Scarlet Pimpernel

(Anagallis arvensis) It is a magical plant, known in Ireland as the "blessed herb" (seamair mhuire), and having the power, so it was seriously thought, to move against a stream. There were more wonders ascribed to it. If you hold it, it gives you the second sight, and you can understand the speech of birds and animals (Grigson. 1955). It has the power of drawing out thorns or splinters, and can protect against witchcraft, if hung over the door or porch of a house (C J S Thompson. 1897). As usual, there was a formula that had to be recited when pulling it, and it had to be repeated for fifteen days together, twice a day, morning early fasting, and in the evening full:

Herb pimpernel I have thee found Growing upon Christ Jesus' ground; The same gift the Lord Jesus gave unto thee, When he shed his blood upon the tree. Rise up, pimpernel, and go with me, And God bless me,

And all that shall wear thee. Amen. (Harland & Wilkinson).

A glance through the local names of the pimpernel will confirm its status as a weather forecaster. As Gerard said, "... the husbandmen having occasion to go unto their harvest worke, will first behold floures of Pimpernel, whereby they know the weather that shall follow the next day after; as, for example, if the floures be shut close up, it betokeneth raine and foule weather; contrariwise, if they be spread abroad, faire weather".

Pimpernel, pimpernel, tell me true, Whether the weather be fine or no; No heart can think, no tongue can tell, The virtues of the pimpernel (M E S Wright).

This is quite true; the flowers open when it is going to be sunny, and close when it is going to rain (Page. 1977). It will forecast twenty four hours ahead, so it is claimed (Trevelyan). No wonder it has attracted such a lot of names like Weather-teller, Weather-flower, and Farmer's, Ploughman's, Countryman's, Shepherd's, and Poor Man's, Weatherglass, and many more besides.

Country people used it medicinally, too, notably for complaints of the eyes. Perhaps the pimpernel's habit of closing its petals at dusk suggested a connection with the eyes (Conway). Anyway, the use is quoted from ancient Greece onwards. 15th century leechdoms have examples for "the web in the eyes". One prescription required the patient to "take pimpernel a good quantity and stamp it, and wring the juice through a cloth; and take swine's grease, and as much of hen's grease; and melt together and put the juice thereto, and keep it in boxes and anoint the eyes therewith when thou goest to bed" (Dawson. 1934). Something similar to this preparation, i.e., a lotion made from the plant with hog's lard, has been used as a cure for baldness (Page. 1978).

The bruised leaves were used for dog- and snakebites. They were prepared by powdering, and, with the root, were made into an infusion. A teaspoonful of this, or about 20 grains of the powder, were put into a cup, with 15 drops of spirits of hartshorn, and a dose given every six hours. This would be continued for 15 days. Gerard agreed that "it is good against the stingings of Vipers, and other venomous beasts". After that, it comes as no surprise that it was "especially applied for poyson ... (T Hill. 1577), or that it was looked on as a plague remedy (C J S Thompson. 1897).

Gerard recommended it for toothache, "being snift up into the nosthrils". In Somerset, warts are rubbed with the juice (Tongue. 1965). Gout and dropsy have also been treated with pimpernel in India (Dawson. 1934). There is even a leechdom "to know the life of a wounded man, whether he shall live or die". Some pimpernel had to be stamped in a mortar and mixed with water or wine. This was to be given to the wounded man to drink, "and if it come out at the wound he shall die; if it come not out of the wound he shall live"! (Dawson. 1934).

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