OTHER NAMES: Adder’s tongue fern, common adder’s tongue, English adder’s tongue, snake’s tongue, viper’s tongue, serpent’s tongue, adder’s-tongue fern, southern adder’s tongue, adder’s spear, Christ’s spear. (This is not the American adder’s-tongue, which is an Erythronium, but O. vulgatum is native across much of the USA).
DESCRIPTION: A genus of about 25–30 species, the perennial adder’s tongues are so named because the spore-bearing stalk resembles a snake’s tongue. It has no resemblance to any other fern, and has much the appearance of a small arum flower. The plant grows from a central, budding, fleshy structure to 3–6 inches (8–15 cm) tall and has a two-part frond, forming a rounded diamond-shaped sheath and a narrow spore-bearing spike which can grow taller than its leaf. Culpeper’s description indicates that his variety was the O. vulgatum which “grows in moist meadows, and such like places.”
PROPERTIES AND USES: The leaves and rhizomes have been used across Europe as a poultice for wounds. The fresh leaves make an effective and comforting poultice for ulcers and tumors. This remedy was sometimes called the “Green Oil of Charity.” The juice of the leaves, drunk alone, or with distilled water of horsetail, used to be popular for internal wounds and bruises, vomiting or bleeding at the mouth or nose. The distilled water was also considered good for sore eyes. Culpeper calls it a “herb under the dominion of the Moon and Cancer…The juice of the leaves drank with the distilled water of horse tail, is a singular remedy for all manner of wounds in the breasts, bowels, or other parts of the body, and is given with good success unto those that are troubled with casting, vomiting, or bleeding at the mouth or nose, or otherwise downwards…For ruptures or burst bellies, take as much of the powder of the dried leaves as will lie on a sixpence, or less, according to the age of the patient, in two ounces of horse-tail or oak-bud water, sweetened with syrup of quinces. Use it every morning for the space of fifteen days. But, before you enter upon the use of this or any other medicine, the gut, if it fall into the scrotum, must be reduced by a surgeon, and a truss must be worn to keep it up, and the patient must avoid all violent motions, and lie as much as may be, in bed or on a couch. Fabricius Hildanus [the “Father of German Surgery” 1560–1634] says that some have been cured of great ruptures by lying in bed, when they could be cured no other way.” A salve was made to massage into the blocked or inflamed udders of cows.
HISTORY: The name Ophioglossum comes from the Greek ophios (serpent), and glossa (tongue). Medieval herbalists called it “a fine cooling herb,” but if anyone picking the hard-to-find herb risked being followed by snakes. In witchcraft, the herb’s use is said to stop slander and gossip. Adder’s-spear ointment was sold by apothecaries from the 18th century. Adder’s tongue was a popular treatment for scrofula, a form of tuberculosis that affects the lymph nodes in the neck, and it is still used by herbalists for skin ailments. The name “Christ’s spear” comes from its appearance, and the fact that Jesus’ side was pierced by a spear. Thus, according to Paracelsus’s 16th-century Doctrine of Signatures the plant was used to cure wounds. In flower language it is a symbol of jealousy.
NOTE: Chromosomes are complex structures containing a single molecule of DNA and many DNA packaging proteins. This packaging of DNA ensures that the whole genome can fit in the nucleus of a cell, and also that the genome can be faithfully divided during cell divisions. Chromosomes are present in all cells which have a complex structure between the membranes (such cells are called eukaryotes). Their number varies enormously and is characteristic for each species. The parasitic worm Ascaris lumbricoides has only four chromosomes whereas some ferns, such as the adder’s tongue fern (Ophioglossum vulgatum), have more than 1000 chromosomes. Ophioglossum vulgatum has the highest chromosome count of any known British plant, and other ophioglossums have even higher chromosome counts. For example Ophioglossum reticulatum has the highest chromosome number of any organism on Earth. This appears to represent an evolutionary dead end through repeated cycles of polyploidy (having extra sets of chromosomes), so it seems highly likely that this ancient group of ferns is on the verge of extinction.
Wounds and Witch’s Brew
This ancient recipe using adder’s tongue is recommended as an ointment for wounds: “Put two pounds of leaves chopped very fine into a half-pint of oil and one and a half pounds of suet melted together. Boil the whole till the herb is crisp, then strain off from the leaves.” A witchcraft alternative for treating wounds and bruising is: “Soak some adder’s tongue in cold water, wrap it in a cloth, and apply it to the wound or bruise it until the herb grows warm. Bury the wet herb in a muddy place. The wound will be cured.”
Family Rosaceae, Rose
OTHER NAMES: Harvest lice, rat’s tail(s), liverwort, sticklewort, stickwort, stickweed, sweethearts, tea plant, liverwort, cockeburr, cockleburr, clot bur, fairy’s wand, lemonwort, church steeples, salt and pepper, Aaron’s rod, beggar’s lice, beggar’s ticks, money-in-both-pockets, philanthropos, garclive (Saxon).
DESCRIPTION: A hardy 24-inch (61-cm) perennial with downy leaves which smell faintly of apricot and small yellow flowers which grow up the erect spike at the end of the stem.
PROPERTIES AND USES: An infusion of the leaves and flowers can be taken as a tonic or diuretic, and used for bathing wounds or skin conditions. It is useful for alleviating the symptoms of coughs, bronchitis and asthma.
HISTORY: Agrimony is best known as a wound herb used on medieval battlefields to staunch bleeding, and Anglo-Saxons taught that it would heal wounds, snake bites, warts, etc. The Ancient Roman author Pliny described it as a “herb of princely authority” and Dioscorides recommended it as a general purgative, stating that it was “a remedy for those that have bad livers,” and also “for such as are bitten with serpents.” Galen recommended it for jaundice and as an astringent of the bowels. In the 13th century, the “Physicians of Myddfai” in Wales used it for mastitis, which they called “Inflammation of the Mammae,” in the following way: “Take agrimony, betony and vervain, and pound well, then mix with strong old ale, strain well, and set some milk on the fire; when this boils add the liquor thereto and make a posset thereof, giving it to the woman to drink warm. Let her do this frequently and she will be cured.” In witchcraft it is still used to help create a deep, undisturbed sleep, by slipping dried leaves inside the sleeper’s pillow. One recipe suggests agrimony in a mixture of pounded frogs and human blood as a remedy for all internal hemorrhages.
Good for Naughty Livers
The herbalist John Gerard wrote: “A decoction of the leaves is good for them that have naughty livers,” hence its name of “liverwort.” The long flower-spikes of agrimony have caused it to be called “church steeples,” and it was also known as “cockeburr,” “sticklewort” or “Stickwort,” because its seed-vessels cling by the hooked ends of their stiff hairs to any person or animal coming into contact with it. Gerard also informs us that it was once called “philanthropos,” on account of its beneficial properties.
Family Betulaceae, Birch
OTHER NAMES: Common alder, black alder, owler, fever bush (n.b. the black alder in America is a different family, Ilex verticillata).
DESCRIPTION: Alder is the most common tree in riparian (streamedge) forests, and Love’s Martyr (1601) tells us: “The alder, alnus, is so called because it is nourished by water; for it grows near water and survives with difficulty away from water. For this reason it is a delicate and soft because it is nourished in a wet environment.” It can reach 75 feet (23 m) in height.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Alder greatly improves soil fertility through its ability to fix nitrogen from the air. A bacterium (Frankia alni) forms nodules on the tree’s roots, absorbing nitrogen from the air and makes it available to the tree. Alder, in turn, provides the bacterium with carbon, which it produces through photosynthesis. Alder bark contains the anti-inflammatory salicin which is metabolized into salicylic acid in the body. It seems that Culpeper recognized this effect. He recommended bathing burns and inflammation with distilled water of the leaves to reduce swelling and for ague: “…the leaves, put under the bare feet galled with travelling, are a great refreshing to them; the said leaves gathered while the morning dew is on them, and brought into a chamber troubled with fleas, will gather them thereinto, which, being suddenly cast out, will rid the chamber of those troublesome bed-fellows.” The wood used to be made into clogs in mill-towns, for cart and spinning wheels, bowls, spoons, wooden heels, herring-barrel staves, etc. The bark was used by dyers, tanners, leather dressers, and for fishermen’s nets.
HISTORY: The Physicians of Myddfai recommended the use of alder twigs for cleaning the teeth. In Celtic mythology, the alder is said to be the tree of Bran the Blessed, god of the Underworld. He was also known as the god of Prophecy, Arts, War and Writing. Possessing the size of a giant, it was impossible for King Bran to fit in a house or in a boat.
Durable Under Water
Under water the alder is very durable, and it was therefore valuable for pumps, troughs, sluices, and particularly for piles. It is the wood used in Venice as piles for the Rialto Bridge and other buildings, and was used widely for similar purposes in Amsterdam and France. Alder is commonly found supporting ancient crannogs, defensive artificial islands on lakes.
Family Rhamnaceae, Buckthorn
OTHER NAMES: Black alder tree, dogwood (both Culpeper), frangula bark, black dogwood, alder dogwood, European black alder, European buckthorn, columnar buckthorn, black alder, Persian berries, stinking Roger, arrow wood.
DESCRIPTION: A small bushy tree with oval glossy leaves, which grows to 20 feet (6 m), with attractive berries which change from red to purple. The tree prefers damp acidic areas, including woodlands, wet heathlands and river banks. This is one of the two main food plants for the caterpillars of the brimstone butterfly, the other being the common buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica.
PROPERTIES AND USES: The berries are toxic and the sap is an irritant. Alder buckthorn can be used as a tonic, is said to be antiparasitic, and is used as a local antiseptic. Fresh bark, powdered and mixed with vinegar, can treat fungal diseases of the skin and acne. An infusion of the bark can treat constipation and hemorrhoids, and as a treatment for chronic constipation is milder than its close relative, the significantly named purging buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica). Its green leaves make tumors less inflamed, and were put inside travelers’ shoes to “ease pain and remove weariness.” Culpeper calls it “a tree of Saturn” and recommends the bark for those with the choler, phlegm and dropsy. Culpeper gives several other uses, including boiling the inner bark in vinegar “to kill lice, to cure the itch, and to take away scabs by drying them up for a short time; it is singularly good to wash the teeth, to take away the pains, to fasten those that are loose, to cleanse them and keep them sound.” One supposes that in the 17th century, anything was preferable to a trip to a tooth-puller.
HISTORY: The name rhamnus is derived from the Greek rhamnos, meaning a branch. In the 13th century it was a herbal laxative (hence purging buckthorn), and its wood was used to make arrows (hence the name arrow wood), shoe lasts, wooden nails, and veneers. The bark and leaves make a yellow dye, which turns black when mixed with iron salts, and unripe berries make a green dye.
