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 tainted, and the same holds true for the butter. But usually, cows will not eat buttercups at all, for they are all extremely acrid. The point is that they grow in good soil, and such soil produces a lot of good grass. That is what cows eat to improve their milk, not the buttercups.

The acrid principle made the plants notorious at one time, for beggars used them to raise blisters on their feet. As Gerard said, "cunning beggars do use it to stampe the leaves, and lay it unto their legs and arms, which causeth such filthy ulcers as we day by day see (among such wicked vagabonds) to move people the more to pitie". As a contrast, what could be more innocent than the pastime small children indulge in, of holding buttercups under each others' chins to see if they like butter? It must be the golden colour that makes this a symbol of riches (Leyel. 1937).

The principle of the counter-irritant made the medicinal use of buttercups possible. Chinese medicine certainly used it as such (F P Smith). Thornton's remedy for rheumatism must come under that heading -he recommended pounding the leaves and applying it as a poultice, "when it produces a vesication like a blister". Gerard recognized the idea, and in a burst of humour offered this: "Many do use to tie a little of the herbe stamped with salt unto any of the fingers, against the pain in the teeth; which medicine seldome faileth; for it causeth greater paine in the finger than was in the tooth ...".

Thornton actually said that they have been used internally for worms. Certainly, it would do the worms no good at all, but surely their host would suffer equally! O Suilleabhain quotes an Irish use of the juice for jaundice. This must surely be our doctrine of signatures. Any yellow plant, or anything with yellow juice, would automatically recommend itself to treat the yellow disease. A homeopathetic tincture of buttercup is taken, internally, for shingles (Leyel. 1937), and there are early records from Ireland of its use for St Anthony's Fire, i.e., erysipelas. Earlier still, Apuleius seemed confident with a recipe using one of the buttercups: "For a lunatic, take this wort, and wreathe it with red thread about the man's swere [neck], when the moon is on the wane, in the month which is called April, or in the early part of October, soon will he be healed" (Cockayne). Perhaps we are still talking about counter-irritants!

Buxus sempervirens > BOX


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