The Herb Garden at the Wall House

Richard Wall built this house for his family in or around the year 1682, after he arrived in America with William Penn and his group of Quakers. After the house opened as a museum, the Old York Road Garden Club established the herb garden to illustrate the way those first inhabitants used herbs in their daily lives. The Old York Road Garden Club is actively seeking members and interested parties to join them on Facebook.

Uses of Herbs in Colonial America 

During colonial times, every household had an herb garden. The woman of the house used these plants in her cooking and as medicines to treat a variety of ailments. The herbs in the Wall House garden are the same varieties as those used by early American households. Here are some of the ways the colonists used them.

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  • Basil was used in perfumes, for medicines such as a snuff to relieve headaches, and for many culinary uses. It attracts bees and insects to the garden and stimulates growth of companion plants, especially tomatoes and peppers.
  • Bee Balm was often used both medicinally and as a beverage by American Indians and by the European settlers in America. Oswego Tea, made from the leaves of the plant, was used by the settlers when they lost access to English teas after the Boston Tea Party.
  • Borage leaves were often made into a tea for a sense of well-being. Borage flowers were infused with water or wine to treat fevers, bronchitis, diarrhea, and for use as a diuretic.
  • Calendula species have been used traditionally as culinary and medicinal herbs. The petals are edible and can be used fresh in salads or dried and used to color cheese or as a replacement for saffron. A yellow dye has been extracted from the flowers.
  • Chamomile is helpful as a “tummy soother”. The colonists used the dried flowers to make a tea to drink as a sedative; a remedy for fevers; flavoring for manzanilla wine; and as a rinse for blond hair.
  • Chives were used for cooking, and rose colored vinegar was made from the blossoms.
  • Comfrey is a strong-growing perennial of the borage family. It will help activate compost in your garden and could be used therapeutically for uterine and other internal hemorrhages and for the healing of wounds. Found to be toxic to the liver.
  • Costmary was used as a salad and to flavor beer. Used as a Bible bookmark, colonists nibbled on the leaf during sermons to stay awake. Fragrant.
  • Dill was used to comfort babies with colic, and given to adults who ate too much dinner.
  • Feverfew leaves were used to relieve migraines.
  • Lady’s Mantle‘s flowering tops were used medicinally by the colonists for women’s complaints. The dried leaves, which contain tannin, were used to stop bleeding.
  • Lamb’s Ear has thick felt-like leaves that were used as bandages and gauze dressings.
  • Lavender provided one of the few perfumes colonists could grow at home, and its scent freshened the household.
  • Lemon balm was very important to early Americans because of the bees who loved the lemon balm and provided honey. The oil from the plant was distilled and used as furniture polish and perfume.
  • Lovage was used to soothe bee stings and given as eye drops to calm redness. It was also used to remove spots and freckles.
  • Parsley is packed with vitamins, antioxidants, and anti-tumor factors. Documents from ancient Rome record it being used then to promote health.
  • Rosemary provided a tasty accent to lamb, game, and stew dishes. As the herb of remembrance, rosemary was added to wedding cakes or puddings.
  • Rue is the "Herb of Grace". Bitter leaves may be added to eggs, cheese, fish, or meat sauce. The leaves are evergreen and can be used in nose-gays. Fresh leaves were said to relieve headache & chronic bronchitis.
  • Sage was a highly valued plant that was used to treat all kinds of ailments. Its botanical name is salvia officinalis, which means “to heal” and “medicine”. It was thought to be good for the senses and memory, and some people attributed their longevity to drinking sage tea in spring and autumn.
  • Santolina was dried and used to get rid of moths.
  • Sweet Woodruff was grown as a strewing herb for special occasions, such as festivals, Sundays, weddings, and funerals. It was also used to make May wine.
  • Tansy was used for making tea to treat cramps, colic and gout. If the leaves were picked before the plant bloomed they could be pickled and made into a yellow dye for wool. 
  • Thyme was (and is) used widely in cooking. The colonists also used it to treat a variety of illnesses, from nervousness to toothache.
  • Tradescantia (Spiderwort) is a native perennial wildflower. The Native Americans used it for stomach aches and as a food source. Also attracts bees to the garden.
  • Yarrow was useful for treating wounds and when dried, to make tea for easing severe colds.


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