Chadds Ford Historical Society

Revisiting History

Tavern Talks Revisit: Colonial Herbal Remedies

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Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to live during a time where germ theory was non-existent and blood letting or using leeches to “remedy” an illness were the norm? Yeah…me either. Most often, the service of healing the sick was left to the housewives and mothers who used a variety of herbs to help with aiding the sick in their treatment of whatever was ailing individuals within their family or community. During our Tavern Talks series, visitors had the opportunity to learn about the powerful healing properties of herbs, flowers, and other plants. Here is a short list of different herbs and how they were used medicinally to treat those suffering from various kinds of illness:

Lemon balm: Digestion.

Sage: Stress/anxiety relief.

Feverfew: Headaches, body aches, and fever (placed on head of individual).

Tansy: Sunburns, cramps, gout, and plague.

CranberriesWounds (mashed and used on the skin directly).

Mint: Skin diseases and indigestion.

Southernwood: Upset stomach.

Morning glory: Laxative (vines only); Backache and broken bones (flowers only).

Calendula: Placed on cuts/sores (Cultivated, dried, ground, and mixed with animal fat).

Comfry: Respiratory issues, fevers, hemorrhoids, ulcers, gangrene (and other skin wounds and sores), broken bones, menstrual problems, and gout  (Used in tea form – both leaves and roots). 

Chickweed: Hoarseness, coughs, and mucus.

Fennel: Indigestion and stomach cramps.

Parsley: Stomach ailments/indigestion and gas pains.

Basil: Used to pull poison from animal bites in the body.

Honeysuckle: Fevers, sore throats, boils and skin sores.

Chamomile: Colds, jaundice, dropsy, body aches.

Rosemary: Painful joints and muscle aches.

ColumbineSore mouths and throat/fast delivery for childbirth.

FlaxRheumatic pains.  (Seed aided in digestion and was used for poultices).


Often, we think of natural remedies as an important step back in time for curing a plethora of ailments. Unfortunately, over time, scientific and medically proven studies have shown our own personal health history, age, pregnancy, and other factors may contribute to a natural remedy being more harmful than helpful. That is why it is so important to ask a doctor when trying any new type of non-prescription medical treatment of an illness. English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper, in the 17th century, still recommended the Comfrey roots, “full of glutinous and clammy juice…for all inward hurts…and for outward wounds and sores in all fleshy or sinewy parts of the body…It is especially good for ruptures and broken bones.”  This could have been used both as a tea (orally) or a poultice (outwardly) for wounds. However, there are studies that were conducted in the 70s which suggest comfrey could be harmful to the liver.

Either way, speaking of herbs and the beneficial properties thereof is something that many modern day individuals have began to take interest in once again. Many individuals, not wanting to partake in conventional synthetic or processed pharmaceuticals, have opted out of the modern equivalents of medication that their natural and plant-based predecessors can provide. Some even choose to use prescription medication in combination with a more holistic approach.

Whatever it is you choose, be sure to carefully discuss your concerns with a doctor. If you are just fascinated with herbs, flowers, and other types of plants for study without actually partaking in their use medicinally, that works also! Its amazing to see what nature can provide for us – even if it smells and looks pretty!


By: Sarah KrykewGuide Specialist


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