Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Part Two: History of Medicinal Herbs

Hi, everyone! Madeline Martin and Eliza Knight here again with PART TWO of our 4-part series. We’re sorry you weren’t able to attend our History of Medicinal Herbs class at the Historical Romance Retreat in Spokane, WA this year. There was so much interest in this class that we decided to do a blog post here so everyone can enjoy. But there is so much to share, we’ve decided to break it down into four fun parts! Check back weekly! If you missed Part One, click to read it

Please note several things: 
  1. We aren’t doctors, we aren’t even healers. Pretty much, we’re authors who make stuff up for a living and enjoy researching historical tidbits to share (especially the crazy ones). Do not try any of these herbs without consulting a doctor first.
  2. Yes, there is WAY more information about all the herbs we’re going to mention, and there are WAY more herbs than we list. However, it was an hour long class, and there really are only so many appropriate memes.
  3. We focused mainly on herbs we had on hand to do a fun show-and-tell with. Obviously being online you can’t see, touch, or smell these herbs. For that, we are humbly sorry (except we really feel we are owed a huge thanks on your part regarding the valerian root – just saying)

A brief intro about ourselves if you missed it in Part One...

This is the voice of Eliza Knight (yes, I totally just did that with my hands cupped around my mouth, because I’m a dork like that). I have always been fascinated by healing herbs and ways to heal the body naturally. It’s amazing how many things we did back in the day, that we still do now (and also a lot we figured out were a bad idea!) Because that is a part of my “real life,” I have added it to many of my books. Several of my heroines are able to use healing herbs to help people, and some use them as poisons. My favorite two herbal heroines are Shona from HIGHLANDER’S TOUCH and Julianna from THE HIGHLAND WARRIOR’S BRIDE. Shona is a healer, and is often called to the castle and village to help people, but she has also been nicknamed the Witch of the Wood, since people were so suspicious of women who could heal with herbs. Julianna, uses her herbal knowledge for good & bad. She’s a warrior, and uses poisons on her weapons.

So, for Madeline Martin (yeah, I totally just referred to myself in third person to keep this from getting confusing) – I decided I would write a female healer as they’ve always fascinated me. Celia (from Enchantment of a Highlander) was not only a healer, but a survivor of the North Berwick Witch Trials (it’s sad and fascinating and the history dork in me demands you look it up). In order to write a healer though, I wanted to have the full experience of what she might go through, so I decided to start doing all natural bath and body products. It opened the door to this incredible interest and now all you nice folks will be subjected to our findings. J

Now, onto the herbs!


Also known as mug wort, this herb is most commonly associated with absinthe and its hallucinogenic/hypnotic effects. Consumption of wormwood in liquor could result in spots of green in one’s peripheral and give them the illusion they were seeing ‘green fairies’. Absinthe has a strong black licorice flavor, which means I’ll take people’s word on that whole green fairy thing, but won’t be drinking enough to see it myself. Blech.

Wormwood was used in beers and wines in history and was also used to repel fleas (I guess they don’t like black licorice either). It’s actually still used today not only in assisting in the treatment of malaria, but also in helping to wean off morphine addicts.

 St. John’s Wort 

They loooooved St. John’s Wort for pretty much everything back in the day – this was due largely in part to the dots on the leaves reflecting pores on the skin (remember what I said before about them loving things that looked like body parts for those body parts?). So it was used for cleaning wounds and aiding with: gout, jaundice, kidney/liver issues, rheumatism, and warding off evil spirits. Yeah, you read that last part right. They felt the yellow flowers of the St. John’s Wort plant were effective in keeping the evil fairies at bay (of course).

Studies on St. John’s Wort have actually proven the herb does aid in healing wounds (though there are others that are more effective). It was used previously to bind wounds, ward off infection and counteract the effects of a poisoned weapon (not sure how effective that last part was…)
St. John’s Wort is still in use today for reducing signs of opiate withdrawal and can aid with mild cases of depression. It might even help keep evil fairies at bay still. ;)

****Note: St. John’s Wort makes your body produce less estrogen and so it speeds up your metabolism and WILL RENDER YOUR BIRTH CONTROL PILLS INEFFECTIVE. I felt like that should be in caps. You’re welcome. But birth control is not the only medicine impacted by St. John’s Wort, many others are as well. If you want to start taking ANY herbal supplement, please consult with your doctor first (and make sure your doctor has a fresh list of all the supplements you currently take, even if they don’t seem like they would be important)


Lavender was one of those ‘good for all things’ herbs and I can’t say I blame them with how clean and wonderful lavender smells. Tinctures made of lavender were used for headaches as well as colic and indigestion (not sure how good that tasted) and could also be used for burn and insect bite relief. Also, lice hated lavender making it an ideal addition to mattress padding and rushes on the floor: good smells + no bugs = win.

