Many members of the Billings family were well-known for their interest in natural history and botany. In 1863 Braddish Billings II founded the the Ottawa Natural History Society which eventually became the Ottawa Field Naturalists Club (I highly recommend a membership and taking advantage of their wonderful events!) His mother Lamira was largely responsible for instilling this love of plants and nature in her children.
Lamira herself was an excellent and highly regarded healer. People would go to her for remedies after treatment from a doctor failed to bring about the desired cure, as evidenced in this excerpt from a letter written in 1848, “Mrs. Graham’s girl has just been telling what great benefit her sister Mrs. Johnson derived from some herb medicine you prepared for her she being in somewhat similar circumstances with Mrs. Graham and the Doctor’s Medicines failing to give her any relief her family are very anxious she should if possible try the same remedy relying on your kindness to send some to her or if you please the receipt by which we could prepare some for her ourselves…”
If you tour the estate be sure to check out copies of Lamira’s herbal ‘receipts’ inside the house. They are fascinating and some day I hope to recreate a few. This is her recipe for cholera, which was reportedly successful at saving many lives from the disease:
one ounce of cayeene powder,
two [oz] of prickly ash
two [oz] of american valerian
two [oz] of bayberry…
Wet these up together with scalding water and secure them in a linen bag. Loosely put in three quarts of water and simmer for half hour then strain the tea add more water to make three quarts…
My apartment is directly across from the estate on the other side of the river, as the crow flies. I can’t see if for the trees, but sometimes as I’m looking out the window, I imagine Lamira, perhaps with her son or daughter, gathering plants along the river. I wonder what she would think if she knew that, all these long years later, another woman gathers plants in the same places, with the desire to nourish and heal? Some day I hope to have enough herbal wisdom to be well-regarded by my community as Lamira was and I like to think that I can literally follow her footsteps and tread the same paths she walked to gather healing plants.
The plant walk on Saturday will be held outside on the grounds of the Billings Estate. We will tour the medicinal herb garden and discuss some of the herbs Lamira Billings would have used, as well as search the weedy corners for other yummy, edible plants.
The Billings Estate is such a treasure and I look forward to sharing my love of it and the plants growing there on Saturday!
Register for this plant walk here.