Weed Wanderings Herbal eZine with Susun Weed : Feature Article
August 2003
Volume 3 Number 8

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What's Inside Weed Wanderings this Month...


Feature Article...
Irish Herb Lore
by Sonja Geoghegan

Irish fairy with Morning Glory blossomThere 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 gravesides.

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 down food.

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.

Dolmen megaliths, Ireland


Written By Sonja Geoghegan, RN, Lic. Herbalist, & Author.


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