The scent of lavender is said to have a calming effect (and it used a lot in essential oil mixes today as a result) and can even help minimize depression and anxiety.


Valerian is an herb so effective as a sleep aid and anti-anxiety herb that it is still in use today. We passed around pieces of valerian root in plastic baggies for people to see/touch/smell and trust us, it was awful. It smells like manure. Yum, right?

Don’t believe us, then know this – rats LOVE it. That’s how you know it’s nasty. LOL It’s even said the pied piper used his pipe along with valerian root to get the rats out. Kiiiiiiiinda sounds like cheating when he claimed it was only his pipe, but I’m sure with the rats gone, no one was complaining about the details.

Valerian can be poisonous if taken in too high a dose, and it is addictive.

I actually played with the idea of valerian root addiction in my upcoming novel, Highland Ruse (releasing November 14, 2017) where the hero (who is tortured and artistic and oh so hot, IMHO) suffered a traumatic event and was given valerian root to help him deal with it and develops an addiction.


Chamomile is an herb I’m sure we’re all familiar with as it’s not uncommon to find this in relaxing teas. So, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn it was used for its relaxing benefits in history. However, teas are also helpful in aiding in poor digestion, fever (I’m sure motrin is better - no offense, chamomile), and to aid with insomnia.

It’s also mentioned this was great for helping infants who are teething. One lady in the class suggested freezing the tea (it’s caffeine free – just an FYI) and putting it in a teething net for the infant to gum on. Genius! Of course I find out about this after I’m done with having teething age babies LOL (for those of you considering this, please do ask your doctor first just in case) J


Calendula, otherwise known as marigolds, was more than the poor man’s saffron – though it was used as a food dye for herbs and in place of saffron – was also used as a tea for treating tummy problems and in a salve for treating many skin injuries.

It’s surprisingly effective in aiding with scrapes, stings, but bites, burns and can even help with bruising and reduce inflammation. I do have a fun recipe for a healing balm with calendula oil you can infuse yourself. And if I can do it, anyone can do it. Trust me – I’m a walking Pinterest Fail. LOL Eliza also has a great recipe she uses for her dogs for their little foot pads so they can play in the snow longer--which will be posted in our November newsletters! So be sure to subscribe!


Meadowsweet has a pleasant scent to it, which made it a popular herb to strew in the rushes of homes during the medieval days. But it was more than just a sweet smelling plant. This pretty herb was great at helping cure headaches. It was so effective, the root is still used today in making aspirin. I’m sure it will surprise no aspirin user that overuse of meadowsweet can result in an upset tummy. Even simply chewing some of the peeled root can help your headache go away (though I’m sure popping an aspirin would taste way better).

Subscribe to our newsletters for another awesome recipe! Mid-October, we sent out the healing balm recipe (which was also posted here), and in mid-November, we will sent out a pet paw ointment recipe for the coming winter!

Eliza Knight & Madeline Martin at the Historical Romance Retreat 


Madeline Martin is a USA TODAY Bestselling author of Scottish set historical romance novels. She lives a glitter-filled life in Jacksonville, Florida with her two daughters (known collectively as the minions) and a man so wonderful he's been dubbed Mr. Awesome. All shenanigans are detailed regularly on Twitter and on Facebook.

Madeline loves animals in sweaters, cat videos, wine and Nutella. Check out her FB page on any given Friday to see what great new book she's giving away by one of her fellow authors. 

She also loves connecting with her readers, so feel free to follow her on any one of her social media platforms, or send her a message :) 

FB page: https://www.facebook.com/MadelineMartinAuthor/
Twitter: @MadelineMMartin


Eliza Knight is an award-winning and USA Today bestselling indie author of over fifty sizzling historical romance and erotic romance. Under the name E. Knight, she pens rip-your-heart-out historical fiction. While not reading, writing or researching for her latest book, she chases after her three children. In her spare time (if there is such a thing…) she likes daydreaming, wine-tasting, traveling, hiking, staring at the stars, watching movies, shopping and visiting with family and friends. She lives atop a small mountain with her own knight in shining armor, three princesses and two very naughty puppies. 

Twitter: @ElizaKnight
Instagram: @ElizaKnightFiction

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