Plague

RUE's use in medicine in times past has been widespread and general, with claims for almost anything from warts to the plague. In the latter case, Alexis of Piedmont gave the following recipe, anglicised a long time ago as: "Take the toppe of Rue, a garlicke head and half a quarter of a walnutte and a corne of salt. Eat this every morning, contynuing so a munneth together and be mery and jocund". Gerard too gives a recipe for the plague with the leaves of rue. Thornton repeated the belief: "it is supposed to be antipestilential, and hence our benches of judges have their noses regaled with this most foetid plant". Bunches of it used to be hung in windows to protect the house against entry of the plague (especially east facing windows, for it was thought that was the direction from which plague came). So powerful was rue considered that thieves looting plague-contaminated houses would risk entry if they carried it, even if corpses still lay there (Boland. 1977). Thomas Dekker's, Wonderful Yeare, 1603, spoke of persons apprehensive of catching the plague, when "they went (most bitterly) miching and muffled up and downe, with RUE and WORMWOOD stuft into their eares and nosthrils, looking like so many bore's heads stuck with branches of rosemary, to be served in for brawne at Christmas". Wormwood steeped in vinegar and kept "in a close-stopped pewter piece" was commonly carried in plague years, to be sniffed in dangerous places (Painter). This, of course, is a case of strong smells drowning infection; southernwood was used for the same purpose in Orkney.

GARLIC cures anything, including "fevers of the typhoid type, and ... the plague itself" (Thornton).

A protection against plague, Galen said, was to eat garlic with butter and salt at breakfast (Wilson). TOBACCO was another plague protector, either by smelling it, or by taking it fasting in the morning, "provided, that presently after taking thereof, you drinke a deepe draught of six shilling Beere, and walke after it" (Wilson). ARCHANGEL root, the root of the Holy Ghost (radix Sancti Spiriti), was chewed during the Great Plague in an attempt to avoid the infection. It was a case of the name governing the use, for the plant was credited with wonders regulated with its "angelic virtues", as Culpeper had it. Archangel's wild relative, WILD ANGELICA, was also recommended as a protector from plagues, as well as poison, but only as an inheritance from its august cousin. BOX hedges used to be planted as a plague preventive, particularly in Dorset. It is said that traces of these borders planted in the 16th century can still be seen in Netherbury (Dacombe). VALERIAN, too, was reckoned in the Middle Ages to be a medicine against the plague (Lloyd), and Gerard was still recommending it in his time: "the dry root ... is put into counterpoysons and medicines preservative against the pestilence ...". "The distilled water (of DRAGON ARUM) hath vertue against the pestilence ... being drunke bloud warm with the best treacle or mithridate" (Gerard).

ZEDOARY (Curcuma zedoaria), a close relative of Turmeric, was mentioned in Anglo-Saxon medicine, but being rather unusual, was recommended for magical medicine, and as late as the mid-17th century, was marvel enough to be prescribed for the plague. Lupton, for instance, has "The root of [Zedoary] (but be sure it be perfect and good) mixed with raisins, and a little liquorice, champed with the teeth and swallowed, preserves them that do so, unhurt, or without danger of the plague ...". The name actually appears in this text as Zeodary. Is it a misprint, or did he really call it that? SAFFRON could keep the plague at bay, according to Gerard, in a mixture of walnuts, figs, sage leaves, a mithridate and pimpernel water, such mixture "given in the morning fasting, preserveth from the pestilence, and expelleth it from those that are infected".

Plantago coronopus > BUCK'S HORN PLANTAIN Plantago lanceolata > RIBWORT PLANTAIN Plantago major > GREAT PLANTAIN Plantago maritima > SEA PLANTAIN Plantago media > LAMB'S TONGUE PLANTAIN Plantago psyllium > FLEAWORT

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