Breverton's Complete Herbal



Family Apiaceae/Umbelliferae, Umbellifer/Carrot


OTHER NAMES: Common parsley, garden parsley, rock parsley, curly leaf parsley, persil, devil’s oatmeal.

DESCRIPTION: A hardy biennial which reaches 16 inches (40 cm) with a 12-inch (30 cm) spread, and bright green leaves with curly serrated edges.

PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper: “It is under the dominion of Mercury; is very comfortable to the stomach; helps to provoke urine and women’s courses, to break wind both in the stomach and bowels, and doth a little open the body, but the root much more. It opens obstructions both of liver and spleen, and is therefore accounted one of the five opening roots. Galen commended it against the falling sickness, and to provoke urine mightily; especially if the roots be boiled, and eaten like Parsnips. The seed is effectual to provoke urine and women’s courses, to expel wind, to break the stone, and ease the pains and torments thereof; it is also effectual against the venom of any poisonous creature, and the danger that comes to them that have the lethargy, and is as good against the cough. The distilled water of Parsley is a familiar medicine with nurses to give their children when they are troubled with wind in the stomach or belly which they call the frets; and is also much available to them that are of great years. The leaves of Parsley laid to the eyes that are inflamed with heat, or swollen, doth much help them, if it be used with bread or meal; and being fried with butter, and applied to women’s breasts that are hard through the curdling of their milk, it abates the hardness quickly; and also takes away black and blue marks coming of bruises or falls. The juice thereof dropped into the ears with a little wine, eases the pains. Tragus sets down an excellent medicine to help the jaundice and falling sickness, the dropsy, and stone in the kidneys, in this manner: Take of the seed of Parsley, Fennel, Anise and Caraway, of each an ounce; of the roots of Parsley, Burnet, Saxifrage, and Caraway, of each an ounce and an half; let the seeds be bruised, and the roots washed and cut small; let them lie all night to steep in a bottle of white wine, and in the morning be boiled in a close earthen vessel until a third part or more be wasted; which being strained and cleared, take four ounces thereof morning and evening first and last, abstaining from drink after it for three hours. This opens obstructions of the liver and spleen, and expels the dropsy and jaundice by urine.” Parsley is a wonderful digestive aid, so is a good addition to a salad. It is high in iron content and rich in vitamins A, B, C, iodine and trace minerals. Leaves, seeds and root all have been used in the treatment of diseases of the bladder and kidneys, rheumatism, arthritis and sciatica. Nowadays we know through scientific research that parsley has a lot to offer us. As well as being a wonderful breath-freshener after eating curry or garlic or chili dishes, it is effective in reducing depression. A hair rinse made from the seeds is said to kill head lice.

Packed With Goodness

Parsley contains more vitamin C than oranges, more calcium than milk, more iron than steak and more potassium than bananas. It has been traditionally used to lower blood pressure, before it was known scientifically that its high potassium content counteracts sodium, lowering blood volume and hence blood pressure. Studies have also proved its diuretic qualities.

Anyone for Parsley?

For an interesting and highly unusual example of early genetic engineering, look no further than the works of the German botanist and physician Leonhart Fuchs, specifically as noted in his Historia Stirpium [The New Herball], 1543: “If you will have the leaves of the parcelye grow crisped, then before the sowing of them stuffe a tennis ball with the seedes and beat the same well against the ground whereby the seedes may be a little bruised or when the parcelye is well come up go over the bed with a weighty roller whereby it may so press the leaves down or else tread the same downe under thy feet.

HISTORY: In Greece, the herb was held sacred to oblivion and to the dead, having sprung from the blood of the Greek child Archemorus, which means the forerunner of death. The herb was dedicated to Persephone and to funeral rituals. Romans used it to disguise strong smells, to curb drunkenness, and believed that the seeds had to go to the devil and back seven times before they would germinate. It is used as a symbol of spring and rebirth in the Hebrew celebration of Passover. Hippocrates documented that parsley was used to cause an abortion, and Pliny the Elder (23–79 ce) stated that parsley was used to cause sterility. In the Dark Ages parsley was known as the devil’s herb, and people were convinced that moving the plant would lead to certain death.




Family Apiaceae, Umbellifer


OTHER NAMES: Culpeper calls it the Parsnep, and the Common Garden Parsnep.

