Entry for Wormwood from 'The herbal, or, Generall historie of plantes gathered by Iohn Gerarde. Very much enlarged and amended by Thomas Iohnson' (p.1096)

January 15, 2024, by uazcmh

Alisander’s Journey and Other Poems

This is a guest post by Gail Webb, who volunteered at Manuscripts and Special Collections between April and September 2023, cataloguing medicinal herbs and their uses in remedies from material held in our collections. 

Alisander’s Journey

A species named as Alexanders,
known to the ancient Romans,
grows green on clifftops,
thrusts its way along roads,
motorways. It spreads, multiplies.

Lime flowerheads sprout,
Yeah, they say, we are a feast for you,
an edible hedge, a life-force.

It drifts, billows, wafts in winds,
hardly bends in a gale, waves
at history passing by,
gleeful at its own survival.
What can it say?

It may tell of battles, wars,
ravaged countries and their peoples;
of scarred surfaces, hollow mountains.

Alisander fills spaces we cannot.
We smell baked earth,
hear the jostle of market traders,
imagine strolls on Mediterranean shores.
Seeds fall. They know what it takes to survive.
Germination in warm soils sows the hope
of renewal, leaves studded with scarlet jewels.
It finds a refuge here, in the British Isles.

With a heritage of myrrh,
from Macedonia, imagine its journey
through space and time.
It is welcome, brings flavour, medicines,
now naturalised, perfectly at home.


Wild Tansy

“… stops the immediate flux of the terms in women” (if it is worn in their shoes!)
– Nicholas Culpeper

Wear it in yer shoes, Tansy, tread upon it light,
it will crush yellow on yer soles, a sudden sight –

button flower heads pressed , disc florets,
gathered among meadows and in forests

bitter taste, fern-like leaves, aromatic smells,
mustard clusters conjure up sweet women’s spells

flattened, subdued, the plant will do our bidding
to stop flows, rhythms, any other shedding

though it grows on the wayside, next to brooks,
it can be used by witches and by cooks

freckles, spots, pimples, sunburn disappear
every time this herb in vinegar comes near

fine, shining, silver leaves, this silver weed
frees women from terms they had not agreed

Wear it in yer shoes, Tansy, a secret we shall hold.
You dance upon danger, sunshine seeds, burnished gold.


Knotted Breasts

each one
precious, soft,
like two fledglings
newly birthed, ready
to take flight in the world.
Ssshh to stress, to all that hurts,
unknot yourselves, unravel ropes.
Comfrey will soothe, flatten out the bumps;
hands intuit knots, skeined flesh, entwined lumps.


As part of this project, over 3400 records have been created which cover approximately 200 years from the early 1600s to the late 1700s. The research can be accessed in our Reading Room – to find out more, or to book an appointment today, please contact us at mss-library@nottingham.ac.uk.

Posted in Guest blogsOutreachProjects