Sweet William, Burdock and St. John’s Wort.

In Folklore, Foraging., Gardening, Herbs, sustainable living on August 12, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Sweet William is one of the oldest known garden flowers. I love its range of colours, the fact it is scented and that it is long lasting even when picked. Plants grow between 1 – 2 ft high and are topped with rounded clusters of flowers.

Flowers come in every shade from pink to white, they can be fringed, single or double. I prefer the single flowered ones as they are more suitable for bees.

Plants can be easily grown from seed planted in June or July, they will flower the following Summer. They can be overwintered in a cold frame or polytunnel. They do best in full sun in a well drained soil.

Along the lane wild plants with herbal uses continue to draw my attention. This one is Burdock (Arctium lappa), a biennial herb with a large taproot. It is an excellent blood purifier and promotes healthy kidney function. It expels uric acid from the body so it is helpful for gout and rheumatism. The fresh root can be used like carrots in soups and other dishes. In Japan Burdock is considered a premium vegetable, it is know as gobo root. Burdock can be made into a tea and used to bathe wounds, ulcers and ezcema.

St John’s Wort is also a perennial herb which grows wild here. In medieval times it was hung in windows and doorways to keep evil spirits at bay. An oil can be made from the flowers and leaves, 70 percent flowers to 30 percent leaves. Collect from the plant just as the blossoms are opening. Pinch a bud and a squirt of bloodlike oil will squirt out. If ready, the buds will stain your fingers bright red. It is desirable to pick on a dry day. To make the oil place the plant material in a wide mouthed jar. Pour in enough olive oil to come 2-3 inches above the herb. Cover tightly and leave on a sunny windowsill for 4-6 weeks. The oil will slowly turn a deep red colour. Strain the oil through a fine mesh strainer and bottle. Apply to sprains, bruises and burns. Some people can have a skin reaction which is aggravated by exposure to the sun so test it out on a small area first.

  1. Sweet William is the first flower I ever grew. I remember planting the seeds with my grandma more than 40 years ago. Sounds like they still have a special place in many hearts!

  2. Hi Bridget,
    I’ve just started growing hypericum perforatum to make an oil. I was very impressed having tried it at a medicinal herb workshop a couple of years ago. Just hadn’t got around to it. thanks for the clear instructions.
    I was also photographing Burdock on one of our dog walks. I was thinking more along the lines of the old fashioned “dandelion and burdock’ drink!

  3. Over the years, I have sometimes had Sweet William in the garden…it is always a beauty. Yours is lovely!

  4. I love Sweet Williams too – they were my Granny’s favourite plant. My Grandad was called William, shortened to Bill, so she always called them ‘Sweet Bills’.

  5. I buy Sweet William as an annual, but they live as a perennial here. I love them!

  6. Wow i love your format, my first time to see a blog like this. These are beautiful flowers to be in a garden, but we dont have this in the tropics.

  7. I am surprised your Sweet Williams are still in flower mine finished ages ago. Great for cutting.

  8. The St John’s Wort in the oil sounds fascinating to watch turn color! I love Sweet William, it lasts forever in bouquets. I have grown it pretty easily from cuttings of a velvety dark maroon one, my favorite.

  9. I love sweet Williams but as they are an annual here I don’t grow them. I only have perennials.
    Jane x

  10. interesting informative post

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