    Daisies used to be classified as compositae, but now they have a family of their own, the asteraceae. It can cause confusion if you are looking through older herbals.


  • Half a Hundred Herbs Week 45 – Hawthorn

    terrnov 016There is a belt of trees on the riverbank. Some of them are covered with ivy and intertwined with wild roses:

    terrnov 015At this time of year they are a magnificent sight. There are blackbirds and thrushes most of the year round, chaffinches, robins and wrens, and most of the time the magpies jackdaws and rooks hang about there too, watching for food opportunities in the fields around. And any day now, the winter birds – waxwings redwings and fieldfares will be joining them from northern parts.

    But hawthorn isn’t just good for wildlife. It is one of the most iconic trees in the herbals – only elder can come close for folklore references, and I think on the whole, that the hawthorn has it. They are the fairy trees of legend, and there are many roads in Ireland with an inconvenient kink in them so as not to take down particularly significant thorn bushes. If you sleep under thorn bushes the fairies may gain power over you – perhaps the famous Eildon Tree where Thomas the Rhymer met the fairy queen was a hawthorn? They are often planted at the boundaries of property – perhaps because they grow so quickly, perhaps because the thorns are a pretty good deterrent. It was a rite of passage one summer in my childhood to push through or jump over all the hawthorn hedges in front of all the houses in our street, disregarding the scratches and the irate neighbours, but those hedges were mostly clipped very short and neat. The ones that had been neglected were a different proposition.

    The tree is one of the first in leaf and the flowers are the high point of late spring, a rising tide of foam on the eye-popping green. You aren’t supposed to bring them into the house, because they bring death and misfortune, (Mrs Grieve says they were believed to smell of the Plague, others associated it with TB especially in Ireland where the disease was common) but you can hang them over the cowshed to protect the milk. In Northern Ireland a hawthorn globe made of the berries can be hung on a house to protect from fire and lightning (maybe this is Seamus Heaney’s haw lantern?). Not a tree to be messed with.

    The leaves are edible – children used to put them between bread and butter, and they must have been a good fresh bite of vitamin C in early spring. The berries are edible, too, though you are supposed to let them ‘blet’ like medlars before the taste is worth having. I’ve seen recipes for hawthorn chutney and fruit leather too.

    Medicinally, however, hawthorn is very significant. Tincture from the berries is said to be good for the heart, for the circulation and for kidney troubles. I’ve seen it recommended for Raynaud’s syndrome mood, swings, restlessness and even ADHD. And Mrs Grieve says the timber is good for small articles, having a fine grain and taking a good polish. Better ask the fairies for permission first, I should think!

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