Box

(Buxus sempervirens) An evergreen, with many of the associations shared with other evergreens, notably its use at funerals. In the north of England, a basin full of box sprigs was often put at the door of the house, or sometimes at the church door, before a funeral, and everyone who attended was expected to take one to carry in the procession and then to throw it into the grave (Ditchfield. 1891). Or a table was put at the door, with sprigs of rosemary, or sometimes lavender, and box, for each mourner to pick up as he came into the house (Vaux). Box grown in Lancashire gardens used to be known as Burying Box. It was thrown into the grave in Lincolnshire, too, as a symbol of life everlasting. Small sprigs are sometimes found when old graves are disturbed; though dry and brittle, they are usually quite green (Gutch & Peacock). They have even been found associated with Romano-British burials in Cambridgeshire and Berkshire (Vickery. 1984). Presumably, this practice led to the Dorset superstition that a sprig of box in flower brought indoors meant that death would soon cross the threshold (Udal). Again, the Bavarian custom that Frazer mentions of putting a piece of boxwood in the holy water basin stems directly from the association with the dead. Box was said to have been one of the timbers used to make the Cross, the others being cypress, cedar and pine. In the Eastern tradition, olive and palm are substituted for box and pine (Child & Colles). Chaucer writes of it as a dismal tree, and described Palaman in his misery as:

"Like was he to byholde,

The Boxe Tree or the Asschen dead and colde"

At Yport, Normandy, a branch of box that had been blessed by the priest was thrown into the sea on Palm Sunday, in a blessing of the sea ceremony (Salle). The Palm Sunday box also appeared in a Breton folk tale. When put in a baby's cradle, it protected the child, and stopped it being changed (Wentz). Box was used, too, to dress wells at Llanishen in Gwent, on New Year's

Eve (Baker. 1980). Another example of its worth as an evergreen is the fact that it was used to replace the Christmas decorations, from Candlemas to Easter (Dallimore). Herrick, Hesperides, notes the custom under Candlemas Day:

Down with the rosemary and bayes, Down with the mistletoe: In stead of holly now upraise The greener box for show; The holly hitherto did sway, Let box now domineer; Until the dancing Easter Day, Or Easter's Eve appear.

In France, it had many of the same associations as the mistletoe (Salle), and there is an American love divination played with box leaves. Name some and lay them on a hot hearth. The one that swells and whirls towards you will be your future husband or wife. If one turns in the opposite direction, he or she will shun you (Whitney & Bullock).

In spite of the death connection, box is generally a plant that brings good luck, and charms away sorcery (Sebillot). To dream of it "augurs well for love affairs" (Dyer. 1889), and foretells long life and prosperity, with a happy marriage and large family (Raphael).

Box hedges used to be planted as a plague preventive, particularly in Dorset. It is said that traces of these borders planted in the 16th century can still be seen in Netherbury (Dacombe). Box is a febrifuge, still prescribed by herbalists and homeopathic doctors, who treat it as a substitute for quinine, in malaria. In the form of a tincture, it is given for rheumatism, and diarrhoea, as well as fever (Palaiseul). A volatile oil distilled from the wood has been prescribed for epilepsy, and has been used too for piles and toothache (Grieve. 1931). The latter was particularly mentioned by Hill, while Evelyn said it was used in the treatment of venereal diseases. In Ireland, the leaves were used as a remedy for hydrophobia (Wood-Martin); compare this with the 14th century recipe: "For bytynge of a wood hound. Take the seed of box, and stampe it with holy watyr, and gif it hym to drynke" (Henslow).

In the 16th century, it was being claimed (Langham) that "the lee wherein the leaves have been sodden or steeped maketh the haire yelowe (or auburn, according to Parkinson) being often washed therewith". It is quite startling to find, some three hundred years later, that box leaves still appear in a recipe for a hair restorer : Ash to prevent the hair from falling off; a quarter of an ounce of unprepared tobacco leaves, two ounces of rosemary, two ounces of box leaves, boiled in a quart of water .. ."(Housekeeper's and Butler's Assistant; 1862). Boxwood turners' chips were used by herbalists as the basis of "hysteric ale", which also contained iron filings, and a variety of herbs. It was

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