me kay cooke

The Chamomile Lawn

dilston physic garden
on the right path

Early one sunny summer morning, seven juxtaposed minds gathered upon the waxy velvet lawn of chamomile in Dilston Physic Garden, they had been tasked by a question. As the cool breeze gently wafted calming aromas of fruity sweetness and they seated themselves comfortably, each began to contemplate the following question – how did people of old discover which herbs cured what complaints?

The scientist spoke first “There is no mystery here you know, people must have done what scientists always do. Simple process of trial and error to find out what worked and what did not. It may have taken quite a time to test hundreds of local herbs on all the symptoms but that is the scientific method.”

The enquirer spoke next “But lots of people must have got sick or even dropped dead in the process, swallowing plants they didn’t know were toxic? Maybe they first fed the plants to the oldies, as disposable members of the population? Or to animals?”

The Christian took his turn “ There is no doubt people received instructions about healing plants directly from God. All is known to the divine source & in those days, people were much more tuned in to that. After all, angelica got its name because an angel appeared in a dream to tell a monk to use it to cure the plague!

“Which god are you talking about?” Asked the enquirer, “and how can we convince the agnostics that this is the answer?”

The medical herbalist spoke to the group next “I think if you sit quietly beside a plant and let yourself become aware of more than meets the eye, you’ll get the message – what system or symptom the plant is for. This has to be how the herbal materia medica was recorded in the fist place.”

Enquirer: “OK, but did that also apply to which parts of the plant to use, when to pick them and how much to take?

The anthropologist then spoke, “Here’s my idea. Way back there were societies, just as we saw in Nazi Germany. Ancient peoples who experimented on captors or slaves in this instance to see what plants would do to them. Some might say that is no worse than experimenting with animals today…”

“But criminal cultures like that didn’t last very long did they?” Responded the enquirer, “and nobody really wants to know what they found out, surely? As for animal research it’s OK today isn’t it – lots of ethics and regulations in place now…”

The shamanic practitioner spoke next, “In many societies, shamans – healers who can access the spirit world – enter an altered state of consciousness to contact a plant spirit. They say that spirit talks to them directly, tells them what’s wrong with their patient and what to do about it – like what plants to use. This is the kind of knowledge that must underpin herbal medicine.”

“That’s a wonderful idea” enthused the enquirer, “how could we find this out for ourselves, and are plant spirits the same as elementals?”

They sat with this, and other thoughts, enveloped by, and enjoying their calmer states induced by the soporific aromatics of the lawn, and ignoring damp seats.

The animal lover resumed the debate, “Why don’t we think about animals. They often go and eat what is good for them when they get sick. They must use some kind of intuition, something we have probably lost. But our ancestors would have watched and copied carefully.”

“Hum” said the enquirer, “an interesting idea, but we’ll never be able to prove that’s how medical herbalists learnt their trade, will we?”

And as serendipity would have it, one of the garden cats prowled right past the seated group and began chewing shoots from the horsetail bed, right next to the chamomile lawn.

“You know that particular cat has always had a gut problem,” the enquirer spoke softly.

“That is very interesting,” said the medical herbalist, “Horsetail is rich in silicon and is a gut protective – the Romans used it to put on their iron cooking pots as a non stick surface.”

The group pondered inwardly once again and each was bathed in a moment of silence as the wind halted and all was still. The enquirer begged the obvious question, “how do animals know?”

Therefore, it was decided. The group would reconvene for further debate, alongside a vet, an animal psychologist, a pharmacologist, a philosopher and maybe even an animal ‘whisperer. After all, there was always room for more on the chamomile lawn.

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Dilston Physic Garden

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