NOTE: It is thought that the name “alder” buckthorn comes about because the leaves look similar to that of alder, and the two trees/shrubs often grow in similar places, but they are not related. It has no thorns, so its name of alder buckthorn is doubly misleading. Its light, inflammable charcoal was highly prized for making the best gunpowder in medieval times, and it is known as Pulverholz—powder wood—in Germany.
Family Asteraceae/Compositae, Daisy/Sunflower
OTHER NAMES: Alecost, costmarie, sweet Mary, mintys mair (Mary’s mint), alespice, lady’s balsam, lady’s herb, bitter buttons, goose tongue, allspice (not to be confused with the spice), sweet tongue, tongue plant, balsam herb, mint geranium, mace (not to be confused with nutmeg mace), Bible plant, Bible leaf.
DESCRIPTION: Attractive large-leaved perennial herb, reaching 4 feet (1.2 m) or more in height and producing pretty, yellow, button-like flowers. The leaves have a minty, balsam-like fragrance reminiscent of the taste of spearmint chewing gum.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Costmary was once a popular herb for scenting bath water and rinsing hair. Culpeper noted: “It is under the dominion of Jupiter. It is astringent to the stomach, and strengthens the liver…it is very profitable for pains of the head that are continual…it cleanses that which is foul, and hinders putrefaction and corruption.” Alecost was grown extensively for the treatment of burns and insect stings, when a fresh leaf was rubbed on the bite.
HISTORY: It was taken to the New World by early English colonists who combined it with lavender to scent linens and blankets. It was also used in wardrobes and clothes’ stores to deter clothes moths. The dried leaves of alecost retain their minty-balsam perfume for a long time and make a sweet addition to pot pourris. A small amount of the leaf can be added to soups and salads, or added to melted butter and new potatoes. Alecost is recommended in modern herbals to relieve a stuffed-up nose. Place a handful of the leaves in a bowl of boiling water, cover the head with a towel and inhale for five to ten minutes. In flower language it is the symbol of impatience.
Spicy Herb for Ale
This aromatic herb has two common names, costmary and alecost. “Cost” refers to costus, a spicy Asian plant related to ginger, which has a slightly similar flavor. “Mary” refers to an association with the Virgin Mary, perhaps because it was used in medieval times as an infusion to relieve the pain of childbirth. “Alecost” translates into ale-cost or “spicy herb for ale” as it was once an important flavoring of ales. The large, oblong leaves of costmary make neat, fragrant bookmarks, a use that gives us the old names Bible leaf or Bible plant. The minty odor might help to repel silverfish or insects from the family Bible, and the leaf could be smelt or chewed secretly during long sermons to stay awake.
NEPETA GLECHOMA (syn. GLECHOMA HEDERACEA)
Family Lamiaceae/Labiatae, Mint
OTHER NAMES: Culpeper calls it ground ivy, cat’s-foot, gill-go-by-the-ground, gill-creep-by-ground, tun-hoof and hay-maids. Also known as hedge-maids, hedgehove, hen and chickens, rat’s foot, rabbit’s mouth, ale gill, gill-run, gill-run-over, gill-go-over-the-ground, coin grass, creeping charlie, run-away-robin, field balm, wandering Jew, wild snakeroot (US), run-away-robin (US), hedgehove (Anglo-Saxon) etc.
DESCRIPTION: This creeping and trailing evergreen perennial has rounded leaves and small purplish flowers, sometimes being grown in hanging baskets. It grows 6 inches (15 cm) tall, and leaves form in pairs, looking like a string of coins, so the plant was sometimes called “coin grass.” “Cat’s-foot” relates to its scalloped leaves resembling the size and shape of a kitten’s paw. The leaves release a slightly balsamic aroma when crushed. It can be used as ground cover, but can be a nuisance as a lawn weed.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Ale-hoof is a stimulant and tonic, and was used for chest infections. Ale-hoof was made into “gill tea” prescribed for: jaundice, arthritis, coughs and respiratory ailments, indigestion, fevers, headaches, stomach pains, gout, sciatica, vertigo, weak backs, nervous disorders and depression, hypochondria, normalizing heart beat, stones in the urinary tract, stimulating the circulation, detoxifying the body and strengthening the stomach, spleen, gall, glands, kidneys, liver, and even to prevent premature aging. “Traditionally, leaf tea [was] used for lung ailments, asthma, jaundice, kidney ailments, ‘blood purifier.’ Externally, a folk remedy for cancer, backaches, bruises, piles.” Cooling and stimulating, this remarkable tea was also used as a wash for eye complaints and failing eyesight.
HISTORY: The herb has for recorded history been considered a panacea or “cure-all.” Dioscorides said that its tea was a remedy for sciatica, and Gerard wrote that, boiled in a mutton broth, it was good for weak backs. For eye ailments, Gerard wrote that when mixed with daisies, celandines, rose water and sugar, alehoof removed “any grief whatsoever in the eyes…it is proved to be the best medicine in the world.” Ground ivy was also given to children to clear lingering congestion and to treat conditions such as “glue ear” and sinusitis. Culpeper recommended the tea for tinnitus, poor hearing, stomach aches, indigestion, yellow jaundice, sciatica, mouth ulcers, wounds, itching etc. Decocted in wine, with honey added, he advised its use “to wash the sores and ulcers in the privy parts of man or woman.” The ancient herbalists praised it greatly, saying it would cure insanity and melancholia by opening the stopping of the spleen. It also regulated the heart beat by making the blood more fluid. In the 13th century, the Physicians of Myddfai used it for fevers and snake bites, and the juice for inflamed eyes. In Wales it was used as a hair rinse, and it has been employed to prevent scurvy because of its high vitamin C content. It was a popular spring tonic, being considered beneficial in kidney disorders. The herb found its way to America and became a part of the pharmacopoeia of the settlers. “Ground ivy!” was at one time one of the “cries of London” and recommended for making a tea to purify the blood. Doctors also prescribed the tea to treat painter’s colic, or lead poisoning. An infusion of the leaves was used for sufferers so “painters who make use of it are seldom, if ever, troubled with that affection. The fresh juice snuffed up the nose often cures the most inveterate headache.”
Adding the Bitter to Beer
“Hofe” was Old English for herb. “Ale-hoof” was one of the main plants used by the early Saxons to clarify their beers, the leaves being steeped in the hot liquor, hence the “ale” nomenclature. The plant was used to improve the flavor, clarify and preserve the brew, until it was superseded by hops in medieval times. It was the main bitter before the use of hops in beer, a process known as “tunning.” A tun was also the large cask in which ale was brewed, thus “Tun-hoof.” In Tudor times we read that ale-hoof “is good to tun up with new drink, for it will clarify it in a night that it will be the fitter to be drank the next morning; or if any drink be thick with removing or any other accident, it will do the like in a few hours.” The plant also acquired the name of “gill” from the French “guiller”—to ferment beer. The stronger ale of yesteryear was often served in gill measures of ¼ pint (142 ml), but in some areas a gill was ½ pint (284 ml) of ale. As a gill also meant a girl, ale-hoof also came to be called “hedgemaids” and various combinations featuring the word gill. “Alehoof Grut” is a traditional ale presently brewed in Pennsylvania. In the Middle Ages, brewing was mainly carried out by women known as brewsters or ale-wives, who made beer from whatever grain was available, whether barley, oats, rye or wheat, and “gruit,” a mixture of herbs such as ale-hoof, bog myrtle, rosemary, yarrow or ivy, or even fine, selected tree bark.
Family Apiaceae/Umbelliferae, Carrot/Parsley
OTHER NAMES: Alexander, Alexander’s herb, alisander, horse-parsley, wild parsley and black potherb are all in Culpeper. Black lovage, black pot-herb, hell root, alick, megweed, Roman celery, Macedonian parsley, Alexandrian parsley.
DESCRIPTION: A pungent biennial, with yellow-green flowers and black fruits, similar to celery in appearance and taste, and up to 5 feet (1.5 m) in height. Alexanders grows in greatest profusion on sea cliffs and within a few miles of the sea. When found inland it is often near old monastery garden sites.
PROPERTIES AND USES: One of Europe’s forgotten vegetables, it was grown as a salad and pot herb before being replaced in many dishes by celery. One can steam the stems, shoots and buds, ideally just before the flowers have opened, for an absolutely distinctive vegetable, a little like celery, parsley or chervil to use in fish dishes and soups. For some reason it has, over the last ten years, exploded in its range of sites, becoming invasive in many places.
HISTORY: Known to Theophrastus and Pliny the Elder, its roots are diuretics, its leaves make a healing juice for cuts and its crushed seeds were a popular condiment. Pliny recommended chewing “Alexander’s herb” with aniseed and a little honey in the morning to sweeten the breath. Alexanders was introduced into Britain by the Romans (hence the name “Roman celery”) but fell out of fashion with the introduction of new varieties of celery in the 19th century. John Evelyn, in his 1699 Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets [Salads] describes Alexanders as a “moderately hot, and of a cleansing faculty,” comparing it favorably to parsley. “Ellicksander Pottage” was described by Robert May in The Accomplish’t Cook (1660): “Chop ellicksanders and oatmeal together, being picked and washed, then set on a pipkin with fair water, and when it boils, put in your herbs, oatmeal, and salt, and boil it on a soft fire, and make it not too thick, being almost boil’d put in some butter.” According to Culpeper it was a herb of Jupiter, and he recommended the aforementioned Alexander pottage. Alexanders was carried on ships as a remedy against scurvy.
Culpeper noted “It warms a cold Stomach, and opens stoppages of the Liver and Spleen, it is good to move Women’s Courses to expel the After-birth, to break Wind, to provoke Urine, and help the Strangury[painful urination caused by bladder diseases or kidney-stones] …it is also effectual against the biting of Serpents.”
Family Boraginaceae, Borage
OTHER NAMES: Bugloss, true bugloss, common bugloss, common alkanet, summer forget-me-not, ox tongue, langue de boeuf.
DESCRIPTION: Bugloss is a showy plant covered with prickly hairs. It grows to about 1–4 feet (30 cm–1.2 m), and has dainty purplish-blue flowers in late summer which attract bees.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper called this a Venus herb and “one of her darlings.”…“It helps old ulcers, hot inflammations, burnings by common fire, and St. Anthony’s Fire [erysipelas], by antipathy to Mars; for these uses, your best way is to make it into an ointment; also, if you make a vinegar of it, as you make vinegar of roses, it helps the morphew [blisters caused by scurvy] and leprosy; if you apply the herb to the privities, it draws forth the dead child. It helps the yellow jaundice, spleen, and gravel in the kidneys…It stays the flux of the belly, kills worms, helps the fits of the mother. Its decoction made in wine, and drank, strengthens the back, and eases the pains thereof: It helps bruises and falls, and is as gallant a remedy to drive out the small pox and measles as any is; an ointment made of it, is excellent for green wounds, pricks or thrusts.” Extracted into vinegar, it was even used against leprosy. The dry leaves emit a rich musky fragrance, rather like wild strawberry leaves drying. Leaves and young shoots can be cooked like spinach.
