Hints to Young Ladies (I)

October 22nd, 2017

Two simple chemicals should appear on every toilet-table : the carbonate of ammonia and powdered charcoal. No cosmetic has more frequent uses than these. The ammonia must be kept in glass with a glass stopper from the air. French charcoal is preferred by physicians, as it is more finely ground, and a large bottle of it should be kept on hand. In cases of debility, and all wasting disorders it is valuable. To clear the complexion, take a teaspoonful of charcoal well mixed in water or honey for three nights, then use a simple purgative to remove it from the system. It acts like calomel with no bad effect, purifying the blood more effectually than any thing else. But do not omit the aperient, or the charcoal will remain in the system. After this course of purification, tonics may be used.

Source: The Housekeeper’s Friend: A Practical Cookbook

Infusion of Rhubarb

April 18th, 2016

Take of

  • Rhubarb, half an ounce ;
  • Boiling water, eight ounces ;
  • Spirit of cinnamon, one ounce.

Macerate the rhubarb in a close vessel with the water, for twelve hours ; then having added the spirit, strain the liquor.

This appears to be one of the best preparations of rhubarb, when designed as a purgative; water extracting its virtue more effectually than either vinous or spiritous menstrua.

Source: The Edinburgh New Dispensatory, Andrew Duncan

Ingredient: Castor Oil

May 19th, 2015

This oil is a valuable aperient; for whilst, in doses of from half an ounce to an ounce, it thoroughly evacuates the bowels, it does so with little irritation; hence it is especially useful in inflammatory cases, or where there is spasm, or where all increased action of the system is particularly to be avoided. From its quick and mild operation, it is particularly adapted for children, and females during pregnancy. It is also the best purgative that can be employed in that affection of the bowels knowm by the names of colica pictonum, or painter’s colic, the Devonshire colic, and the dry bellyache; and it is the more useful in that disease, as it may be joined with opium and other narcotics without having its purgative properties lessened. For the same reason castor oil is advantageously given in calculous affections. It has also been regarded by some continental physicians as peculiarly well suited for expelling the tape-worm. It is likewise considered the best purgative, when properly administered, for combating habitual costiveness. For this purpose a large dose must first be given in the morning, and the use of the oil continued for some weeks, gradually diminishing the dose daily, until half a tea-spoonful only is taken; on the discontinuance of which, the bowels continue to be relieved without further assistance. One disadvantage attending the use of this oil is its tendency to excite vomiting, but this is counteracted by combining it with some aromatic. The best modes of exhibiting it in general have been much canvassed; it is given floating on water with a small quantity of brandy poured over it, and when this can be swallowed at once, there is no better mode; but as this cannot always be done, it may be given with success in coffee or mutton-broth, or suspended in water by the intervention of mucilage or yolk of egg, according to the taste of the patient. Upon the whole, castor oil is a purgative of great value, and one whose operation, as it is in daily use, should be well understood.

Source: A Companion To The Medicine Chest, John Savory.

Ingredient: Periwinkle

March 24th, 2015

There are two British Periwinkles growing wild; the one Vinca major, or greater, a doubtful native, and found only in the neighbourhood of dwelling-houses; the other Vinca minor lesser, abounding in English woods, particularly in the Western counties, and often entirely covering the ground with its prostrate evergreen leaves. The common name of each is derived from vincio, to bind, as it were by its stems resembling cord; or because bound in olden times into festive garlands and funeral chaplets. Their title used also to be Pervinca, and Pervinkle, Pervenkle, and Pucellage (or virgin flower).

This generic name has been derived either from pervincire, to bind closely, or from pervincere, to overcome. Lord Bacon observes that it was common in his time for persons to wear bands of green Periwinkle about the calf of the leg to prevent cramp. Now-a-days we use for the same purpose a garter of small new corks strung on worsted. In Germany this plant is the emblem of immortality. It bears the name “Pennywinkles” in Hampshire, probably by an inland confusion with the shell fish “winkles.”

Each of the two kinds possesses acrid astringent properties, but the lesser Periwinkle, Vinca minor or Winter-green, is the Herbal Simple best known of the pair, for its medicinal virtues in domestic use. The Periwinkle order is called Apocynaceoe, from the Greek apo, against, and kunos, a dog; or dog’s bane.

