Day 5. Now we had three attractions that we wanted to see, all in the same road! The home of the Chelsea pensioners, the rest of the Army Museum and the Chelsea Physic Gardens. We had tickets for the later, so that was our first port of call. Walking past the home of the old soldiers, and past the Museum we arrived at 66, Royal Hospital Road. The walled south facing gardens create a microclimate where 5,000 examples of medicinal plants have been used since 1673 to teach budding apothecaries how to treat illnesses. We forget that at one time there were no pills only tisanes, tinctures and macerations of plants. The founder, Sir Hans Sloane, served as physician to the Governor of Jamaica, where he saw quinine being used to treat malaria. We also have to thank him for Cadbury’s chocolate as he observed Jamaican woman mixing cocoa with milk. He later sold the recipe to one of the Cadbury family.
At that time, remedies were more trial and error than scientifically proved. However, Alchemilla Vulgaris (see below) is sold today as a remedy for women’s problems, so they were not so far off in 1653!
In the 1850’s Florence Nightingale included in her Crimean medicine chest powdered rhubarb and essence of ginger to relieve bowel spasms as well as quinine against malaria.
Plants that were recognised as medicinal were given the name ‘officinalis’ which historically meant that you could find them in the ‘officina’ where the monks stored and prepared the remedies. Borage, Dandelions, Ginger, Rosemary, Sage, Marshmallow and Marigolds among others all have the Latin name ‘officinalis’. Borage is the pretty blue flower that traditionally decorates a glass of Pimms.
On sale in the shop were special bottles of Beefeater London Gin.
My family want to know why I am so interested in ‘weeds’ these days. I now have the answer for a generation who know little about wild plants but enjoy the drink of the moment – gin.
My weeds are your botanicals!
We never did get back to the Army Museum and the only part of the Chelsea Hospital we saw was their very reasonably priced teashop. It was just closing, but they kindly served us the vanilla ice-creams we needed. Vanilla comes from the seed pod of an orchid you know!