On 31. July 1839, Anne Lister visited the Botanic Garden in Christiania (Oslo) and noted a list of plants that she found interesting. Many seem to have medicinal uses which seems typical for Anne Lister to notice …
Here is a run-through of the list and lots of links and images to give an extensive idea of what Anne tok note of during her time in the Botanic gardens.
Rubus chamaemorus is a species of flowering plant in the rose family Rosaceae, native to cool temperate regions, alpine and arctic tundra and boreal forest. This herbaceous perennial produces amber-colored edible fruit similar to the blackberry. English common names include cloudberry, nordic berry, bakeapple (in Newfoundland and Labrador), knotberry and knoutberry (in England), aqpik or low-bush salmonberry (in Alaska – not to be confused with salmonberry, Rubus spectabilis), and averin or evron (in Scotland).
Vaccinium myrtillus is a species of shrub with edible fruit of blue color, commonly called “bilberry”, “wimberry”, “whortleberry”, or European blueberry. It has much in common with the American blueberry (Vaccinium cyanococcus). It is more precisely called common bilberry or blue whortleberry, to distinguish it from other Vaccinium relatives. Regional names include blaeberry, blåbær (Norway), urts or hurts (Cornwall & Devon ), hurtleberry, huckleberry, wimberry, whinberry, winberry, blueberry, and fraughan.
The flowers are borne singly in leaf axils on 2–3 mm long pedicels. The corolla is pink and shaped like an urn. The leaves are finely toothed and prominently veined on the lower surface.
Vaccinium myrtillus is found natively in Continental Northern Europe, the British Isles and Ireland, Iceland and across the Caucasus into northern Asia. It is a non-native introduced species in Western Canada and the Western United States. It occurs in the wild on heathlands and acidic soils. Its berry has been long consumed in the Old World. It is related to the widely cultivated North American blueberry.
Uses Vaccinium myrtillus has been used for nearly 1,000 years in traditional European medicine. Vaccinium myrtillus fruits have been used in traditional Austrian medicine internally (directly or as tea or liqueur) for treatment of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract and diabetes. Herbal supplements of V. myrtillus (bilberry) on the market are used for cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, as vision aids, and to treat diarrhea and other conditions. Researchers are interested in bilberry because of its high concentrations of anthocyanins, which may have various health benefits.
In cooking, the bilberry fruit is commonly used for sweet foods such as pies, cakes, jams, muffins, cookies, sauces, syrups, juices, and candies. In Norway it is popular in jams, cordial and eaten in a bowl with milk and a bit of sugar for dessert.
In traditional medicine, bilberry leaf is used for different conditions, including diarrhea, scurvy, infections, burns, and diabetes.
Lotus corniculatus is a flowering plant in the pea family Fabaceae, native to grasslands in temperate Eurasia and North Africa. Common names include common bird’s-foot trefoil, eggs and bacon, birdsfoot deervetch, and just bird’s-foot trefoil, though the latter name is often also applied to other members of the genus.
It is a perennial herbaceous plant, similar in appearance to some clovers. The name ‘bird’s foot’ refers to the appearance of the seed pods on their stalk. Five leaflets are present, but with the central three held conspicuously above the others, hence the use of the name ‘trefoil’. It is often used as forage and is widely used as food for livestock due to its nonbloating properties.
The height of the plant is variable, from 5–20 cm, occasionally more where supported by other plants; the stems can reach up to 50 cm long. It is typically sprawling at the height of the surrounding grassland. It can survive fairly close grazing, trampling, and mowing. It is most often found in sandy soils. It flowers from June to September. The flowers develop into small pea-like pods or legumes.
The plant had many common English names in Britain, which are now mostly out of use. These names were often connected with the yellow and orange colour of the flowers, e.g. ‘butter and eggs’. One name that is still used is eggs and bacon (or bacon and eggs).
Lotus corniculatus has a broad distribution worldwide. It is common everywhere in Britain. It is abundant in Ireland, and also in Northern Ireland, including County Londonderry, County Down, and County Antrim. Habitats include old fields, grassy places, and roadsides.
It is used in agriculture as a forage plant, grown for pasture, hay, and silage. It is a high quality forage that does not cause bloat in ruminants. Taller-growing cultivars have been developed for this. It may be used as an alternative to alfalfa in poor soils.