HISTORY: An effective wound ointment was made by pounding alkanet roots with olive oil and earthworms. Egyptians created a face paint using the red dye obtained from alkanet roots. The name alkanet comes from Arabic, al khenna (henna), from the red color of the roots. The bark of the roots provides a weak brownish-red or lilac dye, which is not as strong as the dye of its cousin, Alkanna tinctoria, dyer’s bugloss. It was grown in medieval gardens, but is considered a weed if found in cereal fields. The name bugloss, which is of Greek origin, signifies an ox’s tongue, and was applied to the plant because of the roughness and shape of the leaves.
Deadly to Snakes
The flowers appear in curling spikes that resemble scorpions, so in Culpeper we read: “Dioscorides says it helps such as are bitten by a venomous beast, whether it be taken inwardly, or applied to the wound; nay, he says further, if any one that hath newly eaten it, do but spit into the mouth of a serpent, the serpent instantly dies.”
OPOPANAX CHIRONIUM, FERULA OPOPANAX
Family Umbelliferae/Apiaceae, Carrot/Parsley
OTHER NAMES: Culpeper calls this “Alheal, Hercules’ Alheal, and Hercules’ Woundwort…Some call it panay, and others opapanawort.” Rough parsnip.
DESCRIPTION: This has a thick, yellow, fleshy, perennial root and grows to 9 feet (2.75 m) high. Its flowers are small, yellow, and form large flat umbels at the termination of the branches. The plant grows wild in the south of France, Italy and Greece. When the base of the stem or root is cut, a yellowish juice exudes. When dried in the sun, this constitutes the gum-resin opopanax. Its odor is strong, peculiar and unpleasant, and its taste bitter and acrid.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper tells us: “It is under the dominion of Mars, hot, biting, and choleric, and remedies evils…It kills worms; helps the gout, cramp, and seizures; provokes urine, and helps all joint aches; helps all cold griefs of the head, vertigo, fits and lethargy; obstructions of the liver and spleen, stone in the kidneys and bladder. It provokes menses, and expels the dead birth; it is excellent good for the grief of the sinews, itch, sores and toothache; also the biting of mad dogs and venomous beasts; and purges choler very gently.” In later times it was used in plasters, and internally for bronchitis with abundant expectoration, asthma, hysteria, amenorrhoea, etc.
HISTORY: Culpeper believed that “Hercules learned of the virtues of the herb from Chiron [the centaur who was master of the healing arts], when he learned physic of him…,” hence “Hercules’ Alheal.” It was one of the gum-resins thought to be applicable to almost all ills, hence the name opopanax, meaning “all-healing juice.”
A Difficult Herb to Identify
This has been the most difficult of Culpeper’s herbs to identify. The height of up to about ten feet, with leaves like those of an ash tree and its presence in British gardens at Culpeper’s time, indicate to some researchers that the plant in question is Valerian officinalis, but Culpeper describes valerian elsewhere in his Herbal. Some writers identify Prunella vulgaris as the plant in question, and others have made various Stachys varieties identical with Culpeper’s Alheal. The picture is even further confused because Opopanax chironium/herculeum /herculaneum is a name also given to sweet myrrh (Commiphora erythraea) as well as to Acacia farnesiana. Linnaeus mentions the plant as Pastinaca opopanax. The French, according to Mrs. C.F. Level (Herbal Delights, 1937) call it opapanax or panais sauvage (wild parsnip), whence we have Culpeper’s “panay.”
PIMENTA DIOICA or OFFICINALIS
Family Myrtaceae, Myrtle
OTHER NAMES: Allspice tree, bayberry, Carolina allspice, clove pepper, Indian wood tree, Jamaican pepper, myrtle pepper, pimento, pineapple shrub, strawberry shrub, toute épice (French), whole spice, newspice.
DESCRIPTION: A tropical evergreen with an aromatic bark, leaves and berries, it has bunches of greenish white flowers with a far-reaching scent. The berries are picked when mature, then dried (usually in the sun), and ground to create the familiar spice.
PROPERTIES AND USES: The allspice which we buy is not a mixture of different spices, but the produce of this tree. Its hard pinkish wood was once employed for the manufacture of walking sticks and umbrella handles. The oil is used by the toiletry and perfumery industries. It provides a commercial source of eugenol and vanillin, and is valuable in the food industry, particularly in sausages, sauces, fish preserves, ketchups, pickles, ice cream and baked food. Medicinally, the powdered fruit has been used to treat flatulence, diarrhea and rheumatism, and allspice has been used as a poultice to relieve the pain of arthritis. In Jamaican “jerk spice” the seasoning relies principally upon allspice and the very hot Scotch Bonnet chili peppers, along with cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, scallions, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper.
HISTORY: Aztecs used to flavor chocolate with allspice seeds. It was first imported into Britain in the early 17th century, and was described as “allspice” in 1621 because its flavor resembled a combination of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Around 65 to 90 percent of the oil extracted from the seeds of Jamaican trees is eugenol, the same oil found in the above three spices. This oil gives the distinctive flavoring to Chartreuse, Benedictine and other liqueurs which were made in European monasteries. During the American War of Independence, allspice was used as a substitute for previously imported spices that were no longer available, as it is one of the few spices that are native to the western hemisphere.
Confused With Pepper
When dry, the fruits are brown and resemble large peppercorns, so allspice is often confused with black pepper (Piper nigrum) and cubeb (Piper cubeba). However, when fully dried the two-celled allspice is dark reddish-brown, while one-celled black pepper is black and one-celled cubeb is gray. The fruit’s similarity in appearance to peppercorns (for which the Spanish is pimienta i.e. pepper nigrum), led to its Latin name pimenta.
Family Rosaceae, Rose
OTHER NAMES: Culpeper describes the sweet almond and the bitter almond, calling the latter amigdalum. Common almond, Greek nuts, jordan (a corruption of the French jardin, or garden) almond, sweet almond, tonsil plum.
DESCRIPTION: The almond is a small deciduous tree, with pale pink flowers succeeded by pale green oval fruits. Each fruit contain one edible seed, the almond “nut.” However, the edible part of the almond is not a true nut, but the seed of a “drupe” (a botanical name for a type of fruit). As Culpeper noted, there are two forms of the plant, one (often with white flowers) producing sweet almonds, and the other (often with pink flowers) producing bitter almonds.
PROPERTIES AND USES: It was considered a soothing and calming herb, used to treat constipation and to help in cases of gallstones and kidney stones. The nuts can be eaten raw or roasted, and marzipan is made from ground almond paste. Almond milk and almond butter help people with allergies, and almond oil is used to remedy dry skin conditions and as a soothing carrier oil. Culeper wrote: “sweet almonds nourish the body, and increase the seed [male fertility]; they strengthen the breath, cleanse the kidneys and open the passages of urine…Bitter almonds also open obstructions of the liver and spleen, expel wind, cleanse the lungs from phlegm, and provoke urine and the menses; the oil of them kills worms, and helps pains of the womb…the oil of both cleans the skin.” Magnesium-rich almonds help reduce symptoms of IBS through activating the muscle contractions required for correct digestive functions, and studies suggest they may reduce the risk of colon cancer. In witchcraft, to always have money, place seven almonds in your pocket each Thursday, and eat one at noon on each day of the week. For those readers who may win the lottery when taking this advice, please remember this author.
HISTORY: Domesticated almonds appeared first in the Near East, and were present in the Cretan palace of Knossos and in Tutankhamen’s tomb (c. 1325 BCE). The name almond refers to the early blossom, as it comes from the Greek amygdale, meaning “to hasten or awake early.” This early spring flowering led to almond being an emblem of hope.
The pollination of California’s almonds is the largest annually managed pollination event in the world, with nearly a million hives (nearly half of all beehives in the USA) being transported in February to almond groves across the state.
THE APOTHECARIES’ GARDEN
SWAN WALK, LONDON SW34HS
Chelsea Physic Garden was founded in 1673 as the Apothecaries’ Garden to train apprentices to identify plants. Its situation near the River Thames created a warmer microclimate allowing the survival of many non-native plants, for example the largest outdoor fruiting olive tree in Britain. Many plants from milder climates could thus survive harsh British winters, especially during the “Mini Ice Age” of the 17th century when the river froze so severely that fairs were held on its frozen surface.
The apothecaries instituted an international botanic garden seed exchange system, which still continues today. For instance in 1683, four cedar of Lebanon seedlings came from the professor of botany at Leiden University. Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753) purchased the Manor of Chelsea and he leased the 4 acres (1.6 ha) of garden to the Society of Apothecaries. He charged a peppercorn rent of £5 a year in perpetuity, on the condition that “it be forever kept up and maintained as a Physic Garden.” Sloane had studied at the Physic Garden while a young man, and was sympathetic to the financial problems of the garden’s upkeep. Dr. Sloane, whose collections of antiquities formed the nucleus of the British Museum, was president both of the Royal Society and of the Royal Society of Physicians. Environments for supporting different types of plants were built, including the pond rock garden that was constructed from a variety of rock types, namely stones from the Tower of London, Icelandic lava (brought to the garden by Sir Joseph Banks in 1772), fused bricks and flint. This has been listed Grade II* and is the oldest rock garden in England on view to the public. It was completed on August 16, 1773. By this time the Physic Garden had achieved fame across the world.
The layout of narrow rectilinear beds in the garden is the original pattern, allowing one to get close to each plant. There are systematic order beds which demonstrate the botanical relationship of plants which are labeled with their name, origin and uses. As well as the above-mentioned olive there are a number of important trees, including an ancient yew. At the end of the 19th century the trustees of the City Parochial Foundation agreed to take over the running of the garden from the Society of Apothecaries. The Chelsea Physic Garden has developed a major role in public education focusing on the renewed interest in natural medicine. The Garden of World Medicine is Britain’s first garden of ethnobotany (study of the botany of different ethnic groups and indigenous peoples) and is laid out together with a new Pharmaceutical Garden.
ALOE VERA, ALOE BARBADENSIS
Family Asphodelaceae (formerly Liliaceae), Lily
OTHER NAMES: Aloes, medicine plant, medicine aloe, true aloe, burn plant, cape aloes, socotrine, house leek; sea houseleek, sea-ay-green (Culpeper).
