Folk songs and nursery rhymes often had a hidden meaning. Each culture has its own stories and legends.
Rhymes were written for a variety of reasons. It may have been to record an event. Or to sarcastically dig at political events or the monarch of the day. One theory for the popularity and enduring qualities of rhymes was they were easy to remember.
“Ring, a ring a Rosie” first appeared in print in the late 1800s when it was noted that children sang the rhyme as they played together. Legend suggests that the referenced the Great Plague of London in 1665 with the analogy that the people of London made a posy of herbs to protect themselves from catching the plaque.
“Ring, a ring a Rosie,
A pocketful of posy,
We all fall down”.
Posies were also known as nosegays and tussie-mussies, to supposedly counter the rosie rings that were symptoms of the plague. The pockets full of posies was a herbal treatment to deter the disease.
Among the herbs were wormwood which is still revered in herbal traditions today. It is still used to kill worms and parasites and, of course, this is how it got its name.
It is particularly potent as a liver tonic and to treat indigestion and heartburn and was once used for gout and kidney stones due to the active constituent thujone which can be toxic in high doses.
Sage was used to counter the plague but can still help fending off a cold or flu. In just the same way a sauna can help soothe and relax your body, steam inhalations are a time-honoured remedy for colds, coughs and congestion.
The aromatic health-giving properties of sage can be breathed in through the nose and funneled into the sinuses and lungs to help loosen mucous so your body can send it on its way.
Meadowsweet was a herb that was used for its tannins, brownish compounds found in plants which historically have been used to tan and dye leather. Tannins function like astringents and draw tissues together in the digestive tract and helped to heal the dysentery associated with the plague.
“Four Thieves Vinegar” was also a popular herbal remedy during the plague which included wormwood, marjoram, cloves, angelica and horehound macerated in white wine vinegar to protect people from a plague victim, when walking past, by rubbing it on their own hands, ears and temples.
Luckily, we have our very own herbal medicine right here in New Zealand. We just need to get back to basics and learn what to look for out in the bush.