DESCRIPTION: Similar to a carrot, with the root being generally pale cream.

PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper wrote: “Parsneps are more used for food than medicine, being a pleasing nourishing root, though somewhat windy, are though to be provokers to venery…The wild Parsnip differs little from the garden, but grows not so fair and large, nor has so many leaves, and the root is shorter, more woody and not so fit to be eaten and, therefore, more medicinal. The Garden Parsnip nourishes much and is good and wholesome, but a little windy, and it fattens the body if much used. It is good for the stomach and reins and provokes urine. The wild Parsnip hath a cutting, attenuating, cleansing and opening quality therein. It eases the pains and stitches in the sides and expels the wind from the stomach and bowels, or colic. The root is often used, but the seed much more, the wild [Pastinaca sativa subsp. sylvestris] being better than the tame.” In 1931 Maud Grieve noted: “The food value of Parsnips exceeds that of any other vegetable except potatoes. It is easy of production and should be more extensively grown.” A strong decoction of the root is a good diuretic, and it has been employed as a remedy for jaundice and gravel. Along with radish, parsnip seems to be the easiest garden crop to cultivate, and can be roasted, steamed or mashed for eating.

HISTORY: According to Pliny, the Emperor Tiberius believed that parsnips were so beneficial that he had them annually brought to Rome from the banks of the Rhine, where they were then successfully cultivated. Pliny also tells us it was grown either from the root transplanted or else from seed, but that it was impossible to get rid of the pungent flavor, and not until the 19th century were plants grown which were significantly better than the wild parsnip.

Sweet Parsnips

They taste sweeter after the first frosts, as Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, in The Compleat Herbal (1716), wrote: “…they are commonly boiled and eaten with butter in the time of Lent; for that they are the sweetest, by reason the juice has been concocted during the winter, and are desired at that season especially, both for their agreeable Taste and their Wholesomeness. For they are not so good in any respect, till they have been first nipped with Cold…



Family Passifloraceae, Passion Flowers


OTHER NAMES: Passion vine, purple passion flower, granadilla, maypops.

DESCRIPTION: This fast-growing climber with a pineapple-orange scent is native to the southern United States, Mexico and Central America. It was not included in earlier editions of Culpeper. Passiflora incarnata is the most common form of the edible passion fruit that is grown worldwide, producing egg-shaped fruits which are filled with a tart, fruity, bright orange pulp.

PROPERTIES AND USES: This is the variety commonly used medicinally, recommended for its soothing properties and as a general nerve tonic. Used together in an extract, the alkaloids and flavonoids in passion flower are stronger sedatives and relaxants that any one constituent used on its own, reminding us of the wisdom of using the whole herb, instead of isolated extracts. It is used in herbal treatments for withdrawal from opiates, alcohol and painkillers, and may help lessen reliance on drugs such as Valium and Librium. Passion flower contains passiflorine, which has been likened to morphine, thus it is also used to help treat neuralgia and insomnia. Other uses included lessening the pain of herpes and neuralgia, treating nervous tension, epilepsy and irritable bowel syndrome. The plant has a calming and antispasmodic effect but causes less drowsiness that many prescription drugs. The flowers can be dried and used in pot-pourris, and the fruit oil is used in cosmetics and as scent in bath products. Dried leaves and flowers can be combined with hops, chamomile and lavender to make a fragrant and soothing sleep pillow. The dried leaves can be added to lavender and rose petals in bath water. The orange fruit of Passiflora incarnata is edible, although it is not as tasty as the purple fruiting variety Passiflora edulis, which we see in supermarkets. The purple passion fruit makes refreshing fruit sorbet, smoothies and drinks, either on its own or when added to other fruits. Passion fruit can be made into jams, chutneys, syrups, jellies and a purée, used as cake filling. It is also a source of potassium and vitamins A and C.

HISTORY: It was first discovered in Peru in 1569 by the Spanish physician and botanist Nicolás Monardes. In the 1800s Passiflora became popular with the Victorians when hybridization began to give us hundreds of different forms. Passion flower leaves were used by Native North Americans to heal bruises and cuts.



Family Rosaceae, Rose


OTHER NAMES: Dudgeon, Persian apple, eirinen wlanog (Welsh for woolly plums).

