Following on from Healing Power of Celtic Plants, Angela Paine's latest book covers a new range of Celtic medicinal plants which are native to Britain, as well as a few plants, such as Sage and Rosemary, which were introduced by the Romans. Combining the latest scientific data on the healing properties of the herbs used by the ancient Celts with recent archaeological discoveries, written in a jargon-free, easy to understand narrative style and offering a botanical description of each plant, an outline of their chemical constituents, and advice on ways to grow, harvest, preserve and use each plant, Healing Plants of the Celtic Druids is an essential guide.
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About the Author
Angela Paine has a BSc in Human Physiology and PhD from the School of Pharmacy, London University, in medicinal plant chemistry. She has been on research trips to Africa and South America to collect plant material used as medicine, and has collaborated with scientists around the world, publishing internationally in scientific journals. Immersed in the Celtic tradition, she runs workshops on Celtic medicinal plants and is the author of Healing Power of Celtic Plants. Angela lives in Stroud, Gloucestershire, and splits her time between the UK and India.
Read an Excerpt
Why I Wrote this Book
In 1991 I went to the Palazzo Grassi in Venice, to see an exhibition: The Celts, under the scientific direction of Sabatino Moscati. This was a quarter of a century ago but the memory lingers on of a wonderful display of Celtic artefacts from twenty-four countries, covering a period of one thousand years from 600 BCE. The exhibition was an Aladdin's cave of enormous golden torques, bracelets and earrings, bronze and terracotta vessels, bowls and cups, bronze and iron belts and helmets, iron swords and shields, chariots and statues, of exquisite craftsmanship, all decorated with swirling, elegant Celtic designs. Leafy tracery and stylised animals spoke volumes about the interconnectedness of life, both plant and animal. These objects made up a poetic ode to nature, honouring all living things, including forests, tribal goddesses and powerful beasts. I was transported to an ancient time when the world was full of trees and animals, all sacred and important in their own right when humans did not value themselves more highly than their environment. Though they left almost nothing written down, the ancient Celts expressed their beliefs through designs which capture the essence of the horse, the tree, the deer, the wild boar, the ram, the stork, the eagle, the bull, rather than trying to depict an exact replica, as the Romans did. There were many mythological animals, such as horned serpents with fish tails, as well as dragons and abstract designs and even a little golden votive boat from Ireland. The exhibition traced the sphere of influence of the ancient Celts from 600 BCE onwards, their culture, language and way of life, right across Europe. There were representations of mistletoe, madder, woad and yew, all plants with spiritual significance. The sheer quantity of beautiful objects on display made a lasting impression on me and left me feeling that the Celts were a highly cultured people, intimately connected with their environment.
At the time I was carrying out my PhD research into the tropical plants used to treat tropical diseases at the London School of Pharmacy. On obtaining my doctorate I left London and academia and went to live on the borders of Wales. I studied and grew the native healing herbs, eventually teaching a small group of students and travelling round the country giving talks about the subject. Repeated requests for a book on Celtic herbs led to my writing The Healing Power of Celtic Plants. I chose from an array of plants mentioned in the Physicians of Myddvai's thirteenth-century Welsh herbal, the earliest British secular herbal that I could find. From this selection I focussed on those that were growing in Britain at the time of the ancient Celts, during the first millennium BCE, as evidenced by samples of pollen from that era. Then from this collection I selected a few that herbalists, and in some cases doctors, still use today. I looked at the research that had been carried out on these plants, investigated their chemical constituents and noted how these affect the human body. I analysed the results of clinical trials that looked at the effect some of these plants had on groups of patients and demonstrated that if herbal medicine is used correctly it can be effective in curing a number of conditions.
Years have passed since my first book was published and there has been a great deal of new archaeological research as well as research in the field of medicinal plant chemistry. I began to think that it was time to explore some more of the plants that may have been used as medicine by the ancient Celts.
