Family Asteraceae, Aster/Daisy
OTHER NAMES: Common tansy, bitter buttons, cow bitter, golden buttons.
DESCRIPTION: A strong hardy perennial up to 3 feet (90 cm) high, with yellow button flowers that can be dried for decoration.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper: “The decoction of the common Tansy, or the juice drank in wine, is a singular remedy for all the griefs that come by stopping of the urine, helps the strangury[painful urination in small volumes, often related to prostate problems or cystitis] and those that have weak reins [loins, or kidney region] and kidneys. It is also very profitable to dissolve and expel wind in the stomach, belly, or bowels, to procure women’s courses, and expel windiness in the matrix, if it be bruised and often smelled unto, as also applied to the lower part of the belly. It is also very profitable for such women as are given to miscarry. It is used also against the stone in the reins, especially to men. The herb fried with eggs (as it is the custom in the Spring-time) which is called a Tansy, helps to digest and carry downward those bad humours that trouble the stomach. The seed is very profitably given to children for the worms, and the juice in drink is as effectual. Being boiled in oil, it is good for the sinews shrunk by cramps, or pained with colds, if thereto applied…It is an agreeable bitter, a carminative, and a destroyer of worms…outwardly it is used as a cosmetic, to take off freckles, sun-burn, and morphew [an eruption of scurf]; as also in restringent gargarisms [gargles] …It cleanses and heals ulcers in the mouth or secret parts, and is very good for inward wounds, and to close the tips of green wounds, and to heal old, moist, and corrupt running sores in the legs or elsewhere. Being bruised and applied to the soles of the feet and hands and wrists, it wonderfully culls the hot fits of agues, be they never so violent. The distilled water cleanses the skin of all discolourings therein, as morphew, sun-burnings, &c. as also pimples, freckles, and the like; and dropped into the eyes, or cloths wet therein and applied, takes away the heat and inflammations in them.” The most well known medicinal use was to bring on menstruation by drinking a strong tea made of tansy leaves and flowers. However, it could cause miscarriage and there have been reports of deaths in women attempting to use the tea as an abortifacient. It is useful as a vermifuge (treatment to expel worms), and as a poultice to treat skin infections, but can be toxic. The plant produces a yellow dye.
HISTORY: The name tansy is probably derived from the Greek athanasia (immortality), either, says the Flemish botanist Rembert Dodoens, because it lasts so long in flower or, as Ambrosius wrote, because it is excellent for preserving dead bodies from corruption. The first president of Harvard was buried in 1668 wearing a tansy wreath in a coffin packed with tansy. When his body was exhumed in 1846, the tansy had maintained its shape and fragrance. Tansy was said to have been given to Ganymede to make him immortal. Tansy was hung on the house by Germanic peoples as a protection against monsters, was burned as incense and was one of the many herbs taken to America by the early colonists. At Easter, even archbishops and bishops played handball with men of their congregation, and a tansy cake was the reward of the victors. The cakes were made from the young leaves of the plant, mixed with eggs, to purify the humors of the body after the limited diet of Lent. William Coles (1656) wrote that “tansies” (tansy cakes) were eaten in the spring because tansy is very wholesome after the salt fish consumed during Lent, and counteracts the ill-effects which the “moist and cold constitution of winter has made on people…though many understand it not, and some simple people take it for a matter of superstition to do so.”
A Strewing Herb
Tansy was one of the strewing herbs mentioned by Thomas Tusser in 1577, and was one of the native plants dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The fresh leaves smell of camphor and were rubbed into pets’ coats to repel fleas, and also used to deter blowflies from meat and corpses. Dried bunches make an effective fly, ant, insect and mice repellent. Plant tansy outside the kitchen door, on window sills and around the edges of the vegetable garden to discourage flies and predatory insects, and as a companion plant for roses, cucumbers and squashes. It is known to repel the colorado beetle from potato crops.
From The Cross Roads; or, The Haymaker’s Story, 1821
And where the marjoram once, and sage, and rue,
And balm, and mint, with curl’d-leaf parsley grew,
And double marigolds, and silver thyme,
And pumpkins ‘neath the window climb;
And where I often, when a child, for hours
Tried through the pales to get the tempting flowers,
As lady’s laces, everlasting peas,
True-love-lies-bleeding, with the hearts-at-ease,
And golden rods, and tansy running high,
That o’er the pale-tops smiled on passers-by.
Family Tamaricaceae, Tamarisk
OTHER NAMES: French tamarisk, manna tree, salt cedar (along with other tamarisk species). It is assumed that this is the tamarisk species to which Culpeper refers, having been taken by the Moors to the Iberian Peninsula. Culpeper believed that its place of origin was Spain, although it was grown throughout Europe.
DESCRIPTION: A small ornamental tree, indigenous to the Sinai Peninsula and Saudi Arabia, which grows all around the Mediterranean, with attractive pink flowers on narrow, feather-like spikes.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper: “The root, leaves, young branches, or bark boiled in wine, and drank, stays the bleeding of the haemorrhoid veins, the spitting of blood, the too abounding of women’s courses, the jaundice, the colic, and the biting of all venomous serpents, except the asp; and outwardly applied, is very powerful against the hardness of the spleen, and the toothache, pains in the ears, red and watering eyes. The decoction, with some honey put thereto, is good to stay gangrenes and fretting ulcers, and to wash those that are subject to nits and lice…give it also to those who have the leprosy, scabs, ulcers, or the like. Its ashes doth quickly heal blisters raised by burnings or scaldings. It helps the dropsy, arising from the hardness of the spleen, and therefore to drink out of cups made of the wood is good for splenetic persons. It is also helpful for melancholy, and the black jaundice that arise thereof…The bark is sometimes used for the rickets in children.” A sweet and mucilaginous manna is produced in response to insect damage to the stems. There is some confusion over whether the manna is produced by the plant, or whether it is an exudation from the insects. The insects in question live in the deserts around Israel, and it is not known if the manna can be produced in Britain.
