Natalie Hodgson – Lady in Lavender

Natalie Hodgson – Lady in Lavender

By Nicky Westwood

Some of you may remember Natalie Hodgson, beekeeper, lavender farm owner, and long-time member of the Herb Society. I was recently reminded about her when chatting with Herb Society Fellow, Jan Greenland, and later Jan sent me an article from the August 1998 Shopshire magazine. Jan, as you can tell, is someone who never throws anything away! Natalie is on the cover, looking thoughtfully at her lavender field, and with her large Elizabethan mansion in the background. Natalie died in December 2007 at the age of 95, but for those of you who knew her, and those that didn’t, I thought I would bring her briefly back to life.


Natalie was one of those people you meet less and less now. She was part of the generation that had lived through WWII and come out stronger and brighter and firmer. She was a bundle of energy, and always full of ideas.

Born in Coventry in 1912 she was educated at Sherborne and The Sorbonne in Paris. She worked at the Foreign Office in London, and after the Second World War was a senior librarian. She and her late husband, Benji, moved to Astley Abbotts in 1953 and she took an active part in politics serving as an Independent member on Shropshire
County Council. They have three children and nine grandchildren.

After 51 years of marriage she was widowed in 1989 and found herself perforce the chief gardener at Astley Abbotts, and grew 100 different herbs, having prior to Benji’s death described herself as “pig ignorant” about plants. This garden was a popular call on the Shropshire circuit for the National Gardens Scheme.

Not satisfied with keeping the garden alive, she started a lavender farm, planting over 5,000 lavender plants. She said “I just turn up the soil where I want the plants to grow and put in two or three cuttings. Then I put the top off a plastic bottle over them and they usually do well. I have a 70% success rate.” This was open to the public from
June to August, providing help to local organisations. The farm produced its own wax polish, oils and pot pourri. Natalie ran lavender workshops, instructing others on how to make fragrant products from the plant’s flowers and foliage.


Natalie was well aware of the need for pollination. Describing herself as “a bit batty” she then installed twenty eight bee hives near the lavender field which included eight in Astley Abbotts Bee Village, complete with Bee Inn and Pollen Row. She ruefully observed to Jan Greenland, Herb Society Fellow, “Sadly more bees frequent the pub
than the church.”

There was always something lovely about being around Natalie, and I visited her several times at Astley Abbotts, and spoke to her often on the phone. She would say “This may be the last time you speak to me!” with wonderful valour and intrepidity, as though she would be off on another adventure. Somehow the idea of her going never
seemed likely: she had too much energy and enthusiasm.

Natalie became the oldest English author on record at the age of 93 when she wrote “Fateful Beauty”, the story of Frances Coke, whose father, Sir Edward Coke, introduced the Petition of Rights into Parliament. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Frances Coke lived during England’s Civil War. She was married off by her father to a man she didn’t
love, and her life was a short and unhappy one – she died at the age of 40 having been turned out of the home, and with no rights to see her children. Natalie decided to tell her story because it was a lot which befell many women of the time. The story sticks with me to this day.

At 95 Natalie’s love of bees led her, despite contrary family advice, to a bee keeping conference in Asia. She suffered DVT as a result of the return journey, which ultimately led to a heart attack. However, prior to her departure from this world, she celebrated her 95th birthday at the House of Lords, where a get-together was organised by her elder son, Lord Robin Hodgson, of Astley Abbotts. She always did things in style!

Fateful Beauty: The Story of Francis Coke (1602-1642) by Natalie Hodgson is published by Eye Books ISBN: 1903070503


The Herb Society Annual Meeting 2018

Join Us!

Our Annual General Meeting is coming round soon and we’d love to see as many people there as possible.

We are having a range of herb-related & nature-inspired stands which will be available to browse all day. In addition to the AGM itself, we have the Herb Society president Alys Fowler giving a talk and doing a book signing.


We also have a fascinating short film about our founder Hilda Leyel which we will show in the afternoon.

The Annual Meeting is a great way to catch up with other members, the Trustees and hear more about what our Society is doing to promote the use and enjoyment of herbs so we hope to see you there.

Details of how to attend have been published to all members by mail along with the latest Herbs magazine. If you would like more information on joining us on the day, please drop us a line at and we’ll get right back to you with how to join.

Three herbs to try today

If you are new to herbs the range and variety of plants can sometimes be a little overwhelming. Here is a simple guide to show you how to easily incorporate three very effective herbs. You might even have some of these growing in your garden or in your kitchen herb rack!

1. Chamomile

Chamomile flowers

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is a wonderful soothing herb and an important herb to always have stocked as it is used for a number of different ailments. A hot infusion of chamomile will help to soothe an upset stomach or combat feelings of nausea. It’s a good before bed herb as it can help you to unwind and drift off. Chamomile is an emollient – helping the skin to retain moisture – and an anti-inflammatory which makes it well placed to restore irritated or dry skin. You can make a relaxing herb soak by adding a couple of chamomile teabags into your bath and then rubbing the teabags directly on your skin to moisturise and restore.