DESCRIPTION: A rosette of fleshy evergreen leaves which needs warm temperatures to grow up to 2 feet (60 cm) high; when mature has yellow or orange bell-shaped flowers.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Aloes have been used in Europe for centuries, for the glutinous sap or gel present in the leaves, which has immediate healing properties for cuts, eczema and burns. Broken leaves can be rubbed on the affected parts. It is used in suntan lotions and skin lotions, and can be added to shampoo for an itching or dry scalp. The juice is even used to treat radiation burns. Culpeper advised its use for purging, calling it a martial plant, hot, dry and bitter, and “the basis for almost all pills.” Amongst many other uses, he advised that aloe “boiled with wine and honey, heals rifts and outgoings of the fundament [anus], and stops the flux of the haemorrhoids.” Research shows that drinking high potency aloe vera juice helps with inflammatory bowel conditions such as IBS, colitis and diverticulitis. It is one of the only known natural vegetarian sources of vitamin B12, and it contains many minerals vital to the growth process and healthy function of all the body’s systems. Studies indicate that it is a general tonic for the immune system, and research is ongoing to use it to fight HIV, and to treat diabetes and certain types of cancer. This author remembers having bitter aloes “painted” on his fingernails as a child to stop biting them.
HISTORY: When a pharaoh died in Ancient Egypt, the funeral ceremony was by invitation only and each attendee had to bring aloes. A mixture of the powdered leaves of aloe and myrrh was used for embalming and also placed with the burial clothes. The Mesopotamians used aloe vera to keep the evil spirits from their residences. It was grown and used by King Solomon (reigned 971–931 BCE). Arabian records suggest that by the sixth century BCE aloe was being used as a laxative as well as for embalming. This is said to be referred to by John in the New Testament, when he describes how Nicodemus brings a pound of aloes to the garden tomb after Jesus’ crucifixion. The Greeks believed aloe symbolized beauty, patience, fortune and good health. Hippocrates (c.460–370 BCE) declared that it was good for hair growth, healing of tumors, relief of dysentery and stomach aches. Cleopatra’s beauty was attributed to the natural goodness of aloes, and she was supposed to have bathed in its juice before her first meeting with Mark Antony. By the time of the Greek physician Dioscorides, aloe was being recommended for many other medicinal purposes, including the treatment of digestive disorders, eye inflammation, kidney ailments and oral and skin diseases. Dioscorides wrote of it in his De Materia Medica in 41–68 CEdescribing how the Roman armies used it for boils, healing the foreskin, soothing dry itchy skin, ulcerated genitals, tonsils, gum and throat irritations, hemorrhoids, bruising, and to stop bleeding wounds. He also concurred with Hippocrates that the fresh pulp of aloe stopped the falling of hair.
Pliny the Elder said aloe cured leprosy sores and it reduced perspiration. Galen (c. 130–201 CE) used aloes as a healing agent, drawing on the knowledge he had gained from being a doctor to gladiators. During the Crusades, the Knights Templar made a drink of palm wine, aloe pulp and hemp, which was named “the Elixir of Jerusalem.” They believed that it added years to their life. Hindus thought that aloe vera grew in the Garden of Eden and named it the “silent healer,” and Russians called aloe “the Elixir of Longevity.” It would appear that the patriarch of Jerusalem recommended the plant for its medicinal qualities to Alfred the Great (849–99). In the tenth century CE, Moslem travelers noted that Socotra (islands lying to the east of the Horn of Africa) still seemed to be the only known source, and in the later centuries the British secured the monopoly from the sultan of Socotra.
Healing Alexander the Great’s Wound
It is known as Socotrine as it originated in the Yemeni island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean. It is said that in 330 BCE, Alexander the Great had been wounded by an enemy arrow during the siege of Gaza. The wound became badly infected during his triumphal progress across Egypt and Libya. While at the oasis of Amon he was proclaimed son of Zeus. Here, a priest sent by Alexander’s tutor Aristotle treated the injury with aloe vera which healed the wound. It is said that Aristotle convinced Alexander to conquer the island of Socotra in order to ensure the supply of aloes that grew there. Alexander then had his war wagons converted so that masses of fresh aloe could be loaded onto them and taken into battle to heal his wounded soldiers. Countries around the Mediterranean believed Socotra to be the only source of this precious drug at that time.
Family Amaranthaceae, Amaranth
OTHER NAMES: Culpeper calls this flower-gentle, flower-velure, floramor and velvet-flower. Also known as flower of immortality, red cockscomb, quilete, foxtail amaranth, pendant amaranth, love-lies-bleeding, lady bleeding. There is some confusion, as the variety referred to in Culpeper may be Amaranthus hypochondriacus, prince’s feather. The white amaranth mentioned by Culpeper is probably Amaranthus albus, white pigweed.
DESCRIPTION: A half-hardy annual originally from India, it can grow over 3 feet (90 cm) tall in full sun, and has remarkable tassels of red or purple inflorescences.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Because of its blood-red flowers, ancient medical practitioners used the herb to staunch bleeding, believing the Doctrine of Signatures whereby the color or shape of a plant indicated its medical use. Even now, preparations are made with “lady bleeding” to slow excessive bleeding during menstruation cycles. Culpeper calls it a herb of Mars and Venus, and applauds it for stopping the flow of blood in men or women. He also mentions an amaranthus with white flowers, “which stops discharges in women, and gonorrhoea in men, and is a most singular remedy for the venereal disease.” Recent research has shown that amaranth is an astringent, and it has been used over the centuries to heal diarrhea and mouth ulcers.
HISTORY: The name Amaranthus stems from the Greek for “unwithering,” typifying immortality, as blooms of amaranth maintain their shape as well as their color even after they are dried. In Greece, the amaranth was sacred to Artemis, and was supposed to have special healing properties, so it became a symbol of immortality used to decorate images of the gods and tombs. The amaranth was outlawed by Spanish colonial authorities in Mexico because it was used by Aztecs in their rituals, again as a symbol of immortality.
Dried amaranth flowers have been used to call forth the dead, and are also carried to mend a broken heart. Other “magical” uses include the cure of wearing a crown of amaranth flowers to speed healing. To make sure that you are never struck by a bullet, pull up a whole amaranth plant, preferably on a Friday at the full moon. Leave an offering to the plant and then fold it, including the roots, in a piece of white cloth. Wear this against your chest to be “bullet-proof.”
Family Ranunculaceae, Buttercup or Crowfoot
OTHER NAMES: Culpeper calls it the wind-flower on Pliny’s advice, “because they say that the flowers never open but when the wind blows.” Thimbleweed, smell smock, smell fox (because of the musky smell of the leaves), American wood anemone, blodyn y gwynt (windflower, in Welsh), Bow bells, bread and cheese and cider, Candlemas caps, chimney smocks, crowfoot, drops of snow, Easter flower, evening twilight, fairies’ windflower, flower of death, granny’s nightcap, granny-thread-the-needle, jack o’ lantern, lady’s milk-cans, lady’s nightcap, lady’s petticoat, lady’s purse, lady’s shimmy, milkmaids, moggie nightgown, Moll o’ the woods, moonflower, Nancy, nemony, nightcaps, old woman’s nest, shame-faced maiden, shoes and slippers, silver bells, snake flower, snakes and adders, snake’s eyes, soldiers, soldier’s buttons, Star-of-Bethlehem, white soldiers, wild jessamine, wind plant, wood crowfoot.
DESCRIPTION: The foliage forms long spreading clumps in woodland, where drifts of the exquisite white flowers often carpet large areas in spring. The fragile white or pinkish flower is almost 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter, with six or seven petal-like segments. Nemorosa is derived from the Latin meaning “covered with trees.”
PROPERTIES AND USES: The wood anemone is poisonous and can cause severe skin and gastrointestinal irritation. However, various parts of this herb used to be recommended for a variety of complaints such as headaches, gout and rheumatism. Culpeper calls it under the dominion of Mars, and recommends it to “provoke menses mightily” as well as for lethargy, headaches, leprosy, ulcers and eye inflammations.
HISTORY: For the Ancient Egyptians the wood anemone was an emblem of sickness, and it is still called the “flower of death” by the Chinese. Greek legend says that Anemos, the wind, sent his namesakes, the anemones, in the earliest spring days as the heralds of his coming. The Romans viewed the first wood anemones they picked from the wild as charms against fever. In the first century CEDioscorides recommended the plant to be used in external treatments for eye inflammation and ulcers.
Confirmation of Spring
“If primroses are the harbingers of spring, then wood anemones are its confirmation. The sight of shady banks and glades lit by their white stars on a sunny spring day leaves you in no doubt that spring is truly here…” (Carol Klein, the Daily Telegraph March 16, 2002).
Family Apiaceae/Umbelliferae, Carrot/Parsley
OTHER NAMES: Angelic plant, angelic herb, archangel, Holy Ghost, the root of the Holy Ghost (Renaissance), garden angelica, herb of angels, angel’s food, archangel, Aunt Jericho, Holy Ghost plant, holy plant, llys yr angel peraroglaidd (perfumed flower of the angel, Welsh), St. Michael’s flower.
DESCRIPTION: An aromatic large-leaved plant with large umbels of small yellow-green flowers, which can grow 3–8 feet (90 cm–2.4 m) tall. Angelica is unique amongst the Umbelliferae for its pervading aromatic odor, with a hint of aniseed. It is a biennial that will return year after year if you cut all but one flower. It can cause dermatitis and photosensitivity, and gloves should be used to handle the plant, particularly in quantity. For heaven’s sake do not confuse it with hemlock, which has white flowers. The leaves of hemlock smell foul when it is crushed.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Its long, thick and fleshy roots are the part used in herbal medicine. Use the stems for flavoring stewed fruit. Hollow stems can be candied. The stem was a remedy for indigestion, for which at that time only ginger was believed to be a better cure. Medicinally all the parts act as a digestive tonic and a circulatory stimulant, and is said to be “a warming plant,” suitable for people who feel the cold in winter. The fruit, leaf and root of angelica stimulate digestion, help dispel flatulence, circulate the blood and calm nerves. Culpeper states “It is an herb of the Sun in Leo; let it be gathered when he is there, the Moon applying to his good aspect; let it be gathered either in his hour, or in the hour of Jupiter; let Sol be angular. In all epidemical diseases caused by Saturn, this is as good a preservative as grows; it resists poison by defending and comforting the heart, blood and spirits; it does the like against plague and all epidemical diseases…” He recommends it for curing virtually everything under the sun, including poisoning, pestilent airs, pestilence, ague, stomach ache, passing water, women in labor, expelling wind, eye problems, the biting of mad beasts, snake bites, ulcers, deafness, sores and rabies. And in flower language is said to be a symbol of ecstasy, inspiration and magic. The smell of garden angelica root is inviting for both fish and deer, so it was used as bait. It is said to create distaste for alcohol. However, angelica is one of the flavorings used in vermouth, gin, Dubonnet, Benedictine and Chartreuse.