HISTORY: The generic name possibly comes from the Tambre River in Galicia, Spain, known to the Romans as the River Tamaris. In North Africa it has been used medicinally for rheumatism and diarrhea.
Fire and Salt
All the tamarix species are adapted to survive fires, having long taproots that allow them to access deep water tables. They also limit competition from other plants, as they take up salt from deep ground water, accumulating it in their foliage. The trees then deposit the salt in the surface soil where it builds up concentrations, temporarily detrimental to some plants. The salt is washed away during heavy rains.
Family Asteraceae/Compositae, Aster/Sunflower
OTHER NAMES: French tarragon, dragon’s wort, little dragon, dragons.
DESCRIPTION: It is closely related to wormwood and mugwort, and has thin, blade-like and highly aromatic leaves smelling of anise. Its small, pale yellow flowers are rarely fully open.
PROPERTIES AND USES: “The leaves, which are chiefly used, are heating and drying, and good for those who have the flux, or any preternatural discharge. It is a mild martial plant. An infusion of the young tops increases the urinary discharge, and gently promotes the menses.”—Nicholas Culpeper. Tarragon was formerly used in the treatment of toothache, and by the 13th century was a popular seasoning for vegetables, a sleep-inducing drug and a breath sweetener. It makes an excellent vinegar, and gives a spicy, sweet flavor to fish, eggs, cheese and sauces. John Evelyn, in Kalendarium Hortense(1666) wrote “…the tops and shoots like those of Rocket must never be excluded from salads. ’Tis highly cordial and friendly to the head, heart, and liver.” Tarragon tea can relieve insomnia, constipation and aid digestion.
HISTORY: Tarragon is native to the southern Russia/western Asia area of Siberia, so was seemingly unknown in the ancient world. Through the trade routes, it found its way to Europe and into Italian and French cuisine during medieval times, but is a relative newcomer to the herb garden. By the 15th century, tarragon was imported to England, but was grown only in the Royal Gardens. By the 16th century it began to find common use as a culinary herb, but not until the 18th century was it introduced to America, with Thomas Jefferson being an early distributor. The name tarragon derives from the French estragon (little dragon), which is derived from the Arabic tarkhun. Because of the serpentine nature of its roots, according to the Doctrine of Signatures the herb was understood to have the ability to cure the bites of venomous reptiles, insects and mad dogs.
Full of Flavor
Tarragon is famous as being used in the French classic dish escalopes de veau a l’estragon (veal escalops with tarragon), as well as fines herbes, herbes de Provence and Dijon mustard, and also is the defining herb in sauce béarnaise and remoulade. French tarragon complements fish, shellfish, pork, beef, lamb, game, poultry and most vegetables and makes a delicious vinegar, alone or in combination with chives, lemon balm, shallots and garlic.
FULLER’S and SMALL
DIPSACUS SYLVESTRIS, DIPSACUS FULLONUM (or SATIVUS),
Family Dipsacaceae, Teasel
OTHER NAMES: (Common teasel) wild teasel, Venus’ basin, water thistle. (Fuller’s teasel) fuller’s thistle, teazel, tame teasel, manured teasel, card thistle, barber’s brush, brushes and combs, church broom, brush and comb, Johnny-prick-the-finger. (Small teasel) shepherd’s rod, small wild teazle.
DESCRIPTION: Some botanists believe fuller’s teasel to be a variety of the common wild teasel, in which the spines of the flower heads have strongly developed into a hooked form, a feature preserved by cultivation and apt to disappear by neglect, or on poor soil, causing it to relapse into the ordinary wild variety. Thus Culpeper calls the fuller’s teasel the manured teasel. The inflorescence is a cylindrical array of lavender flowers which dries to a cone of spine-tipped hard bracts. The plant grows to a height of 5 feet (1.5 m). The whole plant is very harsh and prickly to the touch. The small teasel known as shepherd’s rod grows with a fleshy, thick, and somewhat hairy stem with golden yellow flowerheads, followed by seedheads of a green and purple color, stuck round with tenacious prickles. It is sometimes found with white flowers, and looks more like the related scabious than a teasel.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper tells us about the medicinal uses of both the common and fuller’s teasel: “The virtues of both these Teasels are much the same: the roots, which are the only part used, being reckoned to have a cleansing faculty; the ancients commend a decoction of them in wine, boiled to a consistence, and kept in a brazen vessel, to be applied to the rhagades, or clefts of the fundament, and for a fistula therein; and to take away warts. The water found standing in the hollow of the leaves is commended as a collyrium to cool inflammations of the eyes and as a cosmetic to render the face fair. They are under the dominion of Venus.” He tells us, on the authority of Dioscorides, that an ointment made from the bruised roots is good, not only for warts and wens, but also against cankers and fistulas. Other writers have recommended an infusion of the root for strengthening the stomach, creating an appetite, removing obstructions of the liver, and as a remedy for jaundice. As regards the small teasel, Culpeper relates: “It is a plant of Mars, and like the Teazle, is cultivated in many places for the use of clothiers, who employ the heads to raise the knap on wollen cloths. The flowers appear in June, and the heads ripen in autumn. The root is bitter, and given in a strong infusion, strengthens the stomach, and creates an appetite: it is also good against obstructions of the liver, and the jaundice. Many people have an opinion, that the water contained in the bason formed by the leaves, is a good cosmetic, but there is no real foundation for such a conjecture.”
