Research and Getting it Right: Herbal Medicine Used in Regency Period

Recently, I was writing a scene for an upcoming book where my heroine, who is what was known as a “white witch,” meaning she was a healer dealing in herbs and potions, was treating a leg wound of one of the estate’s servants. 

So, off I went to determine what choice the young lady would have at her disposal. Needless to say, I went first to Culpepper’s Complete Herbal: Consisting of a Comprehensive Description of Nearly All Herbs with Their Medicinal Properties and Directions for Compounding the Medicines Extracted from Them (W. Foulsham & Co., Ltd.) If you do not know this book or anything of Nicholas Culpepper, it will be well worth your search if you deal with historical context.

Okay, so here are some of the suggested remedies for treating wounds:

Alkanet (Green) - Wild Flower Finder

Alkanet (Green) – Wild Flower Finder

Alkanet has a thick root of a red color and long narrow, hairy leaves. In ointment form can be used for ulcers and burns. It is used for leprosy if made into a vinegar. It is also good for yellow jaundice and gravel in the kidneys. Alkanet works well wether taken internally or applied directly to the wound made by a venomous varmint. Some believe if the victim chews the leaves and then spits into the mouth of the serpent, the snake will die. It can be mixed with wine to help with back pain. Unfortunately for my writing, Alkanet is found in Kent, Devonshire, and Cornwall. As my story takes place in Yorkshire, this herb was eliminated.

Benefits Of Adder’s Tongue For Health | Tips Curing Disease

Benefits Of Adder’s Tongue For Health | Tips Curing Disease

Adder’s Tongue is an herb with one leaf. It grows in moist meadows. It Adder’s tongue is mixed with distilled water of horse-tail is proves as a remedy for all manner of wounds in the breasts, bowels, etc.Those experiencing vomiting or bleeding at the mouth or nose will find it of use. It is used for eye infections. The plant flourishes in April and May, but it dries out soon afterwards. As my book starts in late August, the herb is also not to my liking for story purposes. 


Goldenrod Plants - Wildflowers With Golden Flowers

Goldenrod Plants – Wildflowers With Golden Flowers

Goldenrod flowers in July and last until August, which was a plus for the story purposes. In distilled water, goldenrod works well for bruises or as a diuretic or for kidney stones. It is good “to stay the immoderate flux of women’s courses, the bloody flux, ruptures, ulcers in the mouth or throat, and in lotions to wash the privy parts in venereal cases.” None of these fit my storyline, but I will keep this herb in mind for future use. 

 Privet - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Privet – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Privet is a bush that grows in divers woods. It flowers in June and July, and the berries ripe in August and September. In a lotion it is used to wash sores and sore mouths to cool inflammations and to dry up fluxes. Sweet water made from the flowers heals all the diseases needing cooling and drying. It assists in the fluxes of the belly and stomach, bloody fluxes, and women’s courses, if drunk or applied, and the voiding of blood at the mouth or for distilling rheum from the eyes. My character has a several puncture wounds in his thigh. Again, this one did not work for my storyline.

medicine lore - a 14th century medicine chest This delicate ground cover may also be referred to as Herb True Love, or True-lover's Knot. A relative of Trillium, it is found in woodland settings.

medicine lore – a 14th century medicine chest
This delicate ground cover may also be referred to as Herb True Love, or True-lover’s Knot. A relative of Trillium, it is found in woodland settings.

