Lady Laurel

(Daphne mezereum) The specific name, mezereum, comes from a Persian word, Madzaryon, which means destroyer of life, for the red berries are poisonous (although they were once used as a pepper substitute (Hyam & Pankhurst). And Russian peasants used to take up to thirty of the berries as a purge, while the French regarded fifteen as a fatal dose (Le Strange). The bark is poisonous, too. It is said that Hampshire beggars used to produce artificial sores by infecting a wound with this plant...

Stinking Hellebore

(Helleborus foetidus) Poisonous, of course, like all the hellebores. Even so, it was a protective plant for the homestead in early times, when it was also believed to be an antidote against madness (Genders.1971). Considering the toxic nature of the plant, one wonders how it was used, and how many people were killed while being treated. Still, it did have its domestic uses, in pest control, for people used to powder the roots and mix them with meal to lay down and poison the mice (Drury. 1992)....

Cypress Spurge

(Euphorbia cyparissias) Lindley mentions its use as a purge, but warned that it was not very safe. It is in fact very violent, but it was still in use in France in recent times (Le Strange). As with other spurges, the juice is used to get rid of warts, but once more a warning has to be given - it can cause blisters on the skin (Schauenberg & Paris). The most spectacular of its uses comes from Russia, where it used to be employed as a rabies cure. It had to be gathered, we are told, in May...

Marsh Rosemary

(Ledum palustre) It used to be employed as an anti-parasitic to treat lice, scabies, etc. It is also a traditional abortifacient (Schauenberg & Paris). It is certainly narcotic enough to cause trance, or at least deep sleep. There seems to have been a custom among Finns, on the eve of a wedding, of plying the groom with beer containing Marsh Rosemary, enough of it to cause him to fall into a deep sleep, during which the bride took the opportunity to crawl between his legs. Apparently, this...

Dodder

(Cuscuta epithymum) Surprisingly, there is virtually no folklore attached to dodder, in spite of the wealth of local names. The word itself is the plural of dodd, which means a bunch of threads, perfectly descriptive of the plant. It is parasitic, of course, and ascribed to the devil. Hence the local name, Devil's Threads, or Devil's Net, very apt. Even more expressive is Devil's Guts, recorded widely throughout England and Scotland (Grigson. 1955). A story from parts of France tells that the...

Milkwort

(Polygala vulgaris) In Wales, it was once thought that milkwort in a pasture would increase the milk yield of the cattle grazing on it (Gibbings. 1941). Another belief from Wales was that it cures slight dog- or snake-bites (Trevelyan), and it enjoyed the same reputation in Leicestershire (Billson), probably taking the cue from the roots (cf SENEGA SNAKEROOT). The roots secrete a milky fluid, hence the name Milkwort, that was, and probably still is, used for rubbing on warts. Gerard knew the...

Tree Celandine

(Bocconia frutescens) A small tree from central America south to Peru. The Totonac use it for ringworm of the scalp, the leaves being soaked in alcohol and the affected parts bathed it is also used for tuberculosis, when the leaves are boiled and the liquid drunk, or as a bath (Kelly & Palerm). A root infusion is used to treat jaundice and oedema in Colombia, while in Mexico the same infusion is used to cure warts and ophthalmia (Usher). The bark contains an alkaloid that has been used as an...

Touchmenot

The common name and the specific are borrowed from the words Christ spoke to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection (see John. xx. 17). The same caution applies in a French superstition recorded by Sebillot. 1906 It seems that girls were made to touch this plant. If she was not a virgin the flower would recoil and fade at once. It has the usual balsam method of explosive seed distribution, hence names like Jumping Betty, or Jumping Jack (Parish), as well as...

Hogweed

(Heracleum sphondyllium) The young shoots are edible, boiled as in cooking asparagus (they say it actually tastes not unlike asparagus). Later in the season the stalks can be used as a green vegetable, but then the bitter outer parts have to be peeled off. Pigs like it - why else should it be called Hogweed All over the country in days gone by, the plant has been gathered as free food for pigs. There is one superstition recorded that seems on the face of it dubious. Scrammy-handed, we are told...

Alkanet

(Anchusa officinalis) The gentlewomen of France do paint their faces with these roots. as it is said (Gerard). Anchusa is from the Greek meaning to paint or dye (another species is Dyer's Bugloss (A tinctoria). Alkanet seems to be one of the most ancient of face cosmetics (Clair). This use of the roots for making rouge led to the plant becoming known as a symbol of falsehood (Folkard).

Ginger

(Zingiber officinale) great Quantities of it are us'd by the Hawkers and Chandlers in the Country, who mix it with pepper they reduce it to Powder, and then call it white Spice (Pomet). Apart from its use as a spice and as a base for alcoholic liquors of one kind or another, ginger has for a very long time enjoyed a reputation for medicinal use, from the prescription of Arabian and Persian doctors for impotence (Dalby), to its still popular reputation as a stomach settler, and this use dates...

Tobacco

(Nicotiana tabacum) The name 'tobacco' comes from the Spanish tabaco, which in turn is derived directly from the Arawak term for the cigar. More accurately, it comes from an implement used by the Carib Indians, called a tabaco. They strewed dry tobacco leaves on the embers of a fire, and inhaled the smoke through a hollow forked reed, the two ends of which were put in the nostrils. This reed was the tabaco. By a misunderstanding, the name became transferred to the herb, and so gave tobacco...

Quaking Grass

(Briza media) A common grass with dozens of local names, all of the quaking or trembling type, such as Shaky Grass, Wiggle-waggle Grass, Dothering Dillies, and Shickle-Shacklers, to name only a few. Wiltshire children used to be told that if the spikelets ever stop trembling they would change into silver sixpences or shillings. In France, it was reckoned to be a St John's Herb, picked on St John's Eve and purified in the smoke of the Midsummer Fires (Grigson. 1959). For what purpose, though But...

