Breverton's Complete Herbal




Family Malvaceae, Mallow


OTHER NAMES: Blue mallow, high mallow, tall mallow, cheese-cake, pick-cheese, round dock, country mallow, wild mallow, wood mallow. The common mallow is frequently called marsh mallow, but the true marsh mallow is distinguished from other mallows by the numerous divisions of the outer calyx, by the hoary down which thickly clothes the stems and foliage, and by the numerous panicles of blush-colored flowers, paler than the common mallow.

DESCRIPTION: Hardy perennial, growing up to 3 feet (90 cm) with a 2-feet (60-cm) spread and large pink flowers which fade to pale blue.

PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper includes these under one heading: “All the mallows are under Venus. The leaves and the roots also boiled in wine or water, with Parsley or Fennel roots, do help to open the body, and are very convenient in hot agues, or other distempers of the body, to apply the leaves so boiled warm to the belly.” He says these mallows are inferior to marsh mallow, which has more mucilage and therefore is better for treating coughs. In 1931, Maud Grieve agreed that its use had been superseded by marsh mallow, but was still “a favourite remedy with country people where Marsh Mallow is not obtainable.” Mucilage is present in many of the mallow family, and was employed medicinally, as demulcents, diuretics and emollients. The root was cut into slices to draw out thorns and splinters. The species was used as a natural yellow dye.

HISTORY: Romans thought the young shoots were delicacies. In the Middle Ages, mallow was an antidote to love potions and aphrodisiacs. Celts believed that placing the disc-shaped fruits over the eyes of a dead holy man would stop spirits entering his body, and help him get to the afterlife (the Celts believed in reincarnation). The flowers were used formerly on May Day people for strewing before their doors and weaving into garlands.

Cheese Wheels

It was called pick-cheese as, like other mallows, the edible seeds are shaped like wheels of cheese.



Family Malvaceae, Mallow


OTHER NAMES: Wymote (USA), mallards, mauls, schloss tea, cheeses, althea root, sweet weed, white mallow, mortification root.

DESCRIPTION: A bushy, leafy plant, 2–4 feet (60–120 cm) high, with soft pink or white flowers, and covered with velvety down which prevents its pores clogging from moisture arising from its wet habitat.


Marsh mallow is added to formulations for the treatment of harsh coughs, acts as a mild expectorant and helps sore throats. Its tannins made it a popular treatment for stomach ulcers, it also acts as a light diuretic. The French ate young leaves in salads to stimulate the kidneys. In cosmetics the mucilage was used as a soothing skin toner and dry hair rinse. Its root is rich in mucilage, paraffin, pectin, lecithin, quercetin, salicylic acid, tannins, amino acids, beta-carotene, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, zinc, and vitamins B1, B2, B3 and C. It soothes irritated tissue, relieves various forms of inflammation and aids the body in expelling excess fluid and mucus. The generic name Althaea is derived from the Greek word for cure, because of the mallow’s medicinal properties. The name of the family, Malvaceae, is derived from the Greek word for soft, from the special qualities of the mallows in softening and healing.

HISTORY: The use of marsh mallow originated in traditional Greek medicine and spread to Arabian and Indian Ayurvedic medicine. It was eaten by the Egyptians and Syrians and mentioned by Pythagoras, Plato, Virgil and Dioscorides and Pliny. Pliny wrote: “Whosoever shall take a spoonful of the Mallows shall that day be free from all diseases that may come to him.” Arab physicians used the leaves as a poultice to suppress inflammation. The plant was enjoyed as a nutritious food by the Romans in barley soup and in a stuffing for suckling pig, while herbalists praised its gentle laxative properties. Marsh mallow was used in Persia to reduce inflammation in teething babies, and the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne insisted that it be planted in his gardens. The root’s emulsifying property is still used for cleaning Persian carpets in the Middle East, being thought the best method to preserve the color of their vegetable dyes. In accordance with the 16th-century Doctrine of Signatures, a potion using the downy “hair” covering the plant helped promote hair growth.



Family Malvaceae, Mallow

This is slightly shorter than marsh mallow, with the same 2-feet (60-cm) spread, pale pink flowers but with musk-scented leaves. It has the same medicinal uses as the marsh mallow, but is milder. Mallows, especially the musk mallow, were used to decorate the graves of friends.



Family Solanaceae, Nightshade


OTHER NAMES: Satan’s apple (as it was thought to cause madness), djinn’s eggs (in Arabic), love plant (Hebrew), European mandrake, mandragora.

DESCRIPTION: Growing about 1 foot (30 cm) high, with a 12-inch (30-cm) spread of rough leaves, mandrake has small, pretty, bell-shaped, pale blue or purple/white flowers and yellow fruits.


Mandrake has been closely linked with ritual magic and by many is thought an “evil” plant. The very large brown root is still used in homeopathy for asthma and coughs. Culpeper recorded: “The root is phlegmatic, and may be eaten with pepper and hot spices…the juice is good in all cooling ointments. The dried juice of the root, taken in a small quantity, purges phlegm and melancholy. In collyriums [eye cleansers], it pain in the eyes. In a pessary, it draws forth the dead child and secundine [afterbirth]. The green leaves, bruised with axungia [goose or pig fat from around the kidneys] and barley-meal, heal all hot swellings and inflammations, and applied to the parts cures hot ulcers and impostumes. A suppository made of the juice, put into the fundament, causes sleep. Infused in wine, and drunk, it causes sleep, and eases pains; the apples smelt to, or the juice taken in a small quantity, also cause sleep. The seed and fruit do cleanse the womb, the leaves heal knots in the flesh, and the roots heal St. Anthony’s Fire & c. and, boiled with ivy, mollify the same. The oil…may be anointed on the nose and temples of those that have a frenzy. If the patient sleeps too long, dip a sponge in vinegar, and hold it to the nose. Also, it heals vehement pains of the head, and the tooth-ache, when applied to the cheeks and jaws, and causes sleep.” Mandrake was once placed on mantelpieces to avert misfortune and to bring prosperity to the home.


HISTORY: Plato’s student, the philosopher Lucius Apuleius, tells us in his Herbarium: “For witlessness, that is devil sickness or demoniacal possession, take from the body of this said wort Mandrake by the weight of three pennies, administer to drink in warm water as he may find most convenient—soon he will be healed.” All the parts are now considered toxic, despite Culpeper’s advice to eat the root. In Pliny’s time a piece of the root was used as an anesthetic for operations, and it has also been used as an anesthetic for crucified criminals. In Anglo-Saxon herbals both mandrake and periwinkle are endowed with powers against demoniacal possession. Mandrake was used as an aphrodisiac and for increased fertility in eastern countries. There are many superstitions regarding the root of the mandrake, which resembles a carrot or parsnip. It was supposed to look like the human form as the roots sometime fork like legs. In old herbals we find illustrations of the mandrake as a male with a long beard, and as a female with a very bushy head of hair. The roots of bryony in Tudor times were passed off as mandrake, being trained to grow in molds to take the desired “human” shapes. Grains of millet were inserted into the “face” as eyes, and they fetched high prices, being known as puppettes (male effigies) or mammettes (female), as they were accredited with magical powers. Italian ladies were known to pay up to 30 golden ducats, a small fortune, for such artificial mandrakes. William Turner, in his 1562 Niewe Herball said of these false idols: “puppettes and mammettes…are so trimmed by crafty thieves to mock the poor people withal and to rob them both of their wit and their money.” However, he added “Of the apples of mandrake, if a man smell of them, they will make him sleep and also if they be eaten. But they that smell to much of the apples become dumb…this herb [in] diverse ways taken is very jeopardous for a man and may kill him if he eats it or drinks it out of measure and has no remedy from it…If mandragora be taken out of measure, by and by sleep ensues and a great losing of the strength with a forgetfulness.”

