Ingredients: Arum

February 4th, 2008

The “lords and ladies” (arum maculatum) so well known to every rustic as common throughout Spring in almost every hedge row, has acquired its name from the colour of its erect pointed spike enclosed within the curled hood of an upright arrow-shaped leaf. This is purple or cream hued, according to the accredited sex of the plant. It bears further the titles of Cuckoo Pint, Wake Robin, Parson in the Pulpit, Rampe, Starchwort, Arrowroot, Gethsemane, Bloody Fingers, Snake’s Meat, Adam and Eve, Calfsfoot, Aaron, and Priest’s Pintle. The red spots on its glossy emerald arrow-head leaves, are attributed to the dropping of our Saviour’s blood on the plant whilst growing at the foot of the cross. Several of the above appellations bear reference to the stimulating effects of the herb on the sexual organs. Its tuberous root has been found to contain a particular volatile acrid principle which exercises distinct medicinal effects, though these are altogether dissipated if the roots are subjected to heat by boiling or baking. When tasted, the fresh juice causes an acrid burning irritation of the mouth and throat; also, if swallowed it will produce a red raw state of the palate and tongue, with cracked lips. The leaves, when applied externally to a delicate skin will blister it. Accordingly a tincture made (H.) from the plant and its root proves curative in diluted doses for a chronic sore throat, with swollen mucous membrane, and vocal hoarseness, such as is often known as “Clergyman’s Sore Throat,” and likewise for a feverish sore mouth, as well as for an irresistible tendency to sleepiness, and heaviness after a full meal. From five to ten drops of the tincture, third decimal strength, should be given with a tablespoonful of cold water to an adult three times a day. An ointment made by stewing the fresh sliced root with lard serves efficiently for the cure of ringworm.

The fresh juice yields malate of lime, whilst the plant contains gum, sugar, starch and fat. The name Arum is derived from the Hebrew jaron, “a dart,” in allusion to the shape of the leaves like spear heads; or, as some think, from aur, “fire,” because of the acrid juice. The adjective maculatum refers to the dark spots or patches which are seen on the smooth shining leaves of the plant. These leaves have sometimes proved fatal to children who have mistaken them for sorrel. The brilliant scarlet coral-like berries which are found set closely about the erect spike of the arum in the autumn are known to country lads as adder’s meat–a name corrupted from the Anglo-Saxon attor, “poison,” as originally applied to these berries, though it is remarkable that pheasants can eat them with impunity.

In Queen Elizabeth’s time the Arum was known as starch-wort because the roots were then used for supplying pure white starch to stiffen the ruffs and frills worn at that time by gallants and ladies. This was obtained by boiling or baking the roots, and thus dispelling their acridity. When dried and powdered the root constitutes the French cosmetic, “Cypress Powder.” Recently a patented drug, “Tonga,” has obtained considerable notoriety for curing obstinate neuralgia of the head and face–this turning out to be the dried scraped stem of an aroid (or arum) called Raphidophora Vitiensis, belonging to the Fiji Islands. Acting on the knowledge of which fact some recent experimenters have tried the fresh juice expressed from our common Arum Maculatum in a severe case of neuralgia which could be relieved previously only by Tonga: and it was found that this juice in doses of a teaspoonful gave similar relief. The British Domestic Herbal, of Sydenham’s time, describes a case of alarming dropsy, with great constitutional exhaustion treated most successfully with a medicine composed of Arum and Angelica, which cured in about three weeks. The “English Passion Flower” and “Portland Sago” are other names given to the Arum Maculatum.

Source: Herbal Simples Approved for Modern Uses of Cure, William Thomas Fernie


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