Herbs of the John Dickinson Plantation

Continental Congressman and lawyer John Dickenson (1732 – 1808) was born in Maryland, raised in Delaware, and served in Congresses representing both Delaware and Pennsylvania.  He was one of the wealthiest men of Colonial America.  In Delaware alone, he owned six farms along the St. Jones River.

Dickinson PlantationHistoric Herbs: One of these now historic farms is located in Dover, Delaware, and is called Poplar Hall.  Of interest to historical herbalists visiting the site are the herbs displayed in the basement kitchen (original to the house) which include wormwood, tansy, marjoram, horehound, rosemary, peppermint, yellow bedstraw, feverfew, lemon balm, thyme, and lemon thyme.

More herbs dried and hanging in the storage room include lemon balm, lavender, spearmint, tarragon, basil, rue, anise, fennel, and rosemary, as well as feverfew, peppermint, tansy, rosemary, wormwood, and marjoram.

Wormwood tea was used for worms and tapeworms. Wormwood is an excellent strewing herb; it was put on the floor of dwellings to release a scent that bugs do not like.  Wormwood, rue, and tansy were rubbed on tables to keep flies away. Tansy was used for worms.

According to Barbara Carroll, an historic guide who works at the Dickinson mansion house, spearmint contains no menthol and so was used to make mint jams and jellies and is good for upset stomachs.  Peppermint, which contains menthol, was used for upset stomachs and to repel rodents, who don’t like menthol.  Barbara described a type of orange water liquid that was prepared in a colonial crock pot, called a pipkin. The orange water was made with one-fourth cup of orange peel and one cup of water.  The liquid was left to sit overnight and would take on an orange flavor that was used to flavor cakes, pies, and cookies.

On the day of this author’s tour through Poplar Hall (August 15, 2012), a lady’s group was being treated to an herbal potpourri making activity, featuring rose petals, lavender, orange, cinnamon sticks (to be grated), peppermint, and spearmint.  Our guide explained that colonists wore herbs as well as strewed the floors with herbs to keep themselves and their houses smelling nice.

Poplar Hall is a wonderful historic site to visit to appreciate “the good things of life”  (specifically herbs, spices, aromas, plants, trees, and all of nature) and the old-fashioned ways that are becoming ever so popular once again today.

While reading this article, did you feel a desire to make orange water to create your own sweeteners for cakes or cookies? Would you like to try colonial cooking?  Dutch ovens and spider frying pans are some of the tools used and can be seen at www.historichousefitters.com by clicking on the hearth cooking link.  Books on hearthside cooking might be of interest to you, too!

ESSENTIAL OILS: And, quality essential oils for potpourris, cooking, healing applications and aromatic enjoyment may be purchased at my website: www.herbaleducator.com.  Feel free to e-mail me for assistance at herbaleducator@yahoo.com.

More About John Dickinson:  Although remembered as a delegate who did not sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776, he was a clear advocate for American rights and was known as the Penman of the American Revolution for writing Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies (1767-1768), in which he objected to Parliament taxing the colonies to raise revenue.  Dickinson served in the military against British troops and later was an ardent supporter of the Constitution. At the time of the signing of the Constitution, Dickinson represented Delaware which became the first state to ratify the Constitution, hence Delaware’s nickname as “The First State.”

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