HISTORY: Dioscorides recommended the teasel root for its cleansing properties and the use of a decoction for effective treatment of fistulas and warts. The prickly leaves of both common and fuller’s teasels are joined together at the base, forming a natural water reservoir for dew and rain in which insects can drown, whereby the plant can extract nutrients. This conspicuous feature has earned the plant its name of Venus’ basin, and it was held that the water which collects there acquired curative properties. It was regarded as a remedy for warts, and was also used as a cosmetic and an eye-wash. The generic name of the plant, Dipsacus, also refers to this structure, derived from the Greek verb, to be thirsty. Henry Lyte, in his 1586 translation of Rembert Dodoens’s Cruydeboeck, says that the small worms found often within the heads “do cure and heal the quartaine ague, to be worn or carried about the neck or arm.”
The English name, teazle or teasel, is from the Anglo-Saxon taesan, signifying to tease cloth, and refers to the use of the flowerheads by clothworkers. These heads are a mass of semi-stiff spines, the spines longest at the top of the head, each head being enclosed by curving, narrow, green bracts, set with small prickles. The principal use of the teasel from Roman times has been for “fleecing” or “fulling,” i.e. raising the nap on woolen cloth. Gerard called the cultivated variety “Tame Teasell,” which is used because its spines are crooked, not straight. Teasel heads are fixed on the rim of a wheel, or on a cylinder, which is made to revolve against the surface of the cloth to be “fulled,” thus raising the nap. They were gradually replaced by steel combs during the Industrial Revolution. However, until the mid-20th century, no machine was invented which could compete with the plant in its combined rigidity and elasticity. Its great utility is that while raising the nap, it would break at any serious obstruction in the production process, whereas all metallic substances (prior to plastics being used) in such a case would cause the cloth to yield first and tear the material.
Family Asteracea/Compositae, Aster/Sunflower
OTHER NAMES: Culpeper also calls it Carduus Benedictus and Holy Thistle. Spotted thistle, St. Benedict’s thistle. Do not confuse blessed thistle with milk thistle, Silybum marianum. Both thistles share the common name holy thistle, but they are two entirely different plants from different families. Cotton thistle and melancholy thistle are given similar attributes and properties.
DESCRIPTION: A handsome annual plant, the thistle grows about 2 feet (60 cm) high, is reddish, slender, with pale yellow flowers.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper: “It is an herb of Mars, and under the sign of Aries. Now, in handling this herb, I shall give you a rational pattern of all the rest; and if you please to view them throughout the book, you shall, to your content, find it true. It helps swimming and giddiness in the head, or the disease called vertigo, because Aries is in the house of Mars. It is an excellent remedy against the yellow jaundice and other infirmities of the gall, because Mars governs choler. It strengthens the attractive faculty in man, and clarifies the blood, because the one is ruled by Mars. The continually drinking the decoction of it, helps red faces, tetters, ring-worms, because Mars causes them. It helps the plague, sores, boils, and itch, the biting of mad dogs and venomous beasts, all which infirmities are under Mars; thus you see what it doth by sympathy. By antipathy to other planets it cures the French-pox, by antipathy to Venus who governs it. It strengthens the memory, and cures deafness by antipathy to Saturn, who hath his fall in Aries, which rules the head. It cures quartain agues, and other diseases of melancholy, and adjusts choler, by sympathy to Saturn, Mars being exalted in Capricorn. Also it provokes urine, the stopping of which is usually caused by Mars or the Moon.” Blessed thistle is a bitter tonic, used for both the liver and digestion. The herb is a diuretic and induces perspiration, helping to purify the system and rid the body of toxins. It was also applied as a poultice herb to treat chilblains. The green leaf may be eaten, with bread and butter, like watercress, and was recommended for breakfast. The remains of old thistle mills can be found across Wales and Scotland. When beaten up or crushed in a mill to destroy the prickles, the leaves of all thistles are excellent food for cattle and horses. This kind of fodder was formerly used to a great extent before the introduction of hardy green crops for the purpose.
It is said to have been named “blessed” because of its high reputation as a heal-all. It is mentioned in many treatises on the Plague, especially by Thomas Brasbridge, who in 1578 published his Poore Man’s Jewell, that is to say, a Treatise of the Pestilence, unto which is annexed a declaration of the vertues of the Hearbes Carduus Benedictus and Angelica.
Bitter Vegetable Drug
Because of its bitter properties, blessed thistle increases the flow of gastric juices, relieving dyspepsia, indigestion and headaches associated with liver congestion. British and German pharmacopoeias both recommended the consumption of “bitters,” including blessed thistle, to stimulate bile flow and cleanse the liver. In Europe, blessed thistle, classified as a “bitter vegetable drug,” was used as a medicinal agent to stimulate appetite, aid digestion and promote health. Recent studies tell us that bitters increase gastric juice and bile acid secretions, by increasing the flow of saliva through stimulation of specific receptors on the mucous membrane lining of the mouth. Alcoholic digestifs contain such bitters or carminative herbs to aid digestion, are usually around 45 percent proof and drunk neat, with the exception of Angosturas bitters which is usually added to gin.
