Tuesday, September 20, 2016

What’s in Claire’s Medical Kit? - a post by Michele Matucheski

What's in Claire's Medicine Kit?
by Michele Matucheski, MLS, AHIP  mmatuche@affinityhealth.org
Librarian for Ascension-Wisconsin, based at Mercy Medical Center in Oshkosh, WI

Public Domain image from Wikimedia Commons

In July 2016, I was able to take a wonderful trip to Scotland that focused on The Outlander novels written by Diana Gabaldon. You know : the stories with a time-traveling WWII nurse/physician/surgeon who goes back in time to Scotland of the 1700s and falls in love with a Highlander … Perhaps you've seen the recent STARZ series that brings Jamie and Claire to life? One of the most interesting aspects of the novels is Claire's life as a healer … Hence, one of the highlights of the Scotland  trip was a special guided tour of The Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh (RBGE) with botanist, Greg Kenicer.

The RBGE garden was founded in 1670 as a physic (physician), or medicinal garden. Modern Medicine as we know it had its roots in Scotland. The RBGE Gardens have grown through the years, and it is now “a world-renowned centre for plant science, horticulture and education and extends over four Gardens (Edinburgh, Benmore, Dawyck and Logan) boasting a rich living collection of plants.”

Greg Kenicer showed us many plants generally used by physicians through the ages including (These are just the ones I wrote down) :
Nettles as a spring tonic
Foxglove for heart conditions
Meadowsweet for pain relief
Raspberry Tea for labor and childbirth

Reading the Outlander novels, I noted the many medicinal herbs Claire used to help her patients, but I wasn't taking notes as I read, so I couldn't remember any of them on the tour. I finally got a copy of The Outlandish Companion : Vol. 2 this week from my local public library. There's a chapter written by herbalist Dr. Claire MacKay, who offers some interesting background info on the herbs Claire used and the times in which she practiced.

Dr. MacKay provides "An Outlandish Materia Medica" (p.585) with 9 herbs from Claire's Medicine Kit, including :

  • Willow Bark - for pain relief and fever. Active ingredient is salicylic acid, aka aspirin.
  • Pine – used as an antiseptic and expectorant. Good source of vitamin C.
  • Comfrey (Boneset) – At one time, it was used to make casts for broken bones.
  • Foxglove (Digitalis) – Used for treating heart failure. Considered a poisonous plant.
  • St. John's Wort – Used to treat depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders. Antiviral, antibacterial.
  • Bogbean – a spring tonic; used to treat arthritis.
  • Wild Garlic – Blood strengthener, used to treat kidney stones, wound-cleaning; Now we know garlic to be beneficial for lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.
  • Marsh Mallow – Used to treat inflammation and irritation inside and out, from itches to coughs to flatulence.
  • Yarrow – stops bleeding, treats fever. This was considered a “warrior's plant” as it was so useful to soldiers on the battlefield to staunch bleeding wounds.

The usual disclaimer applies : It's best to consult a physician or herbalist before using any of these herbs. Some are considered poisonous, and/or can interact with other medications.

So the next time you are working in your garden, or visiting a public garden, I hope you'll think about Claire and other healers through history and how they used the available medicinal plants to improve the lives of their patients.

Resources :
The RBGE website is worth a visit : You can even take a virtual tour in each season with 360-degree panoramas. http://elmer.rbge.org.uk/rbgepanoramas/grid/grid.html

If you would like to know more about Scottish Medicinal Herbs, Greg Kenicer recommends the following books [The RBGE have a wonderful research library, too!] :

The Scots Herbal by Tess Darwin
Healing Threads by Mary Beith

If you would like to know more about Outlander, see the following :

Lists the entire series, including the Outlandish Companion references.

St. John's Wort

Public Domain image from Wikimedia Commons

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