In this edition:
After a hiatus of a year, Herbs, Healing and Health is now putting forward new shoots again as we go forward into spring. The last year has been spent co-authoring an online course in Herbal Medicine, aimed at people who either have an interest in herbal medicine and would like to study the subject in more depth, or who would like to train as a professional herbalist but lack the necessary qualifications. The course is proving to be a great success, with live webinars, lots of practical domestic medicine and much more. I continue to be involved on the teaching side, and it has been an absolute pleasure to work with such enthusiastic and intelligent students. If anyone wants to know more about the course, please Google Heartwood Foundation Course or contact me directly. If anyone is interested in actually taking the course do get in touch also, as an affiliate practitioner, I can get you a discounted price.
So, enough of the lovely Heartwood for now.
I have been sitting looking out onto our garden, and like many of you I have been watching the big, pleasingly plump wood pigeons as they go about their January/February business. This often involves the eating of ivy berries, one of the few nutritious wild foods that is still available to them in these dark days. This in part explains ivys reputation for ‘carrying the life force through winter’.
Ivy is indeed a beneficent plant for many animals at this time of year, and her generosity is rewarded bythe spreading of seeds by birds in the time honoured fashion. It is the last flower to provide nectar for bees at the end of the year (Gorse provides the first source).
You may be surprised to learn that this intriguing plant is a member of the ginseng family.
It also has many associations with alcohol, being associated with Dionysus, the Greek God of the grape harvest, and also with Bacchus who is usually depicted with an ivy wreath on his head. Ivy was often hung over pub doors to signify that good wine was to be had within, and it was thought that a trail of ivy leaves laid across a drunkards path would bring him to his senses. An ivy bush signified ‘good wine sold within’ and such a bush, mounted on a pole is depicted in the Bayeux tapestry. An infusion of leaves in wine was used both to prevent and to treat hangovers. Goblets made Ivy wood were said to offset the effects of bad or poisoned wine. Ivy wine was historically drank to induce visions and prophetic dreams. All these associations with alcohol in general and wine in particular may have their origin in the observable fact that ivy smothered grape vines, therefore sympathetic magic may have underpinned some of the beliefs.
In matters medicinal Ivy has a long and varied history.
The tender twigs of Ivy have been simmered in salves to heal burns, and the resin of the plant has been used to plug dental cavities. In Europe there is a strong tradition of use in the treatment of inflammatory conditions of the respiratory tract, and you can still find remedies in health food shops which incorporate ivy along with other respiratory tract herbs to treat coughs etc. Bronchitis and chest infections benefit from its anti-inflammatory properties and its ability to increase mucous secretions in the lungs via the vagus nerve. It is also anti-spasmodic properties. These modern day uses have a echo from the past, as parents historically knew that children suffering from whooping cough would benefit from drinking from ivy wood bowls. It is interesting to consider the possibility that some of ivys medicinal benefits may have transferred themselves from the wood to the drink.
Modern day research is still validating the use of Ivy to treat cough with a recent piece of research demonstrating efficacy in children between the ages of 2 and 12. This would also point to its reputation as a gentle, safe remedy, suitable for children. (Schönknecht Ket al 2017).
The juice of ivy leaves or the leaves soaked in vinegar have been put to good use to soften corns and hard callouses of the feet.
I have to say though it is also a great looking plant at this time of year, and can produce the most fantastic copper and red colours to complement its very elegantly shaped leaves.
Ivy may live to over 500 years of age, and if left undisturbed, the trunk can reach up to one foot in diameter. Ivy is the plant badge of the Gordon clan.
There is plenty more to say about Ivy, but we have run out of space, so that’s all for now.
2018 is the year for returning to my community and starting to provide more workshops/talks etc. Please see below for more details, and I hope to see you at a workshop some time soon
Baker, Margaret. Discovering the Folklore of Plants. 1996. Shire Books
Wiad Lek.2017;70(6 pt 1):1026-1033.
efficacy of dry extract of ivy leaves in the treatment of productive cough.
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