HISTORY: Medieval monks and apothecaries esteemed this plant as a cure for everything from smallpox to headaches, and it was supposed to even cure the plague. It is described in William Turner’s Herball of 1568: “It is very good for the headache and the migraine, for the use of the juice or powder of the leaves, preserves and keeps a man from the headache, and heals it being present. It is good for any ache in the body and strengthens the members of the whole body, and fastens loose sinews and weak. It is also good for the dropsy. It helps the memory and amends thick hearing. The leaves provoke sweat. There is nothing better for the canker and old rotten and festering sores than the leaves, juice, broth, powder and water of Carduus benedictus.” Shakespeare in Much Ado about Nothing writes: “Get you some of this distilled Carduus Benedictus and lay it to your heart; it is the only thing for a qualm…I mean plain Holy Thistle.” Blessed thistle was a traditional tonic for women, and was used as a galactaloge to stimulate a mother’s milk. Recent research suggests that blessed thistle has anti-inflammatory, antitumour and anticancer properties.
Family Asteraceae/Compositae, Aster/Sunflower
OTHER NAMES: Our Lady’s thistle, Marian thistle, ysgall Mair (Mary’s thistle, Welsh), blessed milk thistle, Mary thistle, Saint Mary’s thistle, Mediterranean milk thistle, variegated thistle, sow thistle, wild artichoke.
DESCRIPTION: The name milk thistle derives from two features of the glossy green leaves: they are mottled with splashes of white and they contain a milky sap. It grows from 1–6 feet (30 cm to 1.8 m) tall and is very prickly, with white to purple, disc-shaped flowers.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper thought the milk thistle to be as efficient as Carduus benedictus for agues, preventing and curing the infection of the plague, and also for removal of obstructions of the liver and spleen. He recommended the infusion of the fresh root and seeds, not only as good against jaundice, also for breaking and expelling stone and being good for dropsy when taken internally. Culpeper also recommends the young, tender plant (after removing the prickles) to be boiled and eaten in the spring as a blood cleanser. An excellent liver remedy, milk thistle increases the flow of bile and helps prevent travel sickness. It was formerly cultivated in gardens for its attractiveness, and the stalks may be eaten. The young leaves may be eaten as a salad. Charles Bryant, in Flora Dietetica, writes: “The young shoots in the spring, cut close to the root with part of the stalk on, is one of the best boiling salads that is eaten, and surpasses the finest cabbage. They were sometimes baked in pies. The roots may be eaten like those of Salsify.” In some districts the leaves are called “pig leaves,” presumably because pigs like them, and the seeds are a favorite food of goldfinches.
HISTORY: Pliny the Elder (23–79 CE) reported that the juice of the plant mixed with honey is indicated for “carrying off bile.” There is an old Saxon remedy which states: “this wort if hung upon a man’s neck it setteth snakes to flight.” It has been grown as a medicinal plant in monastic gardens since the early medieval period. John Evelyn wrote: “Disarmed of its prickles and boiled, it is worthy of esteem, and thought to be a great breeder of milk and proper diet for women who are nurses [i.e. women who feed other women’s babies, milk-nurses].” It was popular in Germany for curing jaundice and other bile-related illnesses. It was used as a demulcent to treat catarrh and pleurisy. Gerard wrote: “…the root if borne about one doth expel melancholy and remove all diseases connected therewith…My opinion is that this is the best remedy that grows against all melancholy diseases…Dioscorides affirmed that the seeds being drunk are a remedy for infants that have their sinews drawn together, and for those that be bitten of serpents.” William Westmacott, writing in 1694, says of this thistle: “It is a Friend to the Liver and Blood: the prickles cut off, they were formerly used to be boiled in the Spring and eaten with other herbs; but as the World decays, so doth the Use of good old things and others more delicate and less virtuous brought in.” The seeds were thought to cure hydrophobia. The heads of this thistle formerly were eaten, boiled and treated like those of the globe artichoke.
Our Lady’s Thistle
Traditionally the milk-white veins of the leaves were believed to have been caused by the milk of the Virgin Mary which once fell upon a thistle plant, and so it was called Our Lady’s thistle. The Latin name of the species has the same derivation.
Scientists in Germany noticed that milk thistle seemed to protect the livers of animals from poisoning with highly toxic carbon tetrachloride. A previously unknown flavonol was isolated and given the name silymarin. Further studies showed that it is effective in the treatment of a number of disorders affecting the liver. Cirrhosis, deathcap mushroom poisoning, all types of hepatitis, gallstones, occupational toxic chemical exposure and skin disease all showed positive results under tests. Milk thistle has been used for liver ailments for two millennia, but until recently was little known. Silymarin, a constituent of milk thistle, is now listed medicinally as a liver protector. It is an antioxidant, i.e. a free radical-scavenging agent, thus stabilizing and protecting the membrane lipids of the hepatocytes (liver cells). Silybin, a constituent chemical of silymarin, also alters the membrane structure of the liver cell, blocking the absorption of penetrating toxins into the cell. Additionally, it stimulates the production of new liver cells to replace damaged cells. An injection of silybin is an antidote for death cap mushroom poisoning. Recently Kate Moss, Orlando Bloom and Tracey Emin have been reported as being devotees of Pincer vodka, which combines the apple-flavored milk thistle and vodka, to help protect the liver from toxins and ease any potential hangovers.
Family Lamiaceae/Labiatae, Mint
OTHER NAMES: Garden thyme, common thyme, summer thyme, English thyme, French thyme, winter thyme.
DESCRIPTION: A small perennial, usually from 4 to 8 inches (10–20 cm) high, with small leaves and bearing flowers which bees love. The plant has an agreeable aromatic smell and a warm pungent taste. Thyme is a member of the mint family, and includes lemon, orange, woolly and broad-leafed varieties and more than 400 others including caraway, coconut, basil, lavender, camphor and nutmeg thyme.
