Harvesting Wild Medicine in Handsworth Park by Eleanor Hoad

My name is Eleanor Hoad and I run the community garden in Handsworth Park in partnership with the Friends of Handsworth Park.  Since 2018 I have led weekly sessions for women in the garden with Saheli Hub as part of their Social Prescribing Programme. Sessions run on Wednesdays 9.30-11am. The women learn about growing vegetables, fruit and herbs and we care for our wildflower meadow.

When I was first asked to run sessions with Saheli in the garden it was late autumn; cold, grey and not the most ideal time of year for gardening. However my first intrepid women braved the cold conditions to help rake and sow our wildflower meadow. The meadow is the wildest area of the garden, left mostly for nature to take its course, providing a wildlife corridor at the end of the garden, a haven for bees, insects and birds and a home for our compost heap.

As the number of women taking part in the sessions grew and the weather got colder, the activities I offered grew. Alongside gardening, I added “natures crafts”;  making with natural materials, following the cycles of the seasons and connecting to the natural world around us.

As we began to get to know each other better, the women started to talk about their health, so I started to include sessions exploring herbal medicine. Simple remedies for everyday health complaints that have been used by families for generations.  

This bountiful community garden seems to grow the plants we need without us always having to put in a lot of hard work. The garden grows the best patch of Plantain I’ve ever seen. Not that starchy banana loved in Jamaican cooking, but Ribwort Plantain, one of our native herbs, often called “just a weed” and removed by gardeners or herbicides.

Plantain is in fact a very powerful and safe medicine. It was one of the 7 sacred herbs revered by our Northern European ancestors. Famed as an anti-histamine, it can be used mixed with nettle and elderflower and drunk as a tea to prevent hayfever. It is effective against bites and stings and for drawing out splinters, so a very useful ally to have in the garden. It’s also anti-viral and anti-bacterial and particularly useful for dry coughs and sinusitis.

Several women spoke about problems with eczema in their families and as a sufferer myself  I knew that Plantain oil can be very soothing and healing for this infuriating condition, so we set to work, harvesting the freshest green leaves. I showed the group how to make a simple infused oil. The leaves are chopped up, put into a clean jar and covered in oil. We used olive oil but sunflower or almond oil are also suitable. The jar is left on a sunny windowsill and shaken regularly for about a month. Once the leaves are strained out, the result is a beautiful bright green oil that can be applied directly to the affected area or used to make a soothing cream.

I found it particularly rewarding to see the women sharing their new medicine making skills with other visitors to the garden. They made up batches of the oil themselves, for their grandchildren, passing on the recipes and reviving forgotten knowledge for use in our community. Plantain helped us to spread the word about its healing properties, as the weed continues to spreads further out from the meadow and into the path…

To sign up to take part in the sessions contact (insert details)

Tags: handsworth, handsworth park, herbal medicine, empowering women, sahelihub