BIRTHWORT (Aristolochia clematitis) must be mentioned first in this connection. Aristolochia itself comes from two Greek words meaning 'best birth', and the association stems from the shape of the flower, which constricts into a tube that opens into a globular swelling at the base. The swelling was interpreted as the womb, the tube as the birth passage. So by the doctrine of signatures, it was used to help delivery, to encourage conception, and to "purge the womb". Oddly enough, it seems that the plant apparently does have an abortive effect (Grigson). Pliny said it was prescribed for securing a male child (Bonser). That prime fertility agent, MISTLETOE, was used in parts of France in cases of difficult labour

(Salle). The shoots of HOLLYHOCK, too, have been used in Chinese medicine to make labour easy (F P Smith). Sudeten women used to put LADY'S BEDSTRAW in their beds to make childbirth easier and safer, and since women who have just had a child are susceptible to attack by demons, they would not go out unless they had some lady's bedstraw with them in their shoes (Grigson. 1955).

RASPBERRY leaf tea is a general country drink taken to ensure easy childbirth. They say it should be started three months before the birth is due, and taken two or three times a week (Page. 1978). Highland women used it too as a means of strengthening the womb muscles (Beith). The tea was an old remedy for relieving morning sickness, and powdered leaves can be bought in tablet form (Addison. 1985); they are said to ensure relaxation in childbirth, a function that the fresh fruit will perform just as well. African women grind the bark of AKEE and mix it with locally made black soap to wash with during pregnancy. This is supposed to ensure easy delivery when the time comes (Soforowa), while other African peoples recommend that seven seeds of MELEGUETA PEPPER, with a piece of paw-paw root, should be chewed during labour. It is supposed to cause immediate delivery (Soforowa). Gypsy women used to drink LINSEED tea during pregnancy to ensure an easy birth (Vesey-Fitzgerald), and a Swedish belief had it that HEATH SPOTTED ORCHID (Dactylorchis maculata), known there as Maria's Keys, used to be put in the pregnant woman's bed as an amulet for easy delivery. A prayer was said at the same time in which the Virgin's keys were referred to, and the loan of them asked during childbirth (Kvideland & Sehmsdorf).

Greek midwives made sure that, at the birth of a child, the whole room smelled of GARLIC, and a few cloves had to be fastened round the baby's neck either at birth or immediately after baptism (Lawson). Palestinian mothers and new-born babies must be protected from Lilith with garlic cloves, for she would otherwise strangle the babies, and frighten the mother into madness (Hanauer). All this highlights garlic as a protector from evil influences. Another Greek, or rather Cretan, practice was to use DITTANY in difficult childbirth. That plant was dedicated to the goddess Lucina, who watched over women in childbirth (Gubernatis). But the earlier belief was "a hind . eateth this herb that she may calve easilier and sooner ..." (Bartholomew Anglicus), and observation of this led women to adopt the practice. PEARLWORT, put under the right knee of a woman in labour, soothed her mind and protected her child and herself from the fairies (J G Campbell. 1902), for this is the mystical Mothan, very important in Gaelic communities.

In the Highlands, at the birth of a child, the midwife used to put a green ASH stick into the fire, and while it was burning, let the sap drop into a spoon. This was given as the first spoonful of liquor to the newborn baby (Ramsay). The universe tree in Scandinavian mythology, Yggdrasil, is taken to be an ash. The cooked fruit of this tree ensures safe childbirth. Yggdrasil itself is the source of all new life (Crossley-Holland).

HONEYSUCKLE. In the Scottish ballad of Willie's Lady, the witch tries various means of preventing the birth of the Lady's child, including a "bush o' woodbine" planted between her bower and the girl's. Once this "restricting, constricting, plant" has been removed, the birth proceeds normally (Grigson).

The Physicians of Myddfai made the extraordinary claim, "if a woman be unable to give birth to her child, let the MUGWORT be bound to her left thigh. Let it be instantly removed when she has been delivered, lest there should be haemorrhage". Clearly this is a garbled version of an older, perhaps genuine, usage of the plant. It is a theme taken up by Gerard, for he said "that it bringeth down the termes, the birth, and the afterbirth.". Perhaps the answer lies in the old belief that Artemis helped women in childbirth (the generic name for this plant is Artemisia). FAIRY FLAX (Linum catharticum) has a similar use. Just putting it under the soles of the feet, so it was believed until quite recently in the Hebrides, was an aid to easy childbirth (V G Hatfield. 1984). But this plant, as its specific name implies, is an effective purge (Purging Flax is another name in English), and it was well known in the Highlands for gynaecological and menstrual problems (Beith). CAMOMILE tea is good for women in labour (Thonger) - it is good for virtually anything, and a regular panacea.

PARSLEY superstitions include many connected with conception and childbirth, summed up in the saying "sow parsley, sow babies" (Waring). The parsley bed, like the gooseberry bush, was once "the euphemistic breeding grounds of babies" (Gordon. 1977), or at least girl babies were found there (Baker. 1977). But many of these parsley beliefs are confused, ranging as they do from aphrodisiacs to abortifacients. WILD PARSNIP was used in Anglo-Saxon times for a difficult labour (M L Cameron).

The Hopi Indians made ritual use of CALIFORNIAN JUNIPER during childbirth, either by a chewed piece, or a tea made from the leaves. During the lying-in period, all of the mother's food had to be prepared in some degree with a decoction of juniper leaves. Her clothes, too, had to be washed in water that had some of the leaves in it. The newborn baby itself was rubbed with ashes from burned juniper, and if later on in its life the child misbehaved, recourse was made again to the juniper. The child was taken, at his mother's request, and held by some other woman in a blanket over a smouldering fire of juniper. He soon escaped, of course, half suffocated, supposedly a better and wiser child (Whiting). Some Indian peoples made a tea from the leaves of PLANTAIN-LEAVED EVERLASTING for mothers to drink for two weeks after giving birth (H H Smith. 1928). Menomini Indian women used the tea made from DUTCH RUSH, which is a Horsetail, to clean up the system after childbirth (Youngken).

Fenland midwives used to give a "pain-killing cake" to women in labour. Apparently it was made from wholemeal flour, hemp seed crushed with a rolling pin, crushed rhubarb root, and grated DANDELION root. These were mixed to a batter with egg yolk, milk and gin(!), turned into a tin and baked in a hot oven. At the woman's first groan, a slice of cake would be handed to her (Porter. 1969). Hempseed, rhubarb and gin would have quite an effect, but it is not clear how dandelion fits into the pattern.

An example of sympathetic magic at work is the use of ROSE OF JERICHO (Anastatica hierochuntica) when there is a difficult birth. As the seeds ripen on the plant, during the dry season, the leaves fall off, and the branches curve inwards to make a ball, which is blown about the desert until the rainy season begins. So, when birth is difficult, they put the ball in water, so that it will slowly open, thus sympathetically bringing about the same result for the women in labour.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

If Pregnancy Is Something That Frightens You, It's Time To Convert Your Fear Into Joy. Ready To Give Birth To A Child? Is The New Status Hitting Your State Of Mind? Are You Still Scared To Undergo All The Pain That Your Best Friend Underwent Just A Few Days Back? Not Convinced With The Answers Given By The Experts?

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