Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food – Hippocrates.
What we eat is the most important way to prevent disease, so nutrition should be regarded as the most important way of maintaining good health. Herbs and fruit don’t cost much to buy but their many health-giving properties are often overlooked by modern medicine. Although I trained as a medical doctor, for many years I’ve also been interested in the medicinal properties of herbs, plants and flowers. A year or two back, I met Lady Susan Bacon and Jekka McVicar and together we conceived the idea of “A Modern Apothecary Garden” as a doctor, artist and herb grower and expert. Together we decided which plants and herbs should be included in our garden.
We have been sponsored by St John’s Hospice, an independent charity, which provides palliative care to terminally ill patients and their families. The charity asked us to design a show garden that was soothing and reflective but also inspiring and challenging, reflecting the healing properties of plants and trees. The garden will have “Wellness’ at its heart, to highlight the vital relationship between medicine and nature. It will be an oasis of calm away from the city’s noise and also offer a friendly habitat for birds and bees and other local wildlife. We chose plants, herbs and grasses for their healing properties, colour, form, leaf texture and scent and also uses stone, timber and water.
Grown at Jekka’s Herb Farm, the garden will feature research-based plants known to be beneficial to encouraging well-being. The outer part of her garden will be given over to native herbs and grasses and enclosed by apple trees, yews and hawthorn. She aims to show people that herbs don’t just taste good, but they can offer health benefits too. Her garden will feature Rosemary which has been proven to be good for memory and stroke-prevention, and vitamin-C rich parsley which helps support the immune system and aids wound healing; St John’s Wort (helps counter-act depression) and thyme (helps prevent nightmares).
Jekka has included parsley, rosemary, foxgloves, marigolds and purple sage in the garden: Parsley is the old-fashioned remedy for bad breath. Purple sage is advocated for the menopause and marigold cream can be prescribed for breast-feeding mothers with painful cracked nipples. Linseed is a wonderful cure for constipation. Research is currently ongoing into rosemary’s ability to improve memory. For hundreds of years Foxgloves have been used by conventional physicians to treat atrial fibrillation (a regularity of the heart) and resulting heart failure. Willow is used for aspirin. Beetroot has strong antioxidant properties and alongside other coloured root vegetables, it may help a role in helping to prevent cancer and infections.
I have personally researched the effectiveness of St John’s Wort for treating tiredness and found that it helped many patients even if they weren’t depressed. There is a strong evidence base that for its effectiveness in mild to moderate depression. Mint is well recognised as a treatment for stomach cramps, while lemon balm is also useful for sleep problems. This can be picked straight from the garden and the fresh tea can be used as a sleeping draught. Feverfew is useful for headaches.
Blueberries (not included in the Chelsea Flower Show Garden) are packed with antioxidants and can help fight infection and ease long-term coughs and urinary tract infections.
All our food was called ‘pot-herb’ before the word vegetable came in. The Zulus still use herbs as food and medicine – the same way we were using herbs in England 500 years ago. Use herbs to flavour your food instead of salt and you can reduce your blood pressure, lessening your risk of heart attacks.
Jekka, who has done the lion share of work for our garden has been planning it for well over a year and began growing some of the plants four years ago.
Food. The Forgotton Medicine The Royal Society of Medicine – Thursday 9th June
Photos from RHS
Since 2010, he has been Chair of the Council of the College of Medicine, which is a multiprofessional College supporting and celebrating innovative approaches to health and care. He is Visiting Professor at University College and at Westminster University, Honorary Senior Fellow in Public Policy at HMSC Birmingham and Honorary Senior Lecturer at the Peninsula Medical School.