Exciting New Discoveries about the Ancient Celts of Britain
When I was researching The Healing Power of Celtic Plants, people generally believed that the Celts originated in central Europe and migrated west, south west and north from there. But J. T. Koch's research published in 2013 and 2014 revealed that Celtic languages evolved much earlier, all along the westernmost edge of Europe. Archaeologists found inscriptions dating back to 700 or 600 BCE on tombstones. These inscriptions were carved in an ancient Phoenician writing system. These languages from the Bronze Age in northern Spain matched the languages spoken in Brittany, Cornwall, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. This suggests that the people who we now call Celts evolved gradually along the far west coasts of Europe, over a much longer period than we previously thought. It seems that they did not come from Germany and invade Britain. They were already in Britain, building their hill forts, trackways, hut settlements, stone circles and standing stones. Caesar, one of the first people to refer to 'The Celts' was probably referring to Brittany when he wrote that only one part of Gaul was Celtic and the people who lived there called themselves Celts. The many different tribes who lived in Britain at that time did not call themselves Celts, rather referring to themselves as Iceni, Atrebates, etc., but they all spoke Celtic languages, languages which are still spoken today by two million people in Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall and Brittany. It was not until 1703 that Paul-Yves Pezron coined the term Celtic to describe this group of languages and the people who spoke them.
Britain was as densely populated in the Iron Age as it was at the time of the Doomsday Book, according to field archaeologist David Miles. We can see evidence of this in the more sparsely occupied areas of Britain, such as Wales, where traces of ancient settlements have survived the ravages of urban sprawl. Almost six hundred Iron Age hill forts, the largest covering an area of over six hectares, are strung out along the Welsh Marches from Moel Hiraddug in the North to the Severn Estuary in the South. The ancient Celtic tribes who built these hill forts formed a rich, powerful and highly organised civilisation, as described by Andouze and Buchsenschutz in their book, Towns, Villages andCountryside of Celtic Europe.
Farming, Mining and Trade in Ancient Celtic Britain
David Miles discovered that tribes living in the area around the white horse of Uffington had carved it into the hillside in 800 BCE. This wonderful spiritual design elevated the horse to a sacred being, high up on the hillside. He found that the land below this talisman was divided into large parallel blocks or parishes, each giving the people access to river, meadow, arable land, woodland and pasture. This gave him an insight into the way the ancient Celts farmed the land. They were so successful at growing wheat, barley and spelt, which they stored in large underground silos, capped with clay, that they exported it to Gaul (modern day France). We can still see the remnants of their settlements, boundaries and trackways in aerial photographs. They mined the rich deposits of copper and tin in Cornwall and Devon, which their imaginative and creative metal smiths fashioned into some of the lovely objects that I saw in the Palazzo Grassi in Venice.
In 2002 Barry Cunliffe, drawing on the writings of Diodorus, wrote an account of the journey of Pythias the Greek in 300 BCE. Diodorus said in his Library of History:
The inhabitants of Britain who live on the promontory called Belerion are especially friendly to strangers and have adopted a civilised way of life because of their interaction with traders and other people. It is they who work the tin ... and convey it to an island which lies off Britain called Ictis, for at the ebb tide the space between this island and the mainland becomes dry and they can take the tin in large quantities over to the island on their wagons. (And a peculiar thing happens in the case of the neighbouring islands which lie between Europe and Britain, for at flood-tide the passage between them and the mainland runs full and they have the appearance of islands, but at ebb tide the sea recedes and leaves dry a large space and at that time they look like peninsulas.) On the island of Ictis the merchants buy the tin from the natives and carry it from there across the Strait of Galatia (the Channel) and finally, making their way on foot through Gaul for some thirty days, they bring the goods on horseback to the mouth of the Rhone.
Pythias the Greek travelled all the way to Britain in 300 BCE, through France along the Rhone, then probably on foot or on horseback as far as the English Channel, which he crossed in a small boat. He travelled along the south coast of Britain in a series of little boats, stopping frequently to leave the coast and walk inland where he described the people he met. He continued his journey along the west coast of Wales and all the way up to the coast of Scotland. His writings have been lost but various contemporaries read them, including Diodorus, from whom we have this information about the ancient Celts who lived along the Southern coast of Britain. The promontory of Belerion was the Penwith peninsula of Land's End. The island of Ictis may have been St Michael's Mount, since it is near to the tin mines of Cornwall and cut off at high tide. Or it could have been Mount Batten in Plymouth Sound because archaeologists found a lot of late Bronze Age metalwork and Iron Age objects here. Mount Batten was a major trading port at the time of Pythias.
