Spurge Laurel

(Daphne laureola) Johann Weyer (De praestigiis Daemonum et incantationibus ac Veneficiis, 1568) recorded Daphnemancy among his list of divinations ascribed to demonic agency. The divination was by the crackling of the leaves while burning. The leaves were also put under the pillow to induce dreams (Lea). Presumably the association with demons is a result of the poisonous nature of both the bark and berries, poisonous enough to be dangerous to children (North).

One of the "notable things" reported by Lupton was its use for "writing that cannot be read without putting the paper in water. Take the juice of spurge laurel, put it into a little water wherein alum has been dissolved, and if you write with it, it will appear as nothing on the paper, but being put into water, the letters will appear plain and legible".

Of the medicinal, the most notable was the use of the bark in the treatment of cancer (Grigson. 1955), though this was only a cottage remedy, and there seems no record of how it was done, nor whether it was really cancer (and not canker) that was being treated. The bark (and the berries) was used also in some parts - a dangerous practice for humans, but a useful one for horses (Garrad). The very acrid roots were used in some parts to relieve toothache (Vickery. 1995), but surely this must have been a dangerous remedy. Hill, in 1754, noted that it was "a powerful remedy against the dropsy", although he was careful to point out that "it is not every constitution that can bear such a medicine". An Anglo-Saxon leechdom, acknowledging Pliny, quoted the use of an amulet of chamacela, which could be either this shrub or D. mezereum, to cure pearl (albryo), which is probably cataract, in the eyes, "if the plant is gathered before sunrise, and the purpose outspoken".

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