Our garden Lettuce is a cultivated variety of the wild, or strong-scented Lettuce (Lactuca virosa), which grows, with prickly leaves, on banks and waysides in chalky districts throughout England and Wales. It belongs to the Composite order of plants, and contains the medicinal properties of the plant more actively than does the Lettuce produced for the kitchen. An older form of the name is Lettouce, which is still retained in Scotland.
Chemically the wild Lettuce contains lactucin, lactucopricin, asparagin, mannite, albumen, gum, and resin, together with oxalic, malic, and citric acids; thus possessing virtues for easing pain, and inducing sleep. The cultivated Lettuce which comes to our tables retains these same properties, but in a very modified degree, since the formidable principles have become as completely toned down and guileless in the garden product as were the child-like manners and the pensive smile of Bret Harte’s Heathen Chinee.
Each plant derives its name, lactuca, from its milky juice; in Latin lactis; and in Greek, galaktos (taking the genitive case). This juice, when withdrawn from the cut or incised stalks and stems of the wild Lettuce, is milky at first, and afterwards becomes brown, like opium, being then known (when dried into a kind of gum) as lactucarium. From three to eight grains of this gum, if taken at bedtime, will allay the wakefulness which follows over-excitement of brain. A similar lactucarium, got from the dried milk of the cultivated garden Lettuce, is so mild a sedative as to be suitable for restless infants; and two grains thereof may be safely given to a young child for soothing it to sleep.
The wild Lettuce is rather laxative; with which view a decoction of the leaves is sometimes taken as a drink to remedy constipation, and intestinal difficulties, as also to allay feverish pains. The plant was mentioned as acting thus in an epigram by Martial (Libr. VI., Sq.).
“Prima tibi dabitur ventro lactuca movendo
Utilis, et porris fila resecta suis.”
Gerard said: “Being in some degree laxative and aperient, the cultivated Lettuce is very proper for hot bilious dispositions;” and Parkinson adds (1640): “Lettuce eaten raw or boyled, helpeth to loosen the belly, and the boyled more than the raw.” It was known as the “Milk Plant” to Dioscorides and Theophrastus, and was much esteemed by the Romans to be eaten after a debauch of wine, or as a sedative for inducing sleep. But a prejudice against it was entertained for a time as venerem enervans, and therefore mortuorum cibi, “food for the dead.”
Apuleius says, that when the eagle desires to fly to a great height, and to get a clear view of the extensive prospect below him, he first plucks a leaf of the wild Lettuce and touches his eyes with the juice thereof, by which means he obtains the widest perspicuity of vision. “Dicunt aquilam quum in altum volare voluerit ut prospiciat rerum naturas lactucoe sylvaticoe folium evellere et succo ejus sibi oculos tangere, et maximam inde claritudinem accipere.”
After the death of Adonis, Venus is related to have thrown herself on a bed of lettuces to assuage her grief. “In lactucâ occultatum a Venere Adonin–cecinit Callimachus–quod allegoricé interpretatus Athenoeus illuc referendum putat quod in venerem hebetiores fiunt lactucas vescentes assidue.”
The Pythagoreans called this plant “the Eunuch”; and there is a saying in Surrey, “O’er much Lettuce in the garden will stop a young wife’s bearing.” During the middle ages it was thought an evil spirit lurked among the Lettuces adverse to mothers, and causing grievous ills to new-born infants.
The Romans, in the reign of Domitian, had the lettuce prepared with eggs, and served with the last course at their tables, so as to stimulate their appetites afresh. Martial wonders that it had since then become customary to take it rather at the beginning of the meal:–
“Claudere quae caenas lactuca solebat avorum
Dic mihi cur nostras inchoat illa dapes.”
Antoninus Musa cured Caesar Augustus of hypochondriasis by means of this plant.
The most common variety of the wild Lettuce, improved by frequent cultivation, is the Cabbage Lettuce, or Roman, “which is the best to boil, stew, or put into hodge-podge.” Different sorts of the Cos Lettuce follow next onwards. The Lactuca sylvatica is a variety of the wild Lettuce producing similar effects. From this a medicinal tincture (H.) is prepared, and an extract from the flowering herb is given in doses of from five to fifteen grains. No attempt was made to cultivate the Lettuce in this country until the fourth year of Elizabeth’s reign.