David Miles's research revealed that the ancient Celts living along the south coast of Britain traded indirectly with Rome. Most of the trade went on between the tribes in Britain, who exported iron, tin and copper, and the tribes in Gaul, from whom they imported wine, figs, olive oil and glass. Strabo added that the Celts also traded hides, corn, hunting dogs and slaves. The Celts in Britain used little wicker boats covered in hide, rather like the curraghs that are still in use off the coast of Galway, which are now covered in tarred canvas, and just like the little golden votive boat that I saw in the exhibition in Venice. These boats had both oarsmen and a sail, and they seem to have used them to transport goods along the coast of Britain, though they may also have crossed the Channel. Pythias probably travelled in these little boats, which must have been quite frightening once he got up to the wild and windy coast of Scotland. The Celtic tribes in Gaul had slightly larger boats so they may have been the ones who crossed the Channel to trade with the Celtic tribes in Britain. They continued trading across Gaul, using the rivers part of the way, until they reached the Mediterranean and from here they traded with Rome. And so it was that the ancient Celts of Britain who lived along the south coast had access to Mediterranean goods, ideas and plants, both edible and medicinal.
Places of Worship of the Ancient Celts
The ancient Celts used rivers as routes across the country to avoid the impenetrable forest that covered most of the land. They and their Druids revered rivers, springs and wells, which were associated with healing and fertility, according to Anne Ross. The rivers in Britain were named after goddesses: Dee (Deva), Clyde (Clota), Severn (Sabrina), Braint of Anglesea and Brent of Middlesex (Brigantia). Aqua Sulis at Bath was named after the life-giving mother Celtic Goddess Sulis. (The Romans, who recorded all these names romanised them so we do not have a record of the actual Celtic river Goddesses' names.) The ancient Celts made offerings to these goddesses of all sorts of valuable iron and bronze objects, such as swords, shields, cauldrons, coins, brooches, pottery, shrine bells, throwing them into lakes and rivers, much to the delight of the marauding Romans who stole much of this treasure. But the Celts threw such an enormous quantity of offerings into the water that hoards still come to light from time to time. For example in 1958 Fox described the hoards recovered from the rivers Thames, and Withal in Lincolnshire. The ancient Celts also threw animal and human bones (possibly whole animals and humans) into rivers and lakes.
The ancient Celts dug shaft wells, which they regarded as entrances to the otherworld. Anne Ross describes one of the earliest shaft wells, excavated in 1962, two miles from Stonehenge and cut through the chalk one hundred and ten feet down, terminating in a well with remnants of wooden buckets and ropes and pieces of Bronze Age pottery. Stokes spoke of the otherworldly Conlla's Well in the Prose Tales in the Rennes Dindshenchas. This well had a wise hazel tree growing beside it, who scattered her magic hazel nuts into the water. These fed the sacred salmon who lived in the well and acquired supernatural wisdom by eating the nuts. Convention's well had fourteen thousand coins in it, together with an assortment of bronze and gold objects.
The ancient Celts and their Druids revered all kinds of trees, recognising their importance in making the rain fall. Lucan described the sacred groves where they performed ceremonies and rites, sometimes under a particularly venerable tree. Ancient tree worship has filtered down to the present day through the myths and tales of Wales and Ireland, in which the heroes' and heroines' names incorporate the names of trees. Mac Cuill means son of Hazel, Mac Cuillinn: son of Holly, Mac Ibar: son of Yew, Guidgen: son of wood, Guerngen: son of Alder and Dergen: son of oak. Stokes describes several sacred trees: Tortu's Tree, an ash, Eo Rosa, Eo Mugna, both yews and the ash Tree of Dath. He describes the mythical tree of Mugna, an ancient yew which bore acorns, apples and nuts and whose top was as broad as the plain it stood on. This is similar to the marvellous oak on a plain, described in the Mabinogion, where the Welsh God Lleu took refuge after his death, when he transformed himself into an eagle and flew up into its branches. In 1834 Williamson discovered oak branches in an oak coffin in a tumulus at Gristhorpe near Scarborough which suggested that the oak was one of the most sacred trees of the ancient Celts. Trees were so important that the first people to work metal to form minute detailed reliefs in Britain often surrounded the heads they carved with leaf crowns, or blended the heads into a leafy background, as described by Jacobsthal in 1944.
