Lady Laurel

(Daphne mezereum) The specific name, mezereum, comes from a Persian word, Madzaryon, which means destroyer of life, for the red berries are poisonous (although they were once used as a pepper substitute (Hyam & Pankhurst). And Russian peasants used to take up to thirty of the berries as a purge, while the French regarded fifteen as a fatal dose (Le Strange). The bark is poisonous, too. It is said that Hampshire beggars used to produce artificial sores by infecting a wound with this plant (Read).

Like other red-berried plants, it was dedicated to Thor in Scandinavia, and thus is a lightning plant. The plant was an ingredient in a Norwegian remedy against the supernatural, the others being Woody Nightshade and Dactylorchis maculata, with "tree sap" (Kvideland & Sehmsdorf). Apart from its use as a dyeplant (Pratt), its fame rested on widespread and dangerous medicinal employment, particularly the bark, which could be collected in March and Aprtil, and dried in the shade. It is violent in action, and always dangerous. Even external application (to warts) has to be carried out with great care (Fluck). Presumably the violence of its action is the reason why it appears in a list of plants used as abortifacients in Dutch folk medicine (van Andel). According to Dodonaeus, it is so strong that it had only to be applied on the belly to kill the child. On the Continent, the bark, soaked in vinegar and water, used to be applied with a bandage as a blistering agent (Fluckiger & Hanbury). It has even been used for snakebite (Grieve. 1931).

In homeopathy, a tincture prepared from the fresh bark is recommended for dermatitis (Schauenberg & Paris), and a tincture of the berries was occasionally given in German practice for relieving neuralgia (Le Strange), while in Lincolnshire, particularly in a village called Willoughton, the berries were swallowed like pills as a remedy for piles! (Rudkin). Gerard noted a quite original use for them - "... if a drunkard doe eat one graine or berry of this plant, he cannot be allured to drinke any drinke at that time, such will be the heate in his mouth and choking in the throat". There is one other medicinal use to notice, and this time it is the root that is used - for toothache (Pratt).

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