The returns of the natives

14th July 2000 at 01:00
Oral history is a part of the Flora Celtica travelling exhibition. Tape recordings of island people give an evocative glimpse of traditional uses of native plants and a reminder of the knowledge which could be lost.


"When we were young boys we used to live over at Strom and our father had a croft with haystacks and cornstacks. In order to prevent them being blown away by the wind, he used to make rope, not the ordinary rope, but rope made from heather.

"He used to go over to the hill to get the long heather as there was no such heather growing nearby. He used to bring it back in big bundles on his back and then he would strip down the heather to give a single stem for each one and then he used to braid it into a rope. It was a highly skilled job and he would make the rope just as long as he needed it.

"Some people used it for the roofs of their houses as well. They had thatched houses and, although later on they used wire netting, in the earlier days the heather rope was very good at preventing the thatch getting blown away.

"I remember seeing great coils of the rope at the coft ready to be used."


"One of the best herbs I use and gather around here is meadowsweet, because - especially the flowers - if you infuse them, it's a great way of getting a good night's sleep, and it does bring down fever. It works nicely.

"To me there are things, like meadowsweet, growing down in Harris which are just going to waste every summer. There are huge stands of it and it is just going to waste and it breaks my heart to see that."

Ian Law, Isle of Lewis TANSY DEODORISER.

"The tansy was imported by soldiers. It's not a complete native of these parts but it's been with us for hundreds of years. But it's been used - you'll never believe why - it still grows outside every church across the islands to counteract BO. This originates from a long time ago. When the ladies would reach church they would be wearing many clothes and sweating a lot - and the old men too - and they would take a bunch of this and crush it in their hands, and there would be the beautiful aroma of tansy in the church."

Canon Angus MacQueen, Barra

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today