From Love’s Martyr, 1601

In this delightsome country there doth grow,

The Mandrake called in Greek Mandragoras,

Some of his virtues if you look to know,

The juice that freshly from the root doth pass,

Purges all flame like black Helleborus:

Tis good for pain engendered in the eyes;

By wine made of the root doth sleep arise.

Robert Chester

The plant was said to grow under the gallows of murderers. It was believed to be fatal to dig up the root, which would scream upon being dug up. None might hear its terrible groans and live. Thus, anyone who wanted a plant of mandrake should tie a dog to it for that purpose, who drawing it out would perish, instead of the person.




Family Asteraeae, Aster


OTHER NAMES: Pot marigold, holigold, bride of the sun, drunkard, husbandman’s dial, marybud, margold, Mary gold, Mary gowles, golds, ruddies, summer’s bride, sun bride, melyn mair (golden Mary, Welsh), jackanapes-on-horsebacke (Gerard).

DESCRIPTION: It is not a marigold, but a member of the aster family. It should also not be confused with French and African marigolds, which although also members of the aster family, are actually members of the genus Tagetes and not Calendula. Height and spread up to 2 feet (60 cm), with large orange or yellow flowers.

PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper tells us: “They strengthen the heart exceedingly, and are very expulsive, and a little less effectual in the smallpox and measles than saffron. The juice of Marigold leaves mixed with vinegar, and any hot swelling bathed with it, instantly gives ease, and assuages it. The flowers, either green or dried, are much used in possets, broths, and drink, as a comforter of the heart and spirits, and to expel any malignant or pestilential quality which might annoy them. A plaster made with the dry flowers in powder, hog’s-grease, turpentine, and rosin, applied to the breast, strengthens and succours the heart infinitely in fevers, whether pestilential or not.” Its phytochemicals mean that it is used as a remedy for skin grazes, wounds, minor burns, nappy rash, sunburn and for fungal conditions such as athlete’s foot, ringworm, acne, psoriasis and thrush. Calendula has antibacterial, antifungal, antibiotic and antiseptic properties. An infusion of calendula eyewash can help treat conjunctivitis. A marigold flower tea is good for the digestion, helps to ease colitis and was recommended for female complaints. Marigold salve, preferably cooked in goats lard, was used for burns, bruises and sunburns, just as it it is today. There are more than 30 chemical compounds in the flowering plant, including the antirheumatic salicylic acid. Its orange and yellow colors derive from flavonoids and carotenoids, essential for maintaining good eyesight and for skin regeneration. In the garden, marigold deters pests such as tomato horn worms and asparagus beetles. Dried flowerheads can be used in pot-pourris and an infusion of the petals has been used for centuries as a rinse to lighten hair and as a wool dye. The flowers were also used as a natural dye for butter, flour and cheese.


HISTORY: Marigold was prized by the Egyptians for its properties of rejuvenation and healing, and used by the Greeks and Romans for its medicinal and culinary properties. The Romans used the petals as a substitute for expensive saffron. It has been used in Indian and Arab cultures as a dye, food coloring, cosmetic and medicine. In the Middle Ages, the flowers were an emblem of love, and if seen in dreams were a symbol of good luck. Petals, scattered under the pillow, made one’s dreams come true. The sap from the stem was used to remove warts, calluses and corns. Garlands of marigolds are said to stop evil from entering the home if hung over the entrance to the doorway, and the plant could strip a witch of her evil will. Charles Stevens, in his 1699 Maison Rustique, or the Countrie Farme recommends the marigold for headache, jaundice, red eyes, toothache and ague, and asserts that the dried flowers “strengthen and comfort the heart…Conserve made of the flowers and sugar, taken in the morning fasting, cures trembling of the heart, and is also given in the time of plague or pestilence. The yellow leaves of the flowers are dried and kept throughout Dutchland against winter to put into broths, physical potions and for divers other purposes, in such quantity that in some Grocers or Spice sellers are to be found barrels filled with them and retailed by the penny or less, insomuch that no broths are well made without dried Marigold.” Calendula has been a popular garden flower since the Tudor times, the flowers being used to color and flavor cakes, soups, stews and pot based meals. This is probably how calendula acquired the name pot marigold.

A Blooming Fine Day

The Roman Varro said that the term calends derived from the priest’s practice of calling the citizens together (calare = call) on the first day of the month, to inform them of the time of the various sacred days and festivals. At some time, the posting of the calendar in public places replaced this custom, and calends came to refer to the whole month, rather than just the first day. Marigold seems to have acquired its botanical name, Calendula, either from its reputation for blooming on the first day of every month, or for nearly every month in the year. The word officinalis indicates that the plant was an “official” plant sold in apothecaries’ shops as medicine. If the marigold’s flowers are open, there will be a fine day ahead, as they are sensitive to temperature variation and dampness. We read in Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale, “Hot lavender, mints, savoury, marjoram; / The marigold, that goes to bed wi’ the sun / And with him rises weeping: these are flowers.”



Family Lamiaceae/Labiatae, Mint


OTHER NAMES: Knotted marjoram, wintersweet, pot marjoram, joy of the mountain, mountain mint. Culpeper calls this Sweet Marjoram. (Several edible oreganos are called marjoram—see oregano, dittany of Crete. French oregano (Origanum x onites) is also called French marjoram, for instance. For wild marjoram, see oregano.

DESCRIPTION: Half-hardy aromatic perennial, with a height and spread of 10–12 inches (25–30 cm), and tiny white, pink or mauve tubular flowers and oval leaves.

PROPERTIES AND USES: “It is an herb of Mercury, and under Aries, and therefore is an excellent remedy for the brain and other parts of the body and mind, under the dominion of the same planet. Our common Sweet Marjoram is warming and comfortable in cold diseases of the head, stomach, sinews, and other parts, taken inwardly, or outwardly applied.”—Nicholas Culpeper. Marjoram tea calms the nerves, and eases insomnia, headaches and colds. Chewing the leaf gives temporary respite from toothache, and is supposed to also calm the libido. Related to the mint family, it is sweeter and more delicate than its relatives oregano and pot marjoram (Origanum onites). The plant tops produce origanum oil, once used as a medicine and later for perfuming soaps. The aroma of the oil is warm and spicy, with a hint of nutmeg. Sweet marjoram is known mainly as a culinary herb and is used to season soups, salads and vegetable sauces. It is the marjoram/oregano most commonly found on pizzas and added to dried herb mixtures, being also an important ingredient in a bouquet garni. It is good used with meat, fish, vegetables and eggs, and complements bay, garlic, onion, thyme, and basil. It can help marinade artichoke hearts, asparagus and mushrooms and is excellent in herb vinegars, oils and butters.

HISTORY: Origanum literally means joy of the mountain, and it is also known as mountain mint. The Greeks believed that if you anointed yourself with marjoram, you would dream of your future spouse. They also believed that planting it on a grave would ensure eternal peace and happiness for the dead. During the Middle Ages its leaves were chewed to relieve indigestion, toothache, coughs and rheumatism. Sweet marjoram was a popular strewing herb in ancient times used for warding off disease and infection, and was put into sachets to keep linens and clothing sweet smelling.



Family Anacardiaceae, Cashew/Sumac

OTHER NAMES: Culpeper also calls it the lentisk-tree, and says “It is called in Latin Lentiscus, and the gum or rosin, resina lentiscina, and mastiche, and mastix, and in English, mastic.”

DESCRIPTION: A Mediterranean shrub growing to 12 feet (3.6 m) high, in which incisions are cut for drops of resin (mastic) to be harvested.


