Savin

(Juniperus sabina) It has been known through the ages as an abortifacient and contraceptive, either by the simple matter of swallowing the berries, or by the decoction of the leaves; or, as in East Anglia, put into the teapot with ordinary tea (M R Taylor. 1929); all common knowledge, of course, as is shown by the fact that it is spoken of in plays of the Elizabethan period. See Middleton, for instance, in A game of chess, act 1, sc 2:

To gather fruit, find nothing but the savin-tree,

Too frequent in nuns' orchards, and there planted

By all conjecture, to destroy fruit rather.

Some of the common names for the tree bear witness to this usage, names like Cover-shame and Bastard Killer. And its contraceptive properties were used with horses, too. It was said that a stallion would never cover a mare if there was any savin in the stable (G E Evans. 1966). East Anglian horsemen also used it to smarten a horse's coat, though they knew quite well that it was poisonous, and so took great care with it. It was mixed with the horse's food, either boiled, strained, and then sprinkled on, or it was baked and powdered (G E Evans. 1969). Savin was mentioned as a veterinary drug by Marcus Portius Cato, as early as 200 BC (Lloyd). It is a powerful uterine stimulant, producing in overdoses very serious effects.

The fresh tips, gathered in spring, can be extremely poisonous, but they can be used externally as an ointment for blisters and skin troubles (Brownlow), and it is still being recommended, either fresh or dried, by herbalists, for warts (Flück). Internal use of it is extremely rare these days, but in past times children were regularly wormed with it; such a remedy survived well into the 19th century, dangerous as it must have been. Earlier, Gerard published a receipt that required the physician to "anoint their bellies therewith", safer, though hardly efficient.

Saxífraga granulata > MEADOW SAXIFRAGE

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