Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Natural remedies

May 20th, 2006

OUT AND about with the dogs I see plenty of evidence of spring's progress.

I especially enjoy the little flashes of blue and yellow in the woods and hedgerows. Common violets and speedwell, and the early forget-me-nots have just enough time to announce their presence before they are shouldered aside by sprouting undergrowth. The field behind the kitchen is filled with petite yellow wild pansies, or heartsease.

I did some research into the derivation of the country names for these wild plants, which have such grand Latin descriptions for such, mainly, tiny flowers.

Heartsease was used to treat a wide range of afflictions. On the one hand it was a laxative, and on the other it was highly regarded as a love potion, which seems a bit of a contradiction. These wild pansies are also called  love-lies-bleeding', which is another conundrum. However, they sound like powerful medicine, and if they were as efficacious as they sound, small wonder our ancestors experienced an  easy heart' as they looked forward to a rapid recovery.

A hapless knight was picking a bouquet of flowers for his lady love by the side of a rushing river. He slipped and tumbled into the foaming waters. As he was swept to his doom he threw the spray of flowers back to his love with the fateful words,  forget-me-not'.

Speedwell was also traditionally valued for its medicinal properties. I learnt that it should be “given in good broth of a hen”, and that it was used as a specific against  pestilential fevers'. It was an accepted cure for bronchial troubles, but I like the idea that it was also widely used to treat  the itch'.

Mediaeval itch would have needed more than a good scratch if you wanted to get well speedily!

The Speedwell, of course, was the sister ship of the Mayflower, (another traditional physic) which took the Pilgrim Fathers to America in 1620.

John Whitson was Lord Mayor and Member of Parliament for Bristol, and one of the city's Merchant Venturers, or entrepreneurs. There is a family tradition that he was one-time owner of the Mayflower, although by 1620 he had sold her and the Pilgrim Fathers chartered her from new owners.

The story is that Mayflower needed a new set of sails to complete the long voyage to the new world, and the Pilgrim Fathers sought John Whitson's help. He agreed to supply the sails on condition the adventurers took Cheviot wool with them to trade for native goods, which would be sent back to England by way of profit.

It's unlikely old John was an ancestor, for another family tradition is that the Scottish Whitsons are all descended from three Viking brothers. But it's a good story, and there are enough grains of credibility about it to think it might be true.