Culpeper is effusive about the use of mastic, as it stops fluxes, strengthens the stomach, heals sores, knits broken bones, fastens loose teeth, helps with leprosy and scab, and so on. The liquid is sundried when it turns into drops of hard, brittle, translucent resin. When chewed, the resin softens and becomes a bright white and opaque gum. It is a stimulant and diuretic and was used for filling tooth cavities and to sweeten the breath. Mastic contains antioxidants, and also has antibacterial and antifungal properties. Regular consumption of mastic has been proven to absorb cholesterol, and mastic oil is widely used in the preparation of ointments for skin disorders and afflictions. In Turkey mastic is widely used in desserts such as Turkish Delight.

HISTORY: Mastic has been used as a medicine since antiquity and in Egypt was used in embalming. In its hardened form it was used as incense. The Greeks recommended it for snakebites and healing. Hippocrates believed it was excellent for digestive problems and colds. Galen suggested the plant for treating bronchitis and improving the condition of the blood. It was formerly sold as Arabic gum and Yemen gum. The rarity of mastic made it expensive, with many imitation “mastics” such as boswellia and gum Arabic (cunningly named to resemble Arabic gum). One of the earliest uses of mastic was as chewing gum, hence our name for the product.

Mastic—Worth Its Weight in Gold

In Greece it is known as the “tears of Chios,” being traditionally produced on the island, and even now mastic production in Chios is granted “Protected Designation of Origin” status because only the mastic trees of southern Chios “weep” the mastic resin when their bark is incised. When the Ottomans ruled Chios, it was worth its weight in gold, and the sultan’s penalty for stealing mastic was execution. In the 1822 Chios Massacre when tens of thousands of Greeks were slaughtered by Ottoman troops in 1822 in reprisal for a revolutionary uprising, the people of the “mastic villages” were spared to ensure mastic supplies for the sultan and his harem.



These use the herbs and flowers that are related to the Virgin Mary. Mary Gardens are seen in medieval religious art and illustration in which the Virgin and Child are usually depicted in enclosed gardens of symbolic plants. Gardens dedicated solely to plants named after her are known as Mary Gardens. St. Benedict of Nursia (480–547), the founder of Western Christian monasticism, had a monastic rose garden, known as a “Rosary.” The first reference to a garden actually dedicated to Mary is from the life of St. Fiacre, the Irish monk who was renowned for growing food and medicinal plants. He is now the patron saint of gardening. (He is also the patron saint of French taxi-drivers, because horse carriages were rented at the Hotel de Saint Fiacre in Paris, and they became known by association as fiacre cabs). Fiacre planted and tended a garden around the oratory and hospice he founded to Our Lady in the seventh century at Breuil in France. There is a legend that after her Assumption, roses and lilies were found in Mary’s tomb. In the eighth century St. Bede wrote that the translucent white petals of the Madonna lily were a likeness of her pure body as she was assumed into heaven, and its golden anthers symbolized the glorious resplendence of her soul. There are old lists of the flowers, herbs and grains included in the “Assumption bundles” of plants which from the ninth century were associated with Mary through their blessing at the altar on the Feast of the Assumption. In the 12th century St. Bernard praised the Virgin Mary as “The rose of charity, the lily of chastity, the violet of humility…and the golden gillyflower of heaven.” The first mention of an actual Mary Garden is in a 15th-century record of the purchase of plants “for S. Mary’s garden” by the sacristan of Norwich Priory, in England.

Some flowers, such as the Madonna lily, are commonly known today by religious names clearly reflecting their association with Mary. Others including the marigold, ladies’ mantle, and ladyslipper are held to be named for Mary, with an abbreviation of “Our Lady.” In some instances plants were given botanical names derived from their popular religious names, e.g. the milk thistle (Silybum marianum) named from the legend that the white spots on its leaves (and those of other plants) originated when drops of the nursing Madonna’s milk fell on them. Today’s Mary Gardens assemble together suitable flowers named for Mary from various countries in a single garden where they can be used together devotionally according to their old names and symbolism.






Family Roseaceae, Rose


OTHER NAMES: Bridewort (formerly bridal wort), queen of the meadows (Culpeper), little queen, lady of the meadow, dolloff, quaker lady, gravel root, meadow wort, meadwort, meadsweet, steeplebush, trumpet weed.

DESCRIPTION: It grows in damp places, 2–4 feet (60–120 cm) tall with a spread of 2 feet (60 cm), with dense clusters of cream-white almond-scented flowers.

PROPERTIES AND USES: “…It is used to stay all manner of bleeding, fluxes, vomitings, and women’s menses…it speedily helps those who are troubled with the colic, being boiled in wine; and, with a little honey, taken warm, opens the belly; but, boiled in red wine, and drunk, it stays the flux of the belly. Being outwardly applied, it heals old ulcers that are cancerous or eaten, or hollow and fistulous, for which it is very much commended, as also for sores of the mouth or secret parts”—Nicholas Culpeper. Gerard says: “It is reported that the flowers boiled in wine and drunk take away the fits of a quartain ague [a fever which returns every fourth day] and make the heart merry. The distilled water of the flowers dropped into the eyes take away the burning and itching thereof and clear the sight.” It is good for all digestive problems, and a hot tea will help with colds and flu and relieve head aches. A cool tea soothes inflamed skin or tired eyes. The name is a corruption of meadwort, as the leaves and flowers flavored mead and beer, and is nothing to do with meadows.

HISTORY: Its virtues have been known since the time of Dioscorides. Meadowsweet, water mint and vervain were three herbs that were said to be most sacred by the Druids, and it has been found in Bronze Age burial cairns in Wales. In 1835, salicylic acid was first synthesized from the stem sap to make acetylsalicylic acid, which is the basis of aspirin. The word is probably derived from spirin, based on meadowsweet’s former name Spiraea ulmaria.

Wedding Fragrance

John Gerard writes: “The leaves and flowers of Meadowsweet far excel all other strewing herbs to deck up houses, to strew in chambers, halls and banqueting-houses in the summertime, for the smell thereof makes the heart merry and joyful and delight the senses.” Strangely, the leaves have a different smell to the flowers. It was known as bridewort as the fragrant creamy flowers were strewn along church aisles for new brides to walk along, and also used in brides’ bouquets as they were thought to bring love, joy, a beautiful wedding day and a happy marriage.



Family Lamiaceae/Labiatae, Mint

OTHER NAMES: Brandy mint, English mint.

DESCRIPTION: This is a hybrid mint, an accidental cross between spearmint (Mentha spicata) and water mint (Mentha aquatica). An invasive perennial, it grows to 12 inches (30 cm) high with pink to mauve flowerswhich attract honey bees.

PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper: “It is an herb of Venus. This herb has a strong, agreeable, aromatic smell, and a moderate warm bitterish taste, it is useful for complaints of the stomach, such as wind, vomiting, for which there are few remedies of greater efficacy.” Peppermint is the most widely used mint, owing to its higher menthol content. Its antispasmodic effect soothes stomach aches, and is effective for colic and flatulence. Externally peppermint oil is used in pain-relieving ointments and massage oils, increasing blood flow to the affected area. Peppermint oil contains azulene, with anti-inflammatory and ulcer-healing effects. The plant seems to have antibacterial and antiviral properties. Rats dislike peppermint; you can prevent them from using outhouses by scenting cardboard, cotton balls or rags with the oil and placing them where the rats are probably getting in.

HISTORY: Mint was used by the ancient Assyrians in rituals to their fire god. Pliny states that Greeks and Romans crowned themselves with peppermint at feasts and adorned their tables with its sprays, and that its essence was used in sauces and wines. Peppermint was possibly first cultivated by the Egyptians, but was first included in the London Pharmacopeia in 1721, after which it was used extensively in medicine. Peppermint oil capsules have been proven to help sufferers of indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome. The smell of peppermint is being pumped into a primary school in Liverpool in an experiment to see if the smell improves memory and alertness.

