CABBAGES and COLEWORTS
Family Brassicaceae/Cruciferae, Cabbage or Mustard
OTHER NAMES: Sea cabbage, wild mustard, wild cabbage—its descendants include garden cabbages, broccoli, sprouts, seakale, kale and cauliflower. It is unsure which varieties Culpeper is describing. Colewort is now used to describe a cabbage which does not form a compact head.
DESCRIPTION: The wild plant, Brassica oleracea var. oleracea, called colewort or field cabbage, has a group of basal leaves (a basal “rosette”) and an open stalk (panicle) of flowers.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper tells us: “The Cabbages or Coleworts boiled gently in broth, and eaten, do open the body, but the second decoction doth bind the body. The juice thereof drank in wine, helps those that are bitten by an adder, and the decoction of the flowers brings down women’s courses. Being taken with honey, it recovers hoarseness, or loss of the voice…The often eating of them well boiled, helps those that are entering into a consumption. The pulp of the middle ribs of Coleworts boiled in almond milk, and made up into an electuary with honey, being taken often, is very profitable for those that are puffy and short winded. Being boiled twice, an old cock boiled in the broth and drank, it helps the pains and the obstructions of the liver and spleen, and the stone in the kidneys…The juice boiled with honey, and dropped into the corner of the eyes, clears the sight, by consuming any film or clouds beginning to dim it; it also consumes the cankers growing therein. They are much commended, being eaten before meat to keep one from surfeiting, as also from being drunk with too much wine, or quickly to make a man sober again that was drunk before…The decoction of Coleworts takes away the pain and ache, and allays the swelling of sores and gouty legs and knees, wherein many gross and watery humours are fallen, the place being bathed therewith warm. It helps also old and filthy sores, being bathed therewith, and heals all small scabs, pushes, and wheals, that break out in the skin. The ashes of Colewort stalks mixed with old hog’s-grease, are very effectual to anoint the sides of those that have had long pains therein, or any other place pained with melancholy and windy humours…this I am sure, Cabbages are extremely windy, whether you take them as meat or as medicine: yea, as windy meat as can be eaten, unless you eat bag-pipes or bellows, and they are but seldom eaten in our days; and Colewort flowers are something more tolerable, and the wholesomer food of the two.” Recent research into the unpleasant smell associated with cooking cabbage has proved that it is caused by over-cooking. The odor doubles when cooking is prolonged from five to seven minutes; for best results cabbage should be sliced thinly and cooked for four minutes. Sauerkraut (Germany) and Kimchi (Korea) were developed because cabbage could not be stored for long periods. Cabbage is an excellent source of vitamins A and C. It also contains significant amounts of glutamine, an amino acid that has anti-inflammatory properties. Cabbage is often included in dieting plