Rheumatism, Flowers of Sulphur Will Relieve Pain of

December 23rd, 2008

“Sciatica is sometimes very much improved by wrapping the limb for one night with
flowers of sulphur.”

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

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

Ingredients: Horse Radish

June 28th, 2008

The Horse Radish of our gardens is a cultivated cruciferous plant of which the fresh root is eaten, when scraped, as a condiment to correct the richness of our national roast beef. This plant grows wild in many parts of the country, particularly about rubbish, and the sides of ditches; yet it is probably an introduction, and not a native. Its botanical name, Cochlearia armoracia_, implies a resemblance between its leaves and an old-fashioned spoon, cochleare; also that the most common place of its growth is ar, near, mor, the sea.

Our English vernacular styles the plant “a coarse root,” or a “Horse radish,” as distinguished from the eatable radish (root), the Raphanus sativus. Formerly it was named Mountain Radish, and Great Raifort. This is said to be one of the five bitter herbs ordered to be eaten by the Jews during the Feast of the Passover, the other four being Coriander, Horehound, Lettuce, and Nettle.

Not a few fatal cases have occurred of persons being poisoned by taking Aconite root in mistake for a stick of Horse radish, and eating it when scraped. But the two roots differ materially in shape, colour, and taste, so as to be easily discriminated: furthermore the leaves of the Aconite — supposing them to be attached to the root — are not to be mistaken for those of any other plant, being completely divided to their base into five wedge-shaped lobes, which are again sub-divided into three. Squire says it seems incredible that the Aconite Root should be mistaken for Horse Radish unless we remember that country folk are in the habit of putting back again into the ground Horse Radish which has been scraped, until there remain only the crown and a remnant of the root vanishing to a point, these bearing resemblance to the tap root of Aconite.

The fresh root of the Horse radish is a powerful stimulant by reason of its ardent and pungent volatile principle, whether it be taken as a medicament, or be applied externally to any part of the body. When scraped it exhales a nose-provoking odour, and possesses a hot biting taste, combined with a certain sweetness: but on exposure to the air it quickly turns colour, and loses its volatile strength; likewise, it becomes vapid, and inert by being boiled. The root is expectorant, antiscorbutic, and, if taken at all freely, emetic. It contains a somewhat large proportion of sulphur, as shown by the black colour assumed by metals with which it comes into touch. Hence it promises to be of signal use for relieving chronic rheumatism, and for remedying scurvy.

Taken in sauce with oily fish or rich fatty viands, scraped Horse radish acts as a corrective spur to complete digestion, and at the same time it will benefit a relaxed sore throat, by contact during the swallowing. In facial neuralgia scraped Horse radish applied as a poultice, proves usefully beneficial: and for the same purpose some of the fresh scrapings may be profitably held in the hand of the affected side, which hand will become in a short time bloodlessly benumbed, and white.

When sliced across with a knife the root of the Horse radish will exude some drops of a sweet juice which may be rubbed with advantage on rheumatic, or palsied limbs. Also an infusion of the sliced root in milk, almost boiling, and allowed to cool, makes an excellent and safe cosmetic; or the root may be infused for a longer time in cold milk, if preferred, for use with a like purpose in view. Towards the end of the last century Horse radish was known in England as Red cole, and in the previous century it was eaten habitually at table, sliced, with vinegar.

Infused in wine the root stimulates the whole nervous system, and promotes perspiration, whilst acting likewise as a diuretic. For rheumatic neuralgia it is almost a specific, and for palsy it has often proved of service. Our druggists prepare a “compound spirit of Horse radish,” made with the sliced fresh root, orange peel, nutmeg, and spirit of wine. This proves of effective use in strengthless, languid indigestion, as well as for chronic rheumatism; it stimulates the stomach, and promotes the digestive secretions. From one to two teaspoonfuls may be taken two or three times in the day, with half a wineglassful of water, at the end of a principal meal, or a few minutes after the meal. An infusion of the root made with boiling water and taken hot readily proves a stimulating emetic. Until cut or bruised the root is inodorous; but fermentation then begins, and develops from the essential oil an ammoniacal odour and a pungent hot bitter taste which were not pre-existing.

