Fairy Flax

(Linum catharticum) The fairies use it for their clothes, and its small bells make music that cannot be heard by human ears (Spence. 1949). But this is a medicinal herb, as its specific name implies, and a name in English, Purging Flax, confirms it. It is certainly an effective purge, but like many another herb, thoroughly dangerous to use. But, particularly in the Highlands, it was used regularly for gynaecological and menstrual problems (Beith). Even putting it under the soles of the feet, so it was believed until quite recently in the Hebrides, was an aid to easy childbirth. James Robertson, who toured the Western Highlands and Islands in 1768, noted: "The women are frequently troubled with a suppression of the menses, to remedy which they use an infusion of Thalictrum minus [Small Meadow Rue] and Linum catharticum (quoted by Beith). We are told, too that "country people boil it in ale, and cure themselves of rheumatic paine" (Hill. 1756), while in Ireland the herb, boiled in beer, was used for jaundice (Moloney).

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