A POCKET OF SANITY IN TIMES OF PLAGUE.

Or Chelsea Physic Garden and its remedies.

There’s no doubt about it. Chelsea is very much an alien country for this old bird. Walking from the bus on the Kings Road down to the oh so much more elegant part of the Embankment, with no sweaty joggers or aggressive cyclists in sight, automatically calmed me and I knew I was in for a lovely day. Chelsea Physic Garden is where they hold the annual Chelsea Flower Show and I was going there at last.

It was sunny and already hot as I walked along the riverside, I was wearing my favourite flowery skirt that I had made for travelling and was perfect for a day in the gardens! Beautiful houses with gardeners watering plants before the heat of the day and maids busily cleaning and dusting. Nannies coming out with bright well spoken small children and a feeling of order and wonder after feeling depressed in Soho with its constant reminders that we were in the midst of plague.

Now up till now I had been busily trotting off to mainly Hyde Park and having a lovely time but that was getting old. I needed a dose of POSH. I am a chameleon and can happily adapt to any environment so stepping up my snooty nose was no problem, I am an actress after all.

The gardens are walled for the most part and although I entered via the wrong but beautifully secret door in the wall with only a bell button, I was immediately buzzed in to a hallway with a view straight onto the garden. I guiltily noted that there was no entrance fee to be paid in this clearly incorrect portal. As the gardens opened up to me I felt in heaven, the vibrancy and bucolic nature of the place was unique.

Small groups quaffing flutes of Prosecco at eleven in the morning with impunity, made me feel safe and none of the horridness of the plague world outside could touch me. Men in Panama hats and women with there floaty floral dresses discussed which were the best seats with a little shade and if they prefered a little tipple or just start with homemade lemonade. Of course everyone kept their distance but it wasn’t noticeable among these elegant people who knew how to brush unusual etiquette under the carpet and avert there delicate noses from the stench of reality just outside these walls. I was in snob heaven and would spend the whole day in denial HURRAH!

Now I’m an honest person so went immediately to the main entrance to pay, and have an idle gossip before heading to the marquis bar and restaurant. There were fine rotating sprinklers watering the plants gently, and little signs to educate me I swanned along ready for my day. Now you might be surprised but I didn’t have a boozy drink just a strong frappe. You see as a solo traveller you are aware of your limits. I was only a bus ride from home but in these times I didn’t want to be half cut on the return journey.

Not a mobile phone was witnessed in this haven. The small number of children were being taught about plants and flowers, the pond life and if Mummy was going to have just the one more glass…..

Some of the info gleaned from the Gardens for your perusal.

Herbal remedies
Eighty percent of the world’s population relies mainly on Herbal medicine as their source of primary health care bet it as deep, easily accessible and traditional
Plants have been used to treat illnesses since ancient times. Whether through observation of animal cating habits or human instinct, people were led to the use of healing herbs. Herbal remedies were included in prehistoric shamanism. This knowledge of plants was amassed and passed on orally through generations.
Eventually these remembered remedies became known as folk medicine.
Although leaves are often used, any part of a medicinal plant may form the basis of a treatment. Some plants contain useful chemicals in their roots, others in their fruits. A plant with useful chemicals in one part of its Anatomy may contain poisons in another.
Among plants used as herbal remedies, a high proportion are found in the families Apocynaceae (periwinkle),

Periwinkle.

The first herbal
Perhaps the most influential historical document pertaining to medicinal plants, was created by the Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides (c.40-90CE).
Dioscorides served with the Roman Army of Emperor Nero. During his travels he studied diseases and collated information on all known medicinal plants. He compiled his studies into a five-volume encyclopedia – De Materia Medica.
Dioscorides recorded more than 600 plants, classified according to their properties. In addition to the medicinal uses of plants, he described botanical characteristics, habitat, preparation and side effects.
Also noted were effective herbal concoctions and warnings regarding potential toxicity.
Many of the plants described by Dioscorides were new to Greek and Roman physicians. De Materia Medica was the prototype herbal – a book describing medicinal plants. It remained the authority on herbal medicine across Europe and the Middle East, until the 17th century.

Herb garden.

Perfumery
Using plants to create pleasant scents dates back millenia.
Perfumery is a major industry today, with technology allowing the extraction of ever more obscure scents.
Apart from incense, the earliest perfumes often took the form of oils containing crushed aromatic flowers. It was not until the 11th century that Persian polymath Ibn Sina invented the process of distillation to produce the first aromatic essential oils. His system forms the basis of today’s perfumery industry.
The high price of perfume is due to the costly and often complex processes involved in extracting oils from plants.
Even today flowers are often harvested by hand. Your body weight in rose petals would only yield up to 6 grams of essential oil! Many extraction methods can cause aromatic compounds to be lost or damaged. This makes producing perfectly captured scents a long and complicated process.
And to make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, something altogether pure and holy…..just sayin!!!

A view of the very old greenhouses and the beautiful homes behind.

Officinalis plants
The word officinalis is the species name of some medicine
plants. It means from the monastic storeroom officina or in today’s language – ‘relating to drugs from a pharmacy.
In medieval Europe, monasteries cared for the sick.
Not only did they look after their own patients, but also the poor who came to seek their help. The monks and nuns predominantly used herbs for their treatments – often cultivated in the monastery garden.
The officina was the building whee medicinal plants were stored. It also served as a preparation area for decoctions, extracts and tinctures. Around the year 1100, the first officina (later known as pharmacies) became established within the monasteries. By the 13th century these pharmacies had spread to cities such as Florence and Venice. In the 16th century private pharmacies began to emerge as businesses.
When the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus created his own system for naming plants, he chose the word officinalis as the species name for plants with strong medicinal properties. Over time officinalis cam to denote plants with a long history of medicinal usage.

Paradise lost….

All good things come to an end. After wandering around with just the occasional remarks of passers by and sitting for reflection on some of the many benches there I realized I would have to leave at some point. Exiting through my secret door in the wall, I gradually had to return to the realities of now. The first sign being a small chapel with a socially distanced queue outside, then the Kings Road and masks again, then the near empty bus and finally Soho, bereft of the usual theatre goers having their pre theatre dinners and the pubs without the gaggles of happy people having their after work pints. Also missing, an air of normality that had be oh so present in Chelsea. It was a heavy heart I returned home the memories of that day dissolving step by step.

OVER AND OUT FROM POSH TOTTIE REBECCA

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5 comments

      1. We’re good. Enjoying our backyard in the Canadain Rockies! I’m not as good as posting or reading posts in the summer either. Even in a Covid summer 😊

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