The flowers of the greater Periwinkle are gently purgative, but lose their effect by drying. If gathered in the Spring, and made into a syrup, they will impart all their virtues, and this is excellent to keep the bowels of children gently open, as well as to overcome habitual constipation in grown persons. But the leaves are astringent, contracting and strengthening the genitals if applied thereto either as a decoction, or as the bruised leaves themselves. An infusion of the greater Periwinkle, one part of the fresh plant to ten of water, may be used for staying female fluxes, by giving a wine-glassful thereof when cool, frequently; or of the liquid extract, half a teaspoonful for a dose in water. On account of its striking colour, and its use for magical purposes, the plant, when in bloom, has been named the Sorcerer’s Violet, and in some parts of Devon the flowers are known as Cut Finger or Blue Buttons. The Italians use it in making garlands for their dead infants, and so call it Death’s flower.

Simon Fraser, whose father was a faithful adherent of Sir William Wallace, when on his way to be executed (in 1306) was crowned in mockery with the Periwinkle, as he passed through the City of London, with his legs tied under the horse’s belly. In Gloucestershire, the flowers of the greater Periwinkle are called Cockles.

The lesser Periwinkle is perennial, and is sometimes cultivated in gardens, where it has acquired variegated leaves. It has no odour, but gives a bitterish taste which lasts in the mouth. Its leaves are strongly astringent, and therefore very useful to be applied for staying bleedings. If bruised and put into the nostrils, they will arrest fluxes from the nose, and a decoction made from them is of service for the diarrhoea of a weak subject, as well as for chronic looseness of the bowels; likewise for bleeding piles, by being applied externally, and by being taken internally. Again, the decoction makes a capital gargle for relaxed sore throat, and for sponginess of the mouth, of the tonsils, and the gums.

This plant was also a noted Simple for increasing the milk of wet nurses, and was advised for such purpose by physicians of repute. Culpeper gravely says: “The leaves of the lesser Periwinkle, if eaten by man and wife together, will cause love between them.”

A tincture is made (H.) from the said plant, the Vinca minor, with spirit of wine. It is given medicinally for the milk-crust of infants, as well as for internal haemorrhages, the dose being from two to ten drops three or four times in the day, with a spoonful of water.

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

Ingredients: Peach

January 10th, 2009

The Peach (Amygdabus Persica), the apple of Persia, began to be cultivated in England about 1562, or perhaps before then. Columella tells of this fatal gift conveyed treacherously to Egypt in the first century:–

“Apples, which most barbarous Persia sent,
With native poison armed.”

The Peach tree is so well known by its general characteristics as not to need any particular description. Its young branches, flowers, and seeds, after maceration in water, yield a volatile oil which is chemically identical with that of the bitter almond. The flowers are laxative, and have been used instead of manna. When distilled, they furnish a white liquor which communicates a flavour resembling the kernels of fruits. An infusion made from one drachm of the dried flowers, or from half an ounce of the fresh flowers, has a purgative effect. The fruit is wholesome, and seldom disagrees if eaten when ripe and sound. Its quantity of sugar is only small, but the skin is indigestible.

The leaves possess the power of expelling worms if applied outside a child’s belly as a poultice, but in any medicinal form they must be used with caution, as they contain some of the properties of prussic acid, as found also in the leaves of the laurel. A syrup of Peach flowers was formerly a preparation recognised by apothecaries. The leaves infused in white brandy, sweetened with barley sugar, make a fine cordial similar to noyeau. Soyer says the old Romans gave as much for their peaches as eighteen or nineteen shillings each.

Peach pie, owing to the abundance of the fruit, is as common fare in an American farm-house, as apple pie in an English homestead. Our English King John died at Swinestead Abbey from a surfeit of peaches, and new ale.

A tincture made from the flowers will allay the pain of colic caused by gravel; but the kernels of the fruit, which yield an oil identical with that of bitter almonds, have produced poisonous effects with children.

Gerard teaches “that a syrup or strong infusion of Peach flowers doth singularly well purge the belly, and yet without grief or trouble.” Two tablespoonfuls of the infusion for a dose.

In Sicily there is a belief that anyone afflicted with goitre, who eats a Peach on the night of St. John, or the Ascension, will be cured, provided only that the Peach tree dies at the same time. In Italy Peach leaves are applied to a wart, and then buried, so that they and the wart may perish simultaneously.

Thackeray one day at dessert was taken to task by his colleague on the Punch staff, Angus B. Reach, whom he addressed as Mr. Reach, instead of as Mr. (Scotticé) Reach. With ready promptitude, Thackeray replied: “Be good enough Mr. Re-ack to pass me a pe-ack.”