Helps in a Stinking Breath

Culpeper also describes “wild or horsemint,” known to us as the familiar water mint (Mentha aquatica): “to dissolve wind in the stomach, to help the colic…an effectual remedy against venereal dreams and pollutions in the night, being outwardly applied to the testicles. The juice dropped into the ears eases the pains thereof and destroys the worms that breed therein. They are good against the venomous bites of serpents. The juice, lid on warm, helps the king’s evil, or kernels in the throat. The decoction, or distilled water, helps in a stinking breath proceeding from the corruption of the teeth; and snuffed up the nose, purges the head…Mints are extremely bad for wounded people; it being asserted, that whoever eats mint, when wounded, will never be cured.”



Family Lamiaceae/Labiatae, Mint


OTHER NAMES: Garden mint, lamb mint, mackerel mint, hart mint, fish mint, Our Lady’s mint, sage of Bethlehem, menthe de Notre Dame, green mint, spire mint, silver mint, menthol mint. There are hundreds of other varieties of mint.

DESCRIPTION: A hardy invasive perennial which grows up to 2 feet (60 cm), with small mauve flowers in spikes. The leaves are lighter green than those of peppermint. The strong mint taste of the leaves varies according to soil conditions and climate.

PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper lists nearly 40 distinct illnesses for which mint is singularly recommended: “Being smelled into, it is comfortable for the head and memory, and a decoction when used as a gargle, cures the mouth and gums, when sore…Garden Mint is most useful to wash children’s heads when the latter are inclined to sores, and Wild Mint, mixed with vinegar is an excellent wash to get rid of scurf. Rose leaves and mint, heated and applied outwardly cause rest and sleep.” Culpeper thought it was “an incentive to venery and bodily lust,” but among its virtues: “it stays bleeding…stays the hiccough, vomiting and allays choler. It dissolves imposthumes…it is good to repress milk in women’s breasts; and for such that have swollen, flagging or large breasts…it helps the bite of a mad dog…it eases the pains of the ears…helps digestion…The decoction thereof, when used as a gargle, cures the mouth and gums…and helps stinking breath…” Mint is aromatic, carminative, diuretic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiparasitic, restorative and is also a stimulant. A mint infusion or tea can be used internally for nausea, headaches, indigestion, colds, flu, hiccoughs, flatulence, or insomnia. Externally it can be used for chapped skin, as a rinse for oily hair, a facial tonic or in a refreshing and stimulating bath. Spearmint can relieve heavy colds when drops of the essential oil are inhaled or sprinkled on a handkerchief. Both spearmint and peppermint can be used when diluted in carrier oil in massages for the relief of migraine, facial neuralgia and rheumatic and muscular aches.

Spearmint is the best-known and most commonly used culinary mint. The leaves were chewed to relieve toothache. The oil is a mosquito repellent and used as an antiseptic for itching skin. Five tablespoons of peppermint leaves can be added to half a pint of water and the same amount of cider vinegar to make a rinse for greasy hair. Mint is also used for a cleansing and soothing face pack for greasy skin. The leaves make an excellent addition to pot-pourris and herbal bath bags. It is moth repellent so sachets are hung in wardrobes or added to drawers. Traditionally, in England, mint complements roast lamb, and the fresh leaves are added to potatoes and peas while cooking. Mint grown near roses will deter aphids and will deter ants from entering a house. Mice are also averse to the smell of mint, either fresh or dried.


HISTORY: Around 1000 BCE Egyptians used mint as part of the funerary process, and its spread paralleled the Roman empire’s growth. The smell of mint in Roman houses was a symbol of hospitality. Pliny the Elder advised scholars to wear a crown of mint to aid concentration, but he also warned that it did not help procreation. Greeks believed the opposite, however. Their soldiers were warned to avoid mint during a war as it was feared that increased love-making would diminish their courage. Mint is said to bring luck and helps to increase prosperity if a few leaves are rubbed into the purse. Headaches were cured by rubbing a few mint leaves on the forehead. In the Middle Ages, mint cured mouth sores, dog bites and insect stings, it helped to whiten teeth and prevented milk from curdling. Mint has been used in baths since Roman times, and was also strewn to sweeten the smell of churches. Its distilled oil is still used to flavor toothpastes, confectionery, chewing gums, and also to perfume soap. Spearmint has been found to have some antifungal properties and has excellent antioxidant activity, and recent studies find that spearmint tea may be useful for mild female hirsutism, as the tea reduces levels of male sex hormones. The leaves and stems contain the essential oil menthol, but spearmint does not contain high amounts of menthol (0.5 percent compared to the 40 percent in peppermint), making it the least pungent herb in the mint family. Spearmint also contains minerals like potassium, calcium, manganese, iron and magnesium. It is also rich in many antioxidant vitamins including vitamin A, beta carotene, vitamin C, folates, vitamin B-6, riboflavin and thiamin.

The Fate of Menthe

Menthe was the name of a beautiful water nymph pursued by Pluto, Roman god of the underworld. When his wife Persephone found out, she turned Menthe into a plant that would be trodden underfoot. Pluto could do nothing but accept his wife’s vengeance, but he altered the plant so that when it was trodden on, it would release a beautiful fragrance.



Family Santalaceae, Parasitic Plants

OTHER NAMES: European mistletoe, common mistletoe, white-berried mistletoe, birdlime mistletoe, loranthus, mulberry mistletoe, bird-lime, all-heal, druid’s herb, witch’s broom, thunderbesem, wood of the cross, lignum crucis, holy wood, golden bough, all heal, devil’s fuge.

DESCRIPTION: Parasitic evergreen shrub with sticky, round, white berries and leathery, green, tongue-like leaves, growing on the branches of trees in bushes 2–5 feet (60 cm to 1.5 m) across. The plant prefers apple trees as hosts.


PROPERTIES AND USES: “This is under the dominion of the Sun, with something of the nature of Jupiter, the leaves and berries do heat and dry, and are of subtle parts. Bird-lime, [the sticky juice] made thereof, mollifies hard knots, tumours and imposthumes, ripens and discusses them, and draws forth thick as well as thin humours from the remote parts of the body, digesting and separating them; and being mixed with equal parts of rosin and wax, mollifies the hardness of the spleen, and heals old ulcers and sores…Some hold it so highly in esteem, that it is called lignum sanctae crucis, or wood of the holy cross, believing it to cure falling sickness, apoplexy and palsy, very speedily, not only when taken inwardly, but applied externally, by hanging it around the neck. Tragus says, that by bruising the green wood of any mistletoe, and dropping the juice so drawn into the ears of those who are troubled with imposthumes, it heals the same in a few days.”—Nicholas Culpeper. The Physicians of Myddfai, the legendary 12th-century Welsh herbalists, wrote on the use of mistletoe: “In any case of bodily debility, whether in the nerves, joints, back, head, or brain, stomach, heart, lungs or kidneys, take three spoonfuls of the decoction, and mix with boiling water, ale, mead or milk; then add to a good draught thereof a spoonful of the powder, which should be drunk in the morning fasting. Half as much should be taken the last thing at night. It is good for any kind of disease of the brain, nerves, and back, epilepsy, mania or mental infirmity of any kind, paralysis, all weakness of joints, sight, hearing, or senses. It will promote fruitfulness, the begetting of children, and restrain seminal flux. The man who takes a spoonful thereof daily in his drink will enjoy uninterrupted health, strength of body, and manly vigour.” The herb was used extensively in the 16th and 17th centuries for treatment of epilepsy and other convulsive nervous disorders. The plant is a nervine, and a narcotic, affecting the nervous system. Today, mistletoe is used medicinally for headaches, dizziness, energy loss, irritability, vertigo and other symptoms connected with raised blood pressure. Eating the berries can cause convulsions in children.


