Ingredients: Lavender

August 16th, 2008

The Lavender of our gardens, called also Lavender Spike, is a well-known sweet-smelling shrub, of the Labiate order. It grows wild in Spain, Piedmont, and the south of France, on waysides, mountains, and in barren places. The plant was propagated by slips, or cuttings, and has been cultivated in England since about 1568. It is produced largely for commercial purposes in Surrey, Hertfordshire, and Lincoln. The shrub is set in long rows occupying fields, and yields a profitable fragrant essential oil from the flowering tops, about one ounce of the oil from sixty terminal flowering spikes. From these tops also the popular cosmetic lavender water is distilled. They contain tannin, and a resinous camphire, which is common to most of the mints affording essential oils. If a hank of cotton is steeped in the oil of Lavender, and drained off so as to be hung dry about the neck, it will prevent bugs and other noxious insects from attacking that part. When mixed with three-fourths of spirit of turpentine, or spirit of wine, this oil makes the famous Oleum spicoe, formerly much celebrated for curing old sprains and stiff joints. Lavender oil is likewise of service when rubbed in externally, for stimulating paralysed limbs–preferring the sort distilled from the flowering tops to that which is obtained from the stalks. Internally, the essential oil, or a spirit of Lavender made therefrom, proves admirably restorative and tonic against faintness, palpitations of a nervous sort, weak giddiness, spasms, and colic. It is agreeable to the taste and smell, provokes appetite, raises the spirits, and dispels flatulence; but the infusion of Lavender tops, if taken too freely, will cause griping, and colic. In hysteria, palsy, and similar disorders of debility, and lack of nerve power, the spirit of Lavender will act as a powerful stimulant; and fomentations with Lavender in bags, applied hot, will speedily relieve local pains. “It profiteth them much,” says Gerard, “that have the palsy if they be washed with the distilled water from the Lavender flowers; or are anointed with the oil made from the flowers and olive oil, in such manner as oil of roses is used.” A dose of the oil is from one to four drops on sugar, or on a small piece of bread crumb, or in a spoonful or two of milk. And of the spirit, from half to one teaspoonful may be taken with two tablespoonfuls of water, hot or cold, or of milk. The spirit of Lavender is made with one part of the essential oil to forty-nine parts of spirit of wine. For preparing distilled Lavender water, the addition of a small quantity of musk does much to develop the strength of the Lavender’s odour and fragrance. The essential oil of Lavandula latifolia, admirably promotes the growth of the hair when weakly, or falling off.

By the Greeks the name Nardus is given to Lavender, from Naarda, a city of Syria, near the Euphrates; and many persons call the plant “Nard.” St. Mark mentions this as Spikenard, a thing of great value The woman who came to Christ having an alabaster box of ointment of Spikenard, very precious “brake the box, and poured it on His head.” In Pliny’s time blossoms of the nardus sold for a hundred Roman denarii (or £3 2s. 6d.) the pound. This Lavender or Nardus, was likewise called Asarum by the Romans, because not used in garlands or chaplets. It was formerly believed that the asp, a dangerous kind of viper, made Lavender its habitual place of abode, so that the plant had to be approached with great caution.

Conserves of Lavender were much used in the time of Gerard, and desserts may be most pleasantly brought to the table on a service of Lavender spikes. It is said, on good authority, that the lions and tigers in our Zoological gardens, are powerfully affected by the smell of Lavender-water and become docile under its influence.

The Lavender shrub takes its name from the Latin lavare, “to wash,” because the ancients employed it as a perfume. Lavender tops, when dried, and placed with linen, will preserve it from moths and other insects.

The whole plant was at one time considered indispensable in Africa, ubi lavandis corporibus Lybes eâ utuntur; nec nisi decocto ejus abluti mane domo egrediuntur, “where the Libyans make use of it for washing their bodies, nor ever leave their houses of a morning until purified by a decoction of the plant.”

In this country the sweet-smelling herb is often introduced for scenting newly washed linen when it is put by; from which custom has arisen the expression, “To be laid up in Lavender.” During the twelfth century a washerwoman was called “Lavender,” in the North of England.

A tea brewed from the flowers is an excellent remedy for headache from fatigue, or weakness. But Lavender oil is, in too large a dose, a narcotic poison, and causes death by convulsions. The tincture of red Lavender is a popular medicinal cordial; and is composed of the oils of Lavender and rosemary, with cinnamon bark, nutmeg, and red sandal wood, macerated in spirit of wine for seven days; then a teaspoonful may be given for a dose in a little water, with excellent effect, after an indigestible meal, taking the dose immediately when feeling uneasy, and repeating it after half-an-hour if needed. An old form of this compound tincture was formerly famous as “Palsy Drops,” it being made from the Lavender, with rosemary, cinnamon, nutmeg, red sandal wood, and spirit. In some cases of mental depression and delusions the oil of Lavender proves of real service; and a few drops of it rubbed on the temples will cure nervous headache.

