Herbal Travels: The Chelsea Physic Garden of London

| 1/25/2011 10:53:24 AM

Tags: Lemon Verbena Lady, Nancy Heraud, London, England, Historic Gardens, Chelsea Physic Garden, Sir Hans Sloane, Travel, Herbal Travels, Botanical Gardens,

n.heraud2You can check out the Lemon Verbena Lady at her blog http://lemonverbenalady.blogspot.com.

I got to daydreaming a bit lately about herb gardens in other places because we have snow on the ground here in the 'Burgh.  I continue to find inspiration in the gardens I saw when I went to England in September 2010. One of my favorites, The Chelsea Physic Garden ("Chelsea"), is in the heart of London and is about four acres of intensely planted beds. Robbie L. Cranch and Gary Thomson wrote a comprehensive article about Chelsea and its history in the December/January 1995 issue of the Herb Companion, which you can access on this website for more information.

I will give you a quick version of the garden's history. Chelsea was founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London. Chelsea was first and foremost a garden to train apprentices: the famous herbalist Nicholas Culpeper trained as an apprentice apothecary at Chelsea. The garden provided a site for growing plants used in medicines. When you realize that 80 percent of the world's population uses herbal medicine, Chelsea provided and still provides an important service. The first heated greenhouse in England was built at Chelsea in the 1680s. Elizabeth Blackwell lived on Swan Walk and wrote A Curious Herbal to try to gain her husband's release from debtors prison. Hans Sloane was a previous apprentice apothecary and became the garden's benefactor in the early 1700s.

Hans Sloane is the benefactor of the Chelsea Physic Garden
and a great believer in the power of chocolate mixed with milk.
Photo by Nancy Heraud

In Sue Minter's book The Apothecaries' Garden, she relates the story of Sloane travelling to Jamaica to satisfy his interest in natural history and to collect specimens. He used his observations on the use of chocolate mixed with milk to treat sick Jamaican children. "[H]e benefited from the sale of 'Sir Hans Sloane's Milk Chocolate ... Greatly recommended by several eminent Physicians especially those of Sir Hans Sloane's Acquaintance, For its Lightness on the Stomach, and its great Use in all Consumptive Cases.'"

Here is a photo of part of the Pharmaceutical Garden that was launched in 2000. The beds contain plants for oncology, dermatology, anaesthesia and analgesia, ENT and lung disease, psychiatry, rheumatology and neurology, parasitology, cardiology and ophthalmology.

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