Angelica and Longevity
Lapps used the leaves to wrap and preserve fish transported on long journeys, and also believed that garden angelica could prolong life, so in Lapland it was smoked in the same manner as tobacco. Annibal Camoux was a former French soldier from Marseilles who was noted for his amazing longevity. A soldier in the service of the king of France, according to his biography Camoux reached 100 without losing his strength, which he attributed to his daily practice of chewing angelica root. He claimed to have gained his knowledge of herbs from the naturalist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort in 1681. Louis XV granted him a pension, and several artists painted his portrait. Camoux died in 1759 in Marseilles, at the claimed age of 121. Research in 1957, however, discovered that he was born in Nice in 1669, meaning that he was only 90 when he died.
From Love’s Martyr, 1601
There is Angelica or Dwarf Gentian, Whose root being dried in the hot shining Sun, From death it doth preserve the poisoned man, Whose extreme torment makes his life half gone, That from death’s mixed potion could not shun: No Pestilence nor no infectious air, Shall do him hurt, or cause him to despair.
HISTORY: In legend, a monk was visited in a dream by the Archangel Raphael, who revealed the plant to be a cure for one of the many plagues that beset Europe in the Middle Ages. St. Gabriel is also associated with the same legend. Thereafter the plant was called angelica and the belief grew that if chewed it could give protection against disease, as well as against evil and witchcraft. During the time of the Great Plague in London in 1665 angelica was chewed to protect against infection. Another source of its name of St. Michael’s flower is that angelica is said to flower on May 8, when the Feast of the Apparition of St. Michael was celebrated. This was believed by many to explain its protective qualities against evil and why it used also to be called Root of the Holy Ghost. Its virtues are praised by old writers, and the folklore of all North European countries demonstrate the ancient traditions of a belief in its use as a protection against contagion, for purifying the blood, and for curing every conceivable malady.
Family Apiaceae/Umbelliferae, Carrot/Parsley
OTHER NAMES: Aniseed, anis, anneys, sweet fennel, sweet cumin, anise plant, common anise, green anise, Roman fennel, sweet Alice, sweet cumin. It is a spice, rather than a herb, and only its seeds are mentioned by Culpeper, in conjunction with a “polypody of the oak” remedy.
DESCRIPTION: A feathery plant that grows about 2 feet (60 cm) high, with flat, white flower heads, small, aromatic brown seeds, and a distinctive liquorice taste.
PROPERTIES AND USES: The leaves of anise are a garnish for flavoring salads. The seeds are used as flavoring for various condiments, especially curry powders. Banckes’s Herbal of 1525 suggests it to treat flatulence, induce sweating, and as diuretic and/or laxative, but tells us “the seed must be parched or roasted in all manner” to work better as a medicine. In William Turner’s New Herball of 1551 it is said: “Anise makes the breath sweeter and assuages pain.” In India the end of a meal is often signaled when a dish of seeds is served as a digestive aid. William Langham, in the Garden of Health (1683), writes: “For the dropsy, fill an old cock with Polypody and Aniseeds and seethe him well, and drink the broth.” In Roman times, they were baked into a cake that was served at the end of the wedding feast, and the seeds became a herb of protection said to avert all evil. Inside a pillow anise is said to ward off nightmares. Many alcoholic drinks and cordials are flavored with anise, particularly pastis, Pernod, Ricard, ouzo, raki and arrak. The seeds may be used to lay drag hunt trails and also by anti-blood sport movements to put hounds off the scent.
HISTORY: It is one of the oldest known spice plants used both for culinary and medicinal purposes by the Egyptians and it is mentioned by Dioscorides and Pliny. In the ninth century, Charlemagne (747–814 CE) commanded that it be grown upon the imperial farms. Edward IV of England in around 1480 had sachets of anise and orris root to perfume his linen. In England anise was in use from the 14th century, and was being cultivated in English gardens from the middle of the 16th century.
Aniseed was probably one of the 36 ingredients used by King Mithridates of Pontus (c. 132–63 BCE) in a poison antidote (Antidotum Mithradaticum) which he took daily to acquire an overall immunity. It should be remembered that he gained his position of power by poisoning all rivals to the throne.
Family Rosaceae, Rose
OTHER NAMES: Fruit of the gods, fruit of the underworld, silver branch, silver bough, tree of love.
DESCRIPTION: Malus domestica has almost 8000 known cultivars (cultivated variants), and is too well-known to describe in detail here.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper writes: “They are very proper for hot and bilious stomachs, but not to the cold, moist, and flatulent. The more ripe ones eaten raw, move the belly a little; and unripe ones have the contrary effect. A poultice of roasted sweet apples, with powder of frankincense, removes pains of the side: and a poultice of the same apples boiled in plantain water to a pulp, then mixed with milk, and applied, take away fresh marks of gunpowder out of the skin…Roasted apples are good for the asthmatic; either raw, roasted or boiled, are good for the consumptive, in inflammations of the breasts or lungs…” Apples are said to clean the liver, cure constipation, and tone the gums. A half and half mixture of apple cider vinegar and water make a rinse to restore hair, scalp and skin
HISTORY: To the druids the apple was sacred tree, a symbol of immortality. A branch of the apple which bore buds, flowers and fully ripened fruit (sometimes known as the silver bough) was a magical charm which enabled its possessor to enter into the the underworld of the gods. The tree originated in Kazakhstan, and the first analysis of the apple genome indicates that it underwent rapid genetic change around 60 million years ago, in the same period as dinosaurs vanished. This scientific research seems to resolve the mystery of why the apple is so different from its close botanical relatives, the strawberry and raspberry.
An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
The proverb is first recorded from Pembrokeshire, Wales in the 19th century. According to the European Journal of Cancer Protection eating apples regularly may reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer. It seems to be the result of the high content of flavonoids, antioxidants found in the skin of apples, so the recommendation is to wash, but not to peel, them.
Family Lamiaceae/Labiataea, Mint
Culpeper describes all three types of archangel
OTHER NAMES: Deadnettle, white deadnettle, white nettle, white archangel, stingless nettle, nettle flowers, blind nettle, bee nettle (bees are attracted to the flowers which contain nectar or pollen), Adam-and-Eve-in-the-bower, dog nettle, dumb nettle, honey-bee, snake’s flower, suckbottle, sucky Sue.
DESCRIPTION: It is an herbaceous perennial plant growing to 3 feet (90 cm), with green, four-angled stems. Like many other members of the Lamiaceae, the leaves appear similar to those of the unrelated stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) but do not sting, thus the common name “deadnettle.” The flowers are white, with a lobed bottom lip and hooded top lip. They evolved like this to attract pollinating bees which use the lower lip as a landing pad while they take the nectar from the bottom of the flower tube. At the same time the bee brushes against the stamens that dangle from the hood, collecting pollen to transfer to the next flower.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Gerard described archangel thus: “The flowers are baked with sugar as Roses are, which is called Sugar roset: as also the distilled water of them to make the heart merry, to make a good colour in the face, and to make the vital spirits more fresh and lively.” Children used to make whistles from the stems, and the young leaves are edible and can be used in salads or cooked as a vegetable. The plant is also used in herbal medicine, for example as a dermatological remedy. Rich in tannin, the flowering plant has provided an astringent, anti-inflammatory dressing for cuts, wounds, and burns. When brewed as a tea, archangel has been used to halt internal bleeding. Archangel also is reported to cure diarrhea.
HISTORY: Archangel formerly enjoyed prestige in England as a reputed cure for scrofula (a type of tuberculosis of the lymph nodes), the so-called king’s evil, which was believed to respond to a monarch’s touch. Archangel leaves mixed with grease were mentioned by the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (23–79 CE) as a remedy for the disease. Pliny also contended that the plant’s smell was unpleasant enough to deter snakes from the surrounding area. John Gerard (1545–1612) wrote that the flowers were often baked in sugar. Children were known to have sucked the flowers for their nectar. Herbalists used a decoction of the plant primarily to stop internal hemorrhages but also prescribed it for some female ailments, and used it in the treatment of some forms of tuberculosis. It was also used externally for treating gout, sciatica and muscular pains, and for healing burns, bruises and wounds.
In Britain the white, yellow and red deadnettle are known as archangel, because it first blooms about May 8, once a feast day of the Archangel Michael. Culpeper noted that physicians called it archangel “to put a gloss on their practice” rather than use the country people’s more vulgar name of deadnettle. Another deadnettle, Lamium amplexicaule, is called henbit deadnettle as it is a favored food of chickens.
YELLOW ARCHANGEL LAMIUM GALEOBDOLON
OTHER NAMES: Yellow deadnettle, yellow archangel, dummy nettle, weazel snout, dummy nettle
DESCRIPTION: It is similar to the white archangel, but with yellow flowers.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Yellow archangel as well as white archangel are valuable medicinal herbs. A tea is beneficial in abdominal and menstrual complaints, if two cups are sipped during the day. It cleanses the blood and is an effective remedy for sleeplessness and for diverse female troubles. People suffering from continual abdominal complaints and young girls are said to be benefited by this tea. The leaves and flowers of the yellow archangel are used for similar complaints, but especially for scanty or burning urine, bladder trouble, serious kidney disorders and fluid retention in the heart. The flowers are used for digestive troubles, scrofula and skin rashes when it is recommended that one cup of this tea should be drunk during the morning. For ulcers and varicose veins, compresses made from the infusion are beneficial. Yellow archangel can be recommended for bladder malfunction with older people, as well as for chill in the bladder and nephritis.
OTHER NAMES: Red deadnettle, bad man’s posies, bumble-bee flower, rabbit’s meat, red archangel, purple deadnettle, red bee-nettle, badman.
DESCRIPTION: More prostrate and creeping than the above, and more mintlike than nettle-like, with pink/purple/red flowers.
PROPERTIES AND USES: In Sweden the young leaves used to be boiled and eaten as a vegetable. Medicinally, herbalists used a decoction of the flowering plant to stem hemorrhages, a decoction of the roots was used to treat measles, the bruised leaves were applied to wounds to staunch bleeding, and an infusion of the dried plant offered a remedy for chills. Culpeper noted that for women, white archangel flowers stopped discharges, and red archangel flowers prevented bleeding. Young plants can be stir-fried or used in salads.