A double-flowered variety is grown as an ornamental plant. It is regularly included as a component of wildflower mixes in Europe. It can also prevent soil erosion and provide a good habitat for wildlife.
Fresh bird’s-foot trefoil contains cyanogenic glycosides, which release small amounts of hydrogen cyanide when macerated. This is not normally poisonous to humans, though, as the dose is very low, and the metabolization of cyanide is relatively quick. Condensed tannins are also present in L. corniculatus, which has been known to increase the protein absorption of the small intestine. Used in an infusion to avoid the creation of hydrogen cyanide, this plant can be used as a sedative
Medical uses The flowers are used mainly as a sedative and for other aspects of the nervous and cardiac systems. They have an antispasmodic effect on the digestive tract. In the Sannio region, Italy, the diluted infusions were used to calm anxiety, insomnia and exhaustion.
The plant is an important nectar source for many insects and is also used as a larval food plant by many species of Lepidoptera such as six-spot burnet and the silver-studded blue.It is a host plant for the wood white butterfly, Leptidea sinapis.
Birdsfoot trefoil is an invasive species in many parts of North America and Australia. It has been commonly planted along roadsides for erosion control or pastures for forage and then spreads into natural areas. Once it has established in an area, it can outcompete native species.
Linaria vulgaris (common toadflax, yellow toadflax, or butter-and-eggs) is a species of toadflax (Linaria), native from Europe to Siberia and Central Asia. It has also been introduced and is now common in North America.
It is a perennial plant with short spreading roots, erect to decumbent stems 15–90 cm (6–35 in) high, with fine, threadlike, glaucous blue-green leaves 2–6 cm (3⁄4–2 1⁄4 in) long and 1–5 mm (0.04–0.20 in) broad. The flowers are similar to those of the snapdragon, 25–33 mm (0.98–1.30 in) long, pale yellow except for the lower tip which is orange, borne in dense terminal racemes from mid summer to mid autumn. The flowers are mostly visited by bumblebees. The fruit is a globose capsule 5–11 mm (0.20–0.43 in) long and 5–7 mm (0.20–0.28 in) broad, containing numerous small seeds.
The plant is widespread on rural spots, along roads, in dunes, and on disturbed and cultivated land.
Because the flower is largely closed by its underlip, pollination requires strong insects such as bees and bumblebees (Bombus species).
The plant is food plant for a large number of insects such as the sweet gale moth (Acronicta euphorbiae), mouse moth (Amphipyra tragopoginis), silver Y (Autographa gamma), Calophasia lunula, gorgone checkerspot (Charidryas gorgone carlota), toadflax pug (Eupithecia linariata), satyr pug (Eupithecia satyrata), Falseuncaria ruficiliana, bog fritillary (Boloria eunomia), Pyrrhia umbra, brown rustic (Rusina ferruginea), and Stenoptilia bipunctidactyla.
It may be mildly toxic to livestock.
Seeds of the common toadflax, were identified from the Hoxnian interglacial strata at Clacton. Records have also come from the Weichselian glaciation strata in Essex, Huntingdonshire, Surrey and North Wales. This evidence makes the native status of the plant in Britain quite evident despite the very strong association that it has today with waste places and man-made habitats.
While most commonly found as a wildflower, toadflax is sometimes cultivated for cut flowers, which are long-lasting in the vase. Like snapdragons (Antirrhinum), they are often grown in children’s gardens for the “snapping” flowers which can be made to “talk” by squeezing them at the base of the corolla.
The plant requires ample drainage, but is otherwise adaptable to a variety of conditions. It has escaped from cultivation in North America where it is common on roadsides and in poor soils, where it has now naturalized in many U.S. states and Canadian provinces.
Medical use Despite its reputation as a weed, like the dandelion, this plant has also been used in folk medicine for a variety of ailments. A tea made from the leaves was taken as a laxative and strong diuretic as well as for jaundice, dropsy, and enteritis with drowsiness. For skin diseases and piles, either a leaf tea or an ointment made from the flowers was used. In addition, a tea made in milk instead of water has been used as an insecticide. It is confirmed to have diuretic and fever-reducing properties.
