For the past few years, Lynda Cook and I have taken a guided hike through the heather, pointing out the abundance of plants that can be used for medicinal or culinary purposes.
But let’s take a virtual stroll down this path for now – and maybe in the next few weeks you can explore this wonderful world of healing on your own.
We start at the Well Walk entrance in the heath. The nettle is omnipresent here and all over the heather. It is interesting to note that the disease known as urticaria or hives comes from its Latin name, Urtica dioica. The hollow hair contains formic acid and histamines, which are extremely irritating to the touch. However, they are rendered harmless during cooking.
The young spring leaves can be made into an iron-rich and deliciously bright green soup or a spinach substitute. Infused in hot water, it can relieve symptoms of rheumatism and sciatica, lower blood pressure, and improve blood circulation.
– Photo credit: Denise Bradley
One of the many wonders of nature is that the dock leaf also grows near the nettle. Whether it’s the cooling effects of the crushed leaf that relieves the pain of a nettle sting or the fact that it may contain antihistamines is unknown – but it actually appears to help.
– Photo credit: Denise Bradley
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There is also a sticky tangle of cleaver on either side of this path. This serves as a wonderful detox and lymph flush when infused in water with a lemon wedge.
On our right we see an elder, Sambucus nigra. It’s easy and satisfying to make your own elderflower liqueur in June, when the creamy flower heads are in full and fragrant bloom. The flowers also make a deliciously potent wine that mysteriously begins to bubble and ferment at the same time as the trees every year.
The following berries are high in vitamin C and are wonderful immune system supporters and cough relief when taken as a syrup throughout the winter.
Next, we notice the large white flowering stalks of cow parsley. At this point a special word of caution. Although this plant has medicinal uses, it is best left alone as it is very similar to many highly toxic plants, the most famous of which is hemlock.
Socrates met his end by taking a sip of hemlock, and our local poet John Keats writes, “My heart aches and a drowsy numbness aches my mind as if I had drunk hemlock …”
Perhaps that was exactly what he was doing while composing his ode to a nightingale.
To our left is the first of many hawthorns. Hawthorn is steeped in mythology and many believe that the trees were inhabited by fairies. Hawthorn, one of the oldest medicinal plants, was prescribed by the Greek doctor Dioscurides in the 1st century AD as a remedy for heart problems. Even today it is used in modern medicine for diseases of the heart and blood vessels as well as for high blood pressure and circulatory problems.
A female blackbird who enjoys the abundant supply of hawthorn berries
– Photo credit: Richard Brunton
Now we enter the majestic avenue of lime trees. Infusions of these leaves are used for relaxation, insomnia, lowering high blood pressure, and lowering cholesterol.
Along the way we see the delicate pink flowers of Herb Robert. Once known as Saint Robert’s Herb and named after a French monk who lived around AD 1000, he did many healings with this plant. As an immediate first aid, the leaves can be crushed and used to stop bleeding and promote healing.
There is also plenty of pasture on the heath. Hippocrates advised 400 BC Chr. To chew on the bark to reduce fever and inflammation. and is still used today to treat pain. The bark of the white willow contains salicin, which was used to develop aspirin.
Similar to the daisy, feverfew is widely used to treat migraines.
Also keep an eye out for comfrey, which has been around for at least 400 BC. Is considered a medicinal herb. The Greeks and Romans often used comfrey to stop excessive bleeding, treat bronchial problems, and heal broken bones.
A comfrey plant
– Photo credit: Chris Bishop
The yellow flowers of St. John’s wort can be seen near the new dam. Known as a dietary supplement for depression, ADHD, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
On warm days, the aromatic smell of wormwood is in the air. Historically, Anglo-Saxon tribes revered it as a sacred herb given to them by their chief deity, Woden. The Romans planted it on the roadsides to help travelers rest their feet from long walks. It is also used in Chinese acupuncture, the history of which goes back over 3,000 years.
I picked just a few of the dozen of plants we found – there is still plantain, clover, dandelion, wild garlic, blackberry and so much more then there is room on this page.
- Melissa Fairbanks is from the Heath and Hampstead Society
And so in conclusion – an important word of warning to the reader and the pagan – always consult a trained doctor. Rather, let this information be your inspiration to start growing your own plants. And please do not pick any wild plants from the heather or anywhere else where nature is preserved for the benefit of all. The heather provides vital food and habitat for birds and wild animals and must therefore remain intact for their well-being.
- To mark the 150th anniversary of the Hampstead Heath Act, the Heath and Hampstead Society sells tote bags for £ 10 and p + p. Send an email to [email protected] to order one.
The Heath and Hampstead Society tote bag
– Credit: The Heath and Hampstead Society