Buckthorn

(Rhamnus cathartica) The black berries are a powerful purgative, but are dangerous to children (P North); in large doses they could cause intestinal haemorrhage (Fluck). "It is a rough purge", said Hill. 1754, "but a very good one", and they have been known as such since Anglo-Saxon times. Syrup of blackthorn, made from the juice of the berries, can still be bought (Fluck), but a hundred years or more ago it was used more for animals than for men (Fluckiger & Hanbury).

The berries have got other uses, for dyeing and making pigments, Sap Green among others, provided the proper mordant is used. As a dye, glovers would use them to give a yellow colour to their leather (Aubrey. 1867), and the yellow colour was used in the 19th century to tint paper (CP Johnson).

As with other thorns, this one could be used as a counter to witchcraft. There are records of this from Germany, for with a buckthorn stick a man can strike witches and demons, and no witch dared approach any vessel made of it (Lea). There are examples as far back as Ovid, who described a ceremony for countering a vampire witch. The final act was to put branches of buckthorn in the window (Halliday). Following the belief, it is easy to see how it could be used to protect one from the dead - chewing it was deemed protection enough. (Beza). Buckthorn appears also in the Cromarty legend of Willie Miller, who went to explore the Dripping-cave. "He sewed sprigs of rowan and wych-elm in the hem of his waistcoat, thrust a Bible into one pocket and a bottle of gin into the other, and providing himself with a torch, and a staff of buckthorn which had been cut at the full of moon ... he set out for the cave .. ."(H Miller). Is there a misreading in this case, for one would have expected his stick to be of the belligerent blackthorn rather than of buckthorn?

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