ATRIPLEX HORTENSIS formerly CHENOPODIUM HORTENSIS
Family Chenopodiaceae, Goosefoot
OTHER NAMES: Culpeper calls this garden arrach, “called also Orach; and Orage.” Garden orach, red orach, mountain spinach, red mountain spinach, French spinach, goosefoot, blites, butter leaves. The plant is now classified in the Chenopodiaceae (Goosefoot) subfamily of Amaranthaceae.
DESCRIPTION: With an erect, branching stem, it has small reddish-tinged and yellowish-green flowers, and grows 3–6 feet (90 cm–1.8 m) in height. There are several varieties of arrach of various colorings, with the red, white and green being the most desirable.
PROPERTIES AND USES: John Evelyn wrote “Orache is cooling, and allays the pituit humors.” He noted that being set over the fire, neither arrach nor lettuce needs any other water than their own moisture to boil. Heated with vinegar, honey and salt, arrach was applied to cure an attack of gout. The seeds promote vomiting. Culpeper says it is “under the government of the Moon and in quality cold and moist like her. When eaten it softens and loosens the body of man, and encourages the expulsion of waste. The herb, whether it be bruised and applied to the throat or boiled and applied in like manner, is excellent good for swellings in the throat.” Garden orache yields a blue dye similar to that obtained from indigo (Indigofera tinctoria).
HISTORY: Pliny writes that Hippocrates prescribed it with beet as a pessary for affections of the uterus; and Lycus of Neapolis recommended it to be taken in drink in cases of poisoning by cantharides (also called Spanish fly, caused by blister beetles). He said it could be employed as a liniment for inflammatory swellings, incipient boils, and was good for erysipelas (bacterial skin infection), jaundice and as an emetic. The Atriplex genus contains up to 200 species, and is often known as saltbush as it is extremely tolerant of salt content. The plant retains salt in its leaves, so was eaten in prehistoric times, tasting like salty spinach. It was known to be introduced into Britain in 1548. It is still popular in France for its large and succulent leaves, used as a substitute for spinach, for soups, and to correct the acidity of sorrel in salads and cooking. Its use in most of Europe has been overtaken by varieties of spinach. Today saltbush is a preferred plant to prevent soil erosion.
ATRIPLEX FOETIDA or CHENOPODIUM VULVARIA
Family Chenopodiaceae, Goosefoot
OTHER NAMES: Culpeper names this as “Vulvaria, from that part of the body upon which it is most used: also Dog’s Arrach, Goat’s Arrach, and Stinking Motherwort.” Stinking goosefoot, notchweed, dungweed, stinking arrach
DESCRIPTION: It can be easily identified by its foul smell, caused by its trimethylamine content. Culpeper says: “It smells like old rotten fish, or something worse.” The small, insignificant green flowers are borne in spikes and the whole plant is covered with a white, greasy covering, giving it a gray-green appearance, which when touched gives out an enduring odor.
PROPERTIES AND USES: When a plant has a particularly unpleasant smell like the wild arrach, it usually points to a particular purpose, thus stinking arrach was used for foul ulcers. The name stinking motherwort refers to the use of its leaves in cases of “hysteria” and nervous troubles connected with women’s ailments, and it was thought that it could also cure barrenness. It can still be used today, particularly for period problems. Culpeper wrote to a patient: “To this intent I first commend unto you stinking Arrach, a pattern whereof I have sent you here enclosed; you may find it upon dunghills, especially such as are made of Horsedung.…” Culpeper describes it as cold and moist, and ruled by Venus in Scorpio. The shape of its leaf was thought to resemble a vulva—hence a common name for the plant was Vulvaria. It typically grew upon dunghills leading to the name “dungweeds” for the family of plants to which it belongs. Culpeper specifically commends dunghills that “are made of Horsedung” because horses are ruled by the Sun, which will enhance the healing potential of the herb. Culpeper writes: “I commend it for a universal medicine of the womb, and such a medicine as will easily, safely, and speedily cure any disease thereof, as fits of the mother, dislocation, or falling out thereof: it cools the womb being overheated…it cleanseth the womb if it be foul, and strengthens it exceedingly; it provokes the terms if they be stopped, and stops them if they flow immoderately.”
HISTORY: Pliny said that it had the same uses as garden arrach, but could also be used for dying hair. Only to be used fresh, it was recommended as an antihysteric and antispasmodic herb.
Golden Goose Foot
The genus name Atriplex is derived from the Greek atraphaxis meaning fast growth. Chenopodium literally means goose foot. The name arache, given to this goosefoot and others of the same subfamily, is a corruption of “aurum,” the Latin word for gold, because its decoction, mixed with wine, was supposed to be a cure for yellow jaundice.
POLYGONUM HYDROPIPER (syn. PERSICARIA HYDROPIPER)
Family Polygonaceae, Knotweed or Smartweed
OTHER NAMES: Culpeper—“The Hot Arsesmart is also Water-Pepper, and Culrage; the Mild Arsesmart is called Dead Arsesmart, Persicaria, or Peach-Wort, because the leaves are so like the leaves of a peach tree; it is also called Plumbago.” However, plumbago is leadwort (see below). Smartweed, biting knotweed, marsh-pepper knotweed, red knees, biting pepper, biting persecaria, biting tongue, bloodwort, bog ginger, ciderage, common smartweed, doorweed, marsh pepper, red leaves, redshanks, sickleweed, smartass, water smartweed.
DESCRIPTION: It grows in damp places and shallow water; it is an annual plant with reddish, jointed stems and tiny green flowers with white, pink or yellow edges. The joints in the stem have produced the nickname red knees. Although several species possess similar properties, P. hydropiper is by far the most powerful in medicine. Most animals avoid the plant because of its burning flavor.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Arsesmart has long been known for its biting, peppery flavor, and has been used as a seasoning for recorded history. If a piece of smartweed was tucked beneath a horse’s saddle, Culpeper said it would keep the horse from feeling hungry or thirsty over a long ride. People used to strew pieces of the plant on the floor of their house to get rid of fleas and drive away flies. Sheets were soaked in water that had smartweed boiled in it to help cholera victims, who were then wrapped in the sheet. Rheumatism sufferers would add the plant to their bath water to get some pain relief. An astringent, diaphoretic and diuretic, it is effective as an extract against coughs and colds. The juice of the plant, mixed with a little water, is effective on sores that have developed pus.
HISTORY: Sir Thomas Browne in The Garden of Cyrus (1658) asked: “Why [do] Fenny waters afford the hottest and sweetest plants, as Calamus, Cyperus, and Crowfoot, and mud cast out of ditches most naturally produceth Arsmart?” In Japan leaves of a cultivar are used as a vegetable. The seeds of the water-pepper are also used in the popular Japanese wasabi sauce and sushi, tempura and sashimi dishes.
Smartweed is found on stream banks, and the name hydropiper is derived from Greek hydro (water) and the genus name piper (pepper) with reference to both the aquatic habitat and the similarity of the flower-spike to pepper.
Family Asteraceae/Compositae, Sunflower/Daisy
OTHER NAMES: Culpeper calls it the Heartichoke, and states: “The Latins call them Cinera, only our college calls them Artichocus.” Globe artichoke, green artichoke, French artichoke.
DESCRIPTION: A stately plant, it grows 4–5 feet (1.2–1.5 m) tall, with a 3-foot (90-cm) spread, with large, thistle-like, pink-purple flowers. Its head of green buds is edible.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper says: “They are under the dominion of Venus, and therefore it is no marvel if they provoke lust, as indeed they do, being somewhat windy meat; and yet they stay the involuntary course of natural seed in man, which is commonly called nocturnal pollutions…this is certain, that the decoction of the root boiled in wine, or the root bruised and distilled in wine in an alembic, and being drank, purges the urine exceedingly.” Today artichokes are known to benefit the liver, aiding detoxification. Also a diuretic, it is useful in treating hepatitis and jaundice. Globe artichokes reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels and help to metabolize fat. Traditionally it was used as both an aphrodisiac and a contraceptive—making it a win-win herb for some people. The plant is named as a scolymus (pointed stake) from the Greek island of Kinara (Cynara).
HISTORY: Grown by the Greeks and Romans, they fell out of favor until Catherine de Medici (1519–89) reintroduced them to France in the 16th century, after she married Henri II. Because of its aphrodisiac reputation, French women were often forbidden to eat it, but it was a popular plant for cultivation in monastery gardens. John Evelyn tells us: “This noble thistle brought from Italy was at first so rare in England that they were commonly sold for crowns apiece.” King Charles I’s French wife, Henrietta Maria (1609–69), had a large garden of artichokes cultivated at her manor house in Wimbledon.
From Love’s Martyr, 1601
The Father that desires to have a boy,
That may be Heir unto his land and living,
Let his espoused Love drink day by day,
Good Artichocks, who buds in August bring,
Sod in clear running water of the spring;
Wives’ natural Conception it doth strengthen,
And their declining life by force doth lengthen.
Family Apicaeae/Umbelliferae, Carrot/Parsley
OTHER NAMES: Devil’s dung, stinking gum, giant fennel, narthex, food of the gods.
DESCRIPTION: A perennial, much like a giant cabbage, growing to 10 feet (3 m) high in its native soil in Iran and Afghanistan, with tiny greenish-yellow flowers. It has a milky juice that exudes from its root and a strong fetid odor. Four- to five-year-old roots of plants that have not flowered are dug up in June, and cut to release the milky juice which solidifies into a brownish resin upon exposure to air.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Research suggests the plant’s resin is anticoagulant and lowers blood pressure, and it has been used to treat stomach ailments such as flatulence, bloating and Candida albicansfungal infections. It has also been traditionally used for asthma, bronchitis and whooping cough. It was worn round the neck as a protection from infectious diseases, particularly colds. Its effectiveness seems to have been heightened by the fact that its strong smell would keep infectious people away. For some people, the slightest smell of asafoetida has been known to cause vomiting. In 1864, Dr. Garrod regarded “asafoetida as one of the most valuable remedies of the materia medica; far above all other ordinary antispasmodics…the value of the drug is chiefly due to the sulphur oil contained in it.” In folklore, it was used to repel evil spirits. The gum resin is an important commercial ingredient in the famous Worcestershire (Worcester) Sauce, along with malt vinegar (from barley), spirit vinegar, molasses, sugar, salt, anchovies, tamarind (Indian date) extract, onions, garlic, lemons, cloves, soy sauce, pickles and peppers.