HISTORY: The Druids and other pagan groups revered mistletoe and celebrated the beginning of winter by collecting it (by a high ranking priest who cut it with a golden knife) and hanging branches in their homes. It is also said to be the legendary Golden Bough that saved Aeneas from the underworld in Virgil’s poem. Romans, Celts and Germans believed that mistletoe was a key to the supernatural, and the plant also represented sex and fertility. Kissing under the mistletoe at Christmas is traced to the Greeks who used mistletoe in the Cronia festival. Mistletoe also features in the Scandinavian legend of Balder, god of peace, who was killed with an arrow of mistletoe, the only plant in creation that had not sworn to his mother Frigg that it would not harm him. He was restored to life, mistletoe was then given into the keeping of the goddess of love, and it was ordained that everyone who passed under it should receive a kiss, to show that the branch had become an emblem of love, and not of hate. With each kiss, a berry should be removed, and when all are gone, the mistletoe is said to have lost its powers. In Brittany, where the mistletoe grows abundantly, it is called herbe de la croix, because, according to legend, the Cross was made from its wood, on account of which it was degraded to be a parasite. It was believed that life could spring spontaneously from dung, and it was observed in ancient times that mistletoe would often appear on a branch where birds had left droppings. “Mistel” is Anglo-Saxon word for dung, and “tan” is the word for twig, so mistletoe possibly means dung-on-a-twig. By the 16th century, botanists discovered that the stickiness of the berries caused propagation. The berries would stick to the bills of birds and they consequently rubbed their beaks on barks of trees to try to get rid of the berries which would this fall to the ground. It was also discovered that seeds survive the passage through the digestive tracts of birds and are excreted together with their droppings, another source of propagation. Mistletoe extracts have been extensively studied in Europe as a supplemental treatment in cancer therapy. Clinical studies show that injections of mistletoe boost the body’s immune systems, helping it attack malignant melanoma.


Most readers can quite easily plant and develop a herb garden, either by dedicating a part of the kitchen garden to it, or simply using containers or even window boxes in which to grow herbs. Once flower production begins, leaf production ceases. Therefore, in annuals and herbaceous varieties, harvesting the foliage consistently before the plant flowers can extend leaf production somewhat if care is taken to cut consistently. Some herbs can be used as flavorings, others as dyes, teas, cooking spices, companion plants or for herbal medicine, or even simply for their appearance and fragrance. If you have space, your herb garden will be home to five major families of plants.

Apiaceae or Umbelliferae—Parsley family. This family is made up of plants with “umbrella-shaped” flowerheads e.g. chervil, fennel, parsley, dill, hemlock, anise, cumin, coriander, caraway etc.

Asteraceae—Aster/Sunflower family. The family is recognizable by its daisy-shaped flowers, and it includes daisy, thistle, calendula, dandelion etc.

Brassicaceae—Mustard family. Taste is an indicator of this family which includes cabbage, kale, mustard, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, rape seed, mustard seed, turnip, horseradish etc.

Lamiaceae or Labiatae—Mint family. Generally has a squared stem, opposing leaves and often wrinkly or hairy leaf types; includes all the mints, pennyroyal, lavender, rosemary, sage, savory, marjoram, oregano, thyme, basil etc.

Liliaceae—Lily family. The lily family has long, tapered leaves and a bulbous body stalk. Recently this group has undergone a good deal of taxonomic change and while it still includes lilies and fritillaries, historically the group included onion, garlic (both now Aliaceae), asparagus (now Asparagaceae), hyacinth (now Hyacinthaceae), daffodil (now Amaryllidaceae) etc.

Evergreen varieties of herb, e.g. sage, rosemary and thyme, do not die back over the winter, but remain green year-round. They will still require pruning to maximize their production of new tender and flavorful growth, and should be pruned at least once a year.

Herbaceous herbs include oregano, mints, tarragon, chives, lemon balm, winter savory etc. These plants will die back to the ground at wintertime. There is no need to prune these plants with care, as they can be chopped right to the ground and will come back strong and healthy. For some, an annual mowing is an easy solution.

Annual herbs, unlike evergreens and herbaceous herbs, do not live for more than one season. While evergreens and herbaceous herbs are perennials, and grow for two years or longer, annuals produce flowers and then seeds before dying off at the end of each growing season. Therefore, annuals require new plantings each spring, although some like nasturtium, fennel and poppy often seed themselves. Examples of annual herbs are coriander, basil, dill, summer savory and chervil.



Family Ranunculacae, Buttercup


OTHER NAMES: Common monkshood, monk’s blood, blue wolf’s-bane, aconite, women’s bane, leopard’s bane, devil’s helmet, blue rocket, friar’s cap, auld wife’s huid.

DESCRIPTION: This monkshood grows to 3 feet (90 cm) with a slim stem and a spike of beautiful blue-purple hooded blossoms.

PROPERTIES AND USES: The common monkshood is one of the most poisonous plants of European flora. According to Culpeper, this “blue wolf’s-bane is very common in many gardens…if inwardly taken they inflame the inward parts and destroy life itself. Dodonaeus reports of some men of Antwerp, who unawares did eat some of the monks’-hood in a salad, instead of some other herb, and died forthwith; this I write that people who have it in their gardens might beware of it.” If it is carefully dosed, aconitine can be applied externally as an effective painkiller for neuralgia and in cases of rheumatism, headache, gout, migraine and colds accompanied with high body temperature.

HISTORY: The Greeks called aconite “the Queen of Poisons,” believing that it was created by the goddess Hecate from the saliva of the three-headed dog Cerberus. The witch Medea used aconite to try and kill Theseus. Since ancient times, people have known that it is poisonous and have used it as a weapon by coating their spears and arrowheads with its strong toxin. The plant was used for hunting wolves, panthers and other carnivores with poison-tipped arrows. The Ancient Roman naturalist Pliny describes friar’s cap under the name “plant arsenic,” and it has been used throughout history both as a poison and to put criminals to death.

Powerful Poison

Aconitine, present in monkshood, is one of the strongest plant poisons. At first, it acts as a stimulant but then it paralyzes the nervous system. After eating, burning and tingling sensations in the mouth lead to numbness and paralysis, blindness, vomiting and intense pain before death from respiratory failure and cardiac arrest. Children may get poisoned if they hold tubers in their hands for a long time. In 1881 Dr. George Lanson fed monkshood to his brother-in-law in a slice of Dundee cake, hoping thereby to get a share of his inheritance, but he was convicted of murder and hanged.



Family Lamiaceae/Labiatae, Mint


OTHER NAMES: European motherwort, lion’s tail, lion’s ear, lion’s tart, throw-wort, heart-wort.

DESCRIPTION: A bushy perennial that can grow to 3–4 feet (90–120 cm), with small pink, pale purple or white flowers and a pungent smell.

PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper wrote of motherwort: “Venus owns this herb and it is under Leo. There is no better herb to drive melancholy vapours from the heart, to strengthen it and make the mind cheerful, blithe and merry. May be kept in a syrup, or conserve, therefore the Latins call it cardiaca…It cleanses the chest of cold phlegm, oppressing it and kills worms in the belly. It is of good use to warm and dry up the cold humours, to digest and disperse them that are settled in the veins, joints and sinews of the body and to help cramps and convulsions.” Gerard commended it for: “infirmities of the heart. Moreover the same is commended for green wounds; it is also a remedy against certain diseases in cattle, as the cough and murrain, and for that cause divers husbandmen oftentimes much desire it.” The herb is said to have a relaxing and toning effect on the uterus and can be taken a week or two before childbirth to stimulate labour. It is claimed to have a calming effect on palpitations and irregular heart beat, and to help lower blood pressure

HISTORY: Since ancient times, motherwort has been used to treat palpitations and rapid heart beat, especially when associated with anxiety. The Greeks and Romans used it for a remedy for both physical and emotional heart troubles. Because of its use to treat palpitations and cardiac problems, it was given the scientific name cardiaca. In the Middle Ages it treated female disorders, particularly those related to childbirth. In Maud Grieve’s Herbal we read: “Motherwort is especially valuable in female weakness and disorders (hence the name), allaying nervous irritability and inducing quiet and passivity of the whole nervous system. Old writers tell us that there is not better herb for strengthening the heart.” Recently, it has been found to have sedative properties, and acts as a tonic without making one feverish.

