Medicinal Plants of the Civil War with Lesley Parness Sunday Sept. 30 2 p.m.

Medicinal Plants of the Civil War, with Lesley Parness 

Sunday, 9/30, 2pm, at Durand-Hedden; house and store open 1 to 4 pm


On Sunday, September 30, Durand-Hedden will host noted horticulturalist/educator Lesley Parness, who will explain how plants were crucial in every aspect of the Civil War – on the battlefields and on the home fronts of both the North and the South. Her talk will encompass 30 plants and the medicinal properties for which they were known in the 19th century. Haunting images from the era will intrigue history lovers as well as gardeners.

Audiences are often surprised to see how many "Civil War" plants they are already growing, such as Cornus Florida. The Dogwood, a familiar native understory tree, whose lovely white flowers set woodlands alight in spring, played a major role in allaying the vicious symptoms of malaria. Growing the poppy was encouraged by the Confederate Army and the sight of these papery red blooms soon became common in Southern front yards. Effective as it is was in combating pain, it also created America's first opioid epidemic. Parness will provide a handout about the 30 plants that includes "Receipts," or recipes for popular herbal remedies such as horehound lozenges and witch hazel tonic.

Parness retired in 2017 as Superintendent of Horticultural Education at New Jersey's Morris County Park Commission where she oversaw interpretation at The Frelinghuysen Arboretum, Willowwood Arboretum and Bamboo Brook Outdoor Education Center.  She is a member of the Herb Society of America, The Council on Horticultural and Botanical Literature, and Garden State Gardens, a consortium of New Jersey's public gardens which include the Durand-Hedden House and Garden and of which she is a Founding Member. Parness is now enjoying her own garden and spending time with like-minded people, learning and sharing knowledge about plants – our silent, sentient partners in the green history of the world.      


Country Shopping

Durand-Hedden’s charming Country Store will open for the season at this event. Check out historic-themed treasures such as early American games, books, and toys; facsimile documents; quill pens and ink; historic cookbooks; cookie molds; tin lanterns; and reproductive decorative items and ceramics. You’ll also discover the hard-to-find original Doors of Maplewood poster, Smile: A Pictorial History of Olympic Park 1887-1965, and the new acid-free reproduction of the 1931 Map of Maplewood.


About Durand-Hedden House and Garden

Durand-Hedden House is dedicated to telling the social and natural history of the development of Maplewood and the surrounding area in new and engaging ways. It is located in Grasmere Park at 523 Ridgewood Road in Maplewood. For more information or to arrange group tours call 973-763-7712. You can also visit our website at and find us on Facebook and Twitter.

This was a pretty enjoyable presentation overall. Interesting history, toxicology (of course) and pharmacognosy along with the surprise that many of the plants she mentioned are RIGHT HERE! In the modern age of mechanized medicine and computerized drug discovery it is easy to forget the original, natural, source of medicines.

She didn't get into the controversies over the popular urge to turn to natural supplements instead of modern medicines but she did bring up a key point about some things humans are increasingly desperate to find. And those are new therapeutic approaches to infectious disease caused by all those microorganisms floating around the world. Plants are organisms that need to defend themselves from infections just like mammals do and we humans are going to need some back up for when bugs like Staphylococcus [whatever], Streptococcus [whatever], Chlamydia, Neisseria gonorrhea, and a whole lot of other disgusting stuff develop resistance to our current arsenal.

Sometimes the natural compound is a direct match for a mammalian problem just as it is in plants. But I cannot think of many examples. However, the list serendipitous discoveries is very very long. We need to hope there are more on that list to discover.

As a side note it would have been fun (?) to have some discussion about just how the use of plant alkaloids was developed. Not having the analytical techniques we had in the 20th century, the important details about how to use a given plant's medicines were mostly learned the hard way.

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