Saturday, May 20, 2017

In Preparation: Lessons From the Garden

"Never does Nature say one thing, and Wisdom another."


The rain just kept coming down, meaning that, aside from necessary chores, yet another spring day was to be spent, cooped up indoors.  Remember was restless, and the prospect of sitting still and stitching her sampler held no appeal.  Goody Prymm, however, had a smiley countenance as she peered through the leaded diamond pane window out to the gardens, nodding her approval and stating that the rain was a necessary boost for healthy growth.   Already, tiny shoots were sprouting up through the dark, well-prepared soil, a promise of healing herbs and plants to be harvested throughout the summer and into autumn.  Remember just sighed audibly and rolled her eyes, as impatient youth is wont to do, Goody Prymm noting it and stating in a matter-of-fact and low tone that all things come in due time...that herbs are mild, and their action slow, requiring good air, good water and, most importantly, a grower's contentment of mind.  Then old Imagination turned and walked into the lean-to.

There she summoned Remember to join her, entreating her to first go to the great cupboard and bring what Remember had come to refer to as Imagination's "Book of Secrets."  The book always fascinated Remember, the handwritten scribbled notes of discoveries and treatments in the margins of pages and pages of plant sketchings and curative recipes.  There were at least three different pairs of hands that had contributed to these pages, maybe more, proof that this book was a treasure handed down from Imagination's distaff side, generation to generation.  Upon entering the lean-to, Remember saw Goody Prymm standing there short-statured, arms akimbo, assessing shelves lined with earthen drug jars and myriad Delft pots, half-stocked with dried herbs, salves, ointments, tinctures, and all manner of healing mixtures.  There was much work to be done in the interim before the newly growing gardens produced their magic.

And so the lessons began.  Some curatives, Goody Prymm explained, had to be made using fresh herbs, but many could be prepared ahead of time...some necessarily so.  Tinctures, for example, she said, involved grinding the leaves, roots, and seeds with mortar and pestle, covering with alcohol and, after three weeks, adding spring water and then storing in a cool, dark place, where the tincture could be kept up to five years, a process which took foresight and planning.  Tinctures, she continued, could be added to teas to be taken internally, bringing relief and comfort to the ill and suffering.  They could be added to fomentations, too...strong herbal teas in which a clean cloth is dipped or filled with various herbs and then applied to the affected parts.  And here she cautioned her that all things can work to the good...or to the bad...depending upon how they were applied, Goody Prymm eyeing Remember as she explained these things, pleased and relieved that Remember, bright girl, was taking it all in with keen interest and proper sober reflection.

Some herbs, she continued, could be used fresh or dried...poultices made from comfrey, for example, were excellent for applying to wounds, fractures, and leg ulcers---even areas affected by the gout.  If it were winter and there were no fresh herbs to be had, dried herbs would then be soaked in boiled water until soft and then  mixed with slippery elm powder to make the poultice adhere; afterwards, the mixture would be applied to the affected area, around which would be wrapped a clean cloth.  A decoction of leaves would work nicely in many cases but, depending upon the severity of the issue, using the comfrey root was far more potent.

And there were syrups, which involved simmering the appropriate dried herbs in the "tree water" (as the Indians referred to it), straining it, and storing it in a cool place.  If bark were to be used for remedy, Goody Prymm always adhered to the Indians' way of thinking:  that bark growing on the sunny side was more potent than that growing on the shady side of a tree.  Here, the Wise Woman inserted that Nature was a wonder in what it need only to listen and observe to discover its potential, her old finger tapping on the copious notes already recorded in the margins of the book.

Goody Prymm, healer and midwife, went on to explain the process of preparing salves for all manner of skin conditions, using comfrey, lavender, pine needles, and elderflowers, to which was added green walnut hulls and whole, smashed horse chestnuts for pain alleviation.

The lessons continued throughout the day, the two of them working side by side, mentor and pupil, in the process to make the best use of last year's harvests.  When they had done all they could for one day, Goody Prymm gently handed Remember the Book of Secrets, telling her that this spring Remember could begin to add her own notes to the book and, taking down a tea mixture of mugwort, thyme, and yarrow, went to boil water.

Before sitting down to tea with Goody Prymm, Remember walked to the window and glanced out, the ceaseless rain still drumming against the rooftop...still feeding the gardens...and smiled, thankful for its gift.

***With a nod to Clarence Meyer and David C. Meyer's The Herbalist's Almanac:  A 50-Year Anthology, June 1991; Ellen Evert Hopman's A Druid's Herbal, 1995; and David Potterton's Culpeper's Color Herbal, 1983.

© 2017 Nancy Duncan 


  1. keeping a 'journal' of sorts is something that I have done forever ~ always good to visit my notes from the past...glad to see that Goody is teaching Remember how important that is too ~

  2. She's doing everything to prepare Remember...:)

  3. That was so well written. I am enjoying seeing all the changes in Remember. This is a precious story.

    1. Hi, Vicki Jo! Remember has indeed come a long way, thanks to Goody Prymm. I think she will be an outstanding young woman for the new Colonial generation!

  4. Love all the herbal lore! Can't wait for your book!

    1. So good to hear from you, Mary A! Nice to know that several people are Goody Prymm fans. Right now I'm designing a tombstone sampler for the dear lady...