Shakespeare makes Perdita (Winter’s Tale) class Lavender among the flowers denoting middle age:

“Here’s flowers for you,
Hot Lavender: Mints: Savory: Marjoram;
The Marigold that goes to bed with the sun,
And with him rises, weeping: these are the flowers
Of middle summer, and I think they are given
To men of middle age.”

There is a broad-leaved variety of the Lavender shrub in France, which yields three times as much of the essential oil as can be got from our narrow-leaved plant, but of a second rate quality.

The Sea Lavender, or Thrift (Statice limonium) grows near the sea, or in salt marshes. It gets its name Statice from the Greek word isteemi (to stop, or stay), because of its medicinal power to arrest bleeding. This is the marsh Rosemary, or Ink Root, which contains (if the root be dried in the air) from fourteen to fifteen per cent. of tannin. Therefore, its infusion or tincture will prove highly useful to control bleeding from the lungs or kidneys, as also against dysentery; and when made into a gargle, for curing an ulcerated sore throat.

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

Ingredients: Borage

March 1st, 2008

The Borage, with its gallant blue flower, is cultivated in our gardens as a pot herb, and is associated in our minds with bees and claret cup. It grows wild in abundance on open plains where the soil is favourable, and it has a long-established reputation for cheering the spirits. Botanically, it is the Borago officinalis, this title being a corruption of cor-ago, i.e., cor, the heart, ago, I stimulate — quia cordis affectibus medetur, because it cures weak conditions of the heart. An old Latin adage says: Borago ego gaudia semper ago — “I, Borage, bring always courage”; or the name may be derived from the Celtic, Borrach, “a noble person.” This plant was the Bugloss of the older botanists, and it corresponds to our Common Bugloss, so called from the shape and bristly surface of its leaves, which resemble bous-glossa, the tongue of an ox. Chemically, the plant Borage contains potassium and calcium combined with mineral acids. The fresh juice affords thirty per cent., and the dried herb three per cent. of nitrate of potash. The stems and leaves supply much saline mucilage, which, when boiled and cooled, likewise deposits nitre and common salt. These crystals, when ignited, will burn with a succession of small sparkling explosions, to the great delight of the schoolboy. And it is to such saline qualities the wholesome, invigorating effects and the specially refreshing properties of the Borage are supposed to be mainly due. For which reason, the plant, “when taken in sallets,” as says an old herbalist, “doth exhilarate, and make the mind glad,” almost in the same way as a bracing sojourn by the seaside during an autumn holiday. The flowers possess cordial virtues which are very revivifying, and have been much commended against melancholic depression of the nervous system. Burton, in his Anatomy of Melancholy (1676), wrote with reference to the frontispiece of that book:–

“Borage and Hellebore fill two scenes,
Sovereign plants to purge the veins
Of melancholy, and cheer the heart
Of those black fumes which make it smart;
The best medicine that God e’er made
For this malady, if well assaid.”

“The sprigs of Borage,” wrote John Evelyn, “are of known virtue to revive the hypochondriac and cheer the hard student.”

According to Dioscorides and Pliny, the Borage was that famous nepenthe of Homer which Polydamas sent to Helen for a token “of such rare virtue that when taken steep’d in wine, if wife and children, father and mother, brother and sister, and all thy dearest friends should die before thy face, thou could’st not grieve, or shed a tear for them.” “The bowl of Helen had no other ingredient, as most criticks do conjecture, than this of borage.” And it was declared of the herb by another ancient author: Vinum potatum quo sit macerata buglossa moerorum cerebri dicunt auferre
periti
:–

“To enliven the sad with the joy of a joke,
Give them wine with some borage put in it to soak.”

The Romans named the Borage Euphrosynon, because when put into a cup of wine it made the drinkers of the same merry and glad.

Parkinson says, “The seed of Borage helpeth nurses to have more store of milk, for which purpose its leaves are most conducing.” Its saline constituents promote activity of the kidneys, and for this reason the plant is used in France to carry off catarrhs which are feverish. The fresh herb has a cucumber-like odour, and when compounded with lemon and sugar, added to wine and water, it makes a delicious “cool tankard,” as a summer drink. “A syrup concocted of the floures,” said Gerard, “quieteth the lunatick person, and the leaves eaten raw do engender good blood.” Of all nectar-loving insects, bees alone know how to pronounce the “open sesame” of admission to the honey pots of the Borage.

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