PROPERTIES AND USES: “It is a noble strengthener of the lungs, as notable a one as grows; neither is there scarce a better remedy growing for that disease in children which they commonly call the chin-cough, than it is. It purges the body of phlegm, and is an excellent remedy for shortness of breath. It kills worms in the belly, and being a notable herb of Venus, provokes the terms, gives safe and speedy delivery to women in travail, and brings away the after birth. It is so harmless you need not fear the use of it. An ointment made of it takes away hot swellings and warts, helps the sciatica and dullness of sight, and takes away pains and hardness of the spleen. It is excellent for those that are troubled with the gout. It eases pains in the loins and hips. The herb taken any way inwardly, comforts the stomach much, and expels wind.”—Nicholas Culpeper. The medicinal virtues of thyme are due to its volatile oil constituents, such as thymol, which is the main active ingredient of Listerine mouthwash. Thyme has primarily been used in respiratory ailments because it fights infections and suppresses coughs. Thyme is also used as a digestive aid and its oil is recommended for those suffering from mental stress, PMT, fatigue and depression. Thymol also acts as a expectorant. Thyme tea is an excellent cold and hangover remedy, especially when sweetened with thyme honey. You can also wash and disinfect a wound with thyme tea. An infusion of thyme leaves can be used to mop the kitchen floor. The fragrant dried leaves can be added to pot-pourris, and put into scented sachets for cupboards and drawers to repel insects. It is one of the herbs used in bouquet garni, along with parsley and bay. Thyme is excellent in dishes that require long, slow cooking, as it is one of the few herbs that won’t lose its flavor when cooked for a long time. Fresh leaves and flowers can be used in salads and as garnishes, and you can use the leaves, fresh or dried, for making thyme butter, oil and vinegar. Fresh leaves are much more pungent than dried, when using in recipes. Thyme honey is one of the finest available, recommended by herbalists and gourmets alike.
Stuffings and Marinades
It is best fresh or bought freeze-dried, and complements other robust herbs such as rosemary and sage. Use it chopped in stuffings for poultry or lamb, or in a marinade for olives, and add sprigs to marinades for meat, fish or vegetables. Tuck a few sprigs, with half a lemon and an onion, inside a chicken before roasting.
HISTORY: Thyme was known as an antiseptic by the Sumerians c.3000 BCE, and Ancient Egyptians used it as part of the mummification process—it was known to preserve meat. Greeks and Romans used it in massage oil, bath oil and incense, as well as for medicinal purposes. The Greeks burned thyme in their temples for consecration and purification, and also as an offering to the gods. It was especially sacred to Adephaghia, the Greek goddess of food and gluttony. It was used to cure headaches, enhance moods, relieve poor digestion, and for respiratory problems. It was strewn, or worn on clothes to ward off plague as well as fleas and lice. In 1725 a German apothecary discovered that the plant’s essential oil was effective against bacteria and fungi. In the 19th century, thyme was used to disinfectant hospital and to promote the recovery of patients. Across Europe, thyme has traditionally been used to repel insects, prevent nightmares, kill intestinal worms, disinfect wounds and alleviate diarrhea in children. A pillow stuffed with thyme dispels nightmares and assists with peaceful sleep. Before the advent of modern antibiotics, thyme was used to medicate bandages. The oil is known as an excellent antiseptic for fungal infections such as athlete’s foot.
Traditionally, any place where thyme grows wild is reputedly blessed by the fairies. The following recipe dating from 1600 can be found in Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum:
TO ENABLE ONE TO SEE THE FAIRIES: A pint of sallet oyle and put in into a vial glasse; and first wash it with rose-water and marygolde water; the flowers to be gathered towards the east. Wash it till the oyle becomes white, then put into the glasse, and then put thereto the budds of hollyhocke, the flowers of marygolde, the flowers or toppes of wild thyme, the budds of young hazle, and the thyme must be gathered near the side of a hill where fairies use to be; and take the grasse of a fairy throne; then all these put into the oyle in the glasse and sette it to dissolve three dayes in the sunne and then keep it for thy use.
Family Solanaceae, Nightshade
OTHER NAMES: Indian tobacco, tabac. Culpeper also mentions English Tobacco.
DESCRIPTION: A New World annual, 3–6 feet (90 cm to 1.8 m) high with long flat leaves.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper: “It is a hot martial plant. A slight infusion of the fresh-gathered leaves causes vomiting, and that very roughly; but for constitutions that can bear it, it is a good medicine for rheumatic pains; an ointment made of them, with hog’s-lard, is good for the piles when they get painful and are inflamed. The distilled oil is sometimes dropped on cotton, and applied to aching teeth, and it seldom fails to give temporary relief. The powdered leaves, or a decoction of them, kill lice, and other vermin. The smoke of tobacco injected in the manner of a glister [syringe], is of a singular efficacy in obstinate stoppages of the bowels, for destroying those small worms called ascarides [roundworm], and for the recovery of persons apparently drowned. A constant chewing, or smoking of tobacco, hurts the appetite, by depriving the constitution of too much saliva; but though it is improper for lean dry, hectic people, it may be useful to the more gross, and to such as are subject to cold diseases. Snuff is seldom productive of any bad effects, unless it be swallowed, but it should not be used by such as are inclined to an apoplexy. Tobacco is a great expeller of phlegm when smoked in a pipe, in which vast quantities are consumed, the greatest part by way of amusement, though some commend it as a helper of digestion; many extol it as a preservative from the plague; but Rivinus says, that is the plague of Leipzig several died, who were great smokers of tobacco. The distilled oil is of a poisonous nature: a drop of it taken inwardly, will destroy a cat.” Maud Grieve tells us in 1931: “A wet Tobacco leaf applied to piles is a certain cure…A pipe smoked after breakfast assists the action of the bowels…The smoke injected into the rectum or the leaf rolled into a suppository has been beneficial in strangulated hernia, also for obstinate constipation, due to spasm of the bowels, also for retention of urine, spasmodic urethral stricture, hysterical convulsions, worms, and in spasms caused by lead, for croup, and inflammation of the peritoneum, to produce evacuation of the bowels, moderating reaction and dispelling tympanitis [inflammation of the middle ear], and also in tetanus.”
