I recently visited the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle in North Cornwall. It was a humbling experience and a mixture of information about old folklore practices, wise women and men and myths and images of the 'witch'. I left with the knowledge of how lucky I am to live now, rather than several hundred years ago. And, how sad it is that many of our talented predecessors who knew so much about plants and their uses, were ostracised or even killed for their knowledge and practices.
Having perused the jars of herbs presented as museum exhibits, I recognised many herbs that I use today as medicine, flavourings and ingredients. From top left to bottom right: Hawthorn leaves and flowers , gorse flowers (Ulex gallii and Ulex europaeus), elder flowers (Sambucus nigra), yarrow leaves and flowers, dandelion leaves (Taraxacum officinalis) and bell heather flowers (Erica cinerea).
There were several accounts of Cornish witches making confessions of their practices, mostly in the 1600s, which really brought the situation home. So, back to the 21st Century, where foraging is currently 'cool' and in fashion. Where some of us, maybe many of us, wish to keep plant- knowledge alive.
The medicinal plant 'Ling'
I can't remember if the herb Ling, aka Heather, (Calluna vulgaris) was in the museum. Though it would have fitted in well. Calluna is derived from the Greek word kalluno, which means to sweep, as the twigs of heather were often used as brushes and brooms. The broom, of course, was one of the symbols associated with witches. In actual fact, it seems that this association was an easy way to degrade the practices of common, working people, who would be the very people who would sweep and clean.
Ling/Heather was also used as a medicinal herbal tea. Both the leaves and flowers can be seeped in freshly boiled water for 10 minutes and has been used in European folklore for hundreds of years. It's qualities as tea are also for cleansing, in particular the bladder and other gastrointestinal issues. The active ingredients of quercetin are excellent at treating urinary and kidney infections by flushing out toxins and infections from the system. Heather tea may also be beneficial for inflammatory diseases like arthritis, or muscular pains.
It is always advised to consult with a medical herbalist when treating a health condition, as heather tea should not be used for long-term use. However, occasional or short-term use as part of a body cleanse could be appropriate if supervised by such a professional.
What is Ling?
Ling is a moorland plant that flowers between July and September. It can be found across Europe and North America.
A cup of Ling tea
Use a tablespoon of ling leaves and flowers per cup and sip before bed when you need to sleep, or for health conditions (see notes above). It has a delicate flavour and can be used as a version of moorland tea.
Mug by Devon potter Mary Cutchee, references: Food for Free (Richard Mabey) and The Illustrated Book of Herbs their Medicinal and Culinary Uses (Jiri Stodola and Jan Volak).