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

Ingredients: Bog-Bean, or Marsh Trefoil

November 1st, 2008

The Buck-bean, or Bog-bean, which is common enough in stagnant pools, and on our spongy bogs, is the most serviceable of all known herbal tonics. It may be easily recognised growing in water by its large leaves overtopping the surface, each being composed of three leaflets, and resembling the leaf of a Windsor Broad Bean. The flowers when in bud are of a bright rose color, and when fully blown they have the inner surface of their petals thickly covered with a white fringe, on which account the plant is known also as “white fluff.” The name Buckbean is perhaps a corruption of scorbutus, scurvy; this giving it another title, “scurvy bean.” And it is termed “goat’s bean,” perhaps from the French le bouc, “a he-goat.” The plant flowers for a month and therefore bears the botanical designation, “Menyanthes” (trifoliata) from meen, “a month,” and anthos, “a flower.” It belongs to the Gentian tribe, each of which is distinguished by a tonic and appetizing bitterness of taste. The root of the Bog Bean is the most bitter part, and is therefore selected for medicinal use. It contains a chemical glucoside, “Menyanthin,” which consists of glucose and a volatile product, “Menyanthol.” For curative purposes druggists supply an infusion of the herb, and a liquid extract in combination with liquorice. These preparations are in moderate doses, strengthening and antiscorbutic; but when given more largely they are purgative and emetic. Gerard says if the plant “be taken with mead, or honied water, it is of use against a cough”; in which respect it is closely allied to the Sundew (another plant of the bogs) for relieving whooping-cough after the first feverish stage, or any similar hacking, spasmodic cough. A tincture is made (H.) from the whole plant with spirit of wine, and this proves most useful for clearing obscuration of the sight, when there is a sense, especially in the open-air, of a white vibrating mist before the eyes; and therefore it has been given with marked success in early stages of amaurotic paralysis of the retina. The dose should be three or four drops of the tincture with a tablespoonful of cold water three times in the day for a week at a time.

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

Ingredients: Broom

October 18th, 2008

The Broom, or Link (Cytisus scoparius) is a leguminous shrub
which is well known as growing abundantly on open places in our
rural districts. The prefix “cytisus” is derived from the name of a
Greek island where Broom abounded. It formerly bore the name of
Planta Genista, and gave rise to the historic title, “Plantagenet.”
A sprig of its golden blossom was borne by Geoffrey of Anjou in
his bonnet when going into battle, making him conspicuous
throughout the strife. In the Ingoldsby Legends it is said of our
second King Henry’s headdress:–

“With a great sprig of broom, which he bore as a badge in it,
He was named from this circumstance, Henry Plantagenet.”

The stalks of the Broom, and especially the topmost young twigs,
are purgative, and act powerfully on the kidneys to increase the
flow of urine. They contain chemically an acid principle,
“scoparin,” and an alkaloid, “sparteine.” For medical purposes
these terminal twigs are used (whether fresh or dried) to make a
decoction which is of great use in dropsy from a weak heart, but it
should not be given where congestion of the lungs is present. From
half to one ounce by weight of the tops should be boiled down in a
pint of water to half this quantity, and a wineglassful may be taken
as a dose every four or six hours. For more chronic dropsy,
a compound decoction of broom may be given with much
benefit. To make this, use broom-tops and dandelion roots, of each
half an ounce, boiling them in a pint of water down to half a pint,
and towards the last adding half an ounce of bruised juniper
berries. When cold, the decoction should be strained and a
wineglassful may be had three or four times a day. “Henry the
Eighth, a prince of famous memory, was wonte to drinke the
distilled water of broome flowers against surfeits and diseases
therefrom arising.” The flower-buds, pickled in vinegar, are
sometimes used as capers; and the roasted seeds have been
substituted for coffee. Sheep become stupefied or excited when by
chance constrained to eat broom-tops.

The generic name, Scoparius, is derived from the Latin word
scopa, a besom, this signifying “a shrub to sweep with.” It has
been long represented that witches delight to ride thereon: and in
Holland, if a vessel lying in dock has a besom tied to the top of its
mast, this advertises it as in search of a new owner. Hence has
arisen the saying about a woman when seeking a second husband,
Zij steetk’t dem bezen, “She hangs out the broom.”

There is a tradition in Suffolk and Sussex:–

“If you sweep the house with Broom in May,
You’ll sweep the head of the house away.”

