Battlefield Plants and their Uses

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.

Willow (Salix)

Willow Tree By Jdforrester

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)

Tormentil by Anne Burgess

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 Tree by Eeno11

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.

We hope you enjoyed this post. As always please like, comment, tweet and share.

All the best, The Culloden Team


Scurvy, Vaccination and Hospitals

As this week saw the celebration of International Nurses day, on 12th May, this weeks blog takes a look at some medical history. During the 18th Century there were many innovations in medicine and many hospitals were founded. To start off with today we look at scurvy.

In 1747 a Scottish surgeon, James Lind, conducted one of the first controlled clinical trials in medical history on board the HMS Salisbury. Here he concluded that citrus juice was a more effective treatment for scurvy than five other standard treatments, from seawater to laxatives. While there was nothing new about Linds discovery – the benefits of lime juice had been known for centuries – Lind managed to establish the superiority of citrus fruits above all other remedies. Lind published his finding in 1753 in ‘A Treatise on the Scurvy’ but his evidence was largely ignored during his lifetime; indeed it was not until more than 40 years later that an official Admiralty order was issued on the supply of lemon juice to ships. With this, scurvy disappeared almost completely from the Royal Navy.

Citrus fruits perfect for treating Scurvy


Meanwhile in 1796 a man named Edward Jenner realised that milkmaids who caught cowpox were immune to smallpox and invented the modern form of vaccination, though no one really knew then exactly how the process worked. Patients were cut and then matter from a cowpox pustule was introduced and this allowed the patient to gain immunity to smallpox. Up until the introduction of vaccination the main way of combatting smallpox was inoculation. This involved provoking a mild form of the disease which would then provide lifelong immunity for the person.  Inoculation was likely practiced in Africa, India, and China long before the 18th century, when it was introduced to Europe. Jenner’s vaccination system however, was safer and more effective than inoculation and was made compulsory in 1893. This early form of vaccination eventually led to smallpox’s eradication in 1979 and thus smallpox is no longer part of the standard vaccinations we receive today.

Modern day Smallpox vaccine


As we said earlier there were also many hospitals founded during the 18th Century, included Guy’s hospital in 1724.Guy’s hospital was founded with a bequest from a merchant named Thomas Guy who had been successful on the Stock Market during the `South Sea Bubble’ Crash of 1720. Guy invested much of his new wealth into the hospital, which he began building in 1721. Unfortunately, three years later (at the age of 80), Thomas Guy died before the first patients were admitted. Guy’s Hospital eventually opened in 1726 with 100 beds and a staff of 51.

M0003348 Guy's Hospital, Southwark: an aerial view, with smaller scen
Guy’s Hospital

Also founded in the 18th Century was Middlesex hospital in 1745. Founded by twenty benefactors, it consisted of 15 beds in two houses, Nos. 8-10 Windmill Street. In 1747, it was the first hospital in England to provide ‘lying-in’ beds for pregnant women and a sign was placed at the end of the street stating ‘The Middlesex Hospital for Sick and Lame and Lying-In Married Women’. There were also hospitals founded in Bristol in 1733, York in 1740, Exeter in 1741 and Liverpool in 1745 making the 18th Century a very popular time for hospitals and medicine.

We hope you enjoyed this look into 18th Century medicine and as always please like, share, comment, tweet and we’ll keep hunting down more interesting stories to share with you.

All the best, K & D








Anaesthetic and Amputation

7th April is World Health Day, so it seemed right to do a blog looking at medicine during the 18th Century.

Unsurprisingly medicine was slightly simpler in the 18th Century and yet many of the base practices are still done today. One of the big differences though was the lack of anaesthetic, which wasn’t developed until the 19th Century. In the 18th Century you would have been given alcohol or, if you could pay for it, sometimes opium. One invention that did help in 1746 though was the screw tourniquet. This was said to be one of the biggest advances in medical science at the time and was designed to stop the flow of blood ready for amputation. Before this invention getting enough pressure to stop the patient bleeding out was a significant problem and led to many unnecessary deaths.

Screw Tourniquet

Amputation, rather unsurprisingly, required a saw for the bone but to cut through the skin and muscle first you would use a curved amputation knife. The curved nature of the blade would allow all the skin and muscle to be cut through in one clean action. These curved knives were used until the 1800’s when new techniques made the straight knife more useful. Following amputation you would then pull out the viens and arteries to be tied off. For this you used a tenaculum. Tying off the arteries was common practice since roughly the 17th Century and is still done today, though not with catgut for string.

Curved Amputation Knife

Amputation is a little extreme for most illnesses but a common technique used for a variety of ailments was bloodletting. If a doctor was unsure what was wrong it was common for them to let some blood. By doing so the thought was that they would get rid of the bad blood and solve the problem.  To do this they used a fleam or bleeding knife. It is said it was not unheard of for doctors to bleed up to a quart of blood over a 24 hour period. The fleam was actually used on farms until about the 1950s for the same reason; bleed animals to improve their general health.

Fleam or Bleeding Knife

Another tool used in the 18th Century which might look familiar was cupping glasses. These were either heated around the rim or burning lint was inserted to create a vacuum and then they would be placed on the skin to raise a blister. In the 1700’s they were used to relieve bile problems and were widely used in cases of insanity; even King George III was treated with cupping glasses. Nowadays cupping is a popular alternative therapy and is believed to help the flow of blood and relax the body and mind.

18th Century Cupping Glass

We hope this has given you a little insight into 18th Century medicine. As always please, like, share, comment, tweet and be thankful we have anaesthetic.

All the best, K & D



Medicine in the 18th Century

There is so much more to Culloden Battlefield than just the history of the Jacobites and we love the fact that we get to also look at conservation, archaeology, geology and the ecology of the land. One topic which has seen a growing interest lately at the centre is that of the plants and flowers which are found on the battlefield (possibly due to their prominence in the Outlander series) and their uses in the 17th Century.

Hence we thought we’d take this opportunity to talk a little bit about some of the plants found on the battlefield and their important uses in terms of both medicine and everday use.

Firstly, the plant Comfrey. The roots of this plant are not too dissimilar to a parsnip and would be available all year round. The roots were beaten to a pulp and mixed with presumably wool and used to knit bones in a similar way to a plaster cast. They were also boiled in wine to help bruises or ulcers.

Comfrey Root

Borage was used to expel pensiveness and melancholy. It would have been used only in fresh form and the juice, which apparently smells like cucumber, was made into a syrup in order to open and cleanse wounds. The roots and leaves were also used for fever and it is said they were good at defending the heart from poisons.


Yarrow leaves were packed into the wound to help stop the bleeding and indeed its Gaelic names include ‘Lus chasgadh ne fada’ or ‘the plant which staunches bleeding. A poultice made from Yarrow and Toadflax could also be used to help induce sleep and ease pain.

Yarrow Leaves

Creeping Jenny or Moneywort was used to stay any bleeding. The leaves were available most of the year and encouraged the quick healing of wounds.

creeping jenny
Creeping Jenny

Bugle was made into a syrup which was carried year round by many people as a general tonic. During battle it was apparently very effective at treating stab wounds and after battle gangrene could be cured by laying bruised leaves on the wound and the washing the area with the juice of the plant.


These are just a few examples of plants that would have been used during the time of Culloden and focuses mainly on those that would have been helpful in a battle environment. However, many more plants were used for more general ailments such as honeysuckle for sore throats, nettles for easing shortness of breath, dandelion for helping sleep in those with fever and juniper for strengthening the brain.

I hope you enjoyed this post. As always please comment, like, tweet, follow and share any of your medical tips with us here at Culloden.

All the best. K & D