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Herbariums are notebooks or journals filled with pressed plants and preserved floral specimens used for study. Not only are they informative and fun to create, but they also make beautiful keepsakes as well. 

To begin, go for a nature walk and notice the wildflowers blooming in fields, pastures, and even on embankments and on the side of the road. For more intense study, go for hikes and strolls in forests to forage for flora.

“It would be such a treasure to you; ‘most all the girls are making one.”

 –Emily Dickinson in 1845 (to her friend, Abiah, at 14 years old)

Useful Guides

Emily Dickinson’s extensive herbarium was finally published in 2006 and is a leading example of this kind of notebook. It is, in fact, an artifact, educational resource and perfect book for any flower lover.

John Gerard was a 16th-century English herbalist who published a herbarium entitled “The Herbal” (or “General History of Plants,” 1597) that surpassed 1,400 pages! This is a wonderful reference for anyone thinking of creating their own herbarium.

For more information on healing herbs and flowers, their associated meanings, and more, Richard Cavendish’s “Man, Myth and Magic: An Encyclopedia of the Supernatural” (1970) cannot be beat. If you’re looking for homeopathic plants to discover for your herbarium, look no further. Here are some of our favorite herbs with special connotations and uses:

Healing Herbs and Fun Facts

  • Euphrasia, or eyebright, was used by the Archangel Michael in John Milton’s epic poem, “Paradise Lost,” to anoint his eyes.
  • Blackberries were once thought to be a holy plant and were called “blessed bramble.” Today we think of them as wonderful ingredients for jams and preserves.
  • Snakeweed or “broomweed” is used as a balm for headaches (by Native Americans) and wounds such as insect bites, etc.
  • Pink-flowered centaury herb, or “Centaurium erythraea,” has been used to improve appetite and as a treatment for diabetes.
  • Betony: the original herb of magic, mentioned by the ancient Greek physician, Dioscorides, is known for its beautiful tiny purple blossoms. A member of the mint family, betony is used in tea to regulate digestion and as a calming agent to soothe stress and anxiety.
  • Sweet basil: basil leaves placed on a dead Hindu’s body assured the deceased would reach paradise. This herb was sacred to Vishnu and Krishna, while Bush basil was used as a love token in Moldovia and Italy.

  • Heather is one of the most beautiful flowers that flourish on moors and fields (and was made infamous by Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights”).
  • Blue Chicory flowers grow wild and have been used, in folklore, for sight and eye health. While there’s really no evidence that this is effective, blue chicory will turn white if placed in water, and is edible, too.
  • The common nettle or stinging nettle is known for its many medicinal uses. Many brew nettle tea to help improve kidney function.
  • Mandrake is especially magical because the root looks like a human figure, has anodyne (or painkilling) qualities and, if one takes a lot, can make them mad. 
  • Deadly nightshade was, once upon a time, eaten by those who wanted to tell the future (but it is poisonous).
  • Laurel is the plant of Greek oracles because it can cause frenzy if chewed or even if its smoke is inhaled. 
  • The lotus blossom is the eternal life symbol. In Greek legend, the “Lotus Eaters” lived happily because the flowers, when eaten, brought on forgetfulness. The fruit is edible, and the plant can be used to make bread. In Yoga, the chakras of alignment are represented as lotus blossoms, so it’s no wonder that the lotus flower is a symbol of eloquence. Many believe that the leaves of a lotus symbolize recantation.

  • Hazel was sacred to the god Thor.
  • Cinquefoil (“Potentilla”) is lucky because of its five leaves and has also been called “Five fingers.” Used as a talisman, it is said to ward off evil spirits when hung in doorways.
  • Ivy was the sacred plant of Bacchus, the god of wine (which is ironic because it was thought to reduce drunkenness).
  • St. John’s wort has been used for fertility and in love spells. If a childless woman picked a blossom from her garden while naked, it was thought that she would give birth before the next midsummer. If a flower was picked before the dawn of St. John’s Eve (June 23rd) and put beneath a girl’s pillow, she would marry the man of her dreams. The plant is still used to this very day as an antidepressant. 
  • Fennel, when used to plug a keyhole, was said to ward off ghosts. Of course, today, we think of fennel as a healthy, nutritious plant with culinary uses.
  • White bryony is a cure for bruises (like arnica) and has been used to treat coughs and flu.
  • Bitter aloe is used for spiritual cleansing.

To learn more about your favorite flowers, check out Chelsea Flowers on the web and read the blog

(The images of pressed plants in this blog are sourced from Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium).

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