Knotgrass

(Polygonum aviculare) Dyer. 1889 says that knotgrass is probably so called from some unrecorded character by the doctrine of signatures, that it stops growth in children (presumably if they eat it). Cf Beaumont & Fletcher, Burning Pestle: ". and say they would put him into a strait pair of gaskins, 'twere worse than knotgrass, he would never grow after it". They used the concept in The Coxcomb, too:

We want a boy extremely for this function,

Kept under for a year with milk and knot-grass.

Presumably they wanted an undersized lad, for the 'function' must have been nefarious. Shakespeare knew about it, too:

"Get you gone, you dwarf,

You minimus, of hindering knot-grass made,

(Midsummer Night's Dream. Act 3. Sc 2). But, more probably, the name is from the knots of the intricately jointed stem (Polygonum is from Greek meaning "many joints", or more accurately, "many knees", for Greek gonu meant knee (Potter & Sargeent)).

This is an astringent, useful in diarrhoea and other such ailments (Grieve. 1931), which would include haemorrhages. A Somerset remedy for nosebleed is to rub the plant into the nostrils (Tongue. 1965). It has been used for many other ailments, as recommended by the early herbalists. There is a leechdom from the 15th century for earache, for example, using the juice in the ear, "and it shall take away the aching wondrously well" (Dawson). In Chinese medicine, the juice is used in skin diseases, and for piles (F P Smith), and also for bladder complaints (Geng Junying). A French charm for corns is to put a piece of knotgrass in a pocket on the same side as the corn, and say "Que mon cors s'en aille a l'aide de cette herbe" (Sebillot).

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