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The Very Curious Herbal Begins...

The first chapter of The Very Curious Herbal recorded live during lockdown 2020 for Chawton House Library's Virtual Garden Festival.

The Very Curious Herbal

The Very Curious Herbal is a multidimensional herbal storytelling project with nearly as many elements as the book it was inspired by. 

Elizabeth Blackwell’s 1737 illustrated two-volume work features 500 cuts of plants she observed in Chelsea Physic Garden: ‘A Curious Herbal’; the first herbal created by a woman, to be published.

Amanda Edmiston's new look at this book works in several ways: as an online project, with episodic podcasts and short films which are linked together with interactive prompts within Amanda's facebook group Botanica Fabulousness which you can join here: 

There is also a corresponding, connecting journey, with bespoke, original performance pieces and accompanying workshops, leading participants on an enchanted journey into the extraordinary, verdant, rapidly changing, world of the 18th century. 

This interactive, multisensory work by Amanda Edmiston of Botanica Fabula, layers pages from the book, traditional remedies and flavours revealed by the plant collectors, recipe creators and apothecaries of the day with legends, history and folklore adding vivid dimensions to the plants revealed in the pages of this beautiful book, using traditional storytelling techniques.

Each piece is a unique experience specially curated by Amanda to connect with the plants or themes which are significant for your venue or event, relating the often darkly humorous stories of herbs: some delicious, some offering hidden wisdom, some to be afraid of and some we all know and love, that were drawn by Elizabeth Blackwell.

The performance pieces are bringing hidden, historic books, collections and gardens to life for new and treasured audiences.

"It was wonderful to add colour and context to the books and hear stories around the book as a working manual. So many articles concentrate on the ‘tragic’ aspect of Elizabeth Blackwell’s story, this affirmed the importance and beauty of the book. I loved it!"

Jane Pirie

Curator (Rare Books)

Museums and Special Collections

University of Aberdeen.

The Very Curious Herbal follows the footsteps of Elizabeth from Aberdeen to London, working exclusively with venues which have treasured copies of the beautiful herbal, gardens which have the plants she studied and museums and collections which have connections to her incredible story or fascinating volume of work.

The project aims to highlight the work of this remarkable woman whilst making the magical world of her herbal and collections that connect to it come to life for new and treasured audiences.

Amanda says: “ I’ve loved old herbals since I was a child, I would spend hours in museums peeking into glass cases trying to decipher the fading words on lignin soft pages, vanishing into gardens trying to find the plants I’d seen in the books, experimenting with the remedies they suggested.

As an adult I discovered I was not alone, herbals give people the sense they stand on the edge of a magical garden and I discovered that the way I connected stories and lore, recipes and remedies to the plants in the pages could bring that enchanted world to life, bringing a new relevance and connection to old collections which engaged and excited people of all ages…

The early 18th century was a time of huge change, the witch trials had just come to an end, medicine was changing, new plants were being brought into the country and this time of change, new ideas and increasing awareness of other cultures, still has resonance today, each plant has a story or lesson to offer and this cross-cultural sharing has the potential to still create societal bonds through magical stories and exciting tastes."

The Very Curious Herbal is also gaining momentum as Amanda shares her adventures and insights into her research on social media, you can connect with that by joining in the conversation in her facebookgroup or following the hashtag  #CuriousHerbal.

"Thank you for bringing your event to the Ashmolean.

Your being there meant a lot to us and there has been very positive feedback from people who were there...

Many thanks Amanda it was so wonderful to have you there"

Dr Sarah K. Doherty, The Ashmolean Museum 2018.

Amanda can be commissioned to create a bespoke package of events suited to bring a little extra enchantment to your collection and gardens connecting to The Very Curious Herbal project

and if you'd like to speak to Amanda about your very own Curious Herbal event email her at [email protected]

Dandelion: The Very Curious Herbal

Where Elizabeth and I were born, 270 years apart !

My Grandfather's early C20th Geography book with a map of Aberdeenshire

An Introduction to The Very Curious Herbal

Amanda Edmiston of Botanica Fabula, introduces the project and builds a picture of Blackwell...this is the first episode in what will become a magical garden of herbal stories with accompanying interactions and artwork available in the facebook group and here on the Botanica Fabula website.

Listen to the episode

Dandelion: The Very Curious Herbal

Dandelion, Piss-en-lit, Swine-snout, Priest's crown, Fortune teller...