Chemically the Horse radish contains a volatile oil, identical with that of mustard, being highly diffusible and pungent by reason of its “myrosin.” One drop of this volatile oil will suffice to odorise the atmosphere of a whole room, and, if swallowed with any freedom, it excites vomiting. Other constituents of the root are a bitter resin, sugar, starch, gum, albumen, and acetates.

A mixture of the fresh juice, with vinegar, if applied externally, will prove generally of service for removing freckles.

Bergius alleges that by cutting the root into very small pieces without bruising it, and then swallowing a tablespoonful of these fragments every morning without chewing them, for a month, a cure has been effected in chronic rheumatism, which had seemed otherwise intractable.

For loss of the voice and relaxed sore throat the infusion of Horse radish makes an excellent gargle; or it may be concentrated in the form of a syrup, and mixed for the same use — a teaspoonful, with a wine-glassful of cold water.

Gerard said of the root: “If bruised and laid to the part grieved with the sciatica, gout, joyntache, or the hard swellings of the spleen and liver, it doth wonderfully help them all.” If the scraped root be macerated in vinegar, it will form a mixture (which may be sweetened with glycerine to the taste) very effective against whooping cough. In pimply acne of the skin, to touch each papula with some of the Compound Spirit of Horse Radish now and again will soon effect a general cure of the ailment.

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

Ingredients: Elecampane

June 7th, 2008

“Elecampane,” writes William Coles, “is one of the plants whereof England may boast as much as any, for there grows none better in the world than in England, let apothecaries and druggists say what they will.” It is a tall, stout, downy plant, from three to five feet high, of the Composite order, with broad leaves, and bright, yellow flowers. Campania is the original source of the plant (Enula campana), which is called also Elf-wort, and Elf-dock. Its botanical title is Helenium inula, to commemorate Helen of Troy, from whose tears the herb was thought to have sprung, or whose hands were full of the leaves when Paris carried her off from Menelaus. This title has become corrupted in some districts to Horse-heal, or Horse-hele, or Horse-heel, through a double blunder, the word inula being misunderstood for hinnula, a colt; and the term Hellenium being thought to have something to do with healing, or heels; and solely on this account the Elecampane has been employed by farriers to cure horses of scabs and sore heels. Though found wild only seldom, and as a local production in our copses and meadows, it is cultivated in our gardens as a medicinal and culinary herb. The name inula is only a corruption of the Greek elenium; and the herb is of ancient repute, having been described by Dioscorides. An old Latin distich thus celebrates its virtues: Enula campana reddit proecordia sana — “Elecampane will the spirits sustain.” “Julia Augusta,” said Pliny, “let no day pass without eating some of the roots of Enula condired, to help digestion, and cause mirth.”

The inula was noticed by Horace, Satire viii., 51:–

“Erucos virides inulas ego primus amaras
Monstravi incoquere.”

Also the Enula campana has been identified with the herb Moly (of Homer), “apo tou moleuein, from its mitigating pain.”

Prior to the Norman Conquest, and during the Middle Ages, the root of Elecampane was much employed in Great Britain as a medicine; and likewise it was candied and eaten as a sweetmeat. Some fifty years ago the candy was sold commonly in London, as flat, round cakes, being composed largely of sugar, and coloured with cochineal. A piece was eaten each night and morning for asthmatical complaints, whilst it was customary when travelling by a river to suck a bit of the root against poisonous exhalations and bad air. The candy may be still had from our confectioners, but now containing no more of the plant Elecampane than there is of barley in barley sugar.

