It's hard to overstate just how popular herbs were in the 19th century.

The gardens in which they grew tended to be large out of necessity. Herbs were expected not only to flavour food but also to heal wounds and soothe sorrows.

Doctors were in short supply back then particularly in small rural communities. Manitoulin Island was lucky to have access to a doctor in the early days of European settlement, but there was only one for the entire population so homesteaders had to figure out for themselves how to cure whatever it was that was ailing them with balms, poultices, salves, tinctures or teas.

Foxglove was used to treat heart pain. Horehound to calm coughs. Tansy to reduce fevers.

Other popular 19th century herbs included anise-hyssop, basil, bee balm, chives, cilantro, dill, horehound, horse radish, lavender, lemon balm, lemon verbena, lovage, marjoram, parsley, peppermint, rosemary, sage, savoury, spearmint, tarragon, thyme, and winter savory.

Herbs were used in potpourris, salads, stews, and vinegars. They were gathered into bundles and dried upside down in kitchens, on porches, or in barns. They were placed in vases with peonies or roses or daisies. They were used to dye fabric or burned to repel insects.

There were plenty of seed companies in the 19th century from which gardeners could order what they needed but that often wasn't necessary. It was common for seeds and plants to be passed down from one generation to the next or from one neighbour to the next. Many newcomers brought herbs with them to Canada from the old country along with the knowledge of how they were used.

They were a staple and they were indispensable. And many of Manitoulin's early residents would not have survived without them.