Allied to the Broom, and likewise belonging to the Papilionaceous
order of leguminous plants, though not affording any known
medicinal principle, the Yellow Gorse (Ulex) or Furze grows
commonly throughout England on dry exposed plains. It covers
these during the flowering season with a gorgeous sheet of yellow
blossoms, orange perfumed, and which entirely conceals the
rugged brown unsightly branches beneath. Its elastic seed vessels
burst with a crackling noise in hot weather, and scatter the
seeds on all sides. “Some,” says Parkinson, “have used the flowers
against the jaundice,” but probably only because of their yellow
colour. “The seeds,” adds Gerard, “are employed in medicines
against the stone, and the staying of the laske” (laxitas,
looseness). They are certainly astringent, and contain tannin. In
Devonshire the bush is called “Vuzz,” and in Sussex “Hawth.”

The Gorse is rare in Scotland, thriving best in our cool humid
climate. In England it is really never out of blossom, not even after
a severe frost, giving rise to the well-known saying “Love is never
out of season except when the Furze is out of bloom.” It is also
known as Fursbush, Furrs and Whins, being crushed and given as
fodder to cattle. The tender shoots are protected from being eaten
by herbivorous animals in the same way as are the thistles and the
holly, by the angles of the leaves having grown together so as to
constitute prickles.

“‘Twere to cut off an epigram’s point,
Or disfurnish a knight of his spurs,
If we foolishly tried to disjoint
Its arms from the lance-bearing Furze.”

Linnoeus “knelt before it on the sod: and for its beauty thanked his
God.”

The Butcher’s Broom, Ruscus (or Bruscus) aculeatus, or prickly,
is a plant of the Lily order, which grows chiefly in the South of
England, on heathy places and in woods. It bears sharp-pointed,
stiff leaves (each of which produces a small solitary flower on its
upper surface), and scarlet berries. The shrub is also known as
Knee Hulyer, Knee Holly (confused with the Latin cneorum),
Prickly Pettigrue and Jews’ Myrtle. Butchers make besoms of its
twigs, with which to sweep their stalls or blocks: and these
twigs are called “pungi topi,” “prickrats,” from being used to
preserve meat from rats. Jews buy the same for service during the
Feast of Tabernacles; and the boughs have been employed for
flogging chilblains. The Butcher’s Broom has been claimed by the
Earls of Sutherland as the distinguishing badge of their followers
and Clan, every Sutherland volunteer wearing a sprig of the bush
in his bonnet on field days. This shrub is highly extolled as a free
promoter of urine in dropsy and obstructions of the kidneys; a pint
of boiling water should be poured on an ounce of the fresh twigs,
or on half-an-ounce of the bruised root, to make an infusion,
which may be taken as tea. The root is at first sweet to the taste,
and afterwards bitter.

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

Liver Trouble, Mandrake Leaves for

October 14th, 2008

“A very good remedy to use regularly, for several weeks, is to use from one to three grains of may-apple (mandrake) seed, night and morning, followed occasionally by a light purgative, as seidlitz powder or rochelle salts.” This is sure to give relief if kept up thoroughly.

Source: Mother’s Remedies: Over One Thousand Tried and Tested Remidies from Mothers of the United States and Canada, T. J. Ritter

Ingredients: Buckthorn

October 4th, 2008

The common Buckthorn grows in our woods and thickets, and used to be popularly known because of the purgative syrup made from its juice and berries. It bears dense branches of small green flowers, followed by the black berries, which purge violently. If gathered before they are ripe they furnish a yellow dye. When ripe, if mixed with gum arabic and lime water, they form the pigment called “Bladder Green.” Until late in the present century– O dura ilia messorum!–English rustics, when requiring an aperient dose for themselves or their children, had recourse to the syrup of Buckthorn. But its action was so severe, and attended with such painful gripings, that as time went on the medicine was discarded, and it is now employed in this respect almost exclusively by the cattle doctor. Dodoeus taught about Buckthorn berries: “They be not meet to be administered but to young and lusty people of the country, which do set more store of their money than their lives.” The shrub grows chiefly on chalk, and near brooks. The name Buckthorn is from the German buxdorn, boxthorn, hartshorn. In Anglo-Saxon it was Heorot-bremble. It is also known as Waythorn, Rainberry Thorn, Highway Thorn and Rhineberries. Each of the berries contains four seeds: and the flesh of birds which eat thereof is said to be purgative. When the juice is given medicinally it causes a bad stomach-ache, with much dryness of the throat: for which reason Sydenham always ordered a basin of soup to be given after it. Chemically the active principle of the Buckthorn is “rhamno-cathartine.” Likewise a milder kind of Buckthorn, which is much more useful as a Simple, grows freely in England, the Rhamnus frangula or so-called “black berry-bearing Alder,” though this appellation is a mistake, because botanically the Alder never bears any berries. This black Buckthorn is a slender shrub, which occurs in our woods and thickets. The juice of its berries is aperient, without being irritating, and is well suited as a laxative for persons of delicate constitution. It possesses the merit of continuing to answer in smaller doses after the patient has become habituated to its use. The berry of the Rhamnus frangula may be known by its containing only two seeds. Country people give the bark boiled in ale for jaundice; and this bark is the black dogwood of gunpowder makers. Lately a certain aperient medicine has become highly popular with both doctors and patients in this country, the same being known as Cascara Sagrada. It is really an American Buckthorn, the Rhamnus Persiana, and it possesses no true advantage over our black Alder Buckthorn, though the bark of this latter must be used a year old, or it will cause griping. A fluid extract of the English mild Buckthorn, or of the American Cascara, is made by our leading druggists, of which from half to one teaspoonful may be given for a dose. This is likewise a tonic to the intestines, and is especially useful for relieving piles. Lozenges also of the Alder Buckthorn are dispensed under the name of “Aperient Fruit Lozenges;” one, or perhaps two, being taken for a dose as required.

