Gromwell

(Lithospermum officinale) "The root is used by ladies as paint" (Thornton) (cf PUCCOON, an American species). The leaves are used to make Croatian, or as it is sometimes called, Bohemian, tea (Perry. 1972 ; W A R Thomson. 1976). Medicinal uses lean strongly on the doctrine of signatures. Its stony seeds (that is what Lithospermum means) proclaim its signature perfectly, for it was widely used against the stone. "In case that stones wax in the bladder, and in case that a man may not mie, take of these stones [seeds, that is] ... give to drink in wine, and forth leadeth the mie" (Cockayne). That was translated from an Anglo-Saxon version of Dioscorides, but Gerard was recommending the same in the 16th century, and so was Hill in the 18th. And so it went on. In fact, Pliny said "Indeed there is no plant which so instantaneously proclaims at the mere sight of it, the medicinal purposes for which it was originally intended" (see Bonser). After all this, it comes as a surprise to find that the plant actually does have diuretic qualities (Schauenberg & Paris). It can also, apparently, stop the activities of some hormones (Grigson. 1955), which is presumably why Grigson reported that the seeds were being investigated for the contraceptive substance they contain. But some of the American Indians had been using native species as an oral contraceptive for a long time (F P Smith).

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