DESCRIPTION: It can grow to 30 feet (9 m) in height and bears light purple blossoms and the familiar fruit.

PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper notes: “Lady Venus owns this tree, and by it opposes the ill effects of Mars, and indeed for children and young people, nothing is better to purge choler and the jaundice, than the leaves or flowers of this tree being made into a syrup or conserve. Let such as delight to please their lust regard the fruit; but such as have lost their health, and their children’s, let them regard what I say, they may safely give two spoonfuls of the syrup at a time; it is as gentle as Venus herself. The leaves of peaches bruised and laid on the belly, kill worms, and so they do also being boiled in ale and drank, and open the belly likewise; and, being dried, is a far safer medicine to discuss humours. The powder of them strewed upon fresh bleeding wounds stays their bleeding, and closes them up. The flowers steeped all night in a little wine standing warm, strained forth in the morning, and drank fasting, doth gently open the belly, and move it downward… [kernel] oil put into clysters, eases the pains of the wind colic: and anointed on the lower part of the belly, doth the like, and dropped into the ears, eases pains in them; the juice of the leaves doth the like. Being also anointed on the forehead and temples, it helps the megrim, and all other pains in the head. If the kernels be bruised and boiled in vinegar, until they become thick, and applied to the head, it marvellously procures the hair to grow again upon bald places, or where it is too thin.” This last point owes its reference to the Doctrine of Signatures. The furry down on a peach resembles fine growing hair.

HISTORY: It has been cultivated from time immemorial in most parts of Asia, probably coming originally from China, and appears to have been introduced into Europe as Malus persica, or Persian apple. The expeditions of Alexander the Great probably brought it to the attention of the Greek philosopher Theophrastus, 392 BCE, who speaks of it as a Persian fruit. By the mid-16th century, John Gerard had several varieties of peach growing in his garden in England.

Peach Stones

Cultivated peaches are divided into clingstones and freestones, depending upon whether the flesh sticks to the stone or not. Either can have white or yellow flesh. The nectarine is a cultivar group of peach with a smooth skin.



Family Rosaceae, Rose


OTHER NAMES: European pear.

DESCRIPTION: Pear trees resemble apple trees but grow more erect and have glossier leaves.

PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper tells us: “The tree belongs to Venus, and so doth the apple-tree. For their physical use they are best discerned by their taste. All the sweet and luscious sorts, whether manured or wild, do help to move the belly downwards, more or less. Those that are hard and sour, do, on the contrary, bind the belly as much, and the leaves do so also. Those that are moist do in some sort cool, but harsh or wild sorts much more, and are very good in repelling medicines; and if the wild sort be boiled with mushrooms, it makes them less dangerous. The said Pears boiled with a little honey, help much the oppressed stomach, as all sorts of them do, some more, some less: but the harsher sorts do more cool and bind, serving well to be bound to green wounds, to cool and stay the blood, and heal up the green wound without farther trouble, or inflammation, as Galen says he hath found by experience. The wild Pears do sooner close up the lips of green wounds than others. Schola Selerni advises to drink much wine after Pears, or else (say they) they are as bad as poison; nay, and they curse the tree for it too; but if a poor man find his stomach oppressed by eating Pears, it is but working hard, and it will do as well as drinking wine.” They can be made into perry, the pear equivalent of cider, and eaten in much the same way as apples, either raw or sliced and used in tarts, baked, stewed or puréed. The trees can produce fruit for up to 100 years.

HISTORY: Archaeological evidence shows that pears were collected from the wild long before their introduction into cultivation. Homer referred to pears as “gifts from the gods” and Theophrastus, Cato the Elder and Pliny the Elder all wrote about their cultivation and grafting. Pears have been cultivated for about 4000 years, and there are now more than 5000 varieties. The leading pear producers, in order, are China, Italy and the United States.

Healthy Skin

Most of the vitamin C is in the skin, so never peel pears before you eat them. As a “health food,” pears contain no cholesterol, sodium or saturated fat. They offer a quick source of energy, due to their high amounts of two monosaccharides: fructose and glucose, plus levulose, the sweetest of natural sugars, found to a greater extent in fresh pears than in any other fruit.