Gerard says: “The flowers of this herb are in all their bravery during June and July; the roots should be gathered in the autumn. The plant is good for an old cough, and for such as cannot breathe freely unless they hold their necks upright; also it is of great value when given in a loch, which is a medicine to be licked on. It voids out thick clammy humors, which stick in the chest and lungs.” Galen says further: “It is good for passions of the huckle-bones, called sciatica.” The root is thick and substantial, having, when sliced, a fragrant aromatic odour.

Chemically, it contains a crystalline principle, resembling camphor, and called “helenin”; also a starch, named “inulin,” which is peculiar as not being soluble in water, alcohol, or ether; and conjointly a volatile oil, a resin, albumen, and acetic acid. Inulin is allied to starch, and its crystallized camphor is separable into true helenin, and alantin camphor. The former is a powerful antiseptic to arrest putrefaction. In Spain it is much used as a surgical dressing, and is said to be more destructive than any other agent to the bacillus of cholera. Helenin is very useful in ulceration within the nose (ozoena), and in chronic bronchitis to lessen the expectoration. The dose is from a third of a grain to two grains.

Furthermore, Elecampane counteracts the acidity of gouty indigestion, and regulates the monthly illnesses of women. The French use it in the distillation of absinthe, and term it l’aulnee, d’un lieu planté d’aulnes ou elle se plait. To make a decoction, half-an-ounce of the root should be gently boiled for ten minutes in a pint of water, and then allowed to cool. From one to two ounces of this may be taken three times in the day. Of the powdered root, from half to one teaspoonful may be given for a dose.

A medicinal tincture (H.) is prepared from the root, of which thirty or forty drops may be taken for a dose, with two tablespoonfuls of cold water; but too large a dose will induce sickness. Elecampane is specifically curative of a sharp pain affecting the right elbow joint, and recurring daily; also of a congestive headache coming on through costiveness of the lowest bowel. Moreover, at the present time, when there is so much talk about the inoculative treatment of pulmonary consumption by the cultivated virus of its special microbe, it is highly interesting to know that the helenin of Elecampane is said to be peculiarly destructive to the bacillus of tubercular disease.

In classic times the poet Horace told how Fundanius first taught the making of a delicate sauce, by boiling in it the bitter Inula (Elecampane); and how the Roman stomach, when surfeited with an excess of rich viands, pined for turnips, and the appetising Enulas acidas from frugal Campania:–

“Quum rapula plenus
Atque acidas mavult inulas.”

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

Ingredients: Betony

March 9th, 2008

Few, if any, herbal plants have been more praised for their supposed curative virtues than the Wood Betony (Stachys Betonica), belonging to the order of Labiates. By the common people it is often called Bitny. The name Betonica is from the Celtic “ben,” head, and “tonic,” good, in allusion to the usefulness of the herb against infirmities of the head. It is of frequent growth in shady woods and meadows, having aromatic leaves, and spikes (stakoi) of light purple flowers. Formerly it was held in the very highest esteem as a leading herbal simple. The Greeks loudly extolled its good qualities. Pliny, in downright raptures, styled it ante cunctas laudatissima! An old Italian proverb ran thus: Vende la tunica en compra la Betonia, “Sell your coat, and buy Betony;” whilst modern Italians, when speaking of a most excellent man, say, “He has as many virtues as Betony”–He piu virtù che Bettonica.

In the Medicina Britannica, 1666, we read: “I have known the most obstinate headaches cured by daily breakfasting for a month or six weeks on a decoction of Betony, made with new milk, and strained.”

Antonius Musa, chief physician to the Emperor Augustus, wrote a book entirely on the virtues of this herb. Meyrick says, inveterate headaches after resisting every other remedy, have been cured by taking daily at breakfast a decoction made from the leaves and tops of the Wood Betony. Culpeper wrote: “This is a precious herb well worth keeping in your house.” Gerard tells that “Betony maketh a man have a good appetite to his meat, and is commended against ache of the knuckle bones” (sciatica).

A pinch of the powdered herb will provoke violent sneezing. The dried leaves formed an ingredient in Rowley’s British Herb Snuff, which was at one time quite famous against headaches.