In 2006 Bhutan was rated by Business Week magazine as the happiest country in Asia, and the 8th happiest of more than 200 in the world, based on global survey campaigns. Bhutan is the only country in the world where tobacco sales are illegal.
From A.F.M. Willich’s Domestic Encyclopedia Or A Dictionary Of Facts, And Useful Knowledge, 1802: “Various properties have been attributed to this stupefying drug, since it was first introduced into Europe, about the middle of the 16th century. Its smoke, when properly blown against noxious insects, effectually destroys them; but the chief consumption of this plant, is in the manufactures of Snuff and Tobacco, or the cut leaves for Smoking. It is likewise (though we think, without foundation), believed to prevent the return of hunger; and is therefore chewed in considerable quantities by mariners, as well as the labouring classes of people; a disgusting practice, which cannot be too severely censured. For, though in some cases, this method of using tobacco, may afford relief in the rheumatic tooth-ach, yet, as the constant mastication of it induces an uncommon discharge of saliva, its narcotic qualities operate more powerfully, and thus eventually impair the digestive organs…It is remarkable, that the daily smoking of tobacco, is a practice which has only within the last century become general throughout Europe, especially in Holland and Germany; where it constitutes one of the greatest luxuries with which the industrious, poor peasants, as well as the more indolent and Wealthy classes, regale themselves and their friends. In Britain, however, the lower and middle ranks, only, appear to be attached to such fumigations; which, though occasionally useful in damp and mephitic situations, are always hurtful to persons of dry and rigid fibres, weak digestion, or delicate habits; but particularly to the young, plethoric, asthmatic, and those whose ancestors have been consumptive; or who are themselves threatened with pulmonary diseases. In proof of this assertion, we shall only remark, that a few drops of the oil distilled from the leaves of this powerful plant, taken internally, have operated as fatal poison: and, a considerable portion of such oil being disengaged within the tuba of tobaccopipes, during combustion, the noxious effects of inhaling and absorbing it by the mouth, may be easily inferred.”
HISTORY: The Nicotiania genus derives its name from the French diplomat Jean Nicot (1530–1600), who introduced the plant to Europe in the mid-16th century, and tabaco probably comes from the Arawak word for the pipe in which it is smoked. Over a billion people are regular smokers, and in 2005 the World Health Organization attributed 5.4 million of 58.8 million deaths in that year to tobacco. Around 100 million deaths were caused by tobacco in the 20th century, and the WHO predicts, on current trends, up to 1 billion deaths in the 21st century.
Family Solanaceae, Nightshade
OTHER NAMES: Love apple (Culpeper), golden apple, wolf apple, wolf peach, apple of love. Lycopersicum means “wolf peach,” which derived from German legends that deadly nightshade was used to summon werewolves. Thus the tomato, which bears similar flowers but much larger fruit, was called the “wolf peach” when it arrived in Europe. The Aztecs called the fruit xitomatl, meaning “chubby object with a navel.” Other Mesoamerican peoples took the name as tomatl, from we derived the name tomato.
DESCRIPTION: A climbing fruit (see box) probably only known as a small yellow variety to Culpeper. Various 17th-century illustrations show the fruit being only as large as the flowers.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper said that a salve of the juice cured inflammations and burning, and that the “leaves boiled with olive oil, till crisped, then strained and afterwards boiled with wax, rosin and a little turpentine, to a salve, are an infallible remedy for old sores and ulcers of the private parts, or for wounds and ulcers in other parts of the body, coming of heat, or viscous humours of the blood.” One medium tomato provides half the recommended daily dose of vitamin C. Lycopene is a carotenoid that is responsible for the red color of tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit. It is regarded as a “wonder chemical,” an antioxidant which, when absorbed into the body, helps to prevent and repair damaged cells by inactivating free radicals in the body. It has thus been credited with reducing wrinkles, which are also caused by free radicals aging the skin. People with high lycopene levels are at lower risk of developing prostate, cervical, bladder and pancreatic cancers, and lycopene protects against Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) the most common form of blindness for elderly people in the Western world. Lycopene is more easily absorbed by the body after processing, for example into tomato ketchup or purée, and when tomatoes are cooked with certain oils, such as olive oil.
There seems to be a new “super” superfood. The gac (Momordica cochinchinensis) is a Southeast Asian fruit variously known as Baby Jackfruit, Spiny Bitter Gourd and Sweet Gourd. Relative to mass, it contains up to 70 times the amount of lycopene found in tomatoes, and up to ten times the amount of good beta-carotene of carrots or sweet potatoes. Its carotenoids are bound to long-chain fatty acids, making them more easily absorbed by the body, and gac also contains a protein that may inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells. Gac provides high levels of antioxidants and of vitamin A that is good for the skin and eyes.