Rimu

(Dacrydium cupressinum) A tall New Zealand conifer, with red timber, stained, in Maori mythology, by the blood of the water monster, Tuna-roa, killed by Mairu (Andersen). Rimu, the name by which it is usually known, is what the Maori call it. They pulped the bark to apply to burns, and the gum, which, incidentally, is the reason for naming the genus Dacrydium (from Greek Dakrydion, a tear), which is a reference to the drops of resin (Leathart), was used to stop the flow of blood from a wound. A...

Rollright Stones

(Oxfordshire) The legend tells that the biggest of the stones, called the King Stone, was once a man who would have been King of England if he could have seen Long Compton. A witch said Seven long strides shalt thou take, and If Long Compton thou canst see, King of England thou shalt be. On his seventh stride a mound rose up before him, hiding Long Compton from him. The witch then said As Long Compton thou canst not see, King of England thou shalt not be, Rise up, stick, and still, stone, For...

Carbuncle

An ancient cure for the condition used KNAPWEED. The Welsh medical text known as the Physicians of Myddfai has For a carbuncle . take the flowers of the Knapweed or the leaves, pounding with the yolk of an egg and fine salt, then applying thereto, and this will disperse it. They have been dealt with too, by using a TOBACCO leaf as a poultice (Thomas & Thomas). Another American remedy was by the use of SWEET FLAG - the roots would be mashed to a similar consistency as mashed potatoes, and...

Maidenhair Fern

(Adiantum capillus-veneris) Adiantum is from a Greek word meaning unmoistened, because the fern has the property of repelling moisture, a peculiarity that was attributed to the hair of Venus (capillus-veneris), who when she rose from the sea came out with dry hair. So, ever since these legends arose, it has been used in hair lotions, and particularly in lotions to prevent the hair going out of curl on damp days. The doctrine of signatures ensured that it should be used for alopecia it is the...

Wild Cherry

(Prunus avium) To dream of cherries means misfortune, according to Dyer. 1889, but A merry year (A C Smith Swainson. 1873). The wild cherry had some magical uses to get rid of a fever all one had to do was to lie naked under the tree on St John's Day, and to shake the dew on one's back (Dyer. 1889). This was from Germany, but there was a very similar usage from the south of France, the tree being the peach this time. There were genuine attempts at medicinal usage, though. The distilled water of...

Red Mahogany

(Khaya nyassica) It has an astringent bark, resembling quinine in its nature. The bark infusion is taken to relieve a cold. The seeds are used, too, crushed and boiled to extract the oil, which is then rubbed into the hair to kill vermin (Palgrave & Palgrave). As it is one of the biggest and most imposing of trees, it is used in medicines for strength. It features in an Ambo chief's medicine, the inclusion of this strengthens the medicine to such an extent that it cannot be overcome by...

White Horehound

(Marrubium vulgare) Evelyn recommended the use of white horehound in beer instead of hops, and horehound beer was an East Anglian specialty (Clair). Randall records how his mother would always put a sprig of horehound in her brew, to improve the flavour, and to improve appetite. In Dorset, horehound and wood sage boiled and mixed with sugar made a cooling drink called woodsage beer, which was drunk at harvest time (Dacombe). Candied horehound was made, too (Grieve. 1933). But the herb is best...

Sandalwood

(Santalum album) A fragrant oil, called Oil of Santal, is distilled from the heartwood for use in perfumery and cosmetics. The paste that can be got by rubbing the wood on a stone with a little water is used for painting the body after bathing, and is also used for making caste marks, especially in south India (Pandey). The Chinese make joss sticks from the wood (Usher), and incense from the sawdust, mixed with swine's dung( ) (Moldenke & Moldenke). The oil is used for the treatment of...

Beet Root

(Beta vulgaris 'Maritima') Very popular in Russia, where it is mainly used as a base for the soup borsch. The only note there is as to the use of anything but the root comes from the Isle of Wight, where apparently it was the custom to eat the leaves, under the name Wild, or Sea, Spinach (Grigson. 1955). There is not much in the way of superstition recorded, though the Pennsylvania Germans say that if beets run to seed the first year, it foretells a funeral, or someone in the family will die...

Barwood

(Pterocarpus angolensis) A Central African tree, and the best of African timbers, very durable. Both the bark and roots are used medicinally, the bark by hot infusion mixed with figs, and used as a breast massage to induce lactation. The bark on its own is used as a cure for nettle rash, and the infusion for stomach upsets, headaches and mouth ulcers (Palgrave). One of the Mashona witch doctor's medicine for a persistent cough in adults is to take a piece of bark from the east side of the tree,...

Bitter Gourd

(Colocynthus vulgaris) Colocynth means bitter gourd - it is exceedingly bitter (indeed it is of an intolerable bitterness (Pomet) ). The gall of the Bible often refers to this (Moldenke). In minimal doses it is a violent purgative in larger doses it is lethal, which makes the practice of rubbing it on the nipples to wean a child surprising, to say the least (Van Andel). A piece of root set in a gold or silver case, was hung round a baby's neck as a teething amulet, a practice recommended by a...

Water Avens

(Geum rivale) The roots are aromatic, slightly astringent, and once used to flavour ale, and to keep it from turning sour (Hulme). A decoction of the rootstock was a favourite beverage among the American Indians (Yanovsky), and it is still used, boiled in milk and sweetened, as a beverage not too different from chocolate (Sanford). The plant is actually called Chocolate-root (Sanford), or Indian Chocolate (Leighton). It has its medicinal uses, too, as an aromatic bitter, and the root was chewed...

