(Eryngium maritimum) "They report of the herb Sea Holly, if one goat take it into her mouth, it causeth her first to stand still, and afterwards the whole flocke, untill such time as the shepherd take it from her mouth" (Gerard).
Sea Holly roots were preserved in sugar and sold as Candied Eringo, or Kissing Comfits, Colchester being the centre of the trade, and they were sold until as late as the 1860s (Grigson. 1955). They were said to be good for those "that have no delight or appetite to venery", and were "nourishing and restoring the aged, and amending the defects of nature in the younger" (Gerard). Likewise Rapin, in a Latin poem on gardens, 1706 (in translation):
Grecian Eringoes now commence their Fame Which worn by Brides will fix their Husband's Flame
And check the conquests of a rival Dame.
There is, too, a reference in Dryden's translation of Juvenal's Satires, he is talking about libertines:
Who lewdly dancing at a midnight ball
For hot eryngoes and fat oysters call (quoted in
But best known is a quote from Shakespeare. Falstaff, in Merry Wives of Windsor, says:
Let the sky rain potatoes; let it thunder to the tune of 'Green Sleeves';
hail kissing comfits, and snow eringoes.
It had a wide variety of medicinal uses in the older herbals, as a diuretic, to treat stone, gout or snakebite, etc. One, from the Physicians of Myddfai, is worth quoting, it is for toothache. "Take a candle of mutton-fat, mingled with seed of sea-holly; burn this candle as close as possible to the tooth, holding a basin of cold water beneath it. The worms . will fall into the water to escape the heat of the candle". But the only prescription with any claim to more recent folk use comes from Ireland, where it was used for asthma (O Suilleabhain).
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If you suffer with asthma, you will no doubt be familiar with the uncomfortable sensations as your bronchial tubes begin to narrow and your muscles around them start to tighten. A sticky mucus known as phlegm begins to produce and increase within your bronchial tubes and you begin to wheeze, cough and struggle to breathe.