The Shakers for many years did not plant flowers simply for beauty. Everything had a purpose. That did not mean, however, that plants we now think of as purely ornamental did not have places in the Shaker garden. A by no means exhaustive list of plants that were used as remedies follows.
Boxwood – now used as a hedge. The Shakers used the bark as a tonic and astringent and sometimes as a substitute for quinine. (Who knew?)
Foxglove – A showy plant prized for its flowers. The Shakers used it for the heart (the active ingredient is still used for heart medicine) and asthma.
Gentian, blue fringed – A powerful tonic that improves the appetite and aids digestion.
Hollyhock – Used to treat coughs, female weakness (yes, really) , and inflammation of the bladder.
Hydrangea – A mild diurertic
Iris- Used for fragrance. It’s root was used as a powerful cathartic.
Lavender, English – Stimulant and tonic. Used in flatulence and fainting and to arrest vomiting.
Lobelia – Also called Wild or Indian Tobacco. Antispasmodic and emetic. The milky sap is poisonous.
Marigold – A tincture is used for cuts, bruises, sprains, and wounds, especially to prevent gangrene.
Peony – Both root and flowers were used as antispasmodics. particularly for epilepsy and spasms, and also for whooping cough.
Privet – Another common hedge plant. The leaves are astringent and used for mouthwash.
Rose – The petals were used as astringents. Rose hips also make a tea that is very high in vitamin C.
Sunflower – The seeds were used as expectorants and were used for coughs and pulmonary infections.
Violet – Used in colds, coughs and sore throats.
Were these herbs effective? We know some were because the active ingredients have since been isolated and put into modern medicines. Most of these at least did not harm. However, there are many herbs that were used in small doses that were, like the lobelia above, poisonous and had to be used with great care.