Hardy's medicine trail

Children exploring the garden at Hardy's Cottage, Dorset

Victorian families didn’t have the luxury of free health care like we do in the UK today. This meant a visit to the doctor could be expensive, which would be difficult for some families to afford. As an alternative, many families relied on natural remedies to help cure sickness. Most Victorian villages had a herb expert or ‘herbalist’ who would give advice about which natural remedies to use. Quite often, families passed on this knowledge through the generations, growing their own medicinal herbs in their gardens and foraging for medicinal plants from the landscape.

Thomas Hardy’s maternal grandmother, Betty Swetman, had a keen interest in herbalism. She dispensed natural remedies to half the village of Melbury Osmond where she lived, using Nicholas Culpeper’s Complete Herbal as a reference book for her treatments. Culpeper was a 17th-Century herbalist and pharmacist who healed poor people in London for free with healing herbs he foraged from the countryside. This new children’s trail at Hardy’s Cottage pays tribute to Betty’s passion for herbal medicine. Seven herbs around the garden are labelled with information about various ailments they can help heal, including Victorian remedies that Betty may well have used herself. Many of these traditional remedies we would no longer consider safe medical practice, such as using powdered fennel seeds to treat a snake bite.

The trail leaflet is available to collect from the garden kiosk at Hardy’s cottage and is free of charge. The trail involves solving a series of clues to find seven medicinal herbs planted in the garden and a challenge of matching up the herbs to the ailments they could heal. This activity is fun for all the family, primarily aimed at children aged 7-11.

Remember to always seek advice from a medical professional before using any herbal remedy.