Putting boiling water on a couple of tablespoonfuls of chopped BIRCH leaves makes a tea for urinary complaints, especially dropsy (Fluck). An Irish cure for it was to boil down NETTLES from a churchyard and drink the result (Wilde), while the infusion was enough in Scottish practice (Rorie), and a root infusion was a common dropsy remedy in Russian folk medicine (Kourennoff). DWARF ELDER has been used for dropsy for a very long time. The Anglo-Saxon version of Apuleius recommended it for "water sickness" (Cockayne), a prescription copied by Gerard — "The roots of Wall-wort [Dwarf Elder] boiled in wine and drunken are good against the dropsie", a remedy still recommended today by herbalists (Conway). It seems the Welsh medical text known as the Physicians of Myddfai is referring to dropsy in the prescription: For pain in the feet and swelling in the legs — take the roots of dwarf elder, and remove the bark, boiling it well, then pound them in a mortar with old lard, and apply as a plaster to the diseased part. Gerard also recommended the seeds for this complaint. HONEYSUCKLE bark was also used — a heaped tablespoonful of thin flaked bark to a pint of cold water, brought just to the boil, and taken in wineglassful doses three times a day (A W Hatfield).

The doctrine of signatures comes into play when ELDER itself is taken for dropsy, for the pith, when pressed with the fingers, "doth pit and receive the impress thereon, as the legs and feet of dropsical persons do". Evelyn mentions it, and so does Gerard, who recommended the seeds for "dropsie, and such as are too fat and would faine be leaner". Dawson quoted two leechdoms from a much earlier time, one requiring the patient to drink the juice of the berries tempered with wine, and the other needing the middle rind, leaves and blossoms or berries, all stamped together, with the additon of "esula [spurge] and mastic". Earlier still, in the Anglo-Saxon version of Dioscorides, there is a leechdom "for water sickness" using elder. Lupton, in the 17th century, and Wesley, in the 18th, were still recommending it. But it comes as a surprise to find a record (from Cambridgeshire) of elderflower tea as a dropsy remedy (Porter) in the 20th century. WHITE BRYONY'S roots have been taken as resembling a swollen foot, so the doctrine of signatures ensured that it would be a cure for gout and dropsy. Lupton recommended it: "If you seeth briony in water and use to drink the same, it helps and cureth them that have dropsy". BUCKBEAN was used for the complaint in the Hebrides; there is a recipe from South Uist that involved cleaning and boiling the whole plant, putting the juice in a bottle, to be drunk daily (Shaw). This may be doctrine of signatures, given the plant's preference for wet, marshy ground.

A dropsy remedy using IVY was known in AngloSaxon times. "For water sickness or dropsy, take 20 grains, rub them in a sextarius of wine, and of the wine administer to drink 2 draughts for 7 days ..." is a translation of the Anglo-Saxon version of Apuleius (Cockayne). ALEXANDERS was also used for the complaint, a use dating from Dioscorides' time. A complicated 15th century leechdom has Alexanders seed as one of its ingredients: "for all manner of dropsies: take sage and betony, crop and root, even portions, and seed of alexanders, and seed of sow thistle, and make them into powder, of each equally much; and powder half an ounce of spikenard of Spain, put it thereto, and then put all these together in a cake of white dough and put it in a stewpan full of good ale, and stop it well; and give it the sick to drink all day ..." (Dawson). FOXGLOVE tea used to be a standard domestic remedy for dropsy (Baker. 1980), a use also noted in Gaelic medical tradition (Beith). Irish people used to make a tincture for it with gin, and then use a very small quantity on loaf sugar (Egan). RED CLOVER tea, made from the dried flowers, was taken as a domestic cure in parts of America (H M Hyatt). A GORSE flower infusion is an old Wiltshire remedy for the complaint (Wiltshire). Herbalists still use PANSY tea to cure dropsy and the like (Fluck), and REST HARROW is used, too (Fluck), just as the early herbalists recommended. SQUILL enjoyed a reputation as a remedy for the condition. The AngloSaxon version of Apuleius had a leechdom for "water sickness" (Cockayne). But long before that, it seems it was used by the Egyptians for the complaint, under the name of "Eye of Typhon" (Thompson. 1947); the Delta people found the squill so useful for oedema that they are said to have built a temple in its honour. It continued to be prescribed through the ages of the herbals. Thomas Hill mentioned that it "amendeth the dropsie", and Gerard too recommended the bulb, roasted or baked, and mixed with other medicines, not only for dropsy but also for jaundice, and for "such as are tormented with the gripings of the belly". He also recommended the leaves and roots of WALL PENNYWORT, which "prevaile much against the dropsie".

BROOM tea is a well-known diuretic, so it follows that it would be used to cure oedema, and there are widespread reports of its use in domestic medicine in Britain not necessarily just by drinking it, for one treatment required the patient to soak the feet in a bath of the hot tea. HORSETAIL tea is another known diuretic, so useful for this complaint (Fluck). A decoction of DYER'S GREENWEED has been used for the condition, as well as for gout and rheumatism (Grieve. 1931). WHITE HOREHOUND is another herb used for the complaint. A 16th century recipe from France reads: "pisser, neuf matins sur le marrube avant que le soleil l'ait touché; et à mesure que la plante mourra, le ventre se desenflera" (Sebillot) - but that is a simple transference charm.

A root infusion of TREE CELANDINE (Bocconia frutescens) has been used in Colombia for the complaint (Usher).


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