is an Irish myth revolving around a brother and sister of
the Tuatha De Danaan, after the untimely death of Miach, his
sister Airmed wept deeply for the loss of the special relationship
with her brother. As Airmed daily-tended Miachs burial mound
she falls asleep one day and Miach comes to her saying that
he gives her the gift of healing and leech craft. When she
awake she discovered that growing upon his burial site all
the herbs for healing and she knew the cunning arts of herb
craft. It is to her that I dedicate this article.
In Ireland kitchen gardens known as Lubgort, are a fenced
in cultivated plot containing herbs that was a common attachment
to a family home, and was mentioned in the 8th century in
the Book of Armagh. The cultivation of herbs was mainly for
culinary purposes; mints, dill, fennel and parsley. In old
monastery ruins with remains of infirmaries there often are
immaculate weed-free lawns!
Dandelions were cultivated at a Cistercian monastery in County
Tipperary. Elders still claim that wherever Comfrey &
Nettles grow together a monastery was sure to have existed
on the site. Since comfrey is the cure for stinging nettles!
In many cemeteries you will often find self heal along the
Prior to the 19th century the people relied on local healers,
the old 'bean na luibheanna' and fairy doctors. There were
few qualified doctors in rural Ireland. The two cultures lived
side by side - the educated and those who believed in the
underworld of the fairies, superstition and magic. The fairy
doctors were said to have the cure for ailments caused by
the fairies. For example, Fairy Dart was a severe attack of
Rheumatism, which was treated with herbs such as Nettles,
Willow Bark or Meadowsweet. These herbs contain salicin, an
ingredient found in Aspirin. The three most popular herbs
used were Vervain, Eyebright and Yarrow, depending on the
nature of the complaint. Vervain was once held sacred and
gathered at special times of the day, on the rise of the Dog
Star, when neither the sun nor moon was shining. Today Vervain
is effective for treating liver conditions, gallstones and
a relaxant in nervous conditions.
The most well known Bean na Luibheanna, or 'white witch'
was Biddy Early from County Clare. She lived during the Famine
years and at a young age acquired her knowledge of local herbs
from her mother. It was widely believed that she got her powers
from the fairies. She treated local folks with Cabbage leaves,
Nettles and Watercress bound together with beaten egg white
for poultices, to treat swollen limbs. Flax was grown nearby
and she used this in poultices treating festering wounds.
While in her 20's she acquired a small dark bottle that she
used as a talisman. With this, it was believed she was able
to see the past and future and anything she needed to know.
She kept this bottle with her wrapped in a cloth until she
died. She was known to have the power to heal people and influence
animals and crops. Following in the tradition of healers in
Ireland she never accepted money for her services but was
given food and alcohol.
There was a fairyman in Coolcullen, County Kilkenny who had
the ability to cure mastitis in cows. He made up an ointment
of herbs, including wild garlic and butter for rubbing on
the udder. The owner of the sick cow then went home without
muttering a word to anyone. If he did, the remedy would not
work and the spell is broken.
Tony Cully was on crutches for 3 years suffering from arthritis.
He was told by a railway porter to drink Yarrow tea and after
2 weeks he was well. In rural Ireland for centuries folks
chewed Feverfew leaves in a sandwich to prevent blisters,
or just sniffing the scent of the plant. We now understand
that Feverfew is an herbal remedy for Migraines and Arthritis.
Many of the herbal cures were kept secret and remain in family
recipes, although they were freely offered to the sick.
My Granny & Mum were my teachers always showing me where
plants grew and how to prepare and to use them. I remember
having Pleurisy at a young age and Granny would harvest the
leaves & flowers of the Muellin plant and make a Tisane
for me to drink and this cured me quickly. Muellin is now
known for it healing properties for asthma, tuberculosis and
serious coughs. On our farm we used Yarrow and splints to
treat chickens & other small farm animals with broken
limbs. The animals responded to this care. Tansey was grown
to keep away lice and flies from our cattle and horse barns.
The Yellow Pimpernel was known as the kidney plant and was
boiled in milk for three minutes and taken frequently over
three days, after which the pains would leave. Butchers Broom
is still used for the suffering of urinary stones. I can remember
being offered warm Irish stout with fresh elderberries swimming
in the brew when I was weak with vomiting and unable to hold
One of the earliest Irish records of herbs used was on the
battlefield of 3000 years BCE after the battle of Magh Tura,
Co. Mayo, between the Firbolgs and invading Tuatha De Danaan,
baths of herbs were prepared into which the wounded were plunged.
The De Danaan also had a great physician named Dianacht, who
recommended a porridge consisting of Hazel buds, Dandelion,
Chickweed and Wood Sorrel boiled together with meal. This
was used for the relief of colds, phlegm, throat troubles
and worms up until the last century.
Early Irish physicians based their traditions and knowledge,
not only on Galen & Hippocrates, but also on Dianacht.
During and after the Battle of Clontarf (1014), soldiers returning
from battlefields stuffed their wounds with Sphagnum Moss.
Wild Garlic had its place in Irish Herb Lore and was used
for coughs, asthma & shortness of breath. On the farms
it was used for black leg in cattle. Farmers made an incision
in the animal's neck and popped in a clove of garlic sealing
it by typing the hairs from the skin together, thus the first
sutures before Vets were available. Hoarhound grows abundantly
in ditches and was prepared in a strong brew used to bring
on menstruation. The leaves of fresh Marshmallow were boiled
and placed in dressings for sprains and swellings. Comfrey
Root was commonly used after it was carefully dug up so as
not to disturb the skin, grated and spread out on a clean
cloth and applied over a broken bone, wound or bad bruise.
It set up like plaster and was left there until it fell off.
These are just a random few herbal remedies from Irish Folklore.
With the modern methods of farming and the decline in small
family farms many of our wild plants, shrubs and trees are
disappearing. There are fifty species of plants in danger
and ten species are now extinct. We do boast two species of
plants; Bog Orchid and Pillwort, now vanished from the remainder
of Europe, can still be found in Ireland.