(Ruscus aculeatus) The strange-looking common name came about because, so it is said, butchers once used the shrub to sweep their blocks. It suggests that this shrub was commoner in those times than is so today. It is a British native, but is very local, in the south. They do make hard brooms, for the shoots are stiff and spiny, stiff enough to be used as household besoms in Italy (Folkard). There is too a suggestion that butchers used them to tenderize their meat. They are certainly part of the crest of the Butchers' Company (Billington).
The young shoots are edible, and were once eaten "as sperage in sallads". It was, too, quite important as a medicinal plant, and has been so in quite recent times. Maud Grieve, for instance, was able to report that a root decoction was still given for jaundice and gravel in her day, and it was once used for dropsy too (Barton & Castle). It still is a favourite medicine for stone in Ireland. There the roots are boiled for eight hours, and a pint of whiskey added to a quart of the water, and the whole strained and bottled. The patient takes
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