There is a Sea Buckthorn, Hippophoe, which belongs to a different natural order, Eloeagnaceoe, a low shrubby tree, growing on sandhills and cliffs, and called also Sallowthorn. The fruit is made (in Tartary) into a pleasant jelly, because of its acid flavour, and used in the Gulf of Bothnia for concocting a fish sauce.

The name signifies “giving light to a horse,” being conferred because of a supposed power to cure equine blindness; or it may mean “shining underneath,” in allusion to the silvery underside of the leaf.

The old-fashioned Cathartic Buckthorn of our hedges and woods has spinous thorny branchlets, from which its name, Rhamnus, is thought to be derived, because the shrub is set with thorns like as the ram. At one time this Buckthorn was a botanical puzzle, even to Royalty, as the following lines assure us:–

“Hicum, peridicum; all clothed in green;
The King could not tell it, no more could the Queen;
So they sent to consult wise men from the East.
Who said it had horns, though it was not a beast.”

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

Ingredients: Ferns

July 12th, 2008

Only some few of our native Ferns are known to possess medicinal virtues, though they may all be happily pronounced devoid of poisonous or deleterious properties. As curative simples, a brief consideration will be given here to the common male and female Ferns, the Royal Fern, the Hart’s Tongue, the Maidenhair, the common Polypody, the Spleenwort, and the Wall Rue. Generically, the term “fern” has been referred to the word “feather,” because of the pinnate leaves, or to farr, a bullock, from the use of the plants as litter for cattle. Ferns are termed Filices, from the Latin word filum, a thread, because of their filamentary fronds. Each of those now particularized owes its respective usefulness chiefly to its tannin; while the few more specially endowed with healing powers yield also a peculiar chemical acid “filicic,” which is fatal to worms. In an old charter, A.D. 855, the right of pasturage on the common Ferns was called “fearnleswe,” or Pascua procorum, the pasturage of swine (from fearrh, a pig). Matthiolus when writing of the ferns, male and female, says, Utriusque radice sues pinguescunt. In some parts of England Ferns at large are known as “Devil’s brushes”; and to bite off close to the ground the first Fern which appears in the Spring, is said, in Cornwall, to cure toothache, and to prevent its return during the remainder of the year.

The common Male Fern (Filix mas) or Shield Fern, grows abundantly in all parts of Great Britain, and has been known from the times of Theophrastus and Dioscorides, as a specific remedy for intestinal worms, particularly the tape worm. For medicinal purposes, the green part of the rhizome is kept and dried; this is then powdered, and its oleo-resin is extracted by ether. The green fixed oil thus obtained; which is poisonous to worms, consists of the glycerides of filocylic and filosmylic acids, with tannin, starch, gum, and sugar. The English oil of Male Fern is more reliable than that which is imported from the Continent. Twenty drops made into an emulsion with mucilage should be given every half-hour on an empty stomach, until sixty or eighty drops have been taken. It is imprudent to administer the full quantity in a single dose. The treatment should be thus pursued when the vigour of the parasite has been first reduced by a low diet for a couple of days, and is lying within the intestines free from alimentary matter; a purgative being said to assist the action of the plant, though it is, independently, quite efficacious. The knowledge of this remedy had become lost, until it was repurchased for fifteen thousand francs, in 1775, by the French king, under the advice of his principal physicians, from Madame Nouffer, a surgeon’s widow in Switzerland, who employed it as a secret mode of cure with infallible success. Her method consisted in giving from one to three drams of the powdered root, after using a clyster, and following the dose up with a purge of scammony and calomel. The rhizome should not be used medicinally if more than a year old. A medicinal tincture (H.) is now prepared from the root-stock with proof spirit, in the autumn when the fronds are dying.

