Gerard’s Herbal at TobyFest, Powderham Castle

Hilda Leyel, founder of the Herb Society
You may recently have read our post about John Gerard’s Herbal.  We were really fortunate to have an original copy in our care to display at the Toby Buckland Garden Festival in early May.  Dating from 1636, it belongs to the Herb Society  and is shortly to be loaned to the Garden Museum in London for their new displays.  It came to the Society through the library of Hilda Leyel, its founder. 
Toby Buckland, President of the Herb Society
Toby Buckland is the new president of the Herb Society and he was keen to show the Herbal and to talk about some of the fascinating facts Gerard records.  Gerard not only spoke about the herbs native to this country, but also plants collected abroad.  He refers to the aubergine as about the size of a goose egg, in fact the original aubergines were smaller than today’s and white.  This is said to be where we get the alternative name of ‘eggplant’ from.  Gerard stated that tomatoes were eaten in Spain and Italy, but that they were in fact bad for you and ‘rank and stinking’.  This may be because they were originally linked to the mandrake from the nightshade family and therefore thought to be poisonous.
Gerard's Herbal
We had the Herbal open on the page about pennyroyal, where we also had both the dried and fresh plant.  Pennyroyal is from the mint family and would have been put between the pages of a book to stop insects from eating the ink.  The fresh herb today can be used for rubbing around areas where you have an ant problem to deter the little blighters from entering.  On a more sinister note, pennyroyal, also known as pudding grass, was long known as an herb which would bring about abortions.
The Herb Society stand interpreted the different uses of herbs as described in Gerard; for medicine, strewing, cooking and for dyes.  There were also a range of Tudor medical instruments to illustrate Gerard’s role as Master of the Barber Surgeons.  There was a display and stand about the Herb Society as we were encouraging people to find out more and join up.  Our stand was in the setting of the library of Powderham Castle which Tom loved as there were a couple of secret doors, just like in Scooby-Doo!  I also got to chat about this fantastic Herbal with Lord Courtenay, the son of the 18th Earl of Devon, surrounded by his family's library! 

The next event we are working on for the Herb Society is our stand at the Tatton Flower Show 22-26 July 2015 on the theme of ‘Thyme for Tea’ focused on herbal infusions.  Hope to see you there!!