The forests of Britain teemed with animals, including bears, wolves, otters; and the trees were filled with birds. The ancient Celts held all animals in awe as demonstrated by the stone statues, bronze ornaments, shields, silver and gold jewellery that depict them. The stag was particularly important, hence the horned God, Cernunnos, who may have come from Scandinavia, where he was particularly venerated, but was taken up by the British Celts. The horned god was concerned with fertility, wealth and commercial prosperity. His chthonic symbols, serpent, ram, stag and bull are all associated with wealth. The serpent who emerges from the earth is associated with the otherworld. The ancient Celts knew that wealth was underground. They dug deep mines to find copper, iron and tin, so associated underground with the otherworld, with wealth, danger and death. The Christian church did their best to eradicate Cernunnos, since he was concerned with fecundity both human and animal, hence his transformation into the horned Satan. The church similarly demonised the serpent.
The ancient Celts performed ritual and ceremony at burial sites such as grave mounds. Tara in county Meath in Ireland is one such place, where the tribes gathered together to honour their divine ancestors, according to Anne Ross. Burial mounds provided another entrance to the otherworld and were places of magic, as demonstrated by the Irish Dindshenchas myth: Len Linfiaclach was a craftsman who lived in a lake and made bright vessels for Fland, the daughter of Flidais, the goddess of wild things. Each night, after he had finished work he would throw his anvil east towards the burial mound, scattering a shower of water, fire and purple gems as it flew through the air.
The ancient Celts used ritual sanctuary enclosures, ritual pits and roofed shrines, and according to Anne Ross, archaeologists have found remnants of these in various places in Europe and Ireland. Recently archaeologists have made exciting new discoveries that demonstrate that the whole area around Stonehenge is full of ancient religious structures, far more ancient than the iconic stone circle itself. On the 6th September 2015 David Keys, writing for the Independent, described the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project, led by Professor Vince Gaffney of Bradford University and Professor Wolfgang Neubauer of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute in Vienna. The survey used ground penetrating radar, magnetometry and electro-magnetic induction to investigate five square miles around Stonehenge. They found more than twenty previously unknown ancient shrines and sacred enclosures, including a Stone Age temple, near what is now the village of Durrington, in Wiltshire. This huge horseshoe-shaped temple was built more than one thousand years before Stonehenge and was made up of at least two hundred large standing stones, most of them three metres tall and one and a half metres wide. The temple faced Beacon Hill, a sacred landmark. People the world over who practise the most ancient indigenous religious traditions have sacred sites where they perform ceremonies, which are often hills or mountains, so it is likely that Beacon Hill was one such sacred site.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Healing Plants of the Celtic Druids"
Copyright © 2017 Angela Paine.
Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
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Table of Contents
Part I Introduction 1
Chapter 1 Why I Wrote this Book 2
Chapter 2 The Plants: How to Recognise, Find, Grow, Preserve and Use Them 18
Chapter 3 Medicinal Plants in the US and the UK 26
Part II The Native Herbs 29
Chapter 1 Betony Stachys betonica 30
Chapter 2 Chickweed Stellaria media 36
Chapter 3 Horsetail Equisetum arvense 41
Chapter 4 Juniper Juniperus communis 47
Chapter 5 Marsh mallow Althea officinalis 51
Chapter 6 Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria 57
Chapter 7 Mugwort Artemisia vulgaris 63
Chapter 8 Mullein Verbascum thapsus 69
Chapter 9 Oak Quercus robur 78
Chapter 10 Raspberry Rubus idaeus 87
Chapter 11 Red clover Trifolium pratense 94
Chapter 12 Rose Rosa cannina 101
Chapter 13 Shepherd's purse Capsella bursa pastoris 108
Chapter 14 Sphagnum moss Sphagnum spp. 115
Chapter 15 Tormentil Potentilla erecta 120
Chapter 16 Violet Viola odorata 126
Chapter 17 Watercress Nasturtium officinale 134
Part III A Few Poisonous Plants Used by the Celts 141
Chapter 1 Foxglove Digitalis purpurea 143
Chapter 2 Opium poppy Papaver somniferum 148
Chapter 3 Periwinkle Vinca minor 155
Part IV The Roman Invasion 163
Part V A Few of the Medicinal Plants Introduced by the Romans and Used by the Ancient Celts 169
Chapter 1 Celery Apium graveolens 170
Chapter 2 Elecampane Inula helenium 180
Chapter 3 Garlic Allium sativum 186
Chapter 4 Lavender Lavandula spp. 193
Chapter 5 Marigold Calendula officinalis 205
Chapter 6 Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis 213
Chapter 7 Sage Salvia officinalis 223
Lessons to Be Learned from the Ancient Celts 234