Hanging out with Geffrye and his herbs

Words by Lulu Harrison

If you want to discover a place of tranquility and escapism then you need to pay a visit to the Geffrye Museum botanical gardens. Surrounded by herbs, plants, bees and the glorious scent of flowers and foliage…I felt annoyed at myself for not discovering this place before in the one year I’ve lived in London. It is exactly what most Londoners need, and what most Londoners sadly don't see a lot of in their busy mainstream lifestyles. A lot of us sit in front of a computer screen all day and catch minimal sunshine, so on your next sunny day off I recommend a trip to the Geffrye Museum. You can lounge in deck chairs and lie amongst the exotic herbs and plants, listening to the wind in the trees and not a car sound in earshot. I’d say it’s probably the most therapeutic thing I’ve done all week.

What is amazing is the juxtaposition of this quiet green garden that is filled with history as well as flowers, to the hustle and bustle of the Kingsland Road which is where you will find it. Who knew this sort of place still existed in Central London! The house and the garden together is an amazing piece of history which has kept true to its routes and yet to be over run by gentrification or new builds.

The museum itself explores the homes of the urban middle class from the 1600’s, with a focus on living rooms and lifestyle habits. As you walk through the garden you will be taken on a time travel of all the different uses for the land, as well as the beneficial properties of herbs and what they were used for (and are still used for today). This is a time capsule which still exists and is home to hundreds of precious plants and herbs which have lived throughout centuries.

The best thing about this museum is not only the glorious green space where you can get lost in nature, but also the fact that it’s free (with donations welcome). It’s so rare that you get the opportunity to do this is central london and I’m amazed I was never told about this place before. You can just walk in, it's easy, it's beautiful, it's full of fascinating information. Wonderful.

Here are some facts. Enjoy.


Fact: Bees are particularly attracted to blue and white flowers.

Anise hyssop: purple flower-spike.

Catmint: Watch your cat with this one, they love it.

Golden rod: Good for late in the season.

Honeysuckle: Beautiful flowers and wonderful perfume.

Sage: Smelly leaves, some nice, some not so nice.

White dead nettle: A nettle with no sting.



Fact: Herbs have used to naturally dye cotton and wool since medieval days. Weld, madder and woad were the three most important.

 Dyer’s Woodruff - A red natural dye plant.

Dyer’s camomile: Yellow flowers.

Dyer’s Greenweed: More yellow and when added to woad produces ‘Kendal green’.

Lady’s Bedstraw: Coral pink from the roots.

Rose Madder: Rich red from the roots.

Sorrel: Back to the roots once more, and this time it’s soft pink.

Woad: The blue leaves were used by Anglo Saxons.



Fact: Many herbs such as fennel and thyme, were introduced into England by the romans.

Angelica: A good digestive.

Coriander: Great in curries.

Horseradish: Banging with roast beef.

SageDried leaves can be used to make toothpaste.

Winter savory: is a valuable digestive aid.



Fact: Throughout the ages, a secluded and fragrant garden has been associated with safety and peace.

Curry plant: Smells of curry but has no flavour.

Garlic chives: If you like garlic this one is for you.

Lavender: Great for relaxing, get some on your pillow.

Peony: One of the most beautiful flowers. Smell great too.

Southernwood: Otherwise known as ‘lad’s love’. Also deters flies and moths!  


Fact: Herbs can also be used around the household as as disinfectants, insecticides and cleansers.

Camphor plant: Used to get rid of those pesky moths!

Rosemary: Used as a disinfectant when simmered in water.

Soapwort: Makes lovely soap.

Wormwood: Again, great for deterring moth.



Fact: Many herbs used for cooking, such as as rosemary, thyme and garlic have valuable also have medicinal applications.

Bugle: Traditionally used for stomach bleeding.

Feverfew: Helps reduce migraines.

Lovage: Helps with tummy aches.

Meadowsweet: Helps with stomach ulcers, hyperacidity and headaches.

Mints: Good for your digestion and excessive farting.

Comfrey: A cold compress of the leaves can help with sprains and bruises.

Evening primrose: The seed oil is great for woman’s complaints amongst other things.

Oregano: Put in the bath for aching joints.

Valerian: Helps with sleep.



Fact: The tudors and stuarts would have made up a salad using up to fifty different plants in one salad, including perhaps rose and calendula petals, nasturtium and clove pinks.

Alexanders: Get your vitamin c from the leaves.

Chicory: Full of calcium and iron.

Fennel: Excellent digestive and for freshening your breaths.

Lemon balm: Makes a lovely calming tea.

Red orache: The seeds taste fabulous fresh in a salad.



Fact: There is a growing demand for cosmetics to be made out of plants that are considered to be natural and environmentally sound products.

Cowslip: A 17th century face wash.

Double chamomile: Use as a hair rinse - great for blondes!

Houseleek: Moisturises the skin.

Lady’s mantle: Juice from the leaves used to lighten freckles.

Pot marigold: Good in face creams.

Note: only use herbs for medicinal purposes with expert advice. Common sense is key!

Check it out here: www.geffrye-museum.org.uk 

Read about some other incredible plants that can help sort you out here

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