Sowbread

(Cyclamen europaeum) Most people will call this plant Cyclamen, the English name being but rarely used now. Sowbread, however, was given quite simply because it was used as a food for swine. "Cyclamen, id est, panis porcinus" (Rufinus, in Thorndike). Such a usage strains belief these days, and it is quite possible that truffles, which pigs certainly like, were meant.

Friend claimed that cyclamen was used as a charm against bad weather, though in some parts of America it was not a favourite to keep indoors; anyone who did so would get chills, so it was said (Hyatt). But it certainly enjoyed a reputation as an aphrodisiac, unlikely as that sounds, from ancient times. In fact, it became the very symbol of voluptuousness (Haig). According to Gerard, the root should be "beaten and made up into trochisches, or little flat cakes", when "it is reported to be a good amorous medicine to make one in love, if it be inwardly taken". Another opinion was that it should be burned and the ashes marinated in wine and formed into little balls which could then be concealed in soups or stews (Haining). Expectant mothers should avoid it, especially stepping over it (Friend). Gerard fenced his cyclamens in for this very reason. Midwives, by the same extended logic, regarded it as invaluable, for old herbals advised women in labour to hang the root around their neck to ensure quick delivery (Vickery. 1995). Parkinson, in turn, reported that "it is used . for women in long and hard travels, where there is danger, to accelerate the birth, either the root or the leaf being applied" (Parkinson. 1629). This is actually doctrine of signatures. A glance at the leaves, Coles thought, was enough to show that the plant belonged to the womb by signature, logic that is not easy to follow.

Cyclamen, like many another plant, used to be taken as a counterpoison. Gerard again - ".. very profitable against all poisons, and the bitings of venomous beasts, . outwardly applied to the hurt place". The plant was actually grown in the house as a protection against poison (Withington). If there is any virtue in such a claim, perhaps it is as a homeopathic remedy, for the tubers are certainly toxic, even in small quantities.

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