Friday 17 February 2012

Medicinal Plants In A London Attic

While I’m still thinking about London and the Barber Surgeon’s apothecary garden I thought I would tell you about The Herb Garret in St Thomas Church. The church and adjoining hospital were ministering to the sick and poor from the early 13th century. Medicinal plants were pretty much the only treatment available therefore the apothecary was a valued practitioner.

Recipe from 1560 for a salve: lard of goose and sheep dung, oil of spice, honey and poppy.

In 1703 the church was rebuilt and the unusually large attic proved to be the ideal place to dry and store the medicinal plants.

After St Thomas hospital moved to a new site in the 1860s the garret lay undisturbed for almost a century. When the attic was being cleaned four dried poppies were the only plants remaining. Fortunately excellent records of the contents had been kept by the hospital. Opened as a museum in 1961, it is a fascinating place to explore the use of healing plants from medieval to current practices.

Part of the garret was partitioned off in 1822 to make an operating room. This is also open to the public. If you are at all squeamish do not read the descriptions of real patients and the operations they endured. I left feeling deeply grateful to be living in the 21st century.

Location: 9A St Thomas Street, London SE1 9RY. 2 minutes from London Bridge Underground Station. Cost: Approx $9 or 6 British Pounds. When I was there last year they did not accept credit or debit cards. Open daily 10:30 to 5.


  1. Very interesting! Yet another reason I'm very grateful to be living in an era of modern medicine!

  2. Yes, some of the ideas were completely bizarre. On the other hand a surprising number of "modern" drugs are based on herbal medicine.I get very nervous about what we are destroying via industry, urban sprawl, and mega farming.

  3. I'd be interested in more herbal recipes. I know a tea can be made from California poppies, and it's a mild sedative, but I'm worried about inventing one. Poppies can be too powerful...

  4. Good idea Mary. I will see what I can do.