Scottish Herbal Remedies

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Scottish herbal remedies have been used in Scotland since at least the Bronze Age according to archaeological evidence, and written evidence has been found dating back to the fifteenth century AD - a Gaelic manuscript - “Regimen Sanitas, the Rule of Health”.[1] In the 17th century physicians being trained in Europe, Robert Sibbald and Andrew Balfour, began to take an interest in indigenous herbs, and to study them systematically. This brought about the establishment of the Edinburgh Physic Garden. The head gardener, James Sutherland, published Hortus Medicus Edinburgensis, cataloguing the plants in the physical Garden at Edinburgh in 1683.[2] A copy of this text is still in existence, and is kept in the National Library of Scotland. Many herbal and folk remedies have survived in Scotland through oral tradition.

Important aspect in development of Scottish herbal science was that Soutra Aisle was a home to one of the largest medieval hospitals in the country. It was founded by King Malcolm IV in 1164. Recent archaeology has revealed evidence of some herbs such as Henbane, Hemlock and Opium Poppy.[3] Given the powerful actions of these herbs, it is thought that they were used as a form of anesthetic for any surgical procedures that were carried out.[4]

Listed below are some of the herbal remedies:

Bog myrtle (Myrica gale) has long been used to dispel pests and insects, either by being woven into bedding or being used as a skin wash. Taken internally this herb acts as a vermifluge. The astringent properties of this herb make it beneficial in toning mucous membranes and in reducing bleeding.[5]

Burdock (Arctium lappa/minus) is reputed as a depurative for skin conditions and arthritic problems.[6]

Centaury (Erythrea centaurea) is considered a kidney tonic as well as a blood cleanser. It was widely used in the treatment of wounds, sores, jaundice, theumatism, gastric problems and indigestion.(Darwin 1996) This herb is currently considered an excellent tonic for the upper digestive tract, treating problems such as chronic indigestion, gastric ulcers, gastric insufficiency, acid reflux, belching and even hiatal hernia.

Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis) The flowers and leaves of this herb were made into ointments for various skin disorders including gangrene, sores, and ulcers, as well as dandruff. It was used internally for coughs, shortness of breath, fever, pluerisy, and many other lung problems. The roots and the tops of Devil's Bit Scabious (Succussa pratensis) may be taken internally for blood purification and effective anti-inflammatory relief.[7]

Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea) has long been used as a general tonic, treating an array of illnesses such as kidney disorders, coughs, snake bites, consumption, indigestion and bruises. Snuff which is made from the dried leaves was often used to relieve symptoms of asthma and headaches (Beith 1995. Grigson 1958, Paterson 1980). We now know this herb to have properties which assist connective tissue to regenerate. This herb is similar to Plantain, but possesses a tissue specificity - kidney and lung.

Heather (Erica cinera, Erica tetralis, (the Heaths) and Calluna vulgaris) The tops of this herb is used as a lung tonic for relief of coughs and consumption. Also used as a tonic nervine for bouts of depression, and as a diuretic for dropsy (heart failure). This herb also has been used as an anti-arthritic (Darwin 1996)

Herb Robert (Geranium robertiamum) has been used to treat wounds, skin disease and cancer.(Cameron 1883, MacNeill 1910, Thompson 1984). The whole plant is mildly astringent and is helpful in treatment of bleeding conditions effecting the female organs or digestive tract. It also aids in the prolapse of the abdominal contents.

Ivy (Hedera helix) is widely used as a diuretic,stimulant and astringent. It is taken internally for coughs, juandace, indigestion, nervous headaches, sciatica, bruising, gout, gangrene, sore throats, topically in form of ointment for burns, Prepared as a tea. this herb may be used for bathing infected or irritated eyes. Tradition states that a cap which was sewn from ivy leaves is often used to treat cradle cap in infants. (Grieve 1931, Beith 1995, Rorie 1994)

Scotch Broom (Cytisus/Sarathammus scoparius) The tops of this herb are well known for use in diuretics and stimulating cardiac tonics. It has been used to treat cardiac edema and heart failure, but the contraindication is hypertension. (Beith 1995)

Scots Lovage (Ligusticum scoticum) was once recommended for indigestion and gas, and as an aphrodisiac and stimulating tonic. It was also used as a soothing nervine for patients with consumption. This herb was also a treatment for worms in cattle. (Beith 1995, Lightfoot 1777, Martin 1703, Sowerby and Johnson)

Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia and spp.) This herb was first mentioned in 1400s, listed as a remedy for whooping cough once boiled in asses milk (Gillies 1911). Liquids which were excreted from the insectivorous stamen of this plant were said to remove corns and warts. (Lightfoot 1777). Diluting fresh plant juice in milk was commonly used to remove sun marks and freckles. (MacNeill 1910).


  1. Healing Threads Beith, Mary Polygon, Edinburgh, 1995
  2. Gaelic Names of Plants Cameron, John Blackwood, 1883
  3. The Scots Herbal - Plant Lore of Scotland Darwin, Tess Mercat Press, Edinburgh, 1996
  4. Regimen Sanitas, translation of 14th century text Gillies, Hugh Cameron, 1911
  5. A Modern Herbal, first published 1931 Grieve, Maud, Jonathon Cape London
  6. Flora Scotia Lightfoot, John London, 1777
  7. Colonsay MacNeill, Murdo Edinburgh, 1910
  8. A description of the Western Isles of Scotland, first published 1703 Martin, Martin facsimile of second (1716) edition published by Mercat Press, Edinburgh, 1981

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See also