Herbs have been with us for thousands and
thousands of years. Our earliest ancestors
used them for first aid, and some were used
for toiletries. Fresh mint was chewed
as a breath freshener, and aloe vera was
used to soothe irritated and sunburnt skin.
However you look at it, herb growing and
cultivation is one of our longest surviving
traditions, whatever race, colour or creed
you belong to.
The Romans brought to Britain many of the
popular varieties we enjoy now. They
grew them in their villa gardens, and many
survived the cold conditions. The
Romans used herbs not just for medicinal
purposes, but also for flavourings for their
feasts, and probably to disguise slightly
off food!! After the fall of Rome,
the monasteries grew them in their gardens,
and recorded their uses in their manuscripts.
The Normans also used herbs heavily…probably
for the same reason the Romans did!
Herbalist Nicholas Culpepper
The famous Elizabethan herbalist, Nicholas
Culpepper, made herb growing very fashionable.
Many great houses of that era have beautiful
herb gardens, the most famous being at Hatfield
House, in Hertfordshire, where Elizabeth
I spent time in her youth.
Another herb garden well worth a look is
Buckland Abbey in Devon the home of
Sir Francis Drake. It is small, but
well-laid out, and could easily be recreated.
Also nearby is Buckfast Abbey, an ancient
Cistercian monastery, with an excellent
example of a herb garden.
In literature, the use of herbal oils was
mentioned in the Kama Sutra (don't ask,
read it for yourself!!), a Chinese herbal
manuscript was said to be in existence in
5000BC, and the Egyptians were using them
The famous Greek physician Hippocrates used
many herbal remedies around 400BC, and another
Greek, Dioscorides, wrote a manuscript about
herbal remedies in the 1st Century AD, and
that became a standard reference work for
hundreds of years.
By Sue Welford