The young shoots and curled leaves of the Male Fern, which is distinguished by having one main rib, are sometimes eaten like asparagus; whilst the fronds make an excellent litter for horses and cattle. The seed of this and some other species of Fern is so minute (one frond producing more than a million) as not to be visible to the naked eye. Hence, on the doctrine of signatures, the plant — like the ring of Gyges, found in a brazen horse — has been thought to confer invisibility. Thus Shakespeare says, Henry IV., Act II., Scene 1, “We have the receipt of Fern seed; we walk invisible.”

Bracken or Brakes, which grows more freely than any other of the Fern tribe throughout England, is the Filix foemina, or common Female Fern. The fronds of this are branched, whilst the male plant having only one main rib, is more powerful as an astringent, and antiseptic; “the powder thereof freely beaten healeth the galled necks of oxen and other cattell.” Bracken is also named botanically, Pteris aquilina, because the figure which appears in its succulent stem when cut obliquely across at the base, has been thought to resemble a spread eagle; and, therefore, Linnaeus termed the Fern Aquilina. Some call it, for the same reason, “King Charles in the oak tree”; and in Scotland the symbol is said to be an impression of the Devil’s foot. Again, witches are reputed to detest this Fern, since it bears on its cut root the Greek letter X, which is the initial of Christos.

In Ireland it is called the Fern of God, because of the belief that if the stem be cut into three sections, on the first of these will be seen the letter G; on the second O; and on the third D.

An old popular proverb says about this Bracken:–

“When the Fern is as high as a spoon
You may sleep an hour at noon,
When the Fern is as high as a ladle
You may sleep as long as you’re able,
When the Fern is looking red
Milk is good with faire brown bread.”

The Bracken grows almost exclusively on waste places and uncultivated ground; or, as Horace testified in Roman days, Neglectis urenda filix innascitur agris. It contains much potash; and its ashes were formerly employed in the manufacture of soap. The young tops of the plant are boiled in Hampshire for hogs’ food, and the peculiar flavour of Hampshire bacon has been attributed to this custom. The root affords much starch, and is used medicinally. “For thigh aches” [sciatica], says an old writer, “smoke the legs thoroughly with Fern braken.”

During the Seventeenth Century it was customary to set growing Brakes on fire with the belief that this would produce rain. A like custom of “firing the Bracken” still prevails to-day on the Devonshire moors. By an official letter the Earl of Pembroke admonished the High Sheriff of Stafford to forbear the burning of Ferns during a visit of Charles I., as “His Majesty desired that the country and himself may enjoy fair weather as long as he should remain in those parts.”

In northern climates a coarse kind of bread is made from the roots of the Brake Fern; whilst in the south the young shoots are often sold in bundles as a salad. (Some writers give the name of Lady Fern, not to the Bracken, but to the Asplenium filix foemina, because of its delicate and graceful foliage.) The Bracken has branched riblets, and is more viscid, mucilaginous, and diuretic, than the Male Fern.

Its ashes when burnt contain much vegetable alkali which has been used freely in making glass.

It was customary to “watch the Fern” on Midsummer eve, when the plant put forth at dusk a blue flower, and a wonderful seed at midnight, which was carefully collected, and known as “wish seed.” This gave the power to discover hidden treasures, whilst to drink the sap conferred perpetual youth.

The Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis), grows abundantly in many parts of Great Britain, and is the stateliest of Ferns in its favourite watery haunts. It heeds a soil of bog earth, and is incorrectly styled “the flowering Fern,” from its handsome spikes of fructification. One of its old English names is “Osmund, the Waterman”; and the white centre of its root has been called the heart of Osmund. This middle part boiled in some kind of liquor was supposed good for persons wounded, dry-beaten, and bruised, or that have fallen from some high place. The name “Osmund” is thought to be derived from os, the mouth, or os, bone, and mundare, to cleanse, or from gross mond kraut, the Greater Moonwort; but others refer it to Saint Osmund wading a river, whilst bearing the Christ on his shoulders. The root or rhizome has a mucilaginous slightly bitter taste. The tender sprigs of the plant at their first coming are “good to be put into balmes, oyles, and healing plasters.” Dodonoeus says, “the harte of the root of Osmonde is good against squattes, and bruises, heavie and grievous falles, and whatever hurte or dislocation soever it be.” “A conserve of these buds,” said Dr. Short of Sheffield, 1746, “is a specific in the rickets; and the roots stamped in water or gin till the liquor becometh a stiff mucilage, has cured many most deplorable pains of the back, that have confined the distracted sufferers close to bed for several weeks.” This mucilage was to be rubbed over the vertebrae of the back each night and morning for five or six days together. Also for rickets, “take of the powdered roots with the whitest sugar, and sprinkle some thereof on the child’s pap, and on all his liquid foods.” “It maketh a noble remedy,” said Dr. Bowles, “without any other medicine.” The actual curative virtues of this Fern are most probably due to the salts of lime, potash, and other earths, which it derives in solution from the bog soil, and from the water in which it grows. On July 25th it is specially dedicated to St. Christopher, its patron saint.