Chicory

(Cichorium intybus) It was cultivated on the Continent up to World War II, for the root, which is used as a substitute for coffee, and is sometimes mixed with real coffee as an adulterant. It is very bitter, and contains no caffeine or tannin (Sanford). It was introduced as a coffee substitute in the 18th century, but it was actually banned by a law of 1832, repealed in 1840, though it has now virtually died out as a coffee substitute (Brouk). Another use for the foliage, which is edible once...

Bee Balm

(Melissa officinalis) The leaves have a lemon fragrance, and because of this it was used as a strewing herb (Clair), with a quasi-medicinal effect, as one writer put it (Fletcher). The stems were woven into chaplets for ladies to wear (Genders. 1972), and even the juice was used as a furniture polish which also gave the wood a sweet perfume. Not surprisingly, balm is the symbol of pleasantry (Leyel. 1937). Melissa means a bee, and has the reputation of keeping bees in their hive. Gerard said...

Dysentery

An early remedy shows a great mixture of magic and medicine, for it required the herbalist to dig up a BRAMBLE of which both ends were in the earth, and then to take the newer root, cut nine chips on the left hand and sing three times, Miserere mei Deus, and nine times the Our Father. Having completed that part of the preparation, take then MUGWORT and everlasting and boil these three in several kinds of milk until they become red. Let him then sup a good bowl of it fasting at night, some time...

Turmeric

(Curcuma longa) Grown for its bright yellow dye, which is not fast to light, let alone washing, and so has to have some mordant with it. It was used in surprising ways, if we are to believe Pomet - the Founders employ it to tinge their Metals, and the Button-makers to rub their wood with, when they would make an Imitation of Gold. Where the simplest preparation is still in use, in the Pacific islands and New Guinea, it serves mainly for cosmetics or for painting wood, etc., (Buhler). Body...

Sowbread

(Cyclamen europaeum) Most people will call this plant Cyclamen, the English name being but rarely used now. Sowbread, however, was given quite simply because it was used as a food for swine. Cyclamen, id est, panis porcinus (Rufinus, in Thorndike). Such a usage strains belief these days, and it is quite possible that truffles, which pigs certainly like, were meant. Friend claimed that cyclamen was used as a charm against bad weather, though in some parts of America it was not a favourite to...

Thrush

A Devonshire charm for the thrush was to take three RUSHES from any running stream, and pass them separately through the mouth of the infant, then plunge the rushes back in the stream. As the current bears them away, so will the thrush go from the child (Burton). A French charm for thrush in infants was to put a piece of PRIVET in flower over the chimney piece. When this dries up, the child's thrush will also have dried (Loux). In Indonesia, root juice of the Red Silkcotton Tree (Bombax ceiba)...

Sloes

Are the fruit of the BLACKTHORN (Prunus spinosa). The name is OE sla(h). Robert Graves pointed out that the words sloe and slay are closely related in early English, something that may account for the unlucky label given to the tree. The name appears in various guises as dialectal forms. Slue is a Wiltshire variant (Dartnell& Goddard), and the word has appeared also as Slow (Drury. 1992), or Slea (A E Baker). Slon, or Slan (Grigson. 1955), are modern singulars of the ME plural slon and OE...

Butter Bean

(Phaseolus lunatus) see LIMA BEAN BUTTERCUP i.e., Ranunculus acris (Meadow Buttercup). R bulbosus (Bulbous Buttercup) and R repens (Creeping Buttercup). Meadow buttercup was rubbed on cows' udders with some ceremony on May Day in Ireland. One wonders why, though it is because of the long-lived tradition, flying in the face of all the facts, that buttercups impart a good colour to butter, or that they improve the quality of the milk. In fact, of course, the milk of cows that eat them becomes...

Turnip

Turnips seem to have been first grown in the London area in the 16th century, but Norfolk was the first county in which they were extensively cultivated for cattle feed (G M Taylor). Gerard, at the end of that century, was rather disparaging about them the root .is many times eaten raw, especially of the poore people in Wales, but most commonly boiled. The raw root is windy, and engendreth grosse and cold bloud the boiled doth coole lesse . yet it is moist and windy. The Regimen Sanitatis...

Sagebrush

(Artemisia tridentata) A North American species, much used medicinally by the Indians. The Klamath, for instance, took the decoction for diarrhoea (Spier), as did the Coahuilla and the Tewa, who also chewed and swallowed the leaves for a cough (Youngken). The Gosiute (Chamberlin) and the Navajo used it for colds and fevers. The same people used it for headaches, which they still say can be cured simply by smelling the plant (Elmore). The Klamath had a sort of ceremonial use for the plant. At...

Dandruff

PARSLEY makes a good lotion for getting rid of dandruff, and helps to stave off baldness (A W Hatfield). The Wiltshire remedy was to massage the scalp with a NETTLE infusion each day (Wiltshire) (see also Baldness). An American domestic remedy for the condition is to use a lotion made of one part APPLE juice to three parts of water (H M Hyatt). Evelyn favoured a MYRTLE decoction for dandruff, and also for dyeing the hair black. Not only that, but it keepeth them from shedding. Gerard reported...

Coriander

(Coriandrum sativum) When green, the seed has a very disagreeable smell, hence the name Coriander, which is derived from Greek koros, a bug. But when fully ripe, the flavour is aromatic, and the longer they are kept, the more fragrant they become. The seeds are used to flavour curries (Brownlow), pickles, and sauces, and for confectionery. Coriander comfits, for example, used to be made they were just the seeds coated with sugar (Hutchinson & Melville). They are used in flavouring liqueurs,...

Parsley Piert

(Aphanes arvensis) Parsley (Piert) refers to the form of the leaves, not any relationship to parsley. The common name is from French perce-pierre, meaning breakstone (Prior) and it is actually called Parsley Breakstone (Grigson. 1955) (cf SAXIFRAGE). By sympathy, it was much used against stone in the bladder. Gypsies use an infusion of the dried herb for gravel and other bladder troubles (Vesey-Fitzgerald). It was well-known as a powerful diuretic in Camden's time, and it was in great demand...