Healthy Heart

Motherwort regulates the menses, promotes blood circulation and stimulates the development of new tissue. In traditional Chinese medicine, motherwort was used to promote longevity and strengthen the heart, and scientists now are studying motherwort’s application for heart-related conditions.



Family Asteraceae/Compositae, Sunflower


OTHER NAMES: Artemisia, St. John’s plant, St. John’s girdle, muggons, naughty man, old uncle Henry, felon herb, artemis herb, witch herb, sailor’s tobacco, old man, felon herb, chrysanthemum weed, wild wormwood.

DESCRIPTION: A perennial, with a height of about 3 feet (90 cm) and a spread of about 18 inches (46 cm), with long aromatic leaves, tiny clusters of whitish-green to yellow flowers and a strong sage fragrance.

PROPERTIES AND USES: “This is an herb of Venus. Its tops, leaves and flowers are full of virtue, they are aromatic, and most safe, and excellent in female disorders.”—Nicholas Culpeper. As a “herb of Venus,” it is most widely used to treat the female reproductive system, used as a uterine stimulant that can bring on delayed menstruation and help restore a woman’s natural monthly cycle. It is mildly sedative and useful in calming nerves and easing stress. It has been used as a digestive stimulant, being effective taken before or after heavy meals to alleviate flatulence and bloating. The Japanese use its leaves to make a cure for rheumatism, and the Germans to season a roasting goose. It was traditionally used as a “dream herb,” as one of the main ingredients of sleep pillows, being said to bring the dreamer more lucid dreams.

HISTORY: It is accounted as one of the nine sacred herbs of the Druids, and was often used as a ceremonial smoking or burning herb. Roman soldiers placed it in their sandals to prevent fatigue. In the Middle Ages, the plant was known as cingulum Sancti Johnnis, it being believed that John the Bapist wore a girdle of it in the wilderness. Mugwort was believed to preserve the wayfarer from fatigue, sunstroke, wild beasts and evil spirits generally. A crown made from its sprays was worn on St. John’s Eve to gain security from evil possession. It was also used in medieval times to flavor beer.

From Love’s Martyr, 1601

First of this Mugwort it did take the name,

Of Artemisia wife to Mausoleus,

Whose sun-bred beauty did his heart inflame,

When she was Queen of Halicarnassus,

Diana gave the herb this name to us:

Because this virtue to us it hath lent,

For women’s matters it is excellent.

And he that shall this herb about him bear,

Is freed from hurt or danger any way…

Robert Chester



Family Moraceae, Mulberry/Fig


OTHER NAMES: Common mulberry, black mulberry.

DESCRIPTION: An ornamental tree up to 30 feet (9 m) high with large, juicy, blackberry-like fruits, with the gnarled branches of older specimens often spreading wider than the tree’s height.


Culpeper relates: “…the ripe berries, by reason of their sweetness and slippery moisture, opening the body, and the unripe binding it, especially when they are dried, and then they are good to stay fluxes, lasks, and the abundance of women’s courses…The juice, or the syrup made of the juice of the berries, helps all inflammations or sores in the mouth, or throat, and palate of the mouth when it is fallen down. The juice of the leaves is a remedy against the biting of serpents, and for those that have taken aconite…The leaves of Mulberries are said to stay bleeding at the mouth or nose, or the bleeding of the piles, or of a wound, being bound unto the places. A branch of the tree taken when the moon is at the full, and bound to the wrists of a woman’s arm, whose courses come down too much, doth stay them in a short space.” Mulberries are refreshing but have laxative properties, and the bark was used to expel tapeworm and roundworm.

Here We Go Round…

Many of us will recall the children’s song and game, with its subsequent verses and actions, and this chorus:

Here we go round the mulberry bush,

The mulberry bush,

The mulberry bush.

Here we go round the mulberry bush

On a cold and frosty morning.

HISTORY: The poet Horace recommended that mulberries should be gathered before sunset, and they were eaten at Roman feasts. It may have been brought to Britain by the Romans, and was known to be in cultivation in the early 16th century. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Pyramus and Thisbe were slain beneath its shade, and the fruit changed from white to deep red through absorbing their blood. Pliny wrote of its use in medicine in Egypt, Cyprus and Rome. In the ninth century, Charlemagne ordered its cultivation upon imperial farms. In 1608 King James I tried to encourage the silk industry by issuing an edict encouraging the cultivation of mulberry trees, but the attempt to rear silkworms in England proved unsuccessful, apparently because the black mulberry was cultivated instead of the white, which is preferred by the silkmoth caterpillars.



Family Scrophulariaceae, Figwort


OTHER NAMES: White mullein (Culpeper). Great mullein, common mullein, woolly mullein, blanket mullein, velvet mullein, verbascum flowers, flannel, flannel leaf, flannel flower, Adam’s flannel, blanket herb, woolen blanket herb, beggar’s blanket, poor man’s blanket, Our Lady’s blanket, old man’s blanket, feltwort, bullock’s lungwort, cow’s lungwort, pig taper, hare’s beard, mullein dock, Aaron’s rod, Adam’s rod, ice-leaf, hag’s taper, hedge taper, high taper, candlewick plant, candlewick herb, torches, velvet plant, velvet back, shepherd’s club, shepherd’s staff, mullein dock, Jupiter’s staff, Jacob’s staff, Peter’s staff, Virgin Mary’s candle, old man’s fennel, lady’s foxglove, shepherd’s herb, blanket leaf, graveyard dust, velvet plant, pannog melyn (cloth plant, Welsh), torches, Our Lady’s flannel, velvet dock, velvet plant, woolen, rag paper, wild ice leaf, clown’s lungwort, shepherd’s staff, beggar’s stalk, Adam’s flannel.

DESCRIPTION: There are bright yellow, saucer-shaped flowers on a silver-gray stem reaching 6 feet (1.8 m) high. The leaves appear gray-green because of their felt-like covering which irritates browsing animals and protects the plant.

PROPERTIES AND USES: “It is under the dominion of Saturn. A small quantity of the root given in wine, is commended by Dioscorides, against lasks and fluxes of the belly. The decoction hereof drank, is profitable for those that are bursten [ruptured], and for cramps and convulsions, and for those that are troubled with an old cough, and when used as a gargle it eases toothache.”—Nicholas Culpeper. A fresh poultice of the mashed leaves makes an excellent antimicrobial, astringent first aid for minor burns and insect bites. It is made into a tea, and is frequently combined with other herbs in mixtures for treating cough.

HISTORY: It was called Aaron’s rod from the Old Testament story of the staff that sprouted with blooms, and in mythology was the plant which Ulysses took to protect himself against the machinations of Circe. Pliny wrote of it, and verbascum is thought to be a corruption of barbascum (with beards), an allusion to the hairy filaments covering the leaves.

Up in Flames

Many folk-names allude to its use for candle-wicks, tapers and funeral torches in the Middle Ages. The stems were used as flares, and the fluffy hairs scraped from the soft leaves and made into tapers (wax-coated wicks).



Family Agaricaceae, Mushroom


OTHER NAMES: Field mushroom, common mushroom, meadow mushroom (North America), true meadow mushroom.

