Goutweed

(Aegopodium podagraria) A common white umbellifer, not a true native to Britain, but introduced in the Middle Ages or even earlier, by the Romans, according to some authorities (Huxley, for instance) as a potherb and medicinal plant. By now it is widespread and common, a pernicious weed in the garden (Ground Elder to the exasperated gardener). The young leaves are perfectly edible if boiled like spinach (see Jordan).

Primarily, though, and as the common name shows, this is a medicinal herb, and a gout cure in particular, or at least a treatment for gout, over the centuries. It was even cultivated once, specifically for that treatn-ment (Beith). The specific name podagraria means good for gout, from podagra, gout in the feet. Gerard knew the cure, of course, for it was known long before his time: Herb Gerard with his roots stamped, and laid upon members that are troubled or vexed with the gout, swageth the paine ...". Nowadays a tea might be prescribed, but Culpeper even believed that "the very bearing of it about one easeth the Pains of the Gout, and defends him that bears it from the Disease". The name Gerard used in the quote above, Herb Gerard, has nothing to do with the 16th century herbalist, but with a Saint Gerard, probably not one of the two or three saints of that name recognized as such, but perhaps merely apocryphal, and the patron of gout sufferers, once invoked to cure the disease. The point is that the Dutch for the ailment and the plant is geraert, and the German Giersch for the plant and Gicht for gout. Bishop's Weed (Britten & Holland), or Bishop's Elder, from the Isle of Wight (Grigson) are two of the many names for the plant. Were bishops particularly prone to gout? Probably so, but the real reason for the names is likely to be the fact that this plant is so often found near ecclesiastical ruins; it was said that monks introduced it (Grieve).

Herbalists still prescribe it as a diuretic and sedative, hence as a painkiller (Le Strange). Drinking the infusion can help aching joints, and sciatica can be treated with it; the practice in the Highlands (Beith) and in Ireland (Moloney) was to make a poultice of the crushed herb. Eczema can be cured by drinking daily a half pint of the tea (A W Hatfield), and in East Anglia, the juice was squeezed on warts (V G Hatfield).

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