On Wednesday the 29th of March a new medicinal herb garden was planted next to the Rossendale Museum, with the help of a group of students from Alder Grange School, the Whitaker Park gardeners, Incredible Edible, and local herbalists Tim Cappelli and Tracey Humphries.
We have concentrated on plants that can be easily harvested to make herbal teas, all of which can be found growing in the hills and valleys around Rawtenstall, and used as natural remedies to treat a wide variety of complaints. They are referenced in herbal guidebooks that were owned by local botanists and chemists in Victorian Lancashire, currently archived at the Rossendale Museum and Rawtenstall Library.
The garden needs time to establish itself. The first harvest should be possible in the summer, but some plants need a little longer. A DIY medicinal tea kit, alongside instructions on how to pick the herbs and detailed information regarding their medicinal uses, will be available in the museum shop and the museum kiosk from the beginning of July. Temporary labels will be replaced by permanent signage in June, and throughout the summer Tim Cappelli and Tracy Humphries will be on hand to offer guided wild-herb walks from the museum.
Herbs include: Agrimony, Alchemilla, Blue Vervain, Burdock, Chickweed, Cleavers, Comfrey, Dandelion, Dead Nettle, Elder, Elecampane, Garlic Mustard, Hawthorn, Herb Robert, Honeysuckle, Meadowsweet, Mugwort, Plantain, Red Clover, Sorrel, St Johns Wort, Sweet Cicely, Valerian, Wild Garlic, Wild Mint, Wild Strawberry, Woundwort, and Yarrow.
One of the things we have been interested in, as a way of linking the NLOB research and the natural history collection with the day to day running of the museum, is the idea of souvenirs. In many ways we haven’t been able to push this as far as we would have liked, but the DIY tea-kit visitor packs do at least offer an alternative, unique, and site-responsive souvenir at the museum that has been planted and maintained by the local community.
The Rossendale Museum’s new medicinal herb garden and the DIY visitor packs aim to re-establish the recreational link between Whitaker Park and the museum, encouraging a form of physical interaction between the two spaces, while raising awareness towards the value of indigenous plants that are often regarded as weeds, and the history of botanical practices in Lancashire. Records suggest that Lancashire was a hotbed of amateur botanical activity, with ‘working class’ enthusiasts meeting in pubs to share notes, rare finds, books, and maybe a beer or two. The Bacup Natural History Society is probably a good example of this, and one of the few that is still active in Rossendale today.