Measles

NETTLE tea has been much used for skin complaints (Porter. 1974), including eczema, boils, even measles (in Ireland (O Suilleabhainn)). COWSLIP wine or tea can be taken for measles for either has the ability to lower the temperature, so they can be taken for any fever (Hampshire FWI). YARROW tea, made from the flowers, is another folk remedy for the complaint (V G Hatfield. 1994). SAFFRON tea is the medicine used in American domestic medicine to cure the condition in young children (R B...

Dreams

Dream books tell that dreaming of ALMONDS signifies a journey, its success or otherwise depending on whether it was sweet or bitter almonds that were being eaten (Dyer). GARLIC in dreams indicates either the discovery of hidden treasure, or the approach of some domestic quarrel, the one apparently dependent on the other. But to dream of garlic in the home is lucky (Gordon). Similarly with ONIONS dreaming that you are peeling them foretells domestic strife and impending sickness (Raphael), and...

Woolly Yarrow

(Achillea lanulosa) A North American species. Like its European counterpart, it has its magical as well as its medicinal virtues. From the Fire fraternity of the Pueblo Indians, Zuni men used to chew the blossoms and root, and rub the mixture on their limbs and chest before going through the spectacular performance of passing live coals over their bodies. The same mixture was used for bathing the bodies of those who danced in fire. Not surprisingly, they used the plant medicinally for burns...

Roman Wormwood

(Artemisia pontica) It has a similar effect when used medicinally, though milder, as A absinthium, when used for colds, or as a tonic, or to expel worms (Sanford). If a root of this wort be hung over the door in any house, then may not any man damage the house (Cockayne). Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum > WATERCRESS Rosa canina > DOG ROSE Rosa pimpinellifolia > BURNET ROSE Rosa rubiginosa > SWEET BRIAR ROSARY PEA One of the names given to PRECATORY BEAN (Abrusprecatorius) in its capacity...

Celery

(Apium graveolens, which is Wild Celery Garden Celery is A graveolens 'Dulce'). Poisonous in its wild state, at least to cattle (Kingsbury. 1964) but blanching is the simple process that turns a poisonous plant into an edible one, though eating it will bring bad luck, at least according to Kentucky belief (Thomas & Thomas), but to dream of it is said to be a sign of robust good health (Raphael). On the other hand, it did appear, according to Graves, in an English formula for witches' flying...

Cocklebur

(Xanthium strumarium) In China, the leaves are used for dyeing yellow (F P Smith). Dioscorides had a recipe for making the hair yellow - the fruit being gathered before it be perfectly dry, and beaten, and put up into an earthen vessel, is of force to make hair yellow. It is a poisonous plant, but nevertheless, it is used medicinally. Cocklebur tea has been used to reduce fevers (H M Hyatt), and a sore throat remedy from Indiana uses the leaves and root, powdered. Mix with a little flour and...

Hypertension

GARLIC In Alabama domestic medicine, garlic is taken, cooked, preferably fried, to reduce blood pressure (Browne). Actually it is still prescribed, chopped finely in milk, for arteriosclerosis, as well as for hypertension (Fluck). Like true garlic, wild garlic, or RAMSONS, as it is generally known, has been used for hypertension, either by eating the fresh leaves, or by drinking a tea made from the dried leaves (Fluck). Actually, all the Alliums can be used to reduce blood pressure, including...

Edible Valerian

(Valeriana edulis) A species from the north-west coast of North America, and an evil-smelling plant, so much so that the Klamath Indians used to bury it with food in order to discourage animals from digging up stores. Even grizzly bears avoid it (Spier). On the other hand, some groups in that area cooked the roots in stone-lined pits in the ground, or made them into soup or bread. Not any more, though. For nowadays they are convinced the plant is poisonous (Yanovsky). Some groups used it...

Knotgrass

(Polygonum aviculare) Dyer. 1889 says that knotgrass is probably so called from some unrecorded character by the doctrine of signatures, that it stops growth in children (presumably if they eat it). Cf Beaumont & Fletcher, Burning Pestle . and say they would put him into a strait pair of gaskins, 'twere worse than knotgrass, he would never grow after it. They used the concept in The Coxcomb, too We want a boy extremely for this function, Kept under for a year with milk and knot-grass....

Conception aids to

Women who wanted children were told to eat LEEKS, and not only in Wales, though Evelyn noted that the Welch, who eat them much, are observed to be very fruitful, and the Welsh medical text known as the Physicians of Myddfai lists among the virtues of leeks that it is good for women who desire children to eat (them). Perhaps the reason for such claims lies in the Germanic peoples' belief that leeks contribute to manly vigour (Wimberley), clearly derived from their upstanding growth. CARAWAY, at...

Alopecia

MAIDENHAIR FERN has been used to stop the hair falling out, a use stemming from the legend that the hair of Venus (capillus-veneris) was dry when the goddess came out of the sea, since when the fern has been used in hair lotions, particularly for lotions to prevent the hair from going out of curl on damp days. From there it is but a short step for the doctrine of signatures to ensure that it should be used for alopecia. It is the ashes of the fern, mixed with olive oil and vinegar, that are...

Choke Cherry

(Prunus virginiana) An American species that is cultivated in Mexico and central America. The cherry is small, black and bitter (hence Choke Cherry, presumably). Birds often get drunk eating them. However, the cherries are quite useful - country people infuse them in brandy as a flavouring (Lloyd), and native Americans used them as food the Ojibwe used to pound them, stones and all, and dried them to store as food (Densmore). The bark is slightly narcotic, making the user a little drowsy, and...