Family Lamiaceae/Labiatae, Mint


OTHER NAMES: Penny royal, upright pennyroyal, royal thyme, pulegium, runby-the-ground, lurk-in-the-ditch, pudding grass, piliolerial.

DESCRIPTION: The smallest mint, it grows to 6 inches (15 cm), and can be invasive like all mints. There are small, fragrant, purple flowers in globular clusters around the stem, and small aromatic rounded leaves.

PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper says of pennyroyal: “This herb is under Venus. Dioscorides says that penny-royal makes tough phlegm thin, warms the coldness of any part that it is applied to, and digests raw and corrupt matter. Being boiled and drunk, it removes the menses, and expels the dead child and afterbirth; being mixed with honey and salt, it voids phlegm from the lungs. Drunk with wine, it is good for venomous bites, and applied to the nostrils with vinegar revives those who faint and swoon. Dried and burnt, it strengthens the gums, helps the gout, if applied of itself to the place until it is red, and applied in a plaster, it takes away spots or marks on the face; applied with salt, it profits those that are splenetic, or liver grown. The decoction does help the itch, if washed therewith; being put into the baths for women to sit in, it helps the swelling and hardness of the womb. The green herb bruised and put into vinegar, cleanses foul ulcers and takes away the marks of bruises and blows about the eyes, and burns in the face, and the leprosy, if drank and applied outwardly. Boiled in wine, with honey and salt, it helps the tooth-ache. Pliny adds, that pennyroyal and mint together help faintings or swoonings, infused in vinegar, and put to the nostrils, or a little thereof put into the mouth. It eases the headache, and the pains of the breast and belly, stays the gnawings of the stomach, and inward pains of the bowels…One spoonful of the juice sweetened with sugar-candy is a cure for hooping-cough.” It was traditionally used for cases of spasms, hysteria, diarrhea, flatulence and sickness, and disorders caused by sudden chill or cold. Pennyroyal water was distilled from the leaves and given as an antidote to spasmodic, nervous and hysterical complaints, and the herb was used against “affections of the joints.” The oil is highly toxic and can cause serious kidney damage. A hot infusion was used for colds as it promotes sweating. Cold pennyroyal tea was used as a gargle or throat wash. Persistent drinking of the tea can lead to organ failure because of the toxicity of its oil element. Pennyroyal is still used in European cuisine, but in Britain is now out of favor, as it is the most aromatic of mints but is too pungent for most tastes. However, it makes a strong mint sauce. It is a sting relief for horseflies, mosquitoes and wasps, and an insect repellent which particularly deters both mosquitoes and ants. Pennyroyal was used for getting rid of fleas, with the crushed leaves being rubbed on dogs and cats. The herb was also burned to dispel fleas, and a strong decoction was used for mopping floors.

Flee, Fleas!

This native of most parts of Europe and parts of Asia is the pulegium of the Romans, named by Pliny for its power of driving away fleas, pulex being the Latin for flea. The name pennyroyal is a corruption of the old herbalists’ name “Pulioll-royall” (Pulegium regium).

HISTORY: Pennyroyal has been used historically since the time of Pliny to stimulate suppressed menstruation, alleviate cramps and tension during a woman’s monthly cycle and facilitate childbirth. Pliny gave a long list of disorders for which pennyroyal was a remedy, recommending it for hanging in bedrooms, and physicians said it was even more conducive to health than roses. Its dried leaves were said to purify water, with Gerard telling us: “If you have Pennyroyale in great quantity dry and cast it into corrupt water, it helpeth it much, neither will it hurt them that drink thereof.” As well as water, it was said to cleanse the blood: “Penny-royale taken with honey cleanseth the lungs and cleareth the breast from all gross and thick humours.” The famous herbalist John Gerard wrote: “A garland of Penny-royale made and worn about the head is of great force against the swimming in the head and the pains and giddiness thereof.” The Royal Society in 1665 published a paper on the use of pennyroyal to kill rattlesnakes. It was also used to stimulate abortions, this use being first noted by the dramatist Aristophanes, and so acquired an unsavory reputation. It was called pudding grass, as it was used in stuffings for hog’s puddings (grass, like wort, is a word which simply meant herb or plant in earlier times).