DESCRIPTION: The cap is white, up to 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter, and the gills are initially pink, turning dark brown, as is the spore print. Mild-tasting, it is the mushroom that many of us used to gather as children, but is becoming very much rarer. Fields in late summer after rainfall used to be covered in “white-outs” of the fungus. It is solitary, or appears in small circular groups of “fairy rings.” It is very closely related to the edible button mushroom Agaricus bisporus which we buy in shops, but is difficult to cultivate commercially. It needs organic meadows grazed by sheep, cattle or especially horses.

PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper praises the mushroom: “Mushrooms are plants more perfect than many people imagine…” before describing the edible common mushroom. In the past, slices of field mushrooms were applied to scalds and burns in parts of Scotland, and research into fungal dressings for the treatment of ulcers, and bed sores, using fungal mycelial filaments, is ongoing. Culinary uses of the field mushroom include eating it sautéed. or fried, in sauces, soups, stews or sliced raw and included in salads. Mushrooms contain more of the immune-boosting antioxidant ergothioneine than any other food, so they are an excellent defense against colds. Mushrooms fried with olive oil and garlic—garlic mushrooms—is far more healthy than it sounds.

HISTORY: From 4600 years ago, hieroglyphics show us that Egyptians thought the plant bestowed immortality, with no commoner being allowed to even touch them. Across cultures, they are associated with being a powerful aphrodisiac. In the 11th century, the Normans traditionally prepared a wedding dish consisting of a pound of mushrooms, to be fed to the groom only.

Poisonous Fungi

There is no clear-cut delineation between edible and poisonous fungi, so that a mushroom may be edible, poisonous or unpalatable. While the similar Agaricus arvensis, (horse mushroom) is edible, unfortunately several poisonous species resemble the field mushroom. Amanita virosa (the European destroying angel) is morbidly toxic, and Agaricus xanthodermus (the yellow stainer) causes gastrointestinal problems. Most of the white Clitocybe species that often grow on lawns and fields can be dangerous.


There are about 3600 species of fungi in the United Kingdom alone, of which between 50 to 100 are dangerous. Culpeper refers to some different types, and the following shows the variety of wonderful names for these fungi.

Edible Fungi: Beefsteak fungus; brittlegills—powdery, greencracked, common yellow, yellow swamp; fairy ring champignon; mushrooms—field, oyster, macro, St. George’s, horse, wood, blushing wood, hedgehog; puffballs—common, stump, meadow, giant; charcoal burner; chanterelle; porcelain fungus; saffron milkcap; oak milkcap; the blusher; the deceiver; parasol; shaggy parasol; waxcaps—crimson, scarlet, meadow; tawny grisette; trumpet chanterelle; wood blewit; field blewit; shaggy inkcap; oak milkcap; horn of plenty, the prince; boletes—bay, orange birch, orange oak, scarletina; velvet shank; the miller; morels; summer truffle; jelly ear; chicken of the woods; cauliflower fungus and slippery Jack (or sticky bun).

Poisonous Fungi: Devil’s bolete; sickener; beechwood sickener; panthercap (can kill); destroying angel; livid pinkgill; splendid webcap (deadly poisonous, smelling of pepper); deadly webcap (deadly poisonous, but similar to edible chanterelles); fool’s and other webcaps; funeral bell (can kill); deadly fibercap; fool’s funnel (seriously poisonous, can be deadly); fenugreek milkcap; the dapperlings including the star, deadly and fatal dapperling; fly agaric; the sickeners; silky pinkgill; poisonpies; common inkcap; inky mushroom; bitter bolete; false morel (can kill); sulfur tuft; inky mushroom; brown roll rim (can kill if eaten uncooked, but sometimes edible if cooked. It killed the great German mycologist Julius Schaeffer in 1940). The yellow stainer is the most likely to cause stomach upsets as it is similar in appearance to some of the edible agaric mushrooms. Liberty caps are also now known as magic mushrooms for their hallucinogenic properties, but they are classed as poisonous and are the only fungi which it is illegal to pick, being considered a class-A drug. The common inkcap is edible, but poisonous if taken with alcohol. Deathcap is aptly named, as if untreated there is a 50-90 percent mortality rate. Even with expert hospital care, there is only a 20 percent survival rate. It is responsible for 90 percent of all fungus deaths, and is not uncommon, being found in mixed woods and looking similar to agaric mushrooms. However, the “trumpet of death,” also called the black trumpet, black chanterelle and horn of plenty, the evil-looking Cratellerus fallax is edible. Strangely, its French name is also “trompette de la morte.”

The Strange World of Fungi: One of the strangest fungi is the powdercap strangler, which takes over the earthy powdercap, its own cap and stipe (stalk) replacing those of its host. Equally, the snaketongue truffleclub parasitizes the subterranean false truffle, and the parasitic bolete grows on the common earthball. Many fungi are named after where they are found, e.g. near pine, hazel, larch, willow, oak, alder, birch, beech—in heaths, meadows, bogs, swamps etc. St. George’s mushroom is supposed to begin fruiting upon St. George’s Day (April 23).

Strangely Named Fungi: The pretender; lurid bolete; deceiving bolete; old man of the woods; foxy bolete; ghost bolete; slippey Jack; ugly milkcap; blackening brittlegill; charcoal burner; the flirt; parasol; shaggy parasol; skullcap dapperling; blusher; persistent waxcap; spangle waxcap; herald of winter; deceiving knight; girdled knight; booted knight; prunes and custard; plums and custard; spring cavalier; common cavalier; trooping funnel; the goblet; club foot; spindleshank; crazed cap; snapping bonnet; powdery piggyback; elastic oysterling; the miller; deer shield; variable webcap; bitter bigfoot webcap; the gypsy; bog bell; dung roundhead (grows in cowpats); blueleg brownie; the prince; weeping widow; lawyer’s wig (shaggy inkcap); horn of plenty; handsome club; wood cauliflower; devil’s fingers; common jellyspot; artist’s bracket; fluted bird’s nest; pepperpot; leopard earthball; winter stalkball; barometer earthstar; ear pick fungus; glue crust; leafy brain; jelly rot; earthfan; wood hedgehog; bog beacon; jellybaby; common eyelash; semi-free morel; hare’s ear; toad’s ear; midnight disco; alder goblet; dead man’s fingers; dead moll’s fingers.

Magic Mushrooms

The beautiful vivid red Amanita muscaria or fly agaric is covered with white spots—the essence of a fairy toadstool. It is mildly poisonous, and also contains ibotenic acid, which transmutes into the powerful psycho-active drug muscimol when digested. Symptoms include euphoria, sickness, difficulty in speaking, a wish to sleep and confusion, similar to an overdose of alcohol. There can be a feeling of floating and it has been used by shamans over the years. In Siberia, mushroom users had no other intoxicants, until the Russians introduced alcohol. The Siberian Koryak people dried the mushrooms in the sun and ingested them either on their own or as an extract in water, reindeer milk, or the juice of several sweet plants. When the mushroom was swallowed as a solid, it was first moistened in the mouth, or women rolled it in their mouths into a moistened pellet for the men to swallow. The ceremonial use of the fly agaric developed a ritualistic practice of urine drinking, since the tribesman learned that the psychoactive muscimol of the mushroom passes through the body only partially metabolized, or in the form of still active metabolites. An early account reported that the Koryak people “pour water on some of the mushrooms and boil them. Then they drink the liquor, which intoxicates them; the poorer sort, who cannot afford to lay in a store of the mushroom, post themselves on these occasions round the huts of the rich and watch for the opportunity of the guest coming down to make water and then hold a wooden bowl to receive the urine, which they drink off greedily, as having still some virtue of the mushroom in it, and by this way, they also get drunk.”


