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Herbs in modern medicine – Nuffield summer placement

By 19 August 2015January 25th, 2021No Comments

This summer the museum has hosted two Nuffield Science Research Placements – below you can read more about Beth and Arran’s research during their time with us.

Arran: “For my Nuffield Research Placement I was placed at the Weald and Dowland Open Air Museum at Singleton with the task of researching herbal remedies that were used in the past.

We were given access to a multitude of sources of information, including books, articles, and correspondences with people associated with the museum, such as Dr Alison Cottell and Dr Barbara Engel of the University of Surrey, Christina Stapley, BSc, an experienced medical herbalist, and Sue Skelt, a former secondary school teacher who helped to give us direction in our projects and report writing.

Based on the information I acquired within the first few days of the project, I chose to make garlic the focus of my project, as it is held in high regard in herbalist literature, its medicinal properties have been extensively researched by scientists, and the fact that garlic is such a popular yet infamous culinary flavouring made the prospect of delving into the uses of garlic that may have been forgotten by the general public an interesting prospect for me.

Since then, I have found that garlic has multiple medicinal properties, from acting as an resistance-evasive antibacterial agent that has the ability to kill superbugs to slowing the development of cardiovascular disease. It seems that garlic can arm us against almost all of the most serious modern medical concerns.

On the other hand, I found that the scientific community has yet to make sense of the origin of these medical benefits, so it is unlikely that we can use garlic to its full potential at the present moment.

The aim of my project was to find and explain the use of garlic in history in chemical detail, and although the finished product is far from complete in terms of this aim, it summarises the aspects of garlic as a medicinal herb that I found most interesting while doing my project.”

Beth: “On the 23 July, I was fortunate enough to start my Nuffield research placement here at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum. I have spent four weeks at the museum researching herbal medicines and their historic uses, particularly focusing on how these herbs have evolved into today’s medicines.

I took my time to focus my research on herbal medicines used to treat mental illness, as I was fascinated to learn how common folk knew how to use these herbs to treat illnesses such as depression and anxiety. This drew my attention into our modern day uses for these herbs as a treatment for depression, and a new discovery in the treatment for demen.

Bayleaf farmouse has a recreation of a 16th century garden; it was here I discovered St John’s Wort. The Tudors famously used this herb to treat sword wounds because of its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, but it was not always used to treat physical conditions.

They also discovered that St John’s Wort was effective in the treatment of insomnia, anxiety and depression. The curiosity surrounding this herb has been reflected in modern herbalism, and many scientific studies have confirmed the benefits of using St John Wort to treat depression.

Another medicinal herb grown in the Museum that I have focused my research on is rosemary. Famously known for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties; rosemary was used in folk medicine to ward off plague bacteria in the 16th century and was used to treat rheumatic pain.

It has now been discovered that rosemary can prevent damage to neurones in the brain, and is used as an essential oil in aromatherapy; a leading treatment in dementia that has shown promising results.”

We have very much enjoyed having both students with us at the Museum and wish them both well in their further studies.

We would like to thank Dr. Alison Cottell, Dr. Barbara Engel, Christina Stapley, Sue Skelt and Henry Rowsell, as well as other members of the museum team for helping the students during their project.