Linaria acutiloba Fisch. ex Rchb. is a synonym. Because this plant grows as a weed, it has acquired a large number of local colloquial names, including brideweed, bridewort, butter and eggs (but see Lotus corniculatus), butter haycocks, bread and butter, bunny haycocks, bunny mouths, calf’s snout, Continental weed, dead men’s bones, devil’s flax, devil’s flower, doggies, dragon bushes, eggs and bacon (but see Lotus corniculatus), eggs and butter, false flax, flaxweed, fluellen (but see Kickxia), gallweed, gallwort, impudent lawyer, Jacob’s ladder (but see Polemonium), lion’s mouth, monkey flower (but see Mimulus), North American ramsted, rabbit flower, rancid, ransted, snapdragon (but see Antirrhinum), wild flax, wild snapdragon, wild tobacco (but see Nicotiana), yellow rod, yellow toadflax.
Dianthus barbatus, the sweet William, is a species of flowering plant in the family Caryophyllaceae, native to southern Europe and parts of Asia. It has become a popular ornamental garden plant. It is a herbaceous biennial or short-lived perennial plant growing to 13–92 cm tall, with flowers in a dense cluster of up to 30 at the top of the stems. Each flower is 2–3 cm diameter with five petals displaying serrated edges. Wild plants produce red flowers with a white base, but colours in cultivars range from white, pink, red, and purple to variegated patterns. The exact origin of its English common name is unknown but first appears in 1596 in botanist John Gerard’s garden catalogue. The flowers are edible and may have medicinal properties. Sweet William attracts bees, birds, and butterflies.
English name It is often said to honour the 18th century Prince William, Duke of Cumberland. As a result of the Duke’s victory at the Battle of Culloden and his generally brutal treatment of the king’s enemies, it is also claimed that the Scots sometimes call the flower “stinking Billy”. Though this makes a nice story, it is entirely untrue. The Scots sometimes refer to the noxious ragwort as stinking Billy in memory of the infamous Duke. Phillips speculated that the flower was named after Gerard’s contemporary, William Shakespeare. It is also said to be named after Saint William of York or after William the Conqueror. Another etymological derivation is that william is a corruption of the French oeillet, meaning both “carnation” and “little eye”. Sweet William is a favourite name for lovelorn young men in English folkloric ballads, e.g., “Fair Margaret and Sweet William”.
Sweet William is a popular ornamental plant in gardens, with numerous cultivars and hybrids selected for differing flower colour, ranging from white, pink, red, and purple to variegated patterns.
The plant was introduced to northern Europe in the 16th century, and later to North America and elsewhere, and has become locally to widely naturalised in these areas.
John Gerard praises its beauty but omits any reference to medicinal uses. Its height makes it convenient for flower arrangements. In the Victorian language of flowers, sweet william symbolizes gallantry. The plant is widely used in borders, rock gardens and informal country cottage style gardens. Sweet William is a good candidate for a naturalistic garden because its nectar attracts birds, bees, and butterflies. Its flowers are considered edible. Sweet Williams is a family of dianthus. It thrives in loamy, slightly alkaline soil with sun to partial shade. Propagation is by seed, cuttings, or division, but seeds of cultivars will not breed true. If it is planted from seed after the last frost, it will flower in the second year. If it is planted in flats before the last frost and then transplanted, it may flower in the first year. Some gardeners recommend deadheading to encourage further flowering. The plant is self-seeding. Sweet William can suffer from Fusarium Wilt which causes the leaves to curl or droop down.
In 1977 the question of possible medical uses was revisited by Cordell. Saponins were found in Sweet William, but there has been little follow-up.
Bergenia crassifolia, commonly called leather bergenia or pig squeak, is a large-leaved evergreen perennial that is native to rocky cliffs from northwest China to Siberia. Rosettes of leathery, fine-toothed, obovate-rounded green leaves (to 8″ long by 7″ wide) form dense, slowly-spreading clumps of foliage to 12″ tall. Lavender pink flowers bloom March to early May in panicles atop rigid leafless stalks rising to 18″ tall. Flowers will bloom as early as December in warm winter climates, hence the additional common name of winter blooming bergenia. Although evergreen, the leaves of this plant often become brown and battered in cold winter temperatures.
Genus name honors Karl August von Bergen (1704-1759), German physician and botanist.
