Tormentil

(Potentilla erecta) A bunch of tormentil root, burnt at midnight on a Friday, would force an errant lover to return. It featured, too, in an exhibition of charms and amulets in London, according to a Times report of 5 March 1917. This has been a useful plant, the roots giving a red dye to leather as well as to wool (C P Johnson), and also being used in tanning as substitute for tanner's bark, usually oak, hence one of its names in Shetland, Earth-bark. It is said that the tannin in a pound of tormentil is equal to seven pounds of oak bark. The use is recorded for Ireland (E E Evans), and the Western Isles, where fishermen tanned their nets with the roots (Murdoch McNeill). It was used, too, in Orkney (Martin), and Shetland (Hibbert), particularly in connection with the sheepskins once worn by Shetland fishermen over their ordinary clothes.

It is this tannin that has made it important in folk medicine. The name Tormentil is from French tormentille, Lain tormentum, the rack, or tormine, colic - the plant was used to reduce the pain. It survived as a medicine against the colic until quite recently in isolated parts, notably Northumberland and the Hebrides (Grigson. 1955). Pennant. 1772 records its use on the Isle of Rum - "if they are attacked they make use of a decoction of the roots ... in milk". Gerard notes that the powdered roots cure diarrhoea, and the "bloody flux" (dysentery) especially if they are given "in the water of a smith's forge, or rather the water wherein his steele hath been often quenched of purpose. Tormentil stewed in milk was an Irish remedy for diarrhoea (Foster). Gypsies, too, use an infusion of the leaves for the purpose (Vesey-Firzgerald). And yet it has also been recommended as a laxative - "for costiveness. Take tormen-til a good quantity, and mouse-ear, and five leaves of dittany and scabious and bruisewort ..." (Dawson). With Yellow Pimpernel, this plant was used in Ireland as a treatment for insomnia (Moloney), while on South Uist corns were treated by chewing the plant, and then applying on a bandage (Shaw), and they would chew it for a sore lip, and it is made into a paste and applied to any suppurating sore.

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Constipation Prescription

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