HISTORY: The Romans traditionally used silphium (laserpitium) as a condiment, importing it from the former Greek colony of Cyrene in North Africa. This could be purchased at the same price as gold—and it had originally been used as a medicine. It has never been identified and in the middle of the first century it mysteriously disappeared. Asafoetida took its place and was called “food of the gods” as it became the favorite Roman condiment. By the Middle Ages it was being used by Arab physicians and across the rest of Europe.
Cursing a Witch
From the website herb-magic.com, we learn that to “reverse a trick [witches’ spell], put devil’s dung [asafoetida], vandal root [valerian root, also foul-smelling], black hen feathers, Black Arts powder and a hair of a witch into a bottle. Urinate into the bottle while cursing the witch, cap and seal it with wax from a black candle, and bury it where the witch will walk over it.”
Family Aristolochiaceae, Birthwort
OTHER NAMES: European wild ginger, hardy ginger, wild nard, wild spikenard, hazelwort, haslewort cabaret, foal’s foot, carn ebol y gerddi (Welsh for lame foal of the gardens), European ginger, European snakeroot, public house plant.
DESCRIPTION: Asarabacca is a creeping evergreen with a very short fleshy stem, bearing two large, dark-green, kidney-shaped evergreen leaves, and a solitary purplish-green drooping flower.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper says: “This herb, being drunk, not only provokes vomiting but purges downward…both choler and phlegm. If you add to it some spikenard, with the whey of goat’s milk, or honeyed water, it is made more strong; but it purges phlegm more manifestly than choler, and therefore doth much help pains in the hips and other parts; being boiled in whey they wonderfully help the obstructions of the liver and spleen, and are therefore profitable for the dropsy and jaundice: being steeped in wine and drank it helps those continual agues that come by the plenty of stubborn tumours; an oil made thereof by setting in the sun, with some laudanum added to it, provokes sweating (the ridge of the back anointed therewith) and thereby drives away the shaking fits of the ague. It will not abide any long boiling, for it loses its chief strength thereby; nor much beating, for the finer powder doth provoke vomit and urine, and the coarser purges downwards…The leaves and root being boiled in Iye [a strong alkaline solution from leaching wood ashes], and the head often washed therewith while it is warm, comforts the head and brain that is ill affected by taking cold, and helps the memory.” The fresh leaves and roots give an apple-green dye, but if boiled longer the dye is brown.
HISTORY: It has been cultivated as a medicinal herb since the 13th century in Britain, but seemed to only grow wild in the Lake District. A traditional use was as an emetic (causing vomiting) after too much alcohol, a practice still pursued in France until recently. The dried leaves when used as snuff will cause sneezing and a copious flow of mucus, so they were one of the ingredients in a tobacconist’s “head-clearing” snuff. Herbalists also recommended asarabacca for treating toothache and eye and throat ailments.
Family Oleaceae, Olive
OTHER NAMES: Common ash, bird’s tongue, common European ash, English ash, Hampshire weed, husbandman’s tree, onnen (Welsh), widow-maker, Venus of the woods (for its beauty).
DESCRIPTION: A tall, very common tree distinguished by its light-gray bark (smooth in younger trees, rough and scaly in older specimens) and by its large, feathery, compound leaves. There is a thick seed-chamber with a long, strap-shaped wing which is known as an ash key (botanically, samara). Bunches of “keys” hang from the twigs in great clusters, at first green and then brown as the seeds ripen. They remain attached to the tree until the succeeding spring, when they are blown off and carried away by the wind. The seedlings are so abundant that it became known to Hampshire foresters as “Hampshire weed.”
PROPERTIES AND USES: Mrs. M. Grieve in A Modern Herbal (1931) wrote: “Both bark and the leaves have medicinal use and fetch prices which should repay the labour of collecting them, especially the bark. Ash bark occurs in commerce in quills [pens] which are grey or greenish-grey externally. Ash bark has been employed as a bitter tonic and astringent, and is said to be valuable as an antiperiodic. On account of its astringency, it has been used, in decoction, extensively in the treatment of intermittent fever and ague…It has been considered useful to remove obstructions of the liver and spleen, and in rheumatism of an arthritic nature. A ley from the ashes of the bark was used formerly to cure scabby and leprous heads. The leaves have diuretic, diaphoretic and purgative properties, and are employed in modern herbal medicine for their laxative action, especially in the treatment of gouty and rheumatic complaints, proving a useful substitute for Senna, having a less griping effect…The distilled water of the leaves, taken every morning, was considered good for dropsy and obesity. A decoction of the leaves in white wine had the reputation of dissolving stone and curing jaundice.” The spokes of wheels were made from ash, and because of its flexibility it was called “the husbandman’s tree,” being used for every kind of agricultural implement.
HISTORY: The old Latin name for the seeds (ash keys) was lingua avis meaning bird’s tongue, which they closely resemble. The keys were employed as a remedy for flatulence. They were also preserved with salt and vinegar and eaten as a pickle. John Evelyn wrote: “Ashen keys have the virtue of capers,” and they were often substituted for them in sauces and salads. Gerard states: “The leaves and bark of the Ash tree are dry and moderately hot…the seed is hot and dry in the second degree. The juice of the leaves or the leaves themselves being applied or taken with wine cure the bitings of vipers, as Dioscorides says, ‘The leaves of this tree are of so great virtue against serpents as that they dare not so much as touch the morning and evening shadows of the tree, but shun them afar off as Pliny reports.’” The ash was believed in Britain to provide protection against snakes. Adders could be killed with one fast stroke with an ash stick, and a basking adder could be contained within a circle drawn round it with the same wood. Rockers on a child’s cradle were made of ash to protect against snakes. Witches’ broomsticks were said to be made from ash to safeguard their riders from drowning, and the wood was used for building boats, including those of the Vikings. A dearth of ash keys portended disaster, and it was a tradition that English ash trees bore no seed in 1648, the year before Charles I (1600–49) was executed. It was known as the widow-maker as a large bough can fall without warning, killing anyone standing under it.
The Tree of Life
The name ash comes from Ask, the first man on earth according to northern European Teutonic mythology. One tradition tells how the ash, called Yggdrasill (the Tree of Life), represented the universe. After the universe, the gods and the giants were created, vegetation emerged and the gods then made the first human couple—the man Ask from an ash tree (Fraxinus) and the woman Embla from an elm (Ulmus).
Using Ash to Build Aircraft and Cars
The common ash and the privet are the only British members of the olive family, Oleaceae.
Horticulturalist Maud Grieve in 1931 wrote that “Ash is the second most important wood used in aeroplanes, and a study of the spacious afforestation scheme now in force over the Crown Lands of the New Forest reveals the fact that especial trouble has been taken to find suitable homes for the Ash. The great bulk of the wood used in aeroplanes is Spruce from the Pacific Coast.”
Howard Hughes’s famous 1947 “Spruce Goose” aircraft was designed using a great deal of birch, not spruce, because of wartime aluminum restrictions, and the Second World War Mosquito combat aircraft was made from laminated plywood. Morgan, the last remaining British car manufacturer, uses ash frames in its sports cars.
Family Asparagaceae (formerly Liliaceae), Lily
OTHER NAMES: Culpeper also names it Sparagus and Sperage. Asparagus fern, fern weed, sparrow grass, sparrow weed, white asparagus (normal asparagus that has been shielded from sunlight), wild asparagus.
DESCRIPTION: Asparagus officinalis, or wild asparagus, is found on the sea-coasts of most parts of Europe, and from this our garden asparagus has been raised. The “spears” are eaten when immature shoots before they have a chance to turn woody. The plant has an attractive feathery foliage.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Elizabeth Blackwell, in A Curious Herbal (1751) writes: “The virtues of Asparagus are well known as a diuretic and laxative; and for those of sedentary habits who suffer from symptoms of gravel, it has been found very beneficial, as well as in cases of dropsy. The fresh expressed juice is taken medicinally in tablespoonful doses.” It is high in potassium and folic acid content. Asparagus contains an excellent supply of the protein called histones, believed to be active in controlling cell growth. Thus some believe asparagus can be a cell growth “normalizer,” helping to control cancer and acting as a general body tonic. Like Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus is one of the few perennial vegetables which do not have to be replanted each year.
HISTORY: The vegetable has been immortalized in the hieroglyphs of Ancient Egypt. Asparagus is derived from a Greek word signifying “the tearer” in allusion to the spikes of some species; or perhaps from the Persian “spurgas,” a shoot. It was believed that the spears rose from rams’ horns buried in the ground. Asparagus officinalis has been used from very early times as a culinary vegetable, owing to its delicate flavor and diuretic properties. There is a recipe for cooking asparagus in the oldest surviving book of recipes, the third century CE Roman work Apicius or De Re Coquinaria. The Greeks and Romans valued it for their tables, and boiled it so quickly that “velocius quam asparagi coquuntur” (“faster than asparagus is cooked”) was a proverb of the times. The English poet Thomas Tusser wrote in his Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry (1573): “Sperage let grow two years, and then remove.” In 1670 forced asparagus was being supplied to the London market. In 2010 the Worcester Newsreported about an “Asparamancer Jemima Packington” who predicted the British “hung parliament” by “reading” asparagus spears.
Not So Sweet Pee
Asparagus has the peculiar property, but only in some people, of making urine take on a distinctive odor. Even stranger, not everyone can detect the asparagus odor in urine. Those people who produce asparagus-smelling urine are not necessarily those who can detect the odor, and those who can detect the odor are not necessarily those who produce it. Both traits appear to be genetically determined.
Dressed to Kill
The brilliant French mathematician Bernard le Bouyer de Fontenelle died a few weeks short of his 100th birthday in 1757. He was a renowned gourmand. A story recounts how one day his friend and colleague the Abbé Terrasson arrived unexpectedly, just as Fontenelle was eagerly awaiting a dish of asparagus which he particularly loved, especially dressed with oil. The abbé, however, preferred his asparagus with butter, so Fontanelle ordered his cook to prepare half the dish with oil, and half with butter. Suddenly, before the dish was served, the abbé fell down dead with apoplexy, whereupon Fontenelle instantly rushed into the kitchen, calling out to his cook “The whole with oil! The whole with oil, as at first!”
Family Liliaceae, Lily
Culpeper described both types of asparagus as being under the influence of Jupiter: “The young Bud or branches boiled in ones ordinary broth, makes the Belly soluble and open, and boiled in white Wine, provokes Urine being stopped, and is good against the Strangury, or difficulty of making water; it expels the gravel and stone out of the Kidneys, and helps pains in the Reins: And boiled in white Wine or Vinegar it is prevalent for them that have their Arteries loosened, or are troubled with the Hip-Gout, or Sciatica. The Decoction of the Roots boiled in Wine and taken is good to clear the sight, and being held in the Mouth eases the Toothache: And being taken fasting several mornings together stirs up bodily lust in Man or Woman (whatsoever some have written to the contrary.) The Garden Asparagus nourishes more than the wild; yet hath it the same effects in all the aforementioned Diseases. The Decoction of the Roots in white Wine, and the Back and Belly bathed therewith, or kneeling or lying down in the same, or sitting therein as a Bath, hath been found effectual against pains that happen to the lower parts of the Body; and no less effectual against stiff and benumbed Sinews, or those that are shrunk by Cramps, and Convulsions, and helps the Sciatica.”