Herb-True Love has a small creeping root running under the uppermost crust of the earth, shooting forth stalks with leaves and berries. This plant grows in woods and copses throughout England, but is more plentiful in Kent. They spring up in late April or early May, and the berries ripen in May and June. The berries can be administered for a variety of poisons, especially aconites and pestilential disorder. Colic can be relieved if the roots are turned to a powder form and mixed with wine. The leaves are helpful with sores and ulcers. They are “powerful to discuss all tumors and swellings in the privy parts, the groin, or any other part of the body, and to allay all inflammations.” It also works with healing the nails on feet or hands. This one had promise, but not exactly for what I was looking.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA - Purple Loosetrife — Faculty of Arts & Science

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA – Purple Loosetrife — Faculty of Arts & Science

Loosestrife has brown hairy stalks, yellowish-green leaves (usually two at each joint), and flowers that stand several together on top of the branches. It grows in watery places and along riverbanks and flower in June to late August. Loosestrife can be used for all manner of bleeding of the mouth or nose, as well as fluxes of the belly. It can be taken either as a drink or by clyster. It also assists women with difficult courses. It is good for green wounds to stay the bleeding and quickly closing up the sides of a wound if the herb is bruised and the juice only applied. It also works well as a gargle for sore-throats. If one burns the plants, the some will drive troublesome gnats and flies. This one had real promise.

I also researched Alehoof, Avens, Beans, Bishop’s Weed, Blackberry bush, Buck’s Horn Plantain, Clown’s Woundwort, Coralwort, Cudweed, Daisies, Down, Elm tree, narrow leafed and Welsh forms of Goldenrod, Knotgrass, Moneywort, Mouse-ear, Garden Rue, Saracen’s Consound, Solomon’s Seal, Tansy, Tutsan, and Yarrow.

Random Plant: Cleavers/stickywilly/catchweed bedstraw | The Life of Your Time

Random Plant: Cleavers/stickywilly/catchweed bedstraw | The Life of Your Time

At length, I chose to make reference to Cleavers. It is an annual succulent plant, which grows two to six feet high and is hairy at the joints. It can be found growing by hedge and ditches, and it can easily overrun a person’s garden if not kept in check. It flowers in late June to early July, with the seed ripening and falling off the plant in late July or August (only to spring up another plant). The juice of the herb and its seed can be used again venom. In a broth, it can assist those who wish to lose weight. Drinking it in distilled water twice daily will help with yellow jaundice. The herb can also be used for bloody fluxes. The juice of the leaves (if bruised) can be applied to bleeding wounds to stay the blood flow. The juice, as well as the powder, can also help with closing up green wounds. It can help with old ulcers. Boiled in a hog’s grease it helps all sorts of hard swellings or kernels in the throat. The juice was also used as a drop for the ears. It was often chopped small and boiled well in a water gruel to cleanse the blood and strengthen the liver (an herbal cleanse).


About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
This entry was posted in American History, British history, Great Britain, herbs, Living in the Regency, Regency era and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Research and Getting it Right: Herbal Medicine Used in Regency Period

  1. carolcork says:

    Fascinating post, Regina.

  2. lilmarek says:

    You don’t really need to worry too much about what’s out of season. Herbs were stored dried or in tinctures and kept for whenever they would be needed. Most large houses had a still room, and even in the regency period these might be used for making medicines as well as jams and jellies.

  3. With respect, Green Alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens) is not the Alkanet that Culpepper referred to. He was referring to the Common Alkanet (Alkanet Officianalis) or possibly the Alkanet Tinctoria (or dyers’s bugloss) that provides the red dye. Green alkanet is a rogue cousin to Comfrey but doesn’t have the same healing properties and doesn’t look like the picture in this article.

    Given that the period is defined as Regency – I have to assume it is set in Britain – Goldenrod is a North American native plant that didn’t see the light of day in this country until the 20th century.

    Your Adder’s tongue fern again is an Americanism that doesn’t fit the period.

  4. Thank you, Regina, this is very timely for the mystery I am writing right now 🙂

  5. Alana White says:

    This is a terrific post. Thank you for it. I came to it via the Historical Novel Society.

  6. helenajust says:

    I think cleavers is a good choice, because it’s very common and plentiful in England now, so was probably also so in the Regency. The leaves have tiny hooks on them which make the plant adhere to clothes, and it even feels as though it’s clinging to the skin.

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