2. Lemon balm


We all need a herbal pick-me-up from time to time and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) has long been associated with raising spirits and lifting the heart. The Arabian herbalist Avicenna (980-1037) said that lemon balm “causeth the mind and heart to be merry”. As a nervine, it works on our nervous system and modern research has shown it to be an effective remedy for anxiety, depression and insomnia. It combines well with lavender as a herbal infusion for relieving stress and tension. It’s also a great herb for bees who adore the flowers and explains its botanical name melissa which is derived from the Greek word meaning bee.

3. Rosemary

Rosemary geffrye

Most commonly regarded as a culinary herb, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) also has many applications as a medicinal plant. It is a circulatory tonic and a hot infusion of rosemary will not only aid digestion but will also help alleviate headaches and tiredness. We like to have a hot infusion of rosemary after lunch to help focus our minds and power us through the afternoon. It is also said to promote concentration and memory so good to carry a sprig with you to sniff on before a big test, interview or presentation. You can also make a massage rub by mixing 5 drops of rosemary essential oil with 15ml almond oil to soothe aching muscles and joints.

In praise of rocket

The herb rocket

The herb rocket, Eruca sativa, is my favourite salad item. It is easy to grow, and in my opinion has a much more interesting flavour than lettuce, being slightly peppery.

I think it’s great on pizza, or teamed with steak and new potatoes as an alternative to peas and chips. Being high in vitamin C and potassium, it is good for you too.

rocket herb pizza

Rocket adds interest to pizza

There is evidence of rocket being grown since Roman times, and Virgil even mentions it as an aphrodisiac. During the Middle Ages, it is thought to have been avoided in monasteries for similar reasons, but was often grown by the general public and was considered suitable to eat when mixed with other lettuce leaves. From its home near the Mediterranean, it is widely grown across the World, being found in the cuisines of Europe, North Africa, South America, the Gulf states, West Asia and Northern India.

Growing rocket from seed

Rocket is a suitable seed for children to try as it germinates reliably and grows quickly. Sow in a warm position March to July 0.5cm deep, and thin to 15cm apart. Keep well watered and harvest May to October. The great thing about thinning salad seedlings is that you can eat the rejected plants! The seeds are best germinated on a windowsill or somewhere warm, but can be moved to a cooler position once they have come up. Keep the tips pinched out to encourage bushy growth and discourage flowering, which makes the leaves tough. Sow a few seeds every few weeks so that as one batch is used up, another becomes available.

rocket seedlings

Rocket seedlings in a pot in the greenhouse in April, awaiting thinning

Due to rocket’s high nutrient levels, it is popular for culinary purposes. Other than use in salad, leaves can be briefly wilted in a stir-fry, and the seeds are also edible and are sometimes pressed for their oil. Do comment below if you know of a medicinal use for the plant!

New faces at the Herb Society

The Herb Society welcomes three new trustees

This year we have been very lucky to attract three new committee members to the Herb Society. This is very important for us as the more help we get, the more we can do!

Introducing Fay Chapman

If you like herbs and are on Facebook, you may have come across Fay, whose page Herbalicious is very popular. She is a busy lady and current roles include working as Visitor Centre Manager for the Essex Wildlife Trust. She has taken over responsibility for local groups, so if you’d like to set up a herb group in your area, why not get in touch! To see if there’s already a local group in your area, do check out the local groups page on our main website where there is more information and contact details.

Introducing Natalie Mady

Natalie has been a trustee for a few months now, and has been doing a grand job of running the Herb Society Facebook and Twitter pages. Londoners may recognise her from Hackney Herbal, a social enterprise specialising in creative events which explore the beneficial uses of herbs.

Introducing Nicky Westwood

Nicky has also been a trustee for a few months, but has been active in the Herb Society for many years. Most recently she has been responsible for the email newsletter and events. You can read more about Nicky on a previous blog post.

Get involved with the Herb Society

It really is a case of the more the merrier! If you’re not a member, do think about joining – find out about member benefits via this link. Plus if you have some time to spare, do get in touch! If you don’t think you can commit to being a trustee, volunteers can help in almost every area of our Society, from running a stand at an event, to displaying leaflets, and there is often a project on the go. If you would like to get involved, do contact Elaine in our office

The Herb Society’s 90th Birthday

This year sees the ninetieth anniversary of the formation of the Herb Society. In 1927 Hilda Leyel (1880 – 1957) founded the Society of Herbalists, which would later become the Herb Society, with the aim of supporting the practice of herbal medicine in Britain.

For more about this fascinating lady, who did many charitable works, and founded the Culpeper shops, do see the current issue of our journal Herbs (42.1, March 2017). We are proud to have her grandson, Peter Leyel as a patron of our society.

