My garden is looking a bit sparse for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day in March. I surely was hoping for more. I’m limited to not enough crocuses (never enough!) and some hopeful tulip foliage. I’ve been consoling myself by hacking away at an old stump with an axe. Excellent exercise and a great way to work out any frustration or tension you might be harboring.
So, with not much to report in the garden, I’ll tell you a little story. Last week I visited America’s very first hospital. Pennsylvania Hospital opened its doors in 1751 to much fanfare in Philadelphia. (4th grade field trip chaperone if you must know). Fascinating. And the hospital is still in business which is kind of cool.
The tour guide educated about colonial medical philosophies. Laxatives got a rise out of the kids. Folk remedies made them laugh. Leaches had them howling. Conversation about herbal remedies bored the 4th graders but left me wishing I knew which plants healed what, what herbs to take for a headache, how to stew a rosemary stem until it was just right for making your stomach feel better. (Does stewed rosemary stem make your stomach feel better? See, I don’t even know!) Colonists had recipe books for herbal remedies – many brought on their long voyage across the sea, many scribbled down from memories of mothers’ brews, many compiled from knowledge gathered from Native Americans. It is an art that has been lost to me, at least. Sure, there’s google, but somehow it’s not the same. Generations of women (and men, but mostly women) knew what to do when their family got sick. All I know is children’s Tylenol.
So there I was pining for a simpler time when we were in touch with the land, gardened for more than just our own pleasure, passed knowledge from one generation to the next. Clearly, I was missing the point. While herbal remedies had their place, they didn’t quite cover all the necessary medical treatments of the day. Echinacea and mint tea only went so far when you were facing something like, say, 18th century surgery. The three choices for anesthesia when the hospital opened were rum (lots and lots of rum), opium (which got you good and relaxed, but just until the scalpel hit), or a sharp tap on the skull with a wooden mallet (hard, but not too hard!). Oh, and you had to schedule your drunken, high, or major-head-injury surgery between the hours of 11am and 2pm because that’s when there was enough sunlight in the operating room. On sunny days.
But you’ve got to love a field trip that ends with your kid asking, “Can we plant lemon balm in our garden this year?” At the end, the tour guide had each of the children make a sachet of dried herbs like the ones 18th century Philadelphians held to their noses just to make their way through town. Apparently, colonial times stank. Bad. Buckets of lavender, lemon balm, rose petals, cloves, cinnamon, jasmine, and allspice turned into 23 little bags of yummy.
We rode home thankful for children’s Tylenol. And anesthesia. And surgeons who wash their hands BEFORE surgery. And delicious sachets that ignited the imagination and took the edge off of that school bus smell.
p.s. Thanks to Carol at May Dream’s Garden for hosting Garden Blogger Bloom Day!