County Herb Committee

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The County Herb Committees were a nationwide medicinal plant collecting scheme, established by the British Ministry of Health during World War II. They were set up at a time when the German occupation of France and the disruption of shipping lanes interfered with drug supplies. As in WWI, the British found that the Germans still largely dominated the pharmaceutical industry and consequently by the early 1940s there were critical shortages of essential medicines in hospitals and homes across Britain.

First the Vegetable Drugs Committee or VDC was established at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, including two Kew experts, Dr Metcalfe and Dr Ronald Melville, botanist and pharmacist. [1]

The committee found that a number of imported drugs were derived from plants that were also native to Britain. By 1941, they were publishing guides for herb collectors in the rural British communities. Various groups such as Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, Women's Institutes and the elderly, were enlisted as collectors by Sir Arthur Hill, Director of Kew.

In 1941, the wholesale pharmaceutical company Brome and Schimmer published a booklet called Herb Gardening, describing the many roots, flowers and herbs needed by the Ministry of Health, and how to collect and dry them.[2]

The Ministry of Supply issued monthly bulletins for rural herb committees that provided information for collecting herbs in different areas. The first bulletin in 1942 described how in Derbyshire "The Hathersage Women's Institutes dried fifty pounds of materials chiefly nettles in the attic of a house, and the Clifton and Mayfield Boy Scouts dried seventy-six pounds of Foxglove at their headquarters. They hope to do much more this year and the county committee is looking around for drying depots." (The cardiac glycosides in Foxglove degrade if the plants are not dried carefully. A leaflet from Kew advised that collectors spread the plants on racks to dry in a coke-heated shed at 90-100 degrees Fahrenheit). [3]

A pamphlet that the Vegetable Drugs Committee published in 1941 stated that the most essential medicinal plants needed were belladonna, colchicum, digitalis, hyoscyamus, stramonium and valerian - and that he countries of origin for these plants had previously been Hungary, Italy, Germany and Yugoslavia. [4]

A total of 70 Committees were set up across England, Scotland and Wales, and grants of a total of £1,191 were made available to set up drying centres that could deal directly with trading companies. By the end of the war, there were 250 drying centres across country. Horticulturist Elizabeth Hess was the Agricultural Organiser for the Women's Institute.[5] The first drying centre in Oxfordshire was in the home of Dr WO James and his wife Gladys in the village of Islip, [6] as well as in the Botanic Gardens of Oxford where they set up the Oxford Medicinal Plants Scheme. [7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ayres, Peter. "6 The Home Front". Britain's Green Allies: Medicinal Plants in Wartime.
  2. ^ Buchan, Ursula. "Women and Children Go To It". A Green and Pleasant Land: How England's Gardeners Fought the Second World War.
  3. ^ Sumner, Judith. "Medicinal Plant Use in World War II". the Herbal Academy.
  4. ^ Ayres, Peter. Britain's Green Allies: Medicinal Plants in Wartime. p. 64.
  5. ^ Catherine Horwood (6 May 2010). Gardening Women: Their Stories From 1600 to the Present. Little, Brown Book Group. pp. 297–. ISBN 978-0-7481-1833-5.
  6. ^ Stamper, Anne. "Countrywomen in War Time" (PDF). The WI. p. 10.
  7. ^ Summers, Julie. Jambusters:The Remarkable Story. p. cxxiii.

External References[edit]