Medicine Plants by Malcolm Mills from Castle Gardens

 A full house for Malcolm’s talk on Medicine Plants. Malcolm, from Castle Gardens in Sherborne, gave us a very comprehensive talk with many examples, below is a summary.

Many plants (including fungi) produce compounds that we use for medicinal uses, otherwise knows as alkaloids – powerful complex chemicals.

Why do plants produce alkaloids? Some reasons include:

  • To protect them from predators
  • To prevent rotting in damp growing conditions
  • May encourage healing after damage and stop infections…

Plants have been used for medicinal purposes for 5-6000 years, Otzi the frozen mummy found in the Alps, had a medicine kit with him containing birch fungus. Egyptians made the first pills using clay as a base medium then mixing in Opium or Myrrh.

All medicines ending in “ine” are derived from plants, for example morphine, caffeine, nicotine..

Only about 20% of all plants in the world have been tested for medicinal use therefore it is most important that biodiversity (including the rain forests) is preserved as it is highly likely that cures are held in the gene pool.

40-50% of plant medicines are derived from plants (although many are now synthesised).

80% of the world still relies on plant medicine for health and well-being.


Common names in folklore often refer to the plant’s medicinal uses, NOTE THAT THESE ARE OUTLINE NOTES AND YOU SHOULD NOT CONSUME ANY OF THESE PLANTS for example:

  • Pulmonaria officinalis – lungwort
  • Acmella oeracea – toothache plants (annual, will grow in UK)
  • Geranium sanguineum – bloody cranesbill, stops bleeding
  • Artemesia – wormwood – kills parasites
  • Symphytum officinalis – Comfrey, Knitbone or Bruisewort
  • Prunella vulgaris – Self heal


Other medicinal plants:

Taxus baccata – yew, cancer treatment
Digitalis purpurea – foxglove, cardiac stimulant

Galanthus – snowdrop – Galanthamine for memory impairment
Salix alba – willow, Salicylic acid for Aspirin

Atropa belladonna – deadly nightshade, muscle relaxant VERY POISONOUS
Papaver somnifera – opium poppy, sleep inducing used in Morphine & Codeine

Ficus elastica – rubber plant, stops infections

Galuthera procumbens – wintergreen, ericaceous low growing evergreen with red berries that smell of ‘Germalene’ and Euthymol toothpaste
Salvia officinalis – Sage, antiseptic and therefore hisotrically used in meat stuffings
Taraxicum officinalis – Dandelion, diuretic, blood purifier

Thymus officinalis – Thyme, Thymol which is a strong antiseptic, antimicorbial compound – used for Varroa control in bees and historically for stuffing meat
Lavandula angustifolia – Lavender, used before Penicillin as an antiseptic and anti inflamatory, insecticide and fungicide
Eupatorium purpureum – Joe-Pye-weed, from North America, cured fevers

Rubus idaeus – Raspberry, leaf infusions against sore throats & tonsellitus
Mentha – mint, Menthol, antibiotic & insecticide

Notes by Angela Morley