Dog Rose

(Rosa canina) It is so-called not, as with many plant names with 'dog' or 'dog's, because it was regarded as inferior in someway to other roses, but because it was supposed to cure the bite of a mad dog (Rowland). As such it is a straight translation from both the Greek and Latin. Aubrey (Aubrey. 1696) quoted Pliny on the belief. He mentions that a woman had a dream that told her to send her son, a soldier, a decoction of the root of a wild rose, which they call Cynorrhodon. The decoction...

Horseradish

(Armoracia rusticana) Fenland couples who wanted to know the sex of an unborn child put a piece of horseradish under each of their pillows. If the husband's piece turned black before the wife's, it would be a boy, and vice versa (Porter. 1958). Slightly more comprehensible was the belief that a piece of horseradish carried in the pocket would ensure that the owner would never to be without money (Swahn). Horseradish roots are high in Vitamin C content, almost double per 100 grams as orange...

Cardinal Flower

Used to be an essential institution at the feasts given by farmers to their labourers at the end of wheat-sowing (Grieve.1931). In Wiltshire, seed cake was always given at funerals, and in Lincolnshire, seed bread, made with either caraway or tansy seeds, is still traditional at funerals (Widdowson). Lozenge-shaped buns with caraway seeds were called shittles in Leicestershire they were given to children and old people on St Valentine's Day. The village of Hawkshead, in Lancashire, used to be...

Ground Elder

(Aegopodium podagraria) see GOUTWEED GROUND IVY (Glechoma hederacea) In the past, Welsh milkmaids wore ground ivy when first milking the cows in the pastures (Trevelyan), and according to a story quoted by Lady Wilde, ground ivy carried in the hand gave protection against attacks by fairies (Wilde. 1902) (cf PEARLWORT). In the Tyrol, rue, worn with agrimony, maidenhair, broom straw and ground ivy, was said to confer fine vision, and to point out witches (Dyer. 1889). So, too, in Germany on May...

Rosebay Willowherb

The leaves are edible, and can be eaten as a vegetable, Linnaeus actually recommending that the young shoots should be served like asparagus (Grigson. 1955). Some North American Indian groups boiled the young leaves to make a beverage tea, and the roots, also edible, would be split open and eaten raw (Turner & Bell). The leaves are used in Russia to adulterate ordinary tea, the result being called Kapoorie Tea (Leyel, 1937, Usher). They are also used to flavour...

Marsh Mallow

(Alcea officinalis) The plant gave the sweet its name. Today it (the sweet) is made from starch, gelatine and sugar, but once it was produced from the roots of Marsh Mallow, for they contain starch, albumen and a crystallisable sugar, a fixed oil, and gelatine matter. It was said in Lincolnshire that eating the sweet would cure ague and rheumatism (V G Hatfield. 1994), and fishermen's wives were engaged in gathering it along the east coast (Mabey. 1972). The root can be eaten raw in salads, and...

Pennyroyal

(Mentha pulegium) Pennyroyal is a corruption of Puliol Royal (Latin pulices - fleas), for this is a good plant to use against them. The royal part of the name, so it is said, came about because royal palaces were not immune (Genders. 1971). It was supposed to purify stagnant water, too, and that is why sailors took it to sea with them (Bardswell). It is said that this plant was used in witchcraft to make people see double (Folkard), though why it should, and why that should be the aim, is not...

Green Purslane

(Portulaca oleracea) A food plant, valued highly by peoples as wide apart as the Navajo Indians, who eat the seeds (Elmore), and the Mano people of Liberia, who recognize it as an accessory green food, specially prescribed for malnutrition (Harley). There are a number of other medicinal uses throughout the world. The Navajo use the green plant for stomach ache (Elmore), and the Mano too recognize it as an indigestion remedy (Harley). In Central America, Maya medical texts prescribed the crushed...

Sea Wormwood

(Artemisia maritima) It is reported by such as dwell neere the sea side, that the cattell which doe feed where it groweth become fat and lusty very quickly (Gerard), who also noted its value, along with most other members of the genus, in keeping insects at bay the herbe with his stalkes laid in chests, presses and wardrobes, keepeth clothes from moths, and other vermin. Country people in Essex used to rub the forehead with a handful of sea wormwood to cure a headache.

Snakes Head Lily

(Fritillaria meleagris) Snake's-head, from the shape of the flower buds, while Fritillary comes from the Latin fritillus, a dice-box it is a reference to the chequered flowers, and to the chequer-board on which the dice were thrown. One of the names for this plant is Bloody Warrior, which looks odd it seems that it was one of the flowers which were supposed to grow from a drop of Dane's blood. Another name is Leopard Lily, and that looks just as strange, until Lazarus Bell is considered. It is...

Woodruff

(Asperula odorata) Odorata it certainly is, but the fresh leaves are quite scentless, and it is only in the dried state that the familiar hay smell becomes apparent. It is the coumarin content of the plant that is the cause of this fragrance, which transfers well to liquids. Richard Mabey enthused over the result of putting a sprig in a bottle of pure apple juice, and letting it steep for a week or two (Mabey. 1972). The Swiss put it in cognac and benedictine (Painter), while it is customary in...

Headache

Taking a drink made from the infused flowers of HONEYSUCKLE seems a pleasant way of getting rid of a headache (V G Hatfield), as is ROSEMARY tea, in a simple infusion of the leaves and flowers (Hill), or you could just rub the forehead with a handful of the herb (Newman & Wilson), and one can do the same with PEPPERMINT leaves, or drink the tea (Vesey-Fitzgerald). BISTORT tea is used in Cumbria (Newman & Wilson). Probably the best of all the headache remedies is LIME-BLOSSOM tea. It is...