A tale or two about the Dandelion. 

Taraxacum features in plate one of Elizabeth Blackwell's 'Curious Herbal', so here I share some stories and thoughts about this much-maligned weed. A plant with the power to help us keep going even when everything is working against us. The fairy clock, telling the time and reseeding itself on a puff of wind. A short Nasrudin tale from the Sufi tradition and a traditional Scottish fairy legend, reveal aspects of the often overlooked first plant of Spring. To join in with the interactive elements through the facebook group which you can join here:

Listen to the episode

Dandelion: The Very Curious Herbal


A Georgian landscape, the hay meadow newly mown bordered by field poppies, cornflower and docked.

Corn Poppies and a gift to heal the Earth Mother

The legend of the Corn Poppy.

Papaver rheas features in plate two of Elizabeth Blackwell's 'Curious Herbal', its story and nature is that of nourishing and healing sleep, gifted to a mother searching for her child.  I recommend you find a velvet soft petal or two and leave them on honey overnight and sip this sleep bringing elixir at bedtime breathing in this story as you dream. The C18th recipes and more are also part of this project available through the facebook group which you can join here:

Listen to the episode

Wild Swans and Cloth of Nettle

Walking along the water's edge today, past the Kirk along meadowsweet lined paths, gathering nettle seeds as swans flew overhead.

The soft ripe seeds are full of strength, gifting fortitude, when needed, to complete a task.

Elizabeth Blackwell noted nettle seeds value for shortness of breath a testimony to its rejuvenating nature.

Having gathered a handful, quietly thinking by the river Tweed, I laid them out on a cloth made a long time ago of silken soft, knitted nettle fibres, then cast the seeds into a biscuit inspired by the Dutch biskits of 1736, tying in a gift of spelt for Ceres and prepared to tell the nettle's story. 

This episode of The Very #CuriousHerbal takes us into a world where enchantments are easily woven.

A story that has versions and common threads in nearly every country where nettles grow.

Gather a handful of nettles silently in a churchyard, then sip a cup of nettle tea, sup a mouthful of potage, break a noedle seed bisket and maybe weave or sew a stitch or two whilst I share my version of the Nettle's story on the podcast which you'll find here:

Listen to the episode

Yarrow, warrior's herb.

Yarrow at Biggar 2019 . Amanda Edmiston

Yarrow: Warrior's Herb

A look at Achillea, Yarrow, Nosebleed. Healer on the battlefield, stopper of blood, curer of colds.

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Yarrow, diviner's herb.

Yarrow infusing water

Yarrow: Diviner's Herb.

Warrior or Witch? Yarrow spans the two, Amanda Edmiston reveals the story of Bell M'Ghie the last witch of Ayrshire in this episode of 

The Very Curious Herbal.

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Cucumbers and Kings

A stroll through the stories surrounding Cucumber, the plant featured in plate 4 of Elizabeth Blackwell's 'A Curious Herbal' with Botanica Fabula: Amanda Edmiston. A plant coveted by kings, cooling and so in demand it changed dynasties, becomes commonplace!

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St John's Wort, the witches herb, whispering promises to the bees

St John's Wort, Chase the Devil in Glasgow Botanic Gardens

Hypericum perforatum, lifting melancholy spirits.

I was drawn to walk along a pathway I’d never been down before yesterday and chanced upon a plant whose efficacy is improved if you find it by accident...another favourite plant of mine.

Elizabeth Blackwell recommends a tincture of the plant in wine to cure melancholy and madness, but a simple infusion can turn a warm shade of pink, enough to lift the spirits and chase away demons.

As late summer arrives so does a day of sunshine in colder climes, this is St John’s Wort, a surprise plant, unsought, unasked for, in The Very #CuriousHerbal

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Rosehip syrup

Hippens: a Rose story.

Take a  glass of tawny rosehip syrup, vitamin C, immune system strengthening, with me, as the first hint of Autumn flavours the wind that whips across the Southern Uplands today.

A heart glimpsed on the cloud wreathed landscape.

Syrup soothing my throat just enough to share this weeks edition of The Very #CuriousHerbal 

This is the story of the Wild Rose.

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Mandrake from A Curious Herbal

Elizabeth Blackwell's notes on Mandrake from A Curios Herbal pub 1737


This week the Very #CuriousHerbal isn't going to suggest you cook up the plant whose story I am about to share, because this week I'm revealing the story of Mandrake...