These are the major herbs and plants associated with the 12 astrological signs, and the corresponding body parts ruled by the sign and believed to be the cause of illnesses:
Aquarius (Jan 21–Feb 19) Ankles, circulatory system and shins: Elderberry, fumitory, mullein, daffodil, sage, comfrey, rosemary, valerian, fennel and mint.
Pisces (Feb 20–Mar 20) Feet: Lungwort, meadowsweet, rosehip, sage, lemon balm, basil, lilac, nutmeg, borage, lilies and clove.
Aries (Mar 21–Apr 20) Head: Cowslip, garlic, hops, mustard, rosemary, carnation, chervil, basil, nettle, catmint, wormwood, geranium and cypress pine
Taurus (Apr 21–May 21) Neck and throat: Coltsfoot, lovage, primrose, mint, thyme, violet, marshmallow, catnip, rose, carnation, saffron, honeysuckle, jasmine, tansy, wormwood, yarrow and soapwort.
Gemini (May 22–Jun 22) Hands, arms, shoulders and lungs: Caraway, dill, lavender, parsley, vervain, mint, parsley, anise, marjoram, liquorice, fennel, honeysuckle, horehound and oregano.
Cancer (Jun 23–Jul 23) Breast and stomach: Agrimony, balm, daisies, hyssop, jasmine, parsley, sage, aloe, evening primrose, myrtle, cinnamon, lemon balm, hyacinth, bay leaves and water lily.
Leo (Jul 24–Aug 23) Back, spine and heart: Bay, borage, chamomile, marigold, poppy, rue, dill, lemon balm, tarragon, clove, sandalwood, frankincense, camphor, eyebright and sunflower.
Virgo (Aug 24–Sep 23) Intestines and nervous system: Fennel, savory, southernwood, valerian, chervil, dill, caraway, mint, morning glory, lily, horehound, lavender and marjoram.
Libra (Sep 24–Oct 23) Buttocks, lower back and kidneys: Pennyroyal, primrose, violets, yarrow, catnip, thyme, elderberry, iris, lilies, ivy, St. John’s wort, lemon balm and bergamot.
Scorpio (Oct 24–Nov 22) Genitals: Basil, tarragon, wormwood, catmint, sage, catnip, honeysuckle, nettle, onion, coriander, garlic and elder.
Sagittarius (Nov 23–Dec 21) Liver, thighs and hips: Feverfew, houseleek, mallow, chervil, saffron, sage, basil, borage, nutmeg and clove.
Capricorn (Dec 22–Jan 20) Knees, bones and joints: Comfrey, sorrel, Solomon’s seal, dill, tarragon, caraway, rosemary, chamomile, lambs ears and marjoram.
For centuries, people have used the influence of the astrological signs of the Zodiac for direction on planting and harvesting, and now many home owners are building whole gardens around their own Zodiac signs.
Sun: Daisies, chamomile, calendula, celandine, sunflower, and any flower whose petals are arranged to resemble the rays of the sun or associated with the Apollo (Greek sun god).
Moon: White flowering herbs, herbs that are grown in water, and herbs that either decline in moonlight or alternately bloom after dark, or associated with Artemisia (the Moon goddess) or bear her name in their scientific name.
Mars: Any plant with thorns like barberry, nettle, holly, cacti, etc. or herbs with associated with strength such as: coriander, garlic, hops, horseradish, tarragon, mustard, onion and peppers. Also anything associated with the zodiac sign Scorpio.
Mercury: Fennel, parsley, dill, caraway, and lavender or the god of knowledge.
Jupiter: Sage, sweet cicely, camphor, hyssop, houseleek, oak, borage, betony, cannabis and datura, or associated with the god Jupiter.
Venus: Beautiful and delicate flowers, especially primrose, aquilegia, roses, catmint, apple, strawberry and cherries, and, of course, the goddess Venus.
Saturn: Foxglove, Solomon’s seal, comfrey, hemlock, monkshood, belladonna and woad or any plant that bears blue flowers.
Bhopal, the scene of the Union Carbide poison gas disaster in India in 1984, has developed a Peace Garden with various plants related to different zodiac signs and planets. These herbs and rare trees represent nine planets, 12 Rashis (zodiac signs) and 27 Nakshatras (constellations), as mentioned in Hindu scriptures.
Owners of a large garden may like to divide it into the Four Elements of the ancients: Fire, Earth, Air and Water, or develop a garden along any of these individual themes.
The Fire Garden is south-facing toward warmer winds. The north side of the garden is edged by bushes to serve as a sun trap and shelter from cold winds, to give the garden a climate both for more exotic plants and sun-bathing. The center is dominated by a large tree and/or place for a fire. A red maple (Acer rubrum) would suit, and bushes should have red or orange blossoms or berries.
The Earth Garden in its simplest form is a vegetable garden or orchard, often north-facing. If space is available for a large tree, the lime (Tilia platyphyllos) will attract bees, and give shade, but in smaller gardens plant fruit trees. Sink part of the garden to create a cooler, calmer atmosphere. Use hedging and grow kitchen and medicinal herbs, and develop a quiet corner for contemplation.
The Air Garden is often west-facing. It is open with little protection, a place more for meeting, conversation and playing games than relaxation. Trees like birch and ash give movement and rustle even in the lightest winds, and plants are chosen to attract birds and insects to keep the garden a living, moving experience.
The Water Garden can have a large pond with a reed and marsh area, and is west-facing with overgrown labyrinthine paths. There are no straight lines of planting, and transitions between areas are flowing rather than symmetrical. It is a quiet garden like the Earth Garden.
ASTROLOGICAL JUDGEMENT OF DISEASES 1655
Nicholas Culpeper’s published books include The English Physitian (1652) and the Compleat Herball (1653), and their pharmaceutical and herbal information forms a large part of this book. However, Semeiotica Uranica: or An Astrological Judgement of Diseases was published in 1651 and Astrological Judgement of Diseases from the Decumbiture of the Sick published posthumously in 1655. They are the foundation of his more famous works, and two of the most detailed works on the practice of medical astrology in early modern Europe. Culpeper had been influenced by the notable astrologer William Lilly (1602–81), writing “Astrology is an art which teaches by the book of creatures what the universal Providence mind and the meaning of God towards man is.” He quoted Genesis in his support: “God made the Sun, Moon and Stars to rule over night and day…to be signs of things to come.”
In the books, Culpeper explains “decumbiture,” the use of astrology to diagnose disease from the time a patient falls ill. He describes the principles of disease and how it should be treated, providing a key to his herbal, The English Physitian. The book was largely based upon a translation of a work by Noel Duret, the French royal cosmographer, and Culpeper admonished his opponents at the Royal College of Physicians: “Listen to this, O College of Physitians, let me entreat you to learn the principles of your trade, and I beseech you no longer mistake avarice for wit and honesty.” The Doctrine of Signatures had naturally led Culpeper and others across Europe to the concept of astrological influence, giving it what was thought to be a more scientific basis—astrology was regarded as a serious science at this time. It also helped normal people to understand their illnesses, and the need for certain types of treatment. Culpeper, as an astrologer himself, believed that only astrologers should be allowed to practice medicine and was in constant conflict with the College of Physicians.
In his Compleat Herball, Culpeper set out his theory of the astrological system of diagnosis and treatment:
1. Consider what planet causes the disease; that thou may find it in my aforesaid “Judgement of Diseases.”
2. Consider what part of the body is affected by the disease and whether it lies in the flesh or blood or bones or ventricles.
3. Consider by what planet the afflicted part of the body is governed; that my “Judgement of Diseases” will inform you also.
4. You may oppose diseases by herbs of the planet opposite to the planet that causes them; as diseases of the luminaries by the herbs of Saturn and the contrary; diseases of Mars by the herbs of Venus and the contrary.
5. There is a way to cure diseases sometimes by sympathy and so every planet cures its own diseases; as the sun and moon by their herbs cure the eyes, Saturn the spleen, Jupiter the liver, Mars the gall and diseases of the choler, and by Venus diseases in the instruments of generation.
He notes the basic planetary divisions of the botanic kingdom, based upon the planetary catalog of Paracelsus:
Sun: Ruled the heart, circulation, and the vertebral column. All plants that “appeared solar,” such as calendula and sunflower fell under its influence, as did those plants that followed the Sun in their growth such as heliotrope. Plants that were heat-producing, such as clove and pepper, and all those having a tonic effect on the heart were classified under the Sun.
Moon: This influenced growth, fertility, breasts, stomach, womb and the menstrual cycle. It also exerted control over the brain and the memory. All body fluids and secretions were under the lunar sway, just like tides. All the plant world was subject to the Moon, as harvesting and planting was performed in accordance with lunar phases. Most especially lunar were those plants with a diaphoretic action, with juicy globular fruits, or moisturizing, cooling or soothing juices.
Mercury: Ruled the nervous system, and organs of speech, hearing and respiration. “Mercuric plants,” such as fennel, dill and carrot, bore finely divided leaves, often produced a sharp and distinctive smell, and often had a mood-elevating, slightly tonic effect.
Venus: She ruled the complexion, sexual organs and the hidden inner workings of the body cells. Venusian plants almost all bore heavily scented, showy blossoms such as the Damascus rose or the apple blossom. The medicinal effects were emollient, anti-nephritic, alterative and often aphrodisiac.
Mars: Mars ruled the muscles, body vitality and libido. It also had influence in the combustion processes of the body and the motor nerves. Its plants affected the blood, being stimulating and in many cases aphrodisiac. Many were hot and acrid in their nature.
Jupiter: Jupiter influenced the liver, abdomen, spleen and kidney. Digestion was governed by this planet as was body growth. Most of Jupiter’s plants were edible, many bearing nuts or fruit, such as the chestnut and the apricot. Its medicinal traits were antispasmodic, calmative, hepatic and anthelmintic.
Saturn: Saturn ruled over aging, bone structure, teeth and all hardening processes. Many of the plants associated with Saturn were poisonous such as hemlock and belladonna. The effects of Saturnian plants were considered to be sedative, pain-relieving, coagulant or bone-forming.