The specific epithet comes from the Latin words crassus meaning thick and folia meaning leaf in reference to the leathery leaves.
The common name of pig squeak is in reference to the noise produced by rubbing a leaf between thumb and finger.
Bergenia crassifolia is a plant species in the genus Bergenia. Common names for the species include heart-leaved bergenia, heartleaf bergenia, leather bergenia, winter-blooming bergenia, elephant-ears, elephant’s ears, Korean elephant-ear, badan, pigsqueak, Siberian tea, and Mongolian tea. The species epithet crassifolia means “thick-leaved”, while the epithet in the synonym Bergenia cordifolia means “cordate (heart-shaped) leaf” (although the leaves may also be described as spoon-shaped). It grows to about 12 inches (30 cm) tall. The leaves are winter hardy in warmer climates and change color in the range of rust brown to brown-red. It is a widely-grown garden plant; cultivars include Bergenia cordifolia ‘Purpurea’, Bergenia cordifolia ‘Winterglut’, Bergenia cordifolia ‘Senior’, and Bergenia crassifolia ‘Autumn Red’.
Bergenia crassifolia is used as a tea substitute in its native Siberia, Altay and Mongolia. The plant contains the polyphenols arbutin, kaempferol 3-lathyroside, catechin 3-O-gallate, tannins and the pectin bergenan.
London pride, Saxifraga urbium, is a perennial garden flowering plant. Alternative names for it include St. Patrick’s cabbage, whimsey, prattling Parnell, and look up and kiss me. Before 1700 the “London pride” appellation was given to the sweet William (Dianthus barbatus).
In 1846, Theresa Cornwallis West made a journey to Ireland. Near Dunloe in County Kerry “heareabouts grew quantities of our London Pride, and upon my expressing a wish for some roots to carry home, Sullivan [the driver] sprang down and tore up a large tuft. ‘Ah, then,’ said [our guide Spillane], ‘that’s too much entirely; why wouldn’t ye leave some for the next comer?’” (A Summer Visit to the West of Ireland in 1846, p. 99).
The “true” London pride is a hybrid between Saxifraga umbrosa, native to the Spanish Pyrenees, and Saxifraga spathularis (which is the plant to which the name St Patrick’s Cabbage more correctly belongs, coming from western Ireland). The hybrid has been known at least since the 17th century.
The name is sometimes applied to any of several closely related plants of the saxifrage genus. The section Gymnopera of the genus Saxifraga are collectively referred to as “London Pride saxifrages”, and others of them have “London pride” in their common names, for example the lesser London pride, S. cuneifolia, and the miniature London pride, S. umbrosa var. primuloides.
London pride is tolerant of dry, shady conditions. It grows to a height of 15–30 cm (6–12 in) and provides rapid ground cover without being aggressively invasive, and in late spring produces a mass of small pale pink rosette flowers growing from succulent stems. It will grow well in neglected or unfavourable urban spaces where few other flowers flourish, and is a common garden escapee.
This plant has gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.
Symbolism In particular, tradition holds that Saxifraga urbium rapidly colonised the bombed sites left by the London Blitz of the early 1940s. As such it is symbolic of the resilience of London and ordinary Londoners, and of the futility of seeking to bomb them into submission. A song by Noël Coward, celebrating London and the flower, achieved great popularity during the World War II years.
In the language of flowers, London Pride is held to stand for frivolity, and its day is 27 July, but this is not widely known.
Bishop Walsham How (1823–1897) wrote a poem to the flower rebuking it for having the sin of pride. When told the flower had the name because Londoners were proud of it he wrote another poem apologising to it.
Common sorrel or garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa), often simply called sorrel, is a perennial herb in the family Polygonaceae. It is a common plant in grassland habitats and is cultivated as a garden herb or salad vegetable (pot herb).
Distribution Rumex acetosa occurs in grassland habitats throughout Europe from the northern Mediterranean coast to the north of Scandinavia and in parts of Central Asia. It occurs as an introduced species in parts of New Zealand, Australia and North America.
Uses Common sorrel has been cultivated for centuries. The leaves may be puréed in soups and sauces or added to salads; they have a flavour that is similar to kiwifruit or sour wild strawberries. The plant’s sharp taste is due to oxalic acid.