HISTORY: Some believe that the Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés was the first to send the small yellow tomato to Europe after he captured the Aztec city of Tenochtítlan, now Mexico City, in 1521. Others think Columbus brought the tomato back in 1493. It appears appeared in a 1544 herbal written the Italian Pietro Andrea Mattioli, who named it pomo d’oro (apple of gold). The French misheard the name as pomo d’amore, or love apple, and the term passed into English toward the end of the 16th century. When first introduced from the Americas, the tomato was treated as a novelty. If children ate its berries, they were “purged” by a physician. However, Italian dandies came to believe that eating the berries was an aphrodisiac and it gradually became a salad ingredient. It is assumed by some to be the true “apple,” the forbidden fruit that Eve offered to Adam in the Garden of Eden. They were not grown in England until the 1590s, and Gerard grew them, but believed that it was poisonous, a view held in England and America until the early 18th century. By the mid-18th century, tomatoes were widely eaten, and cultivated upon an almost industrial scale in glass-houses. La Tomatina is a week-long food fight festival, held each year in the town of Buñol in the Valencia region of Spain. This event is attended by tens of thousands of people from all over the world, during which some 90,000 pounds (over 40, 000 kg) of tomatoes are thrown in an enormous food fight.
Fruit and Vegetable
Botanically, a tomato is a fruit: it comprises the ovary together with its seeds, of a flowering plant. Typically served as part of a salad or main course of a meal, rather than at dessert, it is considered a vegetable for most culinary purposes. In 1887, US tariff laws that imposed a duty on vegetables, but not on fruits, caused the tomato’s status to become defined legally. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1893 declared that the tomato is a vegetable, based on a definition that classifies vegetables by use, i.e. that they are generally served with dinner and not as a dessert. However, in 2001 the Council of the European Union directed that tomatoes should be considered fruits. Tomatoes have been designated the state vegetable of New Jersey, but Arkansas took both sides in declaring the “South Arkansas Vine Ripe Pink Tomato” to be both the state fruit and the state vegetable in the same law, citing both its culinary and botanical classifications. In 2009, the state of Ohio passed a law making the tomato the state’s official fruit.
POTENTILLA ERECTA (formerly POTENTILLA TORMENTILLA)
Family Rosaceae, Rose
OTHER NAMES: Common tormentil, septfoil, seven leaves, thormantle, Thor’s mantle, biscuits, bloodroot, earthbank, ewe daisy, five fingers, flesh and blood, shepherd’s knapperty, shepherd’s knot, English sarsaparilla.
DESCRIPTION: A low, clump-forming plant, growing up to 6–12 inches (15–30 cm) tall and with non-rooting runners. There are usually four notched petals on the yellow flowers. From the rootstock come leaves on long stalks, divided into three or five oval leaflets (occasionally, but rarely, seven, hence unusually the names septfoil and seven leaves) toothed toward their tips.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper writes: “This is a gallant herb of the Sun. Tormentil is most excellent to stay all kind of fluxes of blood or humours in man or woman, whether at nose, mouth, or belly. The juice of the herb of the root, or the decoction thereof, taken with some Venice treacle, and the person laid to sweat, expels any venom or poison, or the plague, fever, or other contagious diseases, as pox, measles, &c. for it is an ingredient in all antidotes or counter poisons. Andreas Urlesius is of opinion that the decoction of this root is no less effectual to cure the French pox than Guiacum or China; and it is not unlikely, because it so mightily resists putrefaction. The root taken inwardly is most effectual to help any flux of the belly, stomach, spleen, or blood; and the juice wonderfully opens obstructions of the liver and lungs, and thereby helps the yellow jaundice. The powder or decoction drank, or to sit thereon as a bath, is an assured remedy against abortion, if it proceed from the over flexibility or weakness of the inward retentive faculty; as also a plaster made therewith, and vinegar applied to the reins of the back, doth much help not only this, but also those that cannot hold their water, the powder being taken in the juice of Plaintain, and is also commended against the worms in children.” It is considered one of the safest and most powerful aromatic astringents, and for its tonic properties was called “English sarsaparilla.”
HISTORY: A lotion prepared from the dried root has been used both as medicine to treat a number of ailments, e.g. to stop bleeding or diarrhea, and to dye leather red. Maud Grieve in 1931 also recommended it “…as a gargle in sore, relaxed and ulcerated throat and also as an injection in leucorrhoea [vaginal discharge]…If a piece of lint be soaked in the decoction and kept applied to warts, they will disappear. It was much given for cholera, and also sometimes in intermittent fevers, and used in a lotion for ulcers and long-standing sores.”
Family Boraginaceae, Borage
OTHER NAMES: European turnsole, European heliotrope, great turnsole, turnsol, caterpillar weed.
DESCRIPTION: It reaches 12–18 inches (30–45 cm) in height with curled sprays of small white flowers; the stem and leaves are covered with soft downy hairs. Because of its curly shape and hairy stem it gets the name of caterpillar weed. The scent resembles that of jasmine.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper relates: “It grows in gardens, and flowers and seeds with us, notwithstanding it is not natural to this land, but to Italy, Spain, and France, where it grows plentifully. Government and virtues. It is an herb of the Sun, and a good one too. Dioscorides says that a good handful of this, which is called the Great Turnsole, boiled in water, and drank, purges both choler and phlegm; and boiled with cumin, helps the stone in the reins, kidneys, or bladder, provokes urine and women’s courses, and causes an easy and speedy delivery in child-birth. The leaves bruised and applied to places pained with the gout, or that have been out of joint and newly set, and full of pain, do give much ease; the seed and juice of the leaves also being rubbed with a little salt upon warts and wens, and other kernels in the face, eye-lids, or any other part of the body, will, by often using, take them away.” A tincture of the whole fresh plant was said to be used for a clergyman’s sore throat. The plant is said to be poisonous to sheep and humans.