When bleached by gardeners the lettuce becomes tender, sweet, and succulent, being easily digested, even by dyspeptic persons, as to its crisp, leafy parts, but not its hard stalk. It now contains but little nutriment of any sort, but supplies some mineral salts, especially nitre. In the stem there still lingers a small quantity of the sleep-inducing principle, “lactucarin,” particularly when the plant is flowering. Galen, when sleepless from advanced age and infirmities, with hard study, took decoction of the Lettuce at night; and Pope says, with reference to our garden sort:–
“If you want rest,
Lettuce, and cowslip wine:–‘probatum est.'”
But if Lettuces are taken at supper with this view of promoting sleep, they should be had without any vinegar, which neutralises their soporific qualities. “Sleep,” said Sir Thomas Brown, “is so like death that I dare not trust it without my prayers.”
Some persons suppose that when artificially blanched the plant is less wholesome than if left to grow naturally in the garden, especially if its ready digestibility by those of sensitive stomachs be correctly attributed to the slightly narcotic principle. It was taken uncooked by the Hebrews with the Paschal lamb.
John Evelyn writes enthusiastically about it in his Book of Sallets: “So harmless is it that it may safely be eaten raw in fevers; it allays heat, bridles choler, extinguishes thirst, excites appetite, kindly nourishes, and, above all, represses vapours, conciliates sleep, and mitigates pain, besides the effect it has upon the morals– temperance and chastity.”
“Galen (whose beloved sallet it was) says it breeds the most laudable blood. No marvel, then, that Lettuces were by the ancients called sanoe by way of eminency, and were so highly valued by the great Augustus that, attributing to them his recovery from a dangerous sickness, it is reported he erected a statue and built an altar to this noble plant.” Likewise, “Tacitus, spending almost nothing at his frugal table in other dainties, was yet so great a friend to the Lettuce that he used to say of his prodigality in its purchase, Summi se mercari illas sumitus effusione.” Probably the Lettuce of Greece was more active than our indigenous, or cultivated plant.
By way of admonition as to care in preparing the Lettuce for table, Dr. King Chambers has said (Diet in Health and Disease), “The consumption of Lettuce by the working man with his tea is an increasing habit worthy of all encouragement. But the said working man must be warned of the importance of washing the material of his meal. This hint is given in view of the frequent occurrence of the large round worm in the labouring population of some agricultural counties, Oxfordshire for instance, where unwashed Lettuce is largely eaten.” Young Lettuces may be raised in forty-eight-hours by first steeping the seed in brandy and then sowing it in a hot-house.
The seeds of the garden Lettuce are emollient, and when rubbed up with water make a pleasant emulsion, which contains nothing of the milky, laxative bitterness furnished by the leaves and stalk. This emulsion resembles that of almonds, but is even more cooling, and therefore a better medicine in disorders arising from acrimony and irritation.
From the Lactuca virosa, or strong-scented wild Lettuce, a medicinal tincture (H.) is prepared, using the whole plant. On the principle of treating with this tincture, when diluted, such toxic effects as too large doses of the juice would bring about, a slow pulse, with a disposition to stupor, and sleepy weakness, are successfully met by its use. Also a medicinal extract is made by druggists from the wild Lettuce, and given in doses of from three to ten grains for the medicinal purposes which have been particularised, and to remove a dull, heavy headache.
“The garden Lettuce is good,” as Pliny said, “for burnings and scaldings if the leaves be laid thereon, with salt (sic), before the blisters do appear.” “By reason,” concludes Evelyn, “too, of its soporiferous quality, the Lettuce ever was, and still continues, the principal foundation of the universal tribe of Sallets, which cools and refreshes, besides its other properties, and therefore was held in such high esteem by the ancients, that divers of the Valerian family dignified and ennobled their name with that of Lactucinii.” It is botanically distinguished as the Lactuca sativa, “from the plenty of milk,” says “Adam in Eden” (W. Coles), “that it hath, and causeth.”
Lambs’ Lettuce, or Corn Salad, is a distinct plant, one of the Valerian tribe, which was formerly classed as a Lettuce, by name, Lactuca agnina, either because it appears about the time when lambs (agni) are dropped, or because it is a favourite food of lambs.
The French call this salade de Prètre, “monks’ salad,” and in reference thereto an old writer has said: “It certainly deserves a place among the penitential herbs, for the stomach that admits it is apt to cry peccavi.”
