Midwifery Herbs of the 18th Century and Beyond
Could a midwife help prepare a mother for pregnancy with only herbs?
In another research section, we talk a bit about midwifery in the 18th century. Here, we'll focus on the herbs used during and after pregnancy. Many of the herbs used then are still used by midwives today. More often than not, midwives grew and harvested their own herbs.
As you're probably aware from The Earl and The Enchantress, our heroine of The Baron and The Enchantress, Lilith Chambers, is a midwife. She grows her own herbs in her front garden. It is at different times of the year that herbs can be harvested, some ready in spring, some in autumn, etc. Chamomile is one of those fantastic flowers that can be harvested nearly throughout the year. This page talks about how to grow it, the benefits of chamomile, and even includes videos of how to harvest it.
Once an herb is harvested, it can be dried and used in tea. Water-based herbs such as using the dried herb or extract in a tea or infusion are healthier and more easily digested than capsuled herbs. Lilith would have exclusively used water-based herbs by making herbal infused teas and soups for her patients.
The herbs used before, during, and after pregnancy differ, although some are healthy throughout the process. There are herbs to eliminate morning sickness, herbs to encourage healthy growth, herbs to prepare the body for labor, herbs to induce labor, and herbs to help the body produce milk and heal after delivery. There are even herbs to delay or induce the monthly cycle. This article includes a list of some of the commonly used herbs in midwifery practice and what those herbs do. Yarrow is an interesting herb, which is included in the list, because it can be used both externally and internally. Since it works as a disinfectant, it would not be surprising for Lilith to wash her hands with it or clean the body with it before and after working with mothers and babies.
This article focuses on teas that can be enjoyed throughout the process. The list includes a mention of Black Cohosh. There were many such herbs that midwives would use to begin labor--anything that caused uterine contractions, basically. Such herbs were used only when it was time for labor and the midwife wished to expedite the process to avoid the mother experiencing a long labor with potential complications. This article lists a few more favorites of midwives, including dandelion root, which is also known to prevent and treat some cancers (yes, really).
While midwives primarily saw to the health of mothers and babies, it was not entirely uncommon that they might be sought out for help in preventing pregnancies. Contraception was not exactly something discussed in drawing rooms and certainly not supported by the church, so discovering methods, especially for that wife who had enough of yearly births, was difficult. Who better to turn to than the midwife? This article, although it is for a much earlier century, discusses some of the herbs, techniques, culture, and literature on contraception methods.
If you’re curious about what might be on Lilith’s bookshelf, I’ll mention three books that you can still purchase that would have undoubtedly been on her shelf: William Buchan’s (1772) Domestic Medicine: Or, A Treatise On the Prevention and Cure of Diseases, by Regimen and Simple Medicine. Nicholas Culpeper’s (1653) Culpeper’s English Physician: And Complete Herbal. William Meyrick's (1790) The New Family Herbal: Or Domestic Physician.