HISTORY: In Greek mythology, the nymph Clytie adored the Sun god Apollo. Clytie gazed at him longingly when he drove his chariot through the heavens from east to west every day. Apollo never glanced at her, so she began weeping and fell to the ground. For nine days and nights she did not eat or drink but just lay there, watching Apollo traverse the skies. Her limbs became rooted in the ground and green leaves enveloped her and tiny flowers covered her face. In this way she changed into a flower and evermore became known as heliotrope gazing upward and following the course of the Sun. The sap of its flowers was used as a food coloring in the Middle Ages.
Facing the Sun
After opening, the flower gradually turns from the east to the west and during the night turns back again to the east to meet the rising Sun. Helios is Greek for Sun and tropaios means to turn back. Turnsole has the same origins, turning to face Sol, the sun.
This farmer wrote the instructional poem Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry (1557) and is remembered for the popular proverb, “A fool and his money are soon parted.” In the long poem he lists the following:
SEEDS AND HERBS FOR THE KITCHEN Avens (herb bennet); betony; beets or bleets—white or yellow; bloodwort; bugloss; burnet; borage; cabbage—remove in June; clary sage; coleworts; cresses; endives; fennel; French mallows; French saffron, set in August; lang de beef (oxtongue); leeks—remove in June; lettuce—remove in May; longwort (pellitory of Spain); liverwort; marigolds—often cut; mercury; mints—at all times; nep(catmint); onions—from December to March; orach or arach—red and white; patience?; parsley; pennyroyal; primrose; poret (porret, a young leek); rosemary—in the springtime, to grow south or west; sage, red and white; English saffron—set in August; Summer savory; sorrel; spinach; succory (chicory); siethes (a kind of chives); tansy; thyme; violets—of all sorts.
HERBS AND ROOTS FOR SALADS AND SAUCE Alexanders—at all times; artichokes; blessed thistle—or Carduus benedictus; cucumbers—in April and May; cresses—sow with lettuce in the spring; endive; musk-million (muskmelon) —in April and May; mustard-seed—sow in the spring, and at Michaelmas; mints; purslane; radish—and after remove them; rampions (bellflower); rocket—in April; sage; sorrel; spinach—for the summer; sea-holly; sparage (asparagus) —let grow for two years, and then remove; skirrets (crummock) —set these plants in June; succory (chicory); tarragon—set in slips in March; violets, of all colours. These buy with the penny, or look not for any: capers, lemons, olives, oranges, rice, samphire.
HERBS AND ROOTS, TO BOIL OR TO BUTTER Beans—set in winter; cabbages—sow in March, and afterwards remove; carrots; citrons—sow in May; gourds—in May; navews (rape, wild cabbage or wild turnips) —sow in June; pompions (pumpkin) —in May; parsneps (parsnips) —in winter; runcival pease (runcible, or large peas) —set in winter; rapes—sow in June; turneps (turnips) —in March and April.
STREWING HERBS OF ALL SORTS Basil—fine and bushed, sow in May; baulm (lemon balm) —set in March; camomile; costmary (alecost); cowslips and paggles (primrose, Primula officinalis); daisies of all sorts; sweet fennel; germander; hyssop—set in February; lavender; lavender spike; lavender cotton; knotted marjoram—sow or set, at the spring; maudeline; penny royal; roses of all sorts—in January and September; red mints; sage; tansy; violets; winter savory.
HERBS, BRANCHES AND FLOWERS, FOR WINDOWS AND POTS Bays—sow or plant in January; bachelors’ buttons; bottles—blue, red and tawny; columbines; campions; cowslips; daffodils, or daffadon-dillies; eglantine, or sweet-briar; fetherfew (feverfew); flower amour—sow in June; flower de luce; flower gentle—white and red; flower nice; gillyflowers—red, white, and carnations set in spring, and at harvest in pots, pails, or tubs, or for summer, in beds; holyoaks (hollyhocks) —red, white and carnations; Indian eye—sow in May, or set in slips in March; lavender of all sorts; lark’s foot; laus tibi (white narcissus); lilium convallium (lilies of the valley); lilies—red and white, sow in March and September; marigolds double; nigella romana; pansies or heartsease; paggles—green and yellow; pinks of all sorts; queen’s gilliflowers; rosemary; roses of all sorts; snap-dragon; sops in wine; sweet Williams; sweet Johns (pinks); star of Bethlehem; star of Jerusalem; stock gilliflowers of all sorts; tuft gilliflowers; velvet flowers, or French marigolds; violets—yellow and white; wall gilliflowers of all sorts.
Note: in the 1876 edition the editor commented, “The delicate olfactory nerves of modern females would revolt at feverfew, and several other plants in this list, if placed in their windows; while many more which are here enumerated might be easily raised in the natural ground, without the trouble and expense of pots.” However, these herbs were used to repel insects, not for their sweet scent.
HERBS TO STILL (DISTILL) IN SUMMER Blessed thistle; betony; dill; endive; eyebright; fennel; fumitory; hyssop; mints; plantain; roses—red and damask; respies (raspberries); saxifrage, strawberries; sorrel; succory; woodruff—for sweet waters and cakes.
NECESSARY HERBS TO GROW IN THE GARDEN FOR PHYSIC, NOT REHEARSED BEFORE Anise; archangel; betony; chervil; cinquefoil; cumin; dragons; dittany, or garden ginger; gromwell seed, for the stone; hartstongue; horehound; lovage, for the stone; liquorice; mandrake; mugwort; peony; poppy; rue; rhubarb; smallage (wild celery), for the swellings; saxifrage, for the stone; savin(juniper), for the botts (worms); stitchwort; valerian; woodbine.
Thus ends the brief / Of herbs the chief. / To get more skill, / Read whom you will: / Such more to have, / Of field go crave.