The Physicians of Myddfai;


The Welsh Orchard near Maes y Felin includes a selection of plants grown by the Physicians of Myddfai; 12th century (and onwards) herbalists who were known all over Europe. We know a lot of what they believed and prescribed because, unusually for the time, their teachings were well-documented. The plants they used, with a few exceptions, will be familiar to us – many regarded as 'weeds'.

There is a very common little weed growing all round Wenvoe at the moment with blue flowers known as Ground Ivy and this was first recorded for medical use by the Myddfai practitioners. A fresh herb tea of the plant with honey is naturally rich in Vitamin C and it was found useful in dealing with coughs. The leaves could be turned into snuff which helped with asthma and also headaches and hangovers. The Celts treated moderate burns with an ointment using the stems and it was thought to relieve snake bites. The Celts also used it for many other conditions including indigestion, eye problems and ringing in the ears.

It was an important herb in magic and folklore but a very practical use was for dyeing fabrics, the fruit producing a dye that is grey and sage green, the leaves a creamy yellow colour and boiling a dark navy stain. And if this has still not whetted your appetite a common name for the plant was Ale hoof because it was used for flavouring beer before hops became the standard. It is still used occasionally by micro-breweries and is described as giving the beer a taste of 'slightly nettle with a minty edge'.

Whilst it is never advisable to attempt medical treatments using herbs without consulting an expert, it is interesting to note the current curiosity about some of the old remedies. An old German proverb states 'The garden is the poor man's apothecary'.