And yet, notwithstanding all this concensus of praise from writers of different epochs, it does not appear that the Betony, under chemical analysis and research, shows itself as containing any special medicinal or curative constituents. It only affords the fragrant aromatic principles common to most of the labiate plants.

Parkinson, who enlarged the Herbal of Gerard, pronounced the leaves and flowers of Wood Betony, “by their sweet and spicy taste, comfortable both in meate and medicine.” Anyhow, Betony tea, made with boiling water poured on the plant, is a safe drink, and likely to prove of benefit against languid nervous headaches; and the dried herb may be smoked as tobacco for relieving the same ailment. To make Betony tea, put two ounces of the herb to a quart of water over the fire, and let this gradually simmer to three half-pints. Give a wine-glassful of the decoction three times a day. A conserve may be made from the flowers for similar purposes. The Poet Laureate, A. Austin, mentions “lye of Betony to soothe the brow.” Both this plant, and the Water Betony — so called from its similarity of leaf — bear the name of Kernel-wort, from having tubers or kernels attached to the roots, and from being therefore supposed, on the doctrine of signatures, to cure diseased kernels or scrofulous glands in the neck; also to banish piles from the fundament.

But the Water Betony (Figwort) belongs not to the labiates, but to the Scrophulariaceoe, or scrofula-curing order of plants. It is called in some counties “brown-wort,” and in Yorkshire “bishopsleaves,” or, l’herbe du siège, which term has a double meaning — in allusion both to the seat in the temple of Cloacina (W.C.) and to the ailments of the lower body in connection therewith, as well as to the more exalted “See” of a Right Reverend Prelate. In old times the Water figwort was famous as a vulnerary, both when used externally, and when taken in decoction. The name “brown-wort” has been got either from the brown colour of the stems and flowers, or, more probably, from its growing abundantly about the “brunnen,” or public German fountains. Wasps and bees are fond of the flowers. In former days this herb was relied on for the cure of toothache, and for expelling the particular disembodied spirit, or “mare,” which visited our Saxon ancestors during their sleep after supper, being familiarly known to them as the “nightmare.” The “Echo” was in like manner thought by the Saxons to be due to a spectre, or mare, which they called the “wood mare.” The Water Betony is said to make one of the ingredients in Count Mattaei’s noted remedy, “anti-scrofuloso.” The Figwort is named in Somersetshire “crowdy-kit” (the word kit meaning a fiddle), “or fiddlewood,” because if two of the stalks are rubbed together, they make a noise like the scraping of the bow on violin strings. In Devonshire, also, the plant is known as “fiddler.”

An allied Figwort — which is botanically called nodosa, or knotted — is considered, when an ointment is made with it, using the whole plant bruised and treated with unsalted lard, a sovereign remedy against “burnt holes” or gangrenous chicken-pox, such as often attacks the Irish peasantry, who subsist on a meagre and exclusively vegetable diet, being half starved, and pent up in wretched foul hovels. This herb is said to be certainly curative of hydrophobia, by taking every morning whilst fasting a slice of bread and butter on which the powdered knots of the roots have been spread, following it up with two tumblers of fresh spring water. Then let the patient be well clad in woollen garments and made to take a long fast walk until in a profuse perspiration. The treatment should be continued for nine days. Again, the botanical name of a fig, ficus, has been commonly applied to a sore or scab appearing on a part of the body where hair is, or to a red sore in the fundament, i.e., to a pile. And the Figwort is so named in allusion to its curative virtues against piles, when the plant is made into an ointment for outward use, and when the tincture is taken internally. It is specially visited by wasps.