In northern Nigeria, sorrel is used in stews usually with spinach. In some Hausa communities, it is steamed and made into salad using kuli-kuli (traditional roasted peanut cakes with oil extracted), salt, pepper, onion and tomatoes. In India, the leaves are used in soups or curries made with yellow lentils and peanuts. In Afghanistan, the leaves are coated in a wet batter and deep fried, then served as an appetizer or if in season during Ramadan, for breaking the fast.
Throughout eastern Europe, wild or garden sorrel is used to make sour soups, stewed with vegetables or herbs, meats or eggs. In rural Greece, it is used with spinach, leeks, and chard in spanakopita. In Albania, the leaves are simmered and served cold marinated in olive oil, or as an ingredient for filling byrek pies (byrek me lakra). In Armenia, the leaves are collected in spring, woven into braids, and dried for use during winter. The most common preparation is aveluk soup, where the leaves are rehydrated and rinsed to reduce bitterness, then stewed with onions, potatoes, walnuts, garlic and bulgur wheat or lentils, and sometimes sour plums.
Chamaenerion angustifolium, known in North America as fireweed, in some parts of Canada as great willowherb, in Britain and Ireland as rosebay willowherb, and traditionally known as Saint Anthony’s Laurel amongst other variants, is a perennial herbaceous flowering plant in the willowherb family Onagraceae. It is also known by the synonyms Chamerion angustifolium and Epilobium angustifolium. It is native throughout the temperate Northern Hemisphere, including large parts of the boreal forests.
The specific epithet angustifolium (‘narrowleaved’) is constructed from the Latin words angustus meaning ‘narrow’ and folium meaning ‘leaved’ or ‘leaf’. It shares this name with other species of plant including Vaccinium angustifolium. The common British name, from the passing resemblance of the flowers to (wild) roses and the leaves to those of bay, goes back in print to Gerard’s Herball of 1597.
Leaves used as fermented tea. The very young shoots and leaves can be cooked and eaten.
Traditionally the young shoots are collected in the spring by Native American and Siberian people and mixed with other greens. As the plant matures, the leaves become tough and somewhat bitter. The southeast Native Americans use the stems in this stage. They are peeled and eaten raw. When properly prepared soon after picking they are a good source of vitamin C and pro-vitamin A. The Dena’ina add fireweed to their dogs’ food. Fireweed is also a medicine of the Upper Inlet Dena’ina, who treat pus-filled boils or cuts by placing a piece of the raw stem on the afflicted area. This is said to draw the pus out of the cut or boil and prevents a cut with pus in it from healing over too quickly.
The root can be roasted after scraping off the outside, but often tastes bitter. To mitigate this, the root is collected before the plant flowers and the brown thread in the middle removed.The stem centers can also be prepared by splitting the outer stalk, and eaten raw.
In Russia, fireweed is made into a tea known as Ivan Chai. They use it as highly prized medicinal herb too.
In the Yukon, the flowers from fireweed are made into jelly.
It’s natural variation in ploidy has prompted its use in scientific studies of polyploidy’s possible effects on adaptive potential and species diversification.
It is also grown as an ornamental plant. A white form, C. angustolium ‘Album’ is listed by the Royal Horticultural Society
Depictions in human culture
Fireweed is the floral emblem of Yukon.
In The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien lists fireweed as one of the flowering plants returning to the site of a bonfire inside the Old Forest.
As the first plant to colonise waste ground, fireweed is often mentioned in postwar British literature. The children’s novel Fireweed is set during the Blitz and features two runaway teenagers who meet on bomb sites where fireweed is growing profusely. Another children’s novel, A Reflection of Rachel features a protagonist attempting to restore an old garden that used “Rose Pink Willow Herb” as an ornamental plant and mentions its notoriety for growing on abandoned bomb sites. Cicely Mary Barker’s 1948 book Flower Fairies of the Wayside included an illustration of ‘The Rose-Bay Willow-Herb Fairy’, with the accompanying verse “On the breeze my fluff is blown; So my airy seeds are sown. Where the earth is burnt and sad, I will come to make it glad. All forlorn and ruined places, All neglected empty spaces, I can cover—only think!— With a mass of rosy pink.”
Rosebay Willowherb was subsequently voted the county flower of London in 2002 following a poll by the wild plant conservation charity Plantlife.