Herbal heritage at Lytes Cary

MUGWORT doesn’t have the most appealing name in English, but its scientific name “artemisia” will be familiar to anyone interested in the history of herbs. Its medical uses included preventing weariness on a journey, according to a 16th-century medical text that is the inspiration behind a herbal border at the National Trust’s Lytes Cary Manor in Somerset.

The Niewe Herball is the work of Henry Lyte, whose family built the medieval manor house just outside Somerton. A first edition of the work, was recently donated to Lytes Cary Manor and will be on display in the Great Hall when Trust properties reopen.

Damian Mitchell, Lytes Cary head gardener, says they can still grow the plants mentioned: “We have used some modern cultivars, but the border is filled with herbs that Henry Lyte would recognise. Herbs are great plants to work with, because of the variety in the leaf shape, not to mention the scent.”

Henry Lyte’s garden was a practical, working space with fruit trees and herbs, but has long disappeared. The manor’s existing Arts and Crafts garden was created by the Jenner family, who lived there from 1907.

The Niewe Herball, published in 1578, was an English translation of an herbal written in French by Rembert Dodoens, physician to Emperors Maximilian II and Rudolph.

Among other advice on offer, sage is considered “good to be laide to the woundes or bitings of venomous beasts, for it doth both cleanse and heal them,” while mint “being very well pound with salte is a special medicine to be applied upon the bitings of madde dogges.”

Pictured: A first edition of the Niewe Herball by Henry Lyte © National Trust / Clare Gascoigne; the herb border at Lytes Cary Manor © National Trust / Damian Mitchell