Melissa Mondegreen talked about "Historic Medicines - a Herb Seminar" at the Oct. 27 meeting of the Towamensing Township Historical Commission.
When Mondegreen was asked to speak she said she tried to focus on the herbs of this area but they are so boring she decided on a general herbology seminar. Her interest in herbs was passed down from a grandmother in Passamoquoddy, Maine.
She said an herb tea can change depending on where the herbs grow. They are light-weight to carry on a trip.
"Any plant can be used for something," said Mondegreen, who lives on Orioles Drive, Lehighton. She includes shrubs and trees among the useful plants.
Native Americans thought herbs were the children of Mother Earth. For instance, ferns could be burned as a gift for the gods as a request for rain.
They were used as cosmetics such as belladonna which was used to make a woman's eye pupils large. Today it is no longer used because it is highly toxic.
Lavender and woodbine would be spread on a floor in the Middle Ages. Walking on them would crush the plants releasing a pleasing odor much like scented candles may be used today. Carrying nosegays of small herbs or flowers was done on the birth of a baby or other special event. Lavender buds placed in sugar make it taste good and add a pleasing color.
Mondegreen said she has seen classes where people make nosegays.
During the plague years in Europe doctors wore masks that protruded. The protrusion contained aromatic items such as dried flowers including roses and carnations, herbs, spices, camphor or a vinegar sponge. The purpose of the mask was to cover up the smell of people dying.
Elderberry branches were easy to hollow out and make into flutes, but the flowers were good for many things. Dipped in batter and fried, they were a good source of food.
Peony roots were made into beads and made for children to wear. They had a reputation of being protective, said Mondegreen.
Smudges made of burned sage can be used to keep insects away. Indians use sweet grass also.
"I'm a certified family herbolist but not a prescriber. We use everything. There are three kinds: Western or Greek, Indian Arveda which uses flower essences and Chinese.
She was asked at what stage rose hips can be used for tea. Mondegreen said the large ones should be used. They can be dried or mashed to make tea which should not be steeped more than 10 minutes and is usually better at five. Most types of roses are safe.
She prefers the Richter's Herb catalog to buy seeds. The company is in the Toronto area.
Many herbs planted in a new area become invasive
Portions of herbs are used to make pharmaceutical drugs but most of the plant will be thrown away including the parts with severe side effects.
Herbs are our friends, Mondegreen concludes.