Notes on ‘Eyot’s Flora’

In the past, a wealthy town dweller on falling ill would probably have consulted a doctor of learned medicine. Such support was unavailable, however, to the majority of the population who were poor and lived in isolated rural areas. An ailing peasant had little choice other than to produce home remedies from the wild plants growing at hand. Traditional folk medicines were passed down verbally from generation to generation, often in a whisper. The plant varieties available were determined by both geography and climate, and the same plant might be used to alleviate different illnesses in different parts of the country. The relationship between learned medicine and folk tradition was for the most part antagonistic.

The plants used in John Goto’s ‘Eyot’s Flora’ were collected in and around Aston’s Eyot nature reserve on the banks of the Thames at Oxford. Originally a water meadow, the land was leased by Christ Church College in the early 1900s to the city council for use as a rubbish tip. Dumping stopped in the 1950s, after which much of the area grew to scrub and woodland. Since 2010 Friends of Aston’s Eyot have managed the area. The artist would like to thank their chair, Dr. Anthony Cheke, for his help with plant identification. Any errors or omissions, however, are the sole responsibility of the artist. He would also like to thank Landscape Architect Jade Goto, for her encouragement and support during the making of this work.

Two invaluable reference books used in the shaping of this artwork were:
Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition, an Ethnobotany of Britain & Ireland, by David E. Allen & Gabrielle Hatfield, 2004, pub Timber Press, Oregon, USA
A Modern Herbal by Mrs M. Grieve, 1931, pub Jonathan Cape, London

Listed below are the plants depicted in ‘Eyot’s Flora’, and the selected ailment they were used to treat.

Chicory – gout (Grieve p.198)
Common Ragwort – swollen breasts (Allen & Hatfield p.306)
Creeping Thistle – depression (Allen & Hatfield p.282)
Dandelion – diuretic (Allen & Hatfield p.287)
Elder – respiratory problems (Allen & Hatfield p.270)
Hawthorn – heart tonic (Allen & Hatfield p.155)
Hazel – boils (Allen & Hatfield p.89)
Honeysuckle – sore mouth (Allen & Hatfield p.273)
Lesser Burdock – urinary complaints (Allen & Hatfield p.280)
Lesser Knapweed – osteoarthritis (Allen & Hatfield p.284)
Meadowsweet – headache (Allen & Hatfield p.140)
Mistletoe – chorea (‘St Vitus’ dance) (Allen & Hatfield p.166)
Nettle - ear infection (Allen & Hatfield p.84)
Ox-eye Daisy – sore eyes (Allen & Hatfield p.305)
Poppy – neuralgia (Allen & Hatfield p.77)
Purple Loosestrife – diarrhoea (Grieve p.496)
Raspberry - labour pains (Allen & Hatfield p.140)
Redcurrent – visceral obstruction (Grieve p.244)
Rowan – toothache (Allen & Hatfield p.154)
Yarrow – nosebleeds (Allen & Hatfield p.301)

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