Eternal Life

Maud Grieve relates to us the secret of eternal life (at least for insects): “The booke of Secretes of Albertus Magnus of the vertues of Herbes, Stones and certaine Beastes states that, by putting drowning flies and bees in warm ashes of Pennyroyal they shall recover their lyfe after a little tyme as by ye space of one houre and be revived.”




Family Piperaceae, Pepper


OTHER NAMES: Black pepper.

DESCRIPTION: An evergreen vine native to Asia with long racemes of flowers which produce the pungent fruit seeds, “peppercorns.”

PROPERTIES AND USES: “All peppers are under the dominion of Mars, and of temperature hot and dry, almost to the fourth degree, but the white is the hottest…It comforts and warms the stomach, consumes crude and moist humours, and stirs up the appetite. It helps to dissolve wind in the stomach or bowels, to provoke urine, to help the cough and other diseases of the breast, and is effective against the bitings of serpents…”—Culpeper. Pepper stimulates the taste buds and helps to promote digestion, because of the compound piperine. Scientific studies indicate that it also boosts the immune system and helps fight cancer.

HISTORY: Pepper, like cinnamon and cloves is one of the oldest known spices and was being used in India over 4000 years ago. Hippocrates prescribed it as a medicine, and pepper was used as a currency during the siege of Rome in 408 ce. It is said that Attila the Hun demanded 3000 pounds (1360 kg) of pepper in ransom for the city. The Venerable Bede, on the point of death in 735, carefully divided his greatest treasure amongst his friends—it was a handful of pepper. Pepper’s ability to spice up the bland European diet made it an item of extreme luxury, worth its weight in gold, because overland traders from India exerted a monopoly on the supply. (Hot capsicum peppers from the New World were then unknown). Columbus and other European explorers set off across the Atlantic to try and find a direct route to India for such spices. The term “peppercorn rent” is derived from the high price of black pepper during the Middle Ages, when it was accepted in lieu of money or as a dowry. Today the term means exactly the opposite of its original use.

Peppercorn Colors

The pea-sized berries of the pepper shrub are bright red when ripe. When the skin and fleshy parts are removed from the fully ripe berry, the remaining hard seed is white, our familiar “white pepper.” Black, white, and green peppercorns all come from the same plant, but they are harvested at different times and handled in different ways. Black peppercorns are the sun-dried red berries, which are picked before they are ripe, then dried. Green peppercorns are the soft under-ripe berry, usually preserved in brine, but also sold dried.



Family Apiaceae/Umbelliferae, Umbellifers


OTHER NAMES: Culpeper calls this plant the Earth Chestnut, “called also Earth-Nuts, Ground-Nuts, Cipper-Nuts, and in Sussex they are called Pig-Nuts.” Kipper nut, hog nut, St. Anthony’s nut.

DESCRIPTION: A perennial herb with umbels of tiny white flowers, up to 18 inches (46 cm) high, whose underground part resembles a chestnut and is sometimes eaten as a wild or cultivated root vegetable. This root has a sweet, aromatic flavor compared to that of the chestnut, hazelnut, sweet potato and Brazil nut. Palatable and nutritious, its eating qualities are widely praised, and it is popular among wild food foragers, but it remains a minor crop, due in part to its low yields and difficulty of harvest. The plant was widespread in meadows, pastures, woods and roadside verges, but now is only common in national parks, untouched woodlands or where organic farming is practiced. Its dainty clusters of flowers appear during June and July and can cause a meadow or woodland to appear white from a distance.

PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper says: “A description of them were needless, for every child knows them. Government and virtues: They are something hot and dry in quality, under the dominion of Venus; they provoke lust exceedingly, and stir up those sports she is mistress of; the seed is excellent good to provoke urine; and so also is the root, but it does not perform it so forcibly as the seed doth. The root being dried and beaten into powder, and the powder being made into an electuary, is a singular remedy for spitting and pissing of blood, as the former chestnut are for coughs.”

HISTORY: Pigs used to be used to unearth them, just as they do when truffle-hunting, but with the loss of grassland these “earth chestnuts” are becoming rare. It is now illegal to dig them up without the landowner’s permission. From its popularity with pigs come the names pignut, hognut, and more indirectly Saint Anthony’s nut, named for Anthony the Great or Anthony of Padua, both patron saints of swineherds.

