Hell Really Exists

Hell Really Exists

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(Geum urbanum) Avens used to be hung over a door to keep the devil from crossing the threshold (Boland. 1977), for this is herba benedicta, the blessed herb, or perhaps, as Prior suggested, benedicta is from St Benedict, founder of the Benedictine order, who was a hard ruler. His monks plotted to murder him by poisoning his wine. St Benedict made the sign of the cross over the glass, and it flew into pieces (he doesn't say what this has to do with avens, but goes on to say that the plant became known as an antidote to poison). In fact, the plant, which was called St Benedict's Herb, and Herb Bennett, etc., has nothing to do with the saint, but is the blessed herb, which stops the devil from entering. Even having it growing near the house is enough to deter the devil (Tongue. 1965). No venomous beast would come near it. It is herbe de St Benoit in France, and Benediktenkraut in German, still keeping the error in etymology, but it is Erba benedetta in Italian (Barton & Castle).

Avens was grown as a potherb in the 16th century (Grigson. 1955), and the young leaves were sometimes used in salads (Barton & Castle). A small amount of the root put in ale gives it a flavour and perfume, popular in Culpeper's day, and prevents it from turning sour. Augsburg Ale is said to owe its peculiar flavour to the addition of a small bag of avens in each cask (Grieve. 1931). The roots, tied in small bundles and put in an apple tart, will give it a clove flavour (Genders. 1971), hence the name Clove-root, or Clovewort. The roots were used to tan leather, and to dye wool a permanent dark yellow. They were also believed to repel moths - "the roots taken up in autumn and dried, do keepe garments from being eaten with moths ..." (Gerard).

Gypsies would use the crushed root as a cure for diarrhoea (Vesey-Fitzgerald), and not only gypsies, for it is quite common as a herbal cure for the condition and similar ailments. The Maoris chewed the leaves as a dysentery remedy (Goldie). It is an old febrifuge, and was recommended in the 19th century as a quinine substitute (Thornton). In Ireland, it was given for a chill (Moloney). In some French country regions, the root, gathered before sunrise, is put in a linen bag, to be worn round the neck, as an amulet to stop all bleeding, particularly haemorrhoids, and to strengthen the sight (Palaiseul). Wiltshire people used the powdered roots in boiling water as a spring pick-me-up. It is said that these roots should be dug on 25 March, from dry ground (Wiltshire).


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