(Dipsacus fullonum) A plant of prime importance in the cloth-making industry, the uses of which are mirrored in the names Fuller's Teasel and Burler's Teasel. Fulling is the process of raising the nap on woollen cloth, to give a softer feel to the fabric, and a burl is a knot in wool, so to burl is to remove these knots. Both processes were achieved by use of the dried flower heads of teasel, for "no substitute for their gentle action on the finest cloths has been found" (Ryder). The teasels were set in a wooden frame, usually known as a handle, but sometimes called a card. Hence the name Card Thistle, but 'card' comes from the Latin carduus, which means a thistle -so the pleonasm is revealed. For more information on the process, see RYDER, N L Teasel growing for cloth raising Folk Life. Vol 7; 1969, and ROGERS, K H Warp and weft Buckingham, 1986.
The dried stalks were used in Ireland as a sort of thatch, or at least they would be laid at right angles on the purlins, before the grass scaws and then the sods were put on the roof (E E Evans. 1942). Then there is one odd record of the use of a teasel as a weather forecaster. It was said that, when hung up in the house, "upon the alteration of cold and windy weather [it] will grow smoother, and against rain will close up its prickles" (Dyer. 1889). In Wales, it was used in some unspecified way as a protection against witches (Trevelyan), the idea probably being that the prickles would discourage them, much as brambles do. In Somerset people used to cut open the heads, where they would often find a worm. Any odd number of these worms, carefully put away, was believed to charm away sickness (Brill).
Rather more widespread was the belief in the efficiency of water which collected in the cups formed by the fusing together of the plant's opposite leaves, "so fastened that they hold dew and raine water in manner of a little bason" (Gerard), water that was much prized for cosmetic use; Culpeper knew about this, though he described it as the distilled water of the leaves, used by women "to preserve their beauty". Leicestershire girls washed their faces in this water, in order to make themselves more beautiful (Billson), and the folk use was known in Wales, too - there it was said to be a remedy for freckles (Trevelyan). It was said also to cure warts on the hands (Curtis). There was yet another use for this water, for sore eyes (Dyer. 1881); in fact, teasel has been recommended for diseases of the eyes since Anglo-Saxon times.
Teasel was used in some parts as a remedy for ague, or malaria (Black). The Gentleman s Magazine for 1867 mentions a remedy where the patient had to gather some teasels and carry them about with him. But the remedy lay apparently in what was found inside the teasel - the small worms that we have met already. In Lyte's translation of Dodoens, 1586, he says "the small wormes that are founde within the knops of teasels do cure and heale the quartaine ague, to be worne or tied about the necke or arme" (see Hulme. 1895). Gerard, though, was very scathing about the efficacy of this. What are we to make of a 15 th century receipt "for the frenzy, a medicine. Take "'Shepherd's yard [i.e., teasel], and stamp it and lay it on his head when it is shaven"? (Dawson).
Tectona grandis > TEAK
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