In 2015 we wrote a blog post describing the uses for certain plants found on Culloden Battlefield, with particular focus on their medicinal properties; here are four more plants that can be seen at Culloden, along with information detailing what they were used for in the 18th century:
Foxglove (Digitalis Purpurea)
In Gaelic the flowers are called lus nam ban-sith. This translates to ‘fairy woman’s plant’, and is a reference to the legend that the mottled markings on the inner petals are fairies’ fingerprints. Flowering between June and September, foxglove can be found on rough heath-like ground on the battlefield, towards the Jacobite line.
The leaves of foxglove were used to treat dropsy (painful swelling of the body and limbs). These leaves, usually mixed with other herbs, were chopped and taken as a drink. Foxglove contains digoxin, which slows and strengthens the muscles of the heart. It was also used to help treat arthritis and diphtheria; the leaves, mixed with butter and onion, were applied to the joints and the neck respectively.
At Culloden the willow tree grows on areas of wet ground and resembles a large bush. The Gaelic word for willow is Seileach.
The flowering willow’s sap was taken to improve vision. Willow bark contains a derivative of salicylic acid, which once powdered, was mixed with water and taken to relieve pain and reduce fever.
In addition to its medical benefits, willow was also used to tan leather, make baskets, make ropes (out of its saplings) and dye wool; the bark produces a reddish-brown colour, and the leaves produce a yellow colour.
Tormentil (Potentilla Erecta)
These are small yellow flowering plants that grow on damp heathery ground. Their Gaelic name is Braonan Bachlay, which means ‘earth nut’. Tormentil flowers from June to September.
Tormentil was used for a variety of medical problems: to treat sunburn, the entire plant was boiled in water and acted as a cooling lotion; to treat a sore throat, the flowers and shoots were mixed in a drink form and gargled; to treat sore lips and gums, chewing on the root of tormentil was recommended; and the root was also used, dried or fresh, to help with stomach issues, piles and ulcers, as well as other sores.
Tormentil was also used for dying wool (its roots producing a reddish colour) and for tanning leather and making fishing nets. The roots of tormentil took a while to dig up, and so they were only used if there was no tree bark available.
Rowan (Sorbus Aucuparia)
Rowan has a couple of names in Gaelic: Craobh Chaoran, which means ‘berry tree’ and Caorunn, which means ‘wood enchantress’. Rowan trees were strongly believed to ward off evil, with many people carrying a sprig about with them for protection. At Culloden, there is a Rowan tree beside Leanach Cottage.
Rowan bark, applied as a poultice, was used to treat adder bites, and mixed with apples and honey, Rowan berries were used to soothe the throat in cases of wheezing cough.
Outside of medical use, the wood was used to make dwellings (summer sheilings), coffins, sticks for urging on cattle, wheels, barrels and churns, among other things. The berries, fermented, made a juice resembling cider, and, depending on the pot they were boiled in, produced a black or orange dye.
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All the best, The Culloden Team