The Hart’s Tongue or Hind’s Tongue, is a Fern of common English growth in shady copses on moist banks, it being the Lingua cervina of the apothecaries, and its name expressing the shape of its fronds. This, the Scolopendrium vulgare, is also named “Button-hole,” “Horse tongue;” and in the Channel Islands “Godshair.” The older physicians esteemed it as a very valuable medicine; and Galen gave it for diarrhoea or dysentery. By reason of its tannin it will restrain bleedings, “being commended,” says Gerard, “against the bloody flux.” People in rural districts make an ointment from its leaves for burns and scalds. It was formerly, in company with the common Maidenhair Fern, one of the five great capillary herbs. Dr. Tuthill Massy advises the drinking, in Bright’s disease, of as much as three half-pints daily of an infusion of this Fern, whilst always taking care to gather the young shoots. Also, in combination (H.) with the American Golden Seal (Hydrastis canadensis). the Hart’s Tongue has served in not a few authenticated cases to arrest the progress of that formidable disease, diabetes mellitus. Its distilled water will quiet any palpitations of the heart, and will stay the hiccough; it will likewise help the falling of the palate (relaxed throat), or stop bleeding of the gums if the mouth be gargled therewith.

From the Ophioglossum vulgatum, “‘Adder’s tongue,’ or ‘Christ’s Spear,’ when boiled in olive oil is produced a most excellent greene oyle. Or rather a balsam for greene wounds, comparable to oyle of St. John’s Wort; if it doth not far surpasse it.” A preparation from this plant known as the “green oil of charity,” is still in request as a vulnerary, and remedy for wounds.

The true Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum capillus veneris), of exquisite foliage, and of a dark crimson colour, is a stranger in England, except in the West country. But we have in greater abundance the common Maidenhair (Asplenium trichomanes), which grows on old walls, and which will act as a laxative medicine; whilst idiots are said to have taken it remedially, so as to recover their senses. The true Maidenhair is named Adiantum, from the Greek: Quod denso imbre cadente destillans foliis tenuis non insidet humor, “Because the leaves are not wetted even by a heavily falling shower of rain.” “In vain,” saith Pliny, “do you plunge the Adiantum into water, it always remains dry.” This veracious plant doth “strengthen and embellish the hair.” It occurs but rarely with us; on damp rocks, and walls near the sea. The Maidenhair is called Polytrichon because it brings forth a multitude of hairs; Calitrichon because it produces black and faire hair; Capillus veneris because it fosters grace and love.

From its fine hairlike stems, and perhaps from its attributed virtues in toilet use, this Fern has acquired the name of “Our Lady’s Hair” and “Maria’s Fern.” “The true Maidenhair,” says Gerard, “maketh the hair of the head and beard to grow that is fallen and pulled off.” From this graceful Fern a famous elegant syrup is made in France called Capillaire; which is given as a favourite medicine in pulmonary catarrh. It is flavoured with orange flowers, and acts as a demulcent with slightly stimulating effects. One part of the plant is gently boiled with ten parts of water, and with nineteen parts of white sugar. Dr. Johnson says Boswell used to put Capillaire into his port wine. Sir John Hill instructed us that (as we cannot get the true Maidenhair fresh in England) the fine syrup made in France from their Fern in perfection, concocted with pure Narbonne honey, is not by any means to be thought a trifle, because barley water, sweetened with this, is one of the very best remedies for a violent cold. But a tea brewed from our more common Maidenhair will answer the same purpose for tedious coughs. Its leaves are sweet, mucilaginous, and expectorant, being, therefore, highly useful in many pulmonary disorders.

