Louise Bustard Assistant Curator of Glasgow Botanic Gardens relates how herbs had many uses in Scotland
She starts with woad. This plant gives a characteristic blue shade and is associated with ancient tribes such as the Picts (from a Latin word meaning the ‘painted people – cf picture – and named as such by the Romans in Scotland.)
All dyes have to be fixed to the cloth using an acid. In the Highlands this was usually urine, stored in a bucket outside the blackhouse and to which everyone made a contribution. In polite circles it was known as ‘home solution’.
Another important and widespread plant was nettle. To this day ancient and now-vanished settlements in the Highlands can be recognised by the patches of nettles. The young leaves were used to make a nutritious soup – but only until the end of March when the leaves become toxic. The Highlanders of old considered this soup very superior to the Lowlanders’ kale broth.
The fibrous, straight stems of the nettle plant were sometimes used to make a primitive and coarse cloth known as ‘Scots cloth’.
Wild strawberry also had a surprising and specific use in the Highlands. Commonly found on wayside banks and uncultivated ground, the small but very sweet fruits provided Highland girls with their cosmetics. They would use these fruits both as a lipstick and as a rouge.