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The Recuperative Power of Plants

by Barbara Payne(more info)

listed in aromatherapy, originally published in issue 144 - February 2008

In 1980 the Kingston Upon Hull tidal barrier was built. It has kept Hull flood free, since that time. Unfortunately, last year we were looking in the wrong direction; the water came from the sky and the tidal barrier does not deal with rainfall! On 25 June 2007, one month’s worth of rain fell in a single day and 13,000 homes and gardens were devastated – allegedly, partly due to new pumps not working properly and partly to lack of maintenance of the drains.

One would think that by now, early 2008, things would be back to normal, and in some households it is, but work will continue for at least another year in some houses and especially in the gardens. The Aromatherapy Fragrance Garden is no exception. Many of the plants not in pots died because of the deep standing water. Plants from Mediterranean climes do not like wet feet. Of the many different types of lavender in the garden, only one, the pink Lavandular rosea remains because it was in a high pot. None of the basils survived and the white, pink and dark-blue Rosemarys were destroyed too.

On the other hand, the Eupatorium cannabinum, (Hemp agrimony), had a spurt of growth and grew to almost eight feet, and the Mentha suaveolens, (apple mint), grew to six feet, both swamping the summerhouse, and so these had to be cut back hard, but I waited until the butterflies were finished, because butterflies and many other pollinating insects love the rich source of nectar in the flowers of these herbs. 

Some plants are described as ‘hardy’ and ‘perennial’, but even so, the tenacity of some of the very small plants that I thought were lost has been amazing, when one considers how long they were under water. The primroses (Primula vulgaris) and cowslips (Primula veris), have nearly all recovered. The fragrance from these is similar to wall flowers but more delicate. They were used to relieve bronchitis and catarrhal congestion. In A Modern Herbal,[1] Mrs M Grieves says, 

“In the early days of medicine Primrose was considered an important remedy in muscular rheumatism…”

As regards the ailments of bygone days, pulmonary and muscular problems were two of the most common.

The climbing plants have surprisingly thrived, such as several of the clematis and the passion flower, (Passiflora), of which there are approximately 400 species. In his book, The Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants,[2] Andrew Chevallier says of Passiflora, “The herb has valuable sedative and tranquilizing properties and has a long use as a medicine in Central and North American herbal traditions, being taken in Mexico for insomnia, epilepsy and hysteria”.

The new plans for the garden are exciting, because there is an opportunity to change things around whilst there are so many empty spaces. As many fragrant plants as possible will be used and will include herbs once again. It is tempting to use more tall pots because numerous herbs have delicious aromas but are too low to appreciate. Elevating some will bring the scents nearer to where they can be appreciated.

Help has come from an unexpected quarter and that is an award I received from the International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists, (IFPA). At the IFPA conference in Sheffield on 6 October 2007 I was honoured to accept The Retiring Chair’s Award for services to aromatherapy education. The award was £100 and will be used as the planting fund to replace some of the beautiful herbs and flowering shrubs that were lost. This has been a learning curve for everyone here, and has made me appreciate how fortunate we are when life ticks over day by day with not much happening!

About this time of year my kitchen usually has brown bags of drying herbs hanging upside down from various places across the beams and on the dresser, but at present we have none, because even though some of the herbs did grow, my concern was the content of contaminates in the water which flooded and fed them. We miss the usual wholesome smell of dried herbs, but since the flood we have made the most of burners and essential oils, utilizing herbal scents such as thyme, (Thymus vulgaris), spearmint, (Mentha spicata), rosemary, (Rosmarinus officinalis) and lavender, (Lavandular angustifolia). The antiseptic essential oils have eradicated the smell of mould with their clean, sharp, refreshing aromas and they have been drawn on for all cleaning up purposes. 

There are still floors and a wall to be replaced, but I am sure the house and garden will be better than ever when the work is completed, and once again the Aromatherapy Fragrance Garden will flourish. If you have been flooded, take heart, because many of the plants you think you have lost may be popping up very soon. It has been fascinating to see the wonderful recuperative power of some of the plants, and certainly you too will not be disappointed.


1.    Grieve M Mrs. FRHS. A Modern Herbal. Tiger Books International. London. ISBN 1-85501-249-9. 1994.
2.    Chevallier A. MNIMH. The Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants. Dorling Kindersley. London. ISBN 9-780751-303148.


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About Barbara Payne

Barbara Payne taught clinical aromatherapy in various hospitals in the North of England, for School of Health, University of Hull, and was principal of an IFA and IFPA accredited college of clinical aromatherapy, for many years. She served as an inspector and examiner and was Chair of Education for the ISPA, (now IFPA). Barbara had regular interviews with BBC radio and appeared on national television occasionally and lectured annually for the RHS. Having contributed to Positive Health over many years, Barbara has now decided to retire from her PH Expert Regular Column after Issue 154 in Jan 2009. She can be reached on Tel: 01482 835358;


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