Asafoetida

(Ferula assa-foetida) To prevent colds, tie a small bag of it round the neck. Sometimes the asafoetida would be soaked in camphor first (Stout). Tied round a baby's neck, it will help it to cut teeth without pain. Wear asafoetida to keep the itch away (Stout) - or to keep diphtheria away - or cure whooping cough - or, in Maryland, for hysteria (Whitney & Bullock). German Hexenbanner used to advise people who thought they were bewitched to burn asafoetida all night in every room of the house,...

Bracken

(Pteridium aquilinum) It will protect the house from lightning if hung up inside, but if it is cut or burnt, it will bring on rain. And if you tread on the plant it will cause you to become confused, and to lose your way (Waring). Cut in two, the root was supposed to show the initial letters of a lover's name, a quite widespread superstition (see Leather, Courtney, Forby). And initial letters are evident in the Guernsey belief that if you want to win at cards, gather bracken in the early...

Carob

(Ceratonia siliqua) Now John wore a garment of camel's hair, and a leather girdle around his waist and his food was locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3 4). Were Carob pods the locusts that John the Baptist ate in the desert In any case, they are certainly edible, and known as Algaroba-beans in commerce (F G Savage). The name Locust Bean is applied to the pod (Wit) - this is the name under which they are imported into Britain, and names like St John's Sweetbread (Kourennoff), and St John's Bread...

Feverfew

(Tanacetum parthenium) The name is OE feberfugen, from Latin febris, fever, and fugare, to drive away. Yet there is only one specific mention of fever in the list of recorded examples of the plant's medicinal uses, even though that mention seems to pay proper homage to the plant's traditional powers, for according to a Derbyshire belief all you had to do to cure a fever was to put a piece of feverfew in the bed (Addy). But it must have been important, for it was apparently grown commercially...

Japanese Mint

(Mentha arvensis Piperascens) In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the dried powdered leaves of this mint were specially imported, to be carried in small silver boxes fastened to the belts of gentlemen, who would inhale a pinch whenever they felt like it (Genders. 1972). Jasione montana > SHEEP'S BIT JASMINE (Jasminum officinale) A symbol of grace, elegance and amiability, and an emblem of the Virgin Mary (Ferguson). A south Indian folktale tells of a king whose laugh would spontaneously...

Jaundice

An infusion of GROUNDSEL is still in use in Cornwall for jaundice (Deane & Shaw). But most of the older prescriptions are nothing more than aspects of the doctrine of signatures - yellow flowers to cure the yellow disease. Gerard's recommendation of CORN MARIGOLD for jaundice is a case in point, and the use of GORSE is another example (Leyel. 1937), as is the Irish use of buttercup juice (O Suilleabhain), or the yellow sap of GREATER CELANDINE. TOADFLAX would be used, too, and so would...

Leprosy

In the second edition of Gerard, there is Bauhine saith that he heard the use of these (POTATO) roots was forbidden in Burgundy (where they call them Indian artichokes) for that they were persuaded the too frequent use of them caused leprosie. Bauhine is Gaspar Bauhin, whose Prodromos of 1620 set out the theory. As late as 1761 this prejudice against the potato was still apparent in that area, and its cause was probably to be accounted for by the doctrine of signatures, the skin of a potato...

Jujube

(Zizyphus jubajuba) A Chinese species, but long cultivated there and also in the Mediterranean area, and in southern USA. They have an edible, olive-sized fruit, known as French jujubes (Willis). These berries have been famous since ancient times for cold cures and for bronchitis. They used to be made up into lozenges, and were widely exported such lozenges are still called jujubes (Mitton). This plum is an excellent Pectoral, and opens the Body It expectorates tough Flegme, and is good against...

Knapweed

(Centaurea nigra) There are some love divination games played with knapweed. A young girl or man would pull the flower from the stalk, cut the top off the stamens with scissors, and lay the flower somewhere secret, where it could not be seen. She would think through the day, and try to dream through the night, of her lover, and then, on looking at the flowers next day, would judge of her success in love whether or not the stamens had shot out to their former length (Henderson). John Clare also...

Madagascar Periwinkle

(Catheranthus roseus) This is an important plant, which has been used in cancer research, particularly with regard to leukemia in children. But apart from that, it brings good luck to a house in Haiti, where it is used for hypertension (F Huxley), as it also is in Chinese medicine (Chinese medicinal herbs of Hong Kong. Vol 3). It was noted during medical research that a side effect of its use was euphoria and hallucinations. When this became generally known, there was an outbreak of...

Mallow

I.e., COMMON MALLOW (Malva sylvestris) This has been a plant used to decorate graves (Drury. 1994). In spite of the extraordinary belief that in the month of February, eat no pottage made of hocks, for they are venomous (Dawson. 1934), mallow leaves are perfectly edible, either boiled like spinach, or better, for they are very glutinous, made into soup. In Arab countries, the leaves of an almost identical species are the basis of the famous soup, melokhia (see Mabey. 1972 for receipt). Mallow's...

Ploughmans Spikenard

(Inula conyza) A handful of Ploughman's Spikenard burnt each day during summer will keep house-flies out of the house (Hewett). The root has a spicy scent, and used to be hung up in cottages to scent the musty air, and was until recent times burnt on ale-house fires to counteract the often unpleasant atmosphere (Genders. 1971). Or it could be used as a strewing herb. Turner claimed that either strewed upon the ground, or in a perfume with the smoke of it Coniza driveth away serpents and gnats...

Purslane

See also GREEN PURSLANE (Portulaca oleracea). One of the many supposed to be aphrodisiac (Haining). It has certainly been used as a medicine for a long time, as a cure for erysipelas, while Thomas Hill was of opinion that it helped the shingles. He also recommended it as helping the burning Fever., for worms and for toothache. It also helpeth swolne eyes, and spitting of bloud it stayeth the bleeding at the Nose, and the head-ache (T Hill. 1577).