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

Ingredients: Buttercup

March 3rd, 2008

The most common Buttercup of our fields (Ranunculus bulbosis) needs no detailed description. It belongs to the order termed Ranunculaceoe, so-called from the Latin rana, a frog, because the several varieties of this genus grow in moist places where frogs abound. Under the general name of Buttercups are included the creeping Ranunculus, of moist meadows; the Ranunculus acris, Hunger Weed, or Meadow Crowfoot, so named from the shape of the leaf (each of these two being also called King Cup), and the Ranunculus bulbosus mentioned above. “King-Cob” signifies a resemblance between the unexpanded flowerbud and a stud of gold, such as a king would wear; so likewise the folded calyx is named Goldcup, Goldknob and Cuckoobud. The term Buttercup has become conferred through a mistaken notion that this flower gives butter a yellow colour through the cows feeding on it (which is not the case), or, perhaps, from the polished, oily surface of the petals. The designation really signifies “button cop,” or bouton d’or; “the batchelor’s button”; this terminal syllable, cup, being corrupted from the old English word “cop,” a head. It really means “button head.” The Buttercup generally is known in Wiltshire and the adjoining counties as Crazy, or Crazies, being reckoned by some as an insane plant calculated to produce madness; or as a corruption of Christseye (which was the medieval name of the Marigold).

A burning acridity of taste is the common characteristic of the several varieties of the Buttercup. In its fresh state the ordinary field Buttercup is so acrimonious that by merely pulling up the plant by its root, and carrying it some little distance in the hand, the palm becomes reddened and inflamed. Cows will not eat it unless very hungry, and then the mouth of the animal becomes sore and blistered. The leaves of the Buttercup, when bruised and applied to the skin, produce a blistering of the outer cuticle, with a discharge of a watery fluid, and with heat, redness, and swelling. If these leaves are masticated in the mouth they will induce pains like a stitch between the ribs at the side, with the sharp catchings of neuralgic rheumatism. A medicinal tincture is made (H.) from the bulbous Buttercup with spirit of wine, which will, as a similar, cure shingles very expeditiously, both the outbreak of small watery pimples clustered together at the side, and the accompanying sharp pains between the ribs. Also this tincture will promptly relieve neuralgic side-ache, and pleurisy which is of a passive sort. From six to eight drops of the tincture may be taken with a tablespoonful of cold water by an adult three or four times a day for either of the aforesaid purposes. In France, this plant is called “jaunet.” Buttercups are most probably the “Cuckoo Buds” immortalised by Shakespeare. The fresh leaves of the Crowfoot (Ranunculus acris) formed a part of the famous cancer cure of Mr. Plunkett in 1794. This cure comprised Crowfoot leaves, freshly gathered, and dog’s-foot fennel leaves, of each an ounce, with one drachm of white arsenic levigated, and with five scruples of flowers of sulphur, all beaten together into a paste, and dried by the sun in balls, which were then powdered, and, being mixed with yolk of egg, were applied on pieces of pig’s bladder. The juice of the common Buttercup (Bulbosus), known sometimes as “St. Anthony’s Turnip,” if applied to the nostrils, will provoke sneezing, and will relieve passive headache in this way. The leaves have been applied as a blister to the wrists in rheumatism, and when infused in boiling water as a poultice over the pit of the stomach as a counter-irritant. For sciatica the tincture of the bulbous buttercup has proved very helpful.

The Ranunculus flammata, Spearwort, has been used to produce a slight blistering effect by being put under a limpet shell against the skin of the part to be relieved, until some smarting and burning have been sensibly produced, with incipient vesication of the outermost skin.

The Ranunculus Sceleratus, Marsh Crowfoot, or Celery-leaved Buttercup, called in France “herbe sardonique,” and “grenouillette d’eau,” when made into a tincture (H.) with spirit of wine, and given in small diluted doses, proves curative of stitch in the side, and of neuralgic pains between the ribs, likewise of pleurisy without feverishness. The dose should be five drops of the third decimal tincture with a spoonful of water every three or four hours. This plant grows commonly at the sides of our pools, and in wet ditches, bearing numerous small yellow flowers, with petals scarcely longer than the calyx.

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