Penistone Physic Garden

The garden was built and planted during the summer of 2008. It is on part of the site of the former Rainbow Plants nursery next to the River Don in Springvale, Penistone, and is the first new project in the regeneration of the whole three acre site.

Penistone Physic Garden is a herb garden of mainly medicinal, but also culinary and other useful plants. It contains many English herbs, “they being best for English bodies” to quote Nicholas Culpeper, author of Culpeper’s Herbal from 1653.

It’s aims are:

  • to display plants in beds with labels to help with identification
  • to distinguish useful plants from other similar looking, but potentially dangerous ones
  • to teach about their uses

The idea for the garden came from a desire to help start the renewal of the site and to make use of four of the long beds that had been used for the display of pot plants. The eight beds that now exist were made by putting a wide paved path down the middle, built from old ceramic paving blocks, and widening the existing concrete paths to make the garden more accessible.

History of the Physic Garden

Springvale, the valley of the springs, was Penistone’s industrial suburb from the mid 19th century with the coming of the railway and steelworks. Other related industries developed and although the heavy ones have now gone, it is still the main industrial area of the town.

Until the mid 1970’s the site was the sewage works for Penistone. After that it became a training area for the long term unemployed, which is when the greenhouses were erected. It then became a commercial nursery, which closed at the end of 2006. The Physic Garden is full of healing plants and the whole site is surrounded by trees. It brings to mind the biblical saying that “the leaves of the tree shall be for the healing of the nations”, which seems appropriate for the theme of the site and the aim of the garden, which is to help reconnect people with the earth and to teach about the useful wild plants that are all around us.

The garden has eight raised beds, one of which is a children’s garden, planted by children from Springvale School. In each of the other beds are plants that are useful for different parts of the body, for example, plants for digestion; lungs and breathing; heart; ears, nose, throat and eyes. Every herb has more than one use and it is one of the main uses that are represented in the bed where it grows, although many herbs might easily fit in another bed.

What Influenced the Garden Design

The designer of the garden, John Hislop, was trained by the Dr JR Christopher School of Natural Healing.

The teachings came from traditional native American medicine and from imported European herbalism. A number of plants are of North American origin, reflecting this aspect of learning, but many other plants are from this country, which are often neglected as weeds.

It was that much criticised 17th century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper who also influenced the garden. He dedicated his life to treating the poor people of the East End of London as an apothecary and teaching people what the common weeds and plants could be used for. It was also he who translated the London Dispensatory from Latin into English, enraging the physicians of the time, but also meaning that the common people could learn what their native common plants could be used for.

What is there to see?

You will find traditional aromatic herbs such as Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Lemon Balm, Lavender, Marjoram and many more, but also the neglected Plantain or White Man’s Foot which seemed to spring up everywhere the new European settlers trod in America.

It is a herb with cooling and soothing properties and can be used for wasp stings and insect bites as a poultice of crushed leaf.

You will see other common first-aid herbs in the garden, as well as those in common modern usage like St John’s Wort, used for depression and wound healing; Feverfew, used for migraine; and three varieties of Echinacea, used for coughs and colds and helping the immune system.

You will learn about the difference between the very similar looking Comfrey and Foxglove – one a healer, the other a poison (unless taken in minute doses for heart problems). Also the difference between Hemlock – a deadly poison and Sweet Cicely, a flavour in cooking.

Medicinal Herbs to see

Marshmallow, now known as a spongy white or pink sweet is a beautiful, tall soft-leaved plant that was at one time known as ‘Mortification Root’ because it was used to treat gangrene!

Dandelion and Burdock was a drink made from the roots of the two plants, as a blood purifier to treat infections and other serious illnesses, although it is only chemicals you find in the modern fizzy pop which imitates the flavour of the old drink.

Elcampane is a tall huge-leaved plant with wonderfully straggly yellow flowers. The root has been used for serious lung diseases.

Healing Herbs

Mullein is another large leaved plant also used for lung problems, but also for the lymph system and for swellings.

Yarrow or Achillea is named after Achilles the Greek war hero, said to have discovered its wound healing properties during the siege of Troy. It has also been used a fever herb and a diuretic.

A wildflower meadow is a beautiful sight, and one bed is dedicated to these flowers, including Ragged Robin, Knapweed, Cowslip and Lady’s Bedstraw.