To help celebrate our 90th birthday, we would love to publish members’ thoughts on herbs and what the Herb Society means to them. Members – do contact Herbs journal editor Barbara Segall urgently with any thoughts or messages, or even a photo, to be published later this year.Do email Barbara at – members only please! She would love to receive any thoughts and/or photos by Friday 7th April to give her time to put them in the next issue of the journal.

I will be sending Barbara my herb memories, which include visiting a sensory garden as a child. The first time I came across the Herb Society was when I met Barbara at a conference about lavender in 2009 and I have been a member ever since. Herbs are such a broad subject, it’s great to be able to meet people with such a range of interests, from gardening through craft, cosmetics, remedies, medicine and history.

sensory herbs

This scented area at Cambridge Botanic Garden includes scented leaf pelargoniums, nicotiana, heliotrope and rosemary plants

If you would like to receive the journal or are interested in finding out more about membership and the Herb Society, do visit our main site at

Another benefit of membership is Nicky Westwood’s very informative e-newsletter. In the April edition, she shares her memories of the society, having been involved in its administration for many years. If you are a member and don’t receive this email, do contact to update your information.

Cloves for toothache

Using cloves as an anesthetic

My husband had toothache a few weeks ago, and while he awaited his appointment at the dentist, he resorted to local application of an occasional drop of the well-known anesthetic, clove oil. At the same time, I had a sore throat and asked if it could help that too. He looked it up on the internet and told me I could gargle with two drops of the oil in a cup of warm water. This gave me a pleasant fresh taste in my mouth and a mild, short-lived numbing effect. Do be aware, though, that clove oil should only be used diluted and in small quantities.
cloves natural toothache remedy

Cloves contain Eugenol

Eugenol is the active ingredient in clove oil, and can also be found in spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon as well as the herbs basil and bay. It acts as an analgesic by blocking nerve conduction and has various other properties including as an antibacterial [1].

clove plant boston library

This picture of a clove plant was sourced from Boston Public Library on Flikr – a great resource for free vintage images.

The botanical name of the clove plant is Syzygium aromaticum. The plant is an evergreen which is native to Indonesia, and it is the dried flower bud which is used as a spice, although the stem and leaf also contain significant quantities of the active compound eugenol.
whole cloves spice analgesic

Antibacterial properties of cloves

The antibiotic nature of cloves can be attributed to the presence of eugenol, although other phytochemicals are of course present in the spice. It is possible that the relatively long shelf-life of spiced food may be an indicator of this germ-killing effect. Eugenol has been found to work by disrupting bacterial cell membranes [2]. There has been decades of work on the possibility of using various herbs and spices including cloves for use as antibiotics [3]. Work has been carried out to evaluate essential oils from spices for targeting resistant antibiotics for some time and there is some evidence to show that combining particular herbs and spices may have a particularly good effect [4].

natural antibiotic clove

Possible Future Uses of Spices as Antibiotics

There is currently an international race to beat antibiotic resistance. Going back to nature is one route that scientists are pursuing to find new ways of beating bacteria. Additionally, poorer countries may prefer to find natural, non-patented medicines which are likely to be cheaper than manufactured ones. However, because cloves can be an irritant, causing sensitization with repeated exposure, and are poisonous in larger doses, their usefulness may be limited.

Clove Oil Cautions

As mentioned above, clove oil should be used diluted and sparingly. As with many essential oils and medicines, it is poisonous in large quantities, and repeated use can result in sensitization. If you have dental discomfort, see your dentist as soon as possible. Do not use if pregnant.

Scientific References for the use of Eugenol and Clove Oil

[1] Advances in Pharmacological Research of Eugenol, Xiaojun KONG, Xiwang LIU, Jianyong LI, Yajun YANG, Curr Opin Complement Alternat Med 1:1, 8-11; January/February 2014
[2] The proposed mechanism of bactericidal action of eugenol, -terpineol and -terpinene against Listeria monocytogenes, Streptococcus pyogenes, Proteus vulgaris and Escherichia coli, S. O. Oyedemi*, A. I. Okoh, L. V. Mabinya, G. Pirochenva and A. J. Afolayan, African Journal of Biotechnology Vol. 8 (7), pp. 1280-1286, 6 April, 2009
[3] Bioactive Volatile Compounds from Plants, Editors: Roy Teranishi, Ron G. Buttery, Hiroshi Sugisawa, American Chemical Society Symposium series, Volume 525, April 06 1993
[4] Antibacterial Activity of Plant Extracts and Phytochemicals on Antibiotic-resistant Bacteria, Gislene G. F. Nascimento; Juliana Locatelli; Paulo C. Freitas; Giuliana L. Silva, Braz. J. Microbiol. vol.31 no.4 São Paulo Oct./Dec. 2000