Soapwort

(Saponaria officinalis) One can get a lather by rubbing the leaves in water. It was used in the East as far back as the 10th century for cleaning clothes and carpets, and it was being cultivated in Syria in recent times for the purpose (Grigson. 1955). It is still a valuable means of cleansing and restoring old tapestries without damaging the fabric (Brownlow). In the Swiss Alps, sheep were washed with it before they were shorn (Grigson. 1955). Gypsies use a decoction of the root to apply to a bruise or a black eye (Vesey-Fitzgerald), or a freshly dug root put on the black eye would do (Campbell-Culver, though that might take longer to achieve the desired effect). The root is useful for skin diseases, too (Mitton & Mitton), particularly for the itch (C P Johnson), though boils are also treated with it (Schauenberg & Paris). Wesley specially mentioned "Ring-wormes", for which he advised his readers to "wash them with a Decoction of Soap-wort".

Solanum carolinense > CAROLINA NIGHTSHADE Solanum dulcamara > WOODY NIGHTSHADE Solanum nigrum >BLACK NIGHTSHADE Solanum tuberosum > POTATO Solidago virgaurea > GOLDEN ROD SOLOMON'S SEAL

(Polygonatum multiflorum) On cutting the roots transversely, scars resembling the device known as Solomon's Seal, a 6-pointed star, can be seen - so, from the doctrine of signatures, it was used for "sealing" wounds (Dyer. 1889). It is said that Lilies-of-the-valley only thrive with Solomon's Seal, "their husbands", nearby (M Baker. 1977).

Gypsies use an ointment made from the leaves to apply to a bruise or black eye (Vesey-Fitzgerald). So did Fenland peoples (Porter. 1974), and it is said that a Sussex pub landlord grew beds of this plant specially to put on the black eyes received after a pub fight. The ointment was made by bruising the roots or leaves and mixing them with lard (Sargent). Gerard mentioned their use for bruises "gotten by falls or womens wilfulness, in stumbling upon their hasty husbands fists, or such like". In Scotland, the treatment was described as "the root of Solomon's Seal, grated, and sprinkled on a bread poultice" to remove "bruise discolourations" (Gibson).

It was used for broken bones, too, either taken inwardly in ale, or as a poultice (Grigson. 1955), a use mentioned by Gerard, who said "there is not to be found another herbe comparable to it". See also: "The root stamped and applied in manner of a pultesse, and laid upon members that have been out of joynt, and newly restored to their places, driveth away the paine, and knitteth the joynt very firmely ...", perhaps that is why it is known as "seal", conjectured Mrs Leyel (Leyel. 1937).

It is used in the Balkans for a sore throat, either as a decoction to be drunk, or as a poultice round the neck and chest (Kemp). In parts of France the plant is known as 'l'herbe รก la forcure', and it was said that the roots represent all the parts of the human body. It was used for muscular cramp, and great care was taken to use that part of the root which doctrine taught represented the part of the body affected (Salle). The ointment had a veterinary use, too, for ulcers and wounds in horses and cattle (V G Hatfield. 1994). There is one more usage to record. Gerard wrote "Matthiolus teacheth, that a water is drawne out of the roots, wherewith the women of Italy use to scoure their faces from Sunne-buming, freckles, mirphew or any such deformities of the skinne". What is interesting is that a soap was made until recent times, from Solomon's Seal, in the Kingsclere district of Hampshire, for just the purpose outlined by Gerard (Read).

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