The same plant is also known by the title of the White Pot Herb, in contrast to the Olus atrum, or Black Pot Herb. It grows wild in the banks of hedges and waste cornfields, and is cultivated in our kitchen gardens as a salad herb, the Milk Grass, being called botanically the Valerianella olitoria, and having been in request as a spring medicine among country folk in former days. By genus it is a Fedia, and bears diminutive white flowers resembling glass. Gerard says: “We know the Lambs’ Lettuce as Loblollie; and it serves in winter as a salad herb, among others none of the worst.” In France it goes by the names manche and broussette. A medicinal tincture is made (H.) from the fresh root.
The black pot-herb–so called from the dark colour of its fruit–is an umbelliferous plant, (Smyrnium olusatrum) or Alexanders, often found in the vicinity of abbeys, and probably therefore held in former repute by the Monks. Its names are derived from Smyrna, myrrh, in allusion to the odour of the plant; and from Macedonicum, or the parsley of Macedon, Alexander’s country. The herb was also known as Stanmarch. It grows on waste places by rivers near the sea, having been formerly cultivated like celery, which has now supplanted it. When boiled it is eaten with avidity by sailors returning from long voyages, who happen to land at the South Western corner of Anglesea.
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“The time has come,” as the walrus said in Alice and the Looking Glass, “to talk of many things” —
“Of shoes, and ships, and sealing-wax; of Cabbages, and
The Cabbage, which is fabled to have sprung from the tears of the Spartan lawgiver, Lycurgus, began as the Colewort, and was for six hundred years, according to Pliny and Cato, the only internal remedy used by the Romans. The Ionians had such a veneration for Cabbages that they swore by them, just as the Egyptians did by the onion. With ourselves, the wild Cabbage, growing on our English sea cliffs, is the true Collet, or Colewort, from which have sprung all our varieties of Cabbage — cauliflower, greens, broccoli, etc. No vegetables were grown for the table in England before the time of Henry the Eighth. In the thirteenth century it was the custom to salt vegetables because they were so scarce; and in the sixteenth century a Cabbage from Holland was deemed a choice present.
The whole tribe of Cabbages is named botanically Brassicaceoe — apo tou brassein — because they heat, or ferment.
By natural order they are cruciferous plants; and all contain much nitrogen, or vegetable albumen, with a considerable quantity of sulphur; hence they tend strongly to putrefaction, and when decomposed their odour is very offensive. Being cut into pieces, and pressed close in a tub with aromatic herbs and salt, so as to undergo an acescent fermentation (which is arrested at that stage), Cabbages form the German Saurkraut, which is strongly recommended against scurvy. The white Cabbage is most putrescible; the red most emollient and pectoral. The juice of the red cabbage made into syrup, without any condiments, is useful in chronic coughs, and in bronchial asthma. The leaves of the common white Cabbage, when gently bruised and applied to a blistered surface, will promote a free discharge, as also when laid next the skin in dropsy of the ankles. All the Coleworts are called “Crambe,” from krambos, dry, because they dispel drunkenness.
“There is,” says an old author, “a natural enmitie between the Colewort and the vine, which is such that the vine, if growing near unto it, withereth and perisheth; yea, if wine be poured into the Colewort while it is boiling, it will not be any more boiled, and the colour thereof will be quite altered.” The generic term Colewort is derived from caulis, a stalk, and wourte, as applied to all kinds of herbs that “do serve for the potte.” “Good worts,” exclaimed Falstaff, catching at Evans’ faulty pronunciation of words, — “good worts,” — “good cabbages.” An Irish cure for sore throat is to tie Cabbage leaves round it; and the same remedy is applied in England with hot Cabbage leaves for a swollen face. In the Island of Jersey coarse Cabbages are grown abundantly on patches of roadside ground, and in corners of fields, the stalks of which attain the height of eight, ten, or more feet, and are used for making walking sticks or cannes en tiges de choux. These are in great demand on the island, and are largely exported. It may be that a specially tall cabbage of this sort gave rise to the Fairy tale of “Jack and the bean stalk.” The word Cabbage bears reference to caba (caput), a head, as signifying a Colewort which forms a round head. Kohl rabi, from caulo-rapum, cabbage turnip, is a name given to the Brassica oleracea. In 1595 the sum of twenty shillings was paid for six Cabbages and a few carrots, at the port of Hull, by the purveyor to the Clifford family.
The red Cabbage is thought in France to be highly anti-scorbutic; and a syrup is made from it with this purpose in view. The juice of white Cabbage leaves will cure warts.