Among the Bluebells

Pignuts often grow among bluebells, which have poisonous white bulbs. One has to follow the stalk down carefully to the pignut (root), which lies at a 90 degree angle to the stalk, having evolved to break free if pulled up out of the ground. Larger than bluebell bulbs, the pignut’s brown skin is peeled and they can be eaten raw, or cooked.



One of the most fascinating areas that I uncovered while researching this book was the discovery of the different names given to plants in different regions. At least 22 separate varieties of plant are called bachelor’s buttonacross different parts of Britain alone. Elizabeth Mary Wright, in Rustic Speech and Folklore (1913) tells us: “Even a common name like Honeysuckle is not restricted to the fragrant climber Lonicera peryclymenum with which we of the standard speech always associate it. The following plants may all be called Honeysuckle: 1. The purple clover, Trifolium pratense. 2. The white clover, T. repens. 3. The bird’s-foot trefoil, Lotus corniculatus. 4. The dwarf cornel, Cornus suecica. 5. The great bindweed, Convolvulus sepium. 6. The white dead-nettle, Lamium album. 7. The louse wort, Pedicularis sylvalica. 8. The blossoms of the willow.” She also gives some of the names of plants associated with Biblical subjects. Virgin Mary, Virgin Mary’s honeysuckle, Virgin Mary’s milkdrops and Lady’s Milksile are names of the lungwort Pulmonaria officinalis, referring to the legend that during the flight into Egypt some of the Blessed Virgin’s milk fell on its leaves as she nursed the infant Jesus. The same legend is also told to account for similar spots on the leaves of the blessed thistle, Our Lady’s thistle, Carduus marianus. Another legend says that the Virgin Mary, when thirsty, met a cow and after using the broad leaf of the thistle as a drinking-cup for its milk, willed that the plant should ever after be called by her name, and bear the stains of the milk on its leaves. The lungwort is also called Mary’s tears, and the spots which decorate the plant’s leaves are traced to the tears shed by her at the Crucifixion.

Tradition also tells us that once the Virgin Mary plucked up a root of the crab’s claw, Polygonum persicaria, and then threw it away, saying “That’s useless,” hence useless has been its name in Scotland ever since, and the blotches on its leaves are the marks of her fingers. Gethsemane is a folk name for the early purple orchid, Orchis mascula, said to have been growing at the foot of the Cross, and to have received drops of blood on its leaves, the marks of which it has never lost. The same legend is attached also to the Calvary clover, Medicago echinus, the leaves of which are marked with dull red, irregular blotches exactly like real bloodstains. Saint Peter’s herbis the cowslip, the flowerhead suggesting a bunch of keys; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is a name of the garden comfrey, Symphytum officinale, as well as of other plants having flowers of different shades of color on the same stem. The Alleluia plant is the wood sorrel, Oxalis acetosella, so called because it blossoms between Easter and Whitsuntide, when in the Catholic Liturgy psalms ending with “Alleluia” were sung in churches. Wright also relates that the smell of the common buttercup was formerly supposed to induce madness, hence its nickname crazy. In the same way poppies are called headaches, because it is believed that the smell of them will cause a headache. Pick-pocket, the shepherd’s purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris, is so named because it impoverishes the farmer’s land. Children gathered it and repeated: “Pick-pocket, penny nail, Put the rogue in the jail.” The same plant is also called pick your mother’s heart out, or simply mother’s heart. Children played a kind of game with the heart-shaped seedpods. They used to get one another to pick one of these off, and there followed the accusing cry: “You’ve picked your mother’s heart out.” In parts of Yorkshire the derisive cry was “Pick packet to London, You’ll never go to London.” In Dorsetshire “Break your mother’s heart” is the hemlock, Conium maculatum; and “pick your mother’s eyes out” was the field speedwell, Veronica agrestis. In the Lake District certain curative properties were attributed to Solomon’s seal, Polygonatum officinale, so it was called the vagabond’s friend as it was thought to be a remedy for black eyes, bruises, and broken noses.