Black Walnut

It is said in America that no plants will grow in the shade of a Black Walnut. Some research has been done on this, and it seems that the roots do secrete some substance harmful to other plants (Baker. 1977). The leaves, too, will keep away house-flies (Bergen. 1899). A dozen or so of these leaves boiled in a quart of water, with a teaspooon of sulphur added, is an Alabama eczema cure (R B Browne), and rubbing ringworm with the inside of a green walnut will...

Transference Charms

A method of passing an ailment to a tree or another person by some ritual, simple or complicated. Take ASPEN - its constant shivering, by the doctrine of signatures, was taken as a sign that it could cure the shivering disease, ague, or malaria. But in some areas in France, the fever could be transferred by the simple rite of the patient tying a ribbon to the tree (Sebillot). Cross OAKS were planted at crossroads so the people suffering from ague could peg a lock of their hair in the trunk, and...

Scarlet Pimpernel

(Anagallis arvensis) It is a magical plant, known in Ireland as the blessed herb (seamair mhuire), and having the power, so it was seriously thought, to move against a stream. There were more wonders ascribed to it. If you hold it, it gives you the second sight, and you can understand the speech of birds and animals (Grigson. 1955). It has the power of drawing out thorns or splinters, and can protect against witchcraft, if hung over the door or porch of a house (C J S Thompson. 1897). As usual,...

White Hellebore

(Veratrum album) No relation to the true hellebore, but still highly poisonous to man and cattle, producing among other symptoms a fall in blood pressure (the tincture is used medicinally to treat hypertension (Schauenberg & Paris)). The powdered rhizome sprinkled on currant and gooseberry bushes protects them against insect pests apparently the powder loses its toxic quality after three or four days, so it is safe to apply to ripening fruit (M Baker. 1977). Medicinally speaking, this is an...

Basil

French saying semer le basilic, as signifying slander (Femie). It also probably explains why in Italian folklore, basil always stands for hatred, although it had the opposite meaning in eastern countries (H N Webster). In India, where it is known as tulasi (Hemphill) (see HOLY BASIL, rather), it is sacred to Vishnu and Krishna (Clair). It is kept in every Hindu home as a disinfectant, and to protect the family from evil (A W Hatfield). It is said that basil will wither in the hands of the...

Barley

(Hordeum sativum) An Irish charm for warts was to get ten knots of barley straw (though it was more usual to use ten slices of potato), count out nine and throw away the tenth. Rub the wart with the nine, then roll them up in a piece of paper, and throw them before a funeral. Then the wart would gradually disappear (Haddon). Large amounts of boiled barley juice were recommended in Scotland to be drunk for kidney disease, and Jewish folklore has a recipe for retention of urine, i. e. water in...

Arabian Jasmine

In Cornwall the injunction covers St James's Day (25 July), when they say they get their final blessing (Vickery. 1995), and apples should only be picked at the shrinking of the moon (Notes and Queries. 1st series. vol 10 1854p156). And never plant a rowan near an apple tree, as one will kill the other (Tongue). But there are some lucky omens for instance, it is lucky to see the sun through the apple branches on Christmas Day (Baker. 1980). But it is really Old...

Archangel

(Angelica archangelica) It blooms around the Archangel Michael's Day, 8 May in the earlier tradition (Emboden), hence the comon name, though it is more likely that the name was given because Tradescant found it near the Russian town of that name (Fisher). According to Grimm, the name is given because its efficacy against such epidemic diseases as cholera and the plague was revealed by an angel in a dream. Then there was the name Holy Ghost - some call this an herb of the Holy Ghost others more...

Gooseberry

(Ribes uva-crispa) Simply known as Berries in Yorkshire, for there, gooseberries are berries, par excellence (Hunter), that grow on a Berry-tree. Gooseberry-pies are berry-pies. Perhaps it is not surprising that this is so, for gooseberries in the north have long been the subject of esteem and competition. Goosegog is another very common name for them. The fairy that guards the unripe fruit is known as Awd Goggie in Yorkshire (and, more sedately, in the Isle of Wight as the Gooseberry Wife)....

Ceylon Leadwort

(Plumbago zeylanica) It is popular throughout Africa as a remedy for parasitic skin diseases, especially leprosy it is also used as a root decoction to treat scabies and ulcers (Sofowora). It is used in the Philippines as an abortifacient (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk), but this is just as toxic as its relative, P indica. The sliced root and leaves are acrid enough to produce blisters, deliberately done sometimes. That acrid juice was the means of tattooing among some of the southern African...

Chickweed

(Stellaria media) A lucky plant, at least to the people of the Fen country of England, where it used to be grown in pots, to bring good luck to the house. If the plant was gathered when the dew was still on it, it was thought to turn the plainest woman into a beauty (Porter. 1969). Apparently, chickweed in the language of flowers symbolized rendezvous (Leyel. 1937), quite why is not clear. There is a little weather lore associated with the plant - it expands its leaves when fine weather is to...

Greater Celandine

(Chelidonium majus) The name Celandine (see also Lesser Celandine, Ranunculus ficaria) derives from Pliny, for he was responsible for the legend that seeks to account for the name, which was Khelidonion in Greek, from Khelidon, the swallow. The birds used the plant, he says, to restore their sight. But he also said the flowering of the plant coincided with the swallow's stay in Europe, but that would not agree with conditions as we know them. Theophrastus says it bloomed when the swallow-wind...

Milk Thistle

(Silybum marianum) The white veins of the leaves were believed to be due to the Virgin Mary spilling milk from her breast, hence the common name, and also the specific name, marianum. So the doctrine of signatures caused it to be taken as a proper diet for wet nurses (Page. 1978). Another remedy derived from the doctrine is its use to cure stitch in the side, for this plant has numerous prickles (Dyer. 1889). But herbalists prescribe the plant for many other disorders, particularly as a...

