Ethnobotany is the study of the relationship between native cultures and their use of plants. As Irish people we had an extraordinary understanding of the plants that surrounded us, we knew how to use them in practical ways to support our daily lives. We relied on plants not just as medicines but as food, as drinks, textiles, construction, for dyeing, for protection and in rituals. There is a rich cultural lore in Ireland surrounding our native wild plants.
Our ancients knew and understood the healing power of our wild plants, regarding them as gifts from nature, held in high regard and used with appreciation and respect. Plants were used to heal common ailments, like coughs and colds, toothache, skin conditions, digestive problems, cuts and wounds. We had an in depth knowledge of the application of all parts of a plant especially when applied in the process of healing.
I remain in awe of our ancestors and the insight and understanding that they possessed regarding the healing power of our native plants. Many of these medicinal uses are still applied by modern herbalists. Numerous herbs have been proven by science to have constituents that are active against the same conditions they were prescribed for in the past.
In Ireland it was not unusual for a family to have a particular cure associated with it passed down orally through the generations. Knowledge in the application of our wild plants for healing was passed down through the local healers family lines. Through women, Bean na luibheanna (herb women), or in the men’s case sheeogues or herb doctors.
Only recently I discovered that my father’s grandmother was a healer who had a woman’s cure passed down to her from her mother. My father (now in his 80’s and from Kilnamona, North Clare), can remember women arriving to his home to see his grandmother. She treated women by laying a breast plate and candles over their chests while repeating a particular prayer.
This project consists of two parts:
Part 1: A short video- The Burren-healing herbs
Part 2: The traditional uses of medicinal herbs in Co Clare
The Burren-healing herbs is a short creative exploration through the format of video/photography of the wild medicinal herbs of the Burren. This video is designed to remind people of the rich cultural heritage associated with our native Irish plants. In so doing we acknowledge the importance of this part of our Irish cultural heritage.
‘Tá luibh ar gach leigheas’ – there is no herb without a cure
As a consequence of being passed down through the oral tradition much information has been lost over time and very little written knowledge of the use of our native flora exists.
Part 2 is based on two different lines of research, data in the School’s Collection 1930’s available online from duchas.ie and interviews with local people.
I have examined these archives for 148 schools in Co Clare which have documented recordings of local uses of plants as medicines
The ten most common plants referred to in terms of their medicinal uses are
Wild garlic, nettles, dandelion, comfrey, chickweed, horehound, plantain, red clover, burdock and yarrow
Research into the traditional uses of wild plants in the archives and interviews with local people are ongoing. Further results will be presented here.
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