The Brassica oleracea is one of the plants used in Count Mattaei’s vaunted nostrum, “anti-scrofuloso.” This, the sea Cabbage, with its pale clusters of handsome yellow flowers, is very ornamental to our cliffs. Its leaves, which are conspicuously purple, have a bitter taste when uncooked, but become palatable for boiling if first repeatedly washed; and they are sold at Dover as a market vegetable. These should be boiled in two waters, of which the first will be made laxative, and the second, or thicker decoction, astringent, which fact was known to Hippocrates, who said “jus caulis solvit cujus substantia stringit.”
Sir Anthony Ashley brought the Cabbage into English cultivation. It is said a Cabbage is sculptured at his feet on his monument in Wimbourne Minster, Dorset. He imported the Cabbage (Cale) from Cadiz (Cales), where he held a command, and grew rich by seizing other men’s possessions, notably by appropriating some jewels entrusted to his care by a lady. Hence he is said to have got more by Cales (Cadiz) than by Cale (Cabbage); and this is, perhaps, the origin of our term “to cabbage.” Among tailors, this phrase “to cabbage” is a cant saying which means to filch the cloth when cutting out for a customer. Arbuthnot writes “Your tailor, instead of shreds, cabbages whole yards of cloth.” Perhaps the word comes from the French cabasser, to put into a basket.
From the seed of the wild Cabbage (Rape, or Navew) rape-seed oil is extracted, and the residue is called rape-cake, or oil-cake.
Some years ago it was customary to bake bread-rolls wrapped in Cabbage leaves, for imparting what was considered an agreeable flavour. John Evelyn said: “In general, Cabbages are thought to allay fumes, and to prevent intoxication; but some will have them noxious to the sight.” After all it must be confessed the Cabbage is greatly to be accused for lying undigested in the stomach, and for provoking eructations; which makes one wonder at the veneration the ancients had for it, calling the tribe divine, and swearing per brassicam, which was for six hundred years held by the Romans a panacea: though “Dis crambee thanatos” — “Death by twice Cabbage” — was a Greek proverb. Gerard says the Greeks called the Cabbage Amethustos, “not only because it driveth away drunkennesse; but also for that it is like in colour to the pretious stone called the amethyst.” The Cabbage was Pompey’s best beloved dish. To make a winter salad it is customary in America to choose a firm white Cabbage, and to shred it very fine, serving it with a dressing of plain oil and vinegar. This goes by the name of “slaw,” which has a Dutch origin.
The free presence of hydrogen and sulphur causes a very strong and unpleasant smell to pervade the house during the cooking of Cabbages. Nevertheless, this sulphur is a very salutary constituent of the vegetable, most useful in scurvy and scrofula. Partridge and Cabbage suit the patrician table; bacon and Cabbage better please the taste and the requirements of the proletarian. The nitrogen of this and other cruciferous plants serves to make them emit offensive stinks when they lie out of doors and rot.
For the purulent scrofulous ophthalmic inflammation of infants, by cleansing the eyes thoroughly every half-hour with warm water, and then packing the sockets each time with fresh Cabbage leaves cleaned and bruised to a soft pulp, the flow of matter will be increased for a few days, but a cure will be soon effected. Pliny commended the juice of the raw Cabbage with a little honey for sore and inflamed eyes which were moist and weeping, but not for those which were dry and dull.
In Kent and Sussex, when a Cabbage is cut and the stalk left in the ground to produce “greens” for the table, a cottager will carve an x on the top flat surface of the upright stalk, and thus protect it against mischievous garden sprites and demons.
Some half a century ago medical apprentices were taught the art of blood-letting by practising with a lancet on the prominent veins of a Cabbage leaf.
Carlyle said “of all plants the Cabbage grows fastest to completion.” His parable of the oak and the Cabbage conveys the lesson that those things which are most richly endowed when they come to perfection, are the slowest in their production and development.
Source: Herbal Simples Approved for Modern Uses of Cure, William Thomas FernieFiled under Uncategorized | Comment (0)
Those subject to sore throat will find the following preparation simple, cheap and highly efficacious when used in the early stage. Pour a pint of boiling water upon twenty-five or thirty leaves of common sage; let the infusion stand for half an hour. Add vinegar sufficient to make it moderately acid, and honey according to the taste. This combination of the astringent and the emollient principle seldom fails to produce the desired effect. The infusion must be used as a gargle several times a day. It is pleasant to the taste and if swallowed contains nothing to render it dangerous in any way.
Chlorate of potash pellets are very effective, and may be had from any chemist.
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