Plague

RUE's use in medicine in times past has been widespread and general, with claims for almost anything from warts to the plague. In the latter case, Alexis of Piedmont gave the following recipe, anglicised a long time ago as Take the toppe of Rue, a garlicke head and half a quarter of a walnutte and a corne of salt. Eat this every morning, contynuing so a munneth together and be mery and jocund. Gerard too gives a recipe for the plague with the leaves of rue. Thornton repeated the belief it is...

Smooth Sumach

(Rhus glabra) Much used by native Americans, mainly as a dye plant. The Ojibwa, for example used the pulp of the stalk to produce yellow (Buhler), while the Omaha and Winnebago used the roots for the same purpose (Gilmore). The Plains Indians used to dry the autumn leaves for smoking (Gilmore). They used the shrub widely, too, for medicinal purposes. One was to make a styptic wash from the boiled fruit to check bleeding (Sanford), especially to stop bleeding after childbirth (Corlett). The...

Teasel

(Dipsacus fullonum) A plant of prime importance in the cloth-making industry, the uses of which are mirrored in the names Fuller's Teasel and Burler's Teasel. Fulling is the process of raising the nap on woollen cloth, to give a softer feel to the fabric, and a burl is a knot in wool, so to burl is to remove these knots. Both processes were achieved by use of the dried flower heads of teasel, for no substitute for their gentle action on the finest cloths has been found (Ryder). The teasels were...

Water Pepper

(Polygonum hydropiper) They say that fleas will not come into a room where this herb is kept (Fernie). Rub it on warts, and throw the plant away (Stout). Herbalists use the tea to treat piles (Thomson. 1978). Tea is also used as a febrifuge in the southern states of America (Puckett), and, taken cold, for colds, in Iowa (Stout). The leaves infused in boiling water, or a strong decoction of them, were applied to bruises and contusions (Barton & Castle), and the juice, they say in Iowa, makes...

Bee Stings

Bruise a leaf of BALSAMINT and put it on a bee sting - it will bring relief (Brownlow). So will SUMMER SAVORY (and Winter Savory, Satureia montana) leaves (Clair), and Gerard advised using MALLOW leaves. He went on if a man be first anointed with the leaves stamped with a little oile, he shal not be stung at all. ONION juice rubbed on a bee or wasp sting was an old Wiltshire beekeepers' remedy (Wiltshire), but there is nothing either local or esoteric about that the remedy is recorded in...

Bee Keeping

Lived to 108, attributed his long life to it (M Baker. 1980). Indeed, there was a once popular restorative cordial, supposed to confer longevity, called Carmelite Water, apparently still made in France, under the name Eau de m lisse des Carmes, by macerating the fresh flowers and tops in fortified white wine, together with a variety of spices (Clair). There was also an Aqua Mellis, taken to be a decoction of balm, that was much used in 17th century England against baldness (Burton). After all...

Fourleaved Clover

Whoever has a four-leaved clover has luck in all things (even in love potions, according to the Channel Islands (Garis)). He cannot be cheated in a bargain, nor deceived, and whatever he takes in hand will prosper. It brings enlightenment to the brain, and makes one see and know the truth. But it must never be shown to anyone, or the power would no longer exist (Wilde. 1890), and it must never be taken into a church, for then they would become very unlucky (Nelson. 1991). Bretons say it will...

Goatweed

(Ageratum conyzoides) There are records of its use in traditional medicine in widely separate areas. The Chagga, in Africa, drink a decoction of the root for all abdominal upsets. In central Africa (and in the Far East (Perry & Metzger)) the leaf is used to help the healing of wounds and burns (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk). It is used in traditional medicine in Nigeria, too, for dressing wounds and ulcers, for craw-craw, and as an eyewash, while in East Africa it is used as a styptic...

Beekeeping

Beekeepers in the East Riding of Yorkshire used to sprinkle the hive with an elder branch dipped in sugar and water when the bees were ready to swarm (Addy). In Cornwall, too, they say that the inside of hives should be scrubbed with elder flowers to prevent a new swarm from leaving (Courtney). But bees do not seem to like the smell. When they swarm, a sprig of elder is often held about nine inches above them. The idea is that the elder will drive them out of the tree in which they are...

Silverweed

(Potentilla anserina) The roots of silverweed were a marginal or famine food in the Scottish Highlands (Grigson. 1955), and in Ireland (Drury. 1984), and they were known as a food of the fairies, too (MacGregor). The roots were roasted or boiled (Ferneie), or even eaten raw, or they could be ground into meal to make porridge, and also a kind of bread (Drury. 1984). Perhaps not so marginal, for Carmichael says that it was used a lot before the potato was introduced it was cultivated, so it grew...

Goutweed

(Aegopodium podagraria) A common white umbellifer, not a true native to Britain, but introduced in the Middle Ages or even earlier, by the Romans, according to some authorities (Huxley, for instance) as a potherb and medicinal plant. By now it is widespread and common, a pernicious weed in the garden (Ground Elder to the exasperated gardener). The young leaves are perfectly edible if boiled like spinach (see Jordan). Primarily, though, and as the common name shows, this is a medicinal herb, and...

Rhubarb

(Rheum rhaponticum) To dream of handling fresh rhubarb is a sign of being taken into favour with those with whom you were not on good terms (Raphael). There is a very odd belief from Kentucky that if a woman wears a bag of rhubarb round her neck, her children will not have club-feet (Thomas & Thomas). Bury a stick of rhubarb here and there in the bed when planting cabbages, against club-root (Boland & Boland). In Oxfordshire, they say that the first rhubarb of the year should be eaten on...