A Statement of Purpose

Since 2012 I have been responsible for
the garden at the Pry House Field Hospital Museum on Antietam National Battlefield. The Pry House garden began as a 19th century style medicinal and kitchen garden, including medicinal plants, herbs, and vegetables. As close as possible, these plants mirrored those available to the Pry Family in the 1860s, meaning heirloom varieties. Since then, the garden has transformed to focus exclusively on medicinal plants, becoming an exhibit of the flora that was employed by military and civilian caregivers in the Civil War Era.

I am strictly an amateur, with no real experience in growing a garden. The purpose of this blog is to document my experiences as I learn by doing. It is anything but authoritative and I welcome any comments and advice for a greenhorn. Please be kind!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sesqucentennial: Medicinal Plants on Monocacy National Battlefield for the 150th Anniversary

Last week, on Wednesday, July 9th it was the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Monocacy. Many people may never have heard of the battle, but that small, bloody fight outside of Frederick, Maryland is credited as "the battle that saved Washington" from capture by the Confederate Army.

I had the day off and spent my time on the battlefield taking part in the National Park Service's four real-time hikes, led by the park's excellent interpretive rangers. We negotiated heat, humidity, and torrential thunderstorms, but the day was a great success with high attendance.

While I was hiking around all day, I realized I was surrounded by a number of plants that people used as medicines during the Civil War. I thought I would take pictures of a few of them and share them on here!

The first think I noticed were the Queen Anne's Lace and Chicory growing along Araby Church Road.

The hill in the distance formed the right flank of Gen. James Ricketts's Union line. As the line there collapsed under pressure from Gen. William Terry's Virginia it prompted the inevitable retreat of Gen. Lew Wallace's small, outnumbered Union force.

Queen Anne's Lace, also called Carrot Flower for the plant's foliage that resembles a carrot plant, grows on roadsides and open places. It seems to be everywhere this time of year. Likewise, Chicory is seen blooming in abundance anywhere you turn right now. Both were used in 19th century folk medicine.

Carrot Flower, Daucus carota, is native to Europe, but introduced to America centuries ago. A long enough look will suggest it was used for nearly every medicinal purpose imaginable, but American folk medicine made use of it as contraception and an abortificant, help with menstrual problems, a diuretic to purge the urinary system, and cure for indigestion.

Common Chicory, Cichorium intybus, is also native to Europe but long since naturalized in the U.S. It has likewise seen myriad medical applications. It appears to be an effective anthelmintic, expelling intestinal worms and other parasites. It was also commonly used to treat problems of the liver and gall bladder including gall stones and jaundice.

Later, as I took a walk on the Gambrill Mill Trail I noticed a couple more more medicinal plants along the way. The building was used as the main Union field hospital during the Battle of Monocacy. Unfortunately the location did come under indirect Confederate artillery fire during the battle.

Gambrill Mill
In the mill race and all along the trail are growing one of my favorite medicinal plants, Jewelweed. Both Orange and Yellow Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis and Impatiens pallida are native to Maryland and flourish in moist, shady areas like the Gambrill Trail. They have traditionally been used to relieve skin irritations caused by poison ivy, bug bites, and stinging nettles, with the juice being applied topically, sometimes in a poultice.
Jewelweed in the mill race
Someone else's better picture of Jewelweed

Also near the mill are two handsome Sweet Gum trees. Liquidambar styraciflua is a native American tree; it's the culprit behind those "spiky ball" seed pods in the fall. According to Dr. Francis Porcher, writing in 1863, the tree's resin was traditionally used to treat scabies, a tortuously itchy and contagious skin infection caused by mites. He also claims that Native Americans used it to reduce fevers and promote healing in wounds.

In a beautiful park like Monocacy National Battlefield there are certainly a plethora of traditional medicinal plants abounding. These are just a few examples that I stumbled on without really even looking.

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