Listen here

The Love Apple, or Wolf Peach...

The Wolf Peach, a wild-hearted love story.

For the most part: mistrusted, misunderstood and reviled in Elizabeth Blackwell's day. The humble tomato or 'Love Apple' as she calls it, makes an appearance nonetheless in A #CuriousHerbal with the advice that is used externally for its cooling purposes...

This story, my own blend of folklore and traditional herbal uses, looks at the belief held during the 17th and 18th centuries that tomato could be used by witches to turn their enemies into werewolves, whilst considering tomatine's potential, like it's atropine relatives to heighten premenstrual inflammation, this is The Wolf Peach.

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The Fig Tree

Unctuous, succulent, delicious and in season as early Autumn ripens the sugars in fruits and leaves.

This week The Very #CuriousHerbal indulges in the world of the Fig.

Elizabeth Blackwell may well have been familiar with this fruit, native to Turkey and warmer climes as King David the first of Scotland was very fond of them and started their cultivation in Scotland in the C12th. Figs whilst sweet and rich are also rather magical as they help our bodies balance sugar and Elizabeth's note in her 1737 herbal that they may be used for people suffering from measles may well shine a light on part of the story I relate in this week's podcast, as in those days measles may well have lead to problems with sight...

So I recommend you put on the kettle make a nice cup of tea, open a packet of fig rolls and listen to the podcast of The Fig Tree.

Listen here

Lavender and Aberdeen Witches.

A look at Lavender and a story of how it may have healed the hands of Aberdeenshire witches. Part of The Very Curious Herbal project a collection of stories, tastes and words created by herbal storyteller Amanda Edmiston, inspired by the work of Elizabeth Blackwell in the C18th.

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1808 recipe for coffee from Mrs Maria Eliza Rundell's A New System of Domestic Cookery, 1808.

Coffee for a 'flegmatic disposition'!

In Elizabeth Blackwell's London coffee was the fashionable drink of choice.

Coffee shops were the places where deals were done, words were wrought and laws were debated, famous clientele of the coffee shops included Sir Hans Sloane himself, but also well-known writers, politicians, artists and merchants...

In this episode I explore the origin story of coffee and take a look at its benefits and history, brew yourself up a delicious hot cupful and join me for a coffee story or two!

Listen here.

Apple Wassailing 

Described by Elizabeth Blackwell as good for cheering the spirits and dispelling melancholy this is a story about a rather magical apple tree for The Very Curious Herbal project.

Now all there is to do is go to your nearest orchard or your favourite fruit tree, sing, clamour and make a lot of noise and give the roots a drink of the good stuff...alternatively if you don't have an apple tree handy you could sit back take a sip and listen to this tale, collected by Ruth Tongue and published in the 1960's

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The Elder Mother

Elizabeth Blackwell’s A #CuriousHerbal only touches on the huge number of uses the plant was put to in the C18th. It was still seen by many folk at the time as a veritable medicine chest with each composite part having its own variety of doubt this was one of the factors giving rise to its association with witches.

So renowned was the tree that Dutch botanist, chemist and physician: Herman Boerhaave who was at Leiden University towards the end of his life when Elizabeth Blackwell was working, was said to tip his hat in respect every time he passed an elder tree.

Elizabeth’s husband Alexander claimed to have studied at Leiden and although this claim was discredited I do know that one rather interesting twist in my adventures have revealed Elizabeth herself drew some of the plants grown there...

The stories of The Very Curious Herbal take another twist! 

In this episode however I step away from the facts and allow the Elder tree to share her own story helped along a little by the classic text by Hans Christian Anderson

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Sir Hans Sloane was one of Elizabeth Blackwell's supporter's he commended her work saying it was valuable and timely.

At the time of her work he owned the land of Chelsea Physic Garden and rented it for a peppercorn rent to The Royal Society of Apothecaries.

He'd visited Jamaica in 1687 and over the years had created a huge collection of plants and interesting items including finding out more about the way people used and worked with the plants he collected.

On his early travels he first tasted the local drink made with cocoa and water and declared it: 'nauseating'.

He set about trying to make the drink more palatable and eventually come up with the idea of mixing the cocoa with milk and sugar... It was only a matter of time before the sweetened milky hot chocolate drink caught on in London society.

However what is interesting is how the period Elizabeth Blackwell lived in marks the start of an epic change in how the world responded to a food once treated with respect as a gift from the gods...

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