Colored Fungi: Boletes—Inkstain, scarletina, ruby, sepia, orange birch, orange oak, saffron; Milkcaps—Lemon, yellow bearded, lilac, sooty, orange; Brittlegills—Scarlet, ochre, yellow swamp, golden, gilded, greencracked, greasy green, copper, primrose, coral, purple, purple swamp, yellowing, bloody; Dapperlings—Freckled, green, chestnut, lilac, blushing, pearly; orange grisette; Waxcaps—Golden, crimson, scarlet, blackening, butter, pink, parrot, snowy; ivory woodwax; Knights—Yellow, sulfur, gray, ashen, yellowing, blue spot; Domecaps—Violet, pink, white; frosty funnel; Deceivers—Amethyst, bicoloured, russet, redleg; Bonnets—Bleeding bonnet, lilac, blackedge, yellowedge, pinkedge; orange, scarlet, milky; orange mosscap; olive oysterling; indigo pinkgill; yellow shield; Webcaps—Violet, sepia, orange, yellow, sunset, cinnamon, blood red; lilac leg fibercap; sulfur tuft; blue roundhead; lilac oysterling; rosy spike; copper spike; yellowing curtain crust; violet coral; yellow club; red cage; yellow stagshorn; cowberry redleaf; witches’ butter; white brain; jelly tongue; hen of the woods, chicken of the woods; purplepore bracket; Porecrusts—Bleeding, green, pink; cobalt crust; yellow cobweb; yellow brain; Tooths—Black, blue, orange; scarlet caterpillarclub; green earthtongue; yellow fan; lemon disco; purple jellydisc; green elfcup; orange cup; scarlet elf cup; ochre cushion.

Aromatic Fungi: Iodine bolete; coconut milkcap; curry milkcap; fenugreek milkcap; geranium brittlegill; stinking brittlegill; crab brittlegill; stinking dapperling; honey waxcap; cedarwood waxcap; soapy knight; aniseed funnel; fragrant funnel; mealy funnel; chicken run funnel; cucumber cap; cabbage parachute; rancid grayling; garlic parachute; fetid parachute; flowery blewit; iodine bonnet; mealy bonnet; aromatic pinkgill (peardrops); mousepee pinkgill; pelargonium webcap; earthy webcap; goatcheese webcap; gassy webcap (smells of acetylene gas or over-ripe pears); honey webcap; sweet poisonpie; bitter poisonpie (radishes); pear fibercap; aniseed cockleshell; stinkhorn; dog stinkhorn; anise mazegill; stinking earthfan (putrid garlic); peppery bolete; bitter bolete; fiery milkcap; bitter almond brittlegill; burning brittlegill; burned knight; aromatic knight; bitter oysterling.

Textured Fungi: Suede bolete; woolly milkcap; velvet brittlegill; snakeskin grisette; slimy waxcap; dark honey fungus; warty knight; velvet shank; twisted deceiver; butter cap; wood woolly-foot; porcelain fungus; dripping bonnet; dewdrop bonnet; silky rosegill; velvet rollrim; wrinkled peach; angel’s wings; haresfoot inkcap; slimy spike; starfish fungus; greasy bracket; hairy bracket; turkeytail; beeswax bracket; daisy earthstar; spiny puffball; coral tooth; jelly ear; tripe fungus; hairy earthtongue; pig’s ears; orange peel fungus; bonfire cauliflower; King Alfred’s cakes (cramp balls, resembling burned cakes).



Family Brassicaceae/Cruciferae, Cabbage


OTHER NAMES: Black mustard, mustard seed, brown mustard, white mustard. Brassica alba is a similar, but more hairy, plant, with slightly larger yellow flowers.

DESCRIPTION: There are small, bright yellow flowers, fading to pale, followed by narrow, upright four-sided seed pods about ½ inch (1.25 cm) long, on a plant which can grow to 6 feet (1.8 m) high.

PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper suggests it to remove foreign bodies in the flesh, and “for the Falling sickness or Lethargy, drowsy forgetful evil, to use it both inwardly and outwardly to rub the Nostrils, Forehead, and Temples, to warm and quicken the Spirits, for by the fierce sharpness it purges the Brain by sneezing, and drawing down Rheum and other Viscous Humours, which by their Distillations upon the Lungs and Chest procure coughing, and therefore with some Honey added thereto doth much good therein.” He prescribes a decoction of mustard in wine for poisoning and venom, as well as agues. “The Seed taken either by itself or with other things either in an Electuary or Drink, doth mightily stir up Bodily lust, and helps the Spleen and pains in the sides, and gnawing in the Bowels.” Mustard can make a gargle for sore throats and a poultice for toothache, sciatica, gout and other joint aches. “It is also used to help the falling of the Hair: The Seed bruised, mixed with Honey and applied, or made up with Wax, takes away the Marks, and black and blue spots of Bruises or the like, the roughness or scabbedness of the Skin, as also the Leprosy and lousy evil…” He states, “It is an excellent Sauce for such whose Blood wants clarifying and for weak Stomachs being an Herb of Mars, but naught for Choleric people, though as good for such as are aged or troubled with cold Diseases, Aries claims something to do with it, therefore it strengthens the heart and resists poison, let such whose Stomachs are so weak, they cannot digest their meat or appetite it, take of Mustard Seed a dram, Cinnamon as much, and having beaten them to Powder add half as much Mastic in Powder, and with Gum Arabic dissolved in Rose Water, make it up into Troches[lozenges that dissolve in the mouth, like cough drops], of which they may take one of about half a dram weight an hour or two before meals, let old men and women make much of this medicine, and they will either give me thanks, or manifest ingratitude.” Richard Mabey, in his 1988 The New Age Herbalist gives us the following: “Pungent mustard oil is antibacterial and antifungal, warm and stimulating. Mustard not only adds a spicy tang to food, but it eases digestion. Mustard can be applied externally in poultices, or added to foot baths in the treatment of stubborn chest congestion and coughs, arthritis, and poor circulation.” Mabey also tells us that when mixed with a soothing substance such as slippery elm powder, the seeds make a stimulating poultice. Mustard footbaths have been used for centuries for chilblains, poor circulation and upper respiratory mucus. Thomas Tusser (1524–80) tells us that in February we should: “Sow mustard seed, And help to kill weed / Where sets do grow, See nothing ye sow.”


HISTORY: The Greek physicians held mustard in such esteem that they attributed its discovery to Asclepius, the pioneer of medicine and healing. The seeds have been ground and used as a condiment for thousands of years, and the leaves used in liniments. C. Anne Wilson wrote: “Probably the cheapest spice of all was native-grown mustard seed. It was purchased for less than a farthing a pound for the household of Dame Alice de Bryene in 1418–19; and in the course of a year eighty-four pounds were consumed. Mustard was eaten with fresh and salt meat, brawn, fresh fish and stockfish, and indeed was considered the best sauce for any dish. As in Roman times mustard seed was pounded in the mortar and moistened with vinegar.”


CHILBLAINS are prevented from breaking, and their tormenting itching instantly removed, by WHITEHEAD’s ESSENCE of MUSTARD, universally esteemed for its extraordinary efficacy in Rheumatisms, Palsies, Gouty Affections, and Complaints of the Stomach; but where this certain remedy has been unknown or neglected, and the Chilblains have actually suppurated, or broke, Whitehead’s Family Cerate will ease the pain, and very speedily heal them. They are prepared and sold by R. JOHNSTON, Apothecary, 15, Greek street, Soho, London: the Essence and Pills at 2s. 9d. each;—the Cerate, at 1s. 1½d. They are also sold by the Printer of this Paper, at the HULL PACKET OFFICE, in Scale Lane, Hull, and by every medicine vender in the United Kingdom. The genuine has a black ink stamp, with the name of R. Johnston inserted on it.

The severest Sprains and Bruises are cured by a few applications of the Fluid Essence.

(Advertisement from The Hull Packet, April 15, 1806)