The common Polypody Fern, or “rheum-purging Polypody” grows plentifully in this country on old walls and stumps of trees, in shady places. In Hampshire it is called “Adder’s Tongue,” as derived from the word attor, poison; also Wall-fern, and formerly in Anglo-Saxon Ever-fern, or Boar-fern. In Germany it is said to have sprung from the Virgin’s milk, and is named Marie bregue. The fresh root has been used successfully in decoction, or powdered, for melancholia; also of late for general rheumatic swelling of the
joints. By the ancients it was employed as a purgative. Six drachms by weight of the root should be infused for two hours in a pint of boiling water, and given in two doses. This is the Oak Fern of the herbalists; not that of modern botanists (Polypodium dryopteris); it being held that such Fern plants as grew upon the roots of an oak tree were of special medicinal powers, Quod nascit super radices quercûs est efficacius. The true Oak Fern (Dryopteris) grows chiefly in mountainous districts among the mossy roots of old oak trees, and sometimes in marshy places. If its root is bruised and applied to the skin of any hairy part, whilst the person is sweating, this will cause the hair to come away. Dioscorides said, “The root of Polypody is very good for chaps between the fingers.” “It serveth,” writes Gerard, “to make the belly soluble, being boiled in the broth of an old cock, with beets or mallows, or other like things, that move to the stool by their slipperiness.” Parkinson says: “A dram or two, it need be, of the powdered dry roots taken fasting, in a cupful of honeyed water, worketh gently as a purge, being a safe medicine, fit for all persons and seasons, which daily experience confirmeth.” “Applied also to the nose it cureth the disease called polypus, which by time and sufferance stoppeth the nostrils.” The leaves of the Polypody when burnt furnish a large proportion of carbonate of Potash.

The Spleenwort (Asplenium ceterach — an Arabian term), or Scaly Fern, or Finger Fern, grows on old walls, and in the clefts of moist rocks. It is also called “Miltwaste,” because supposed to cure disorders of the milt, or spleen:–

“The Finger Fern, which being given to swine,
It makes their milt to melt away in fine.”

Very probably this reputed virtue has mainly become attributed to the plant, because the lobular milt-like shape of its leaf resembles the form of the spleen. “No herbe maie be compared therewith,” says one of the oldest Herbals, “for his singular virtue to help the sicknesse or grief of the splene.” Pliny ordered: “It should not be given to women, because it bringeth barrenness.” Vitruvius alleged that in Crete the flocks and herds were found to be without spleens, because they browsed on this fern. The plant was supposed when given medicinally to diminish the size of the enlarged spleen or “ague-cake.”

The Wall Rue (Ruta muraria) is a white Maidenhair Fern, and is named by some Salvia vitoe. It is a small herb, somewhat nearly of the colour of Garden Rue, and is likewise good for them that have a cough, or are shortwinded, or be troubled with stitches in the sides. It stayeth the falling or shedding of the hair, and causeth them to grow thick, fair, and well coloured. This plant is held by those of judgment and experience, to be as effectual a capillary herb as any whatever. Also, it helpeth ruptures in children. Matthiolus “hath known of divers holpen therein by taking the powder of the herb in drink for forty days together.” Its leaves are like those of Rue, and the Fern has been called Tentwort from its use as a specific or sovereign remedy for the cure of rickets, a disease once known as “the taint.”

The generic appellations of the several species of Ferns are derived thus: Aspidium, from aspis, a shield, because the spores are enclosed in bosses; Pteris, from pteerux, a wing, having doubly pinnate fronds; or from pteron, a feather, having feathery fronds; Scolopendrium, because the fructification is supposed to resemble the feet of Scoltpendra, a genus of mydrapods; and Polypody, many footed, by reason of the pectinate fronds.

There grows in Tartary a singular polypody Fern, of which the hairy foot is easily made to simulate in form a small sheep. It rises above the ground with excrescences resembling a head and tail, whilst having four leg-like fronds. Fabulous stories are told about this remarkable Fern root; and in China its hairy down is so highly valued as a styptic for fresh bleeding cuts and wounds, that few families will be without it. Dr. Darwin, in his Loves of the Plants, says about this curious natural production, the Polypodium Barometz:–

“Cradled in snow, and fanned by Arctic air
Shines, gentle Barometz, thy golden hair;
Rooted in earth each cloven hoof descends,
And found and round her flexile neck she bends:
Crops the green coral moss, and hoary thyme,
Or laps with rosy tongue the melting rime;
Eyes with mute tenderness her distant dam,
Or seems to bleat — a vegetable Lamb.”

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