Courtship and matrimony was the name of the meadowsweet, Filipendula ulmaria, so called from the scent of the flower before and after bruising, which is thought to be typical of the two states in life. Names for the common pansy included: jump up and kiss me; meet her in the entry kiss her in the buttery; kiss me behind the garden gate, kiss me at the garden gate; kiss me John at the garden gate; meet me love behind the garden door; kiss behind the garden gate; and meet me love, names also given to London pride, Saxifraga x urbium. Kiss me quick and go was a name for lad’s love or southernwood, Artemisia abrotanum; lift up your head and I’ll kiss you was the bleeding heart, Dicentra spectabilis; Kitty come down the lane jump up and kiss me was the cuckoo-pint, Arum maculatum. Granny jump out of bed was another name for the monkshood; Welcome home husband tho’ never so drunk was the yellow stonecrop, Sedum acre. The alternative names for plants open up a new world of understanding of the past.




Family Plantaginaceae, Plantain


OTHER NAMES: Psyllium, common plantain, greater plantain, rat tail plantain, broad-leaved plantain, ripple grass, waybread, snakeweed, white man’s foot, Englishman’s foot (it is supposed to appear in every country where the English have settled).

DESCRIPTION: A familiar perennial weed which is found by roadsides and in meadowland. There is a large, radial rosette of leaves and a few long, slender, densely-flowered green spikes around 6 inches (15 cm) long.

PROPERTIES AND USES: “It is true, Misaldus and others, yea, almost all astrology-physicians, hold this to be an herb of Mars, because it cures the diseases of the head and private parts, which are under the houses of Mars, Aries, and Scorpio. The truth is it is under the command of Venus, and cures the head by antipathy to Mars, and the private parts by sympathy to Venus; neither is there hardly a martial disease but it cures.”—Nicholas Culpeper. William Salmon’s Herbal (1710) gives the following uses: “The liquid juice clarified and drunk for several days helps distillation of rheum upon the throat, glands, lungs, etc…An especial remedy against ulceration of the lungs and a vehement cough arising from same. It is said to be good against epilepsy, dropsy, jaundice and opens obstructions of the liver, spleen and reins. It cools inflammations of the eyes and takes away the pin and web (so called) in them. Dropped into the ears, it eases their pains and restores hearing much decayed…Powdered seeds stop vomiting, epilepsy, lethargy, convulsions, dropsy, jaundice, strangury, obstruction of the liver, etc. The liniment made with the juice and oil of Roses eases headache caused by heat, and is good for lunatics.”

Plantain leaves are best used fresh, mashed with the roots to put on bee stings and used for skin irritations, ulcers, burns, and to stop bleeding in minor cuts. When combined with water, the seed husk swells up to 14 times its volume, and research shows that the seed reduces high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, binding with dietary cholesterol to prevent its absorption. Wild plantain leaves, yarrow and watercress can be combined with a dressing for a tasty salad.

HISTORY: The plantain is one of the nine plants invoked in the Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm intended for treatment of poison and infection through the preparation of nine herbs, and was later used to cure the bite of rabid dogs.

Snakebite Remedy

Native North American Indians used the herb as the chief remedy for the bite of the rattlesnake.



Family Polypodiaceae, Polypod Ferns


OTHER NAMES: Common polypody, wall fern, brake root, rock brake (break), rock of polypody, polypody, female fern, sweet fern, wood liquorice, rock cap fern, adder’s fern, rock polypod, fern root.

DESCRIPTION: A delicate perennial fern growing to a height of 12 inches (30 cm).

PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper says it is “good for those troubled with melancholy. It is also good for the hardness of the spleen, and for prickings or stitches in the sides, and also for the colic…is good against the cough, shortness of breath and wheezing…The fresh roots beaten small, or the powder of the dried roots mixed with honey and applied to any of the limbs out of joint, does much help them. Applied to the nose, it cures the disease called polypus, which is a piece of fungous flesh growing therein, which in time stops the passage of breath through that nostril; and it helps those clefts or chops which come between the fingers and toes.” Polypody stimulates bile secretion and is a gentle laxative. Traditionally, polypody has been used as a treatment for hepatitis and jaundice, and as a remedy for indigestion and loss of appetite. The rhizome is also expectorant, having a stimulating effect on the respiratory system. It was taken for the relief of congestion, bronchitis, pleurisy and dry irritable coughs.

HISTORY: The Greeks and Romans prescribed preparations derived from this fern as a mild laxative, purgative, and remedy for coughs and chest complaints. Herbalists also recommended preparations of the dried and powdered rhizome for internal use to expel tapeworms and for external use as a liniment. Because polypody is often found clinging to oak trees, herbalists believed it absorbed its vigor and strength. Fern plants that grew upon the roots of an oak, which this fern frequently does, were deemed to have special medicinal powers, in the same way the mistletoe that grew (rarely) on the oak was thought by the Druids to have special powers. The name polypody comes from a Greek word meaning “many-footed,” and alludes to the appearance of the plant’s branching rhizomes, which some think look like many feet.

Sweeter Than Sugar

The liquorice-flavored rhizome, or underground stem, of polypody has been prized since ancient times, not so much for its sweetness as for its medicinal powers. It was also used in confectioneries such as nougat. In 1971 a saponin was found in the roots, which makes the root 500 times sweeter than sugar by weight.



Family Papaveraceae, Poppy


OTHER NAMES: Garden poppy, black poppy, white poppy, cwsglys (Welsh for sleep herb).

DESCRIPTION: The plant is an erect annual, varying in the color of its flowers from pure white to reddish purple. All parts of the plant, but particularly the walls of the capsules, or seed vessels, contain a system of vessels filled with white, sticky latex.

PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper wrote: “The Garden Poppy Heads with Seeds made into a Syrup, is frequently and to good effect used to procure rest and sleep in the sick and weak, and to stay Catarrhs and Defluxions of hot thin Rheums from the Head into the Stomach, and upon the Lungs, causing a continual Cough, the Fore-runner of a Consumption: It helps also Hoarseness of the Throat, and when one hath lost their voice, which the Oil of the Seed doth likewise. The black Seed boiled in Wine and drunk, is said also to stay the Flux of the Belly and Women’s Courses…” The plant’s opium is the source of morphine, codeine and other opiate-based painkillers. The botanical name somniferum means sleep-bringing, referring to the sedative properties of some of these opiates.

HISTORY: Poppy seeds have been found in Egyptian grain stores dating from 4500 years ago, and the Romans held the plant sacred to the corn goddess Ceres. Hildegarde of Bingen, the German religious visionary and polymath, wrote, “Its seed, when eaten, brings sleep and prevents prurigo. The seeds check hungry lice and nits. They can be eaten after being steeped in water, but are better and more useful eaten raw rather than cooked. The oil which is expressed from them does not nourish or refresh a person, nor does it bring him health or sickness.”

Extracting Opium

Culpeper did not believe that opium was produced from the seedheads of Papaver somniferum, as he writes “…of the juice of it is made opium, only for lucre of money they cheat you, and tell you it is a kind of tear, or some such like thing that drops from Poppies when they weep, and that is somewhere beyond the sea, I know not where, beyond the moon.” Opium is extracted from the poppy heads before they have ripened.When the petals have fallen from the flowers, incisions are made in the wall of the unripe capsules. The exuded juice, partially dried, is collected by scraping and formed into cakes, which are wrapped in poppy leaves and dried in the sun.



Family Papaveraceae, Poppy


OTHER NAMES: Corn poppy, corn rose, field poppy, Flanders poppy, red poppy, red weed, headache.

DESCRIPTION: Found growing in fields and waste places, it has petals of a rich scarlet color when fresh, and is often nearly black in its center.

PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper notes: “The wild poppy, or corn rose, as Mathiolus says, is good to prevent the falling sickness. They syrup made with the flowers is given with good effect to those that have the pleurisy. The dried flowers also, either boiled in water, or made into powder, and drunk, either in the distilled water of them, or in some other drink, has the same effect. The distilled water of the flowers is held to be much good against surfeits, being drunk evening and morning. It is also more cooling than any of the other poppies, and therefore cannot be as effective in hot agues, frenzies and other inflammations.” It has been used in traditional medicine to relieve pain, to treat coughs and insomnia and to aid digestion. The petals have been used to color medicines.

HISTORY: The poppy was the symbol of love in Persia. Because of the blooming of countless red poppies in the disturbed ground of the battlefields of the First World War, the flower has come to symbolize the remembrance of war. Armistice Day is remembered by wearing artificial poppies on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month every year, which is when peace was declared in the First World War in 1918.

In Flanders Fields

Dr. John McCrea was serving in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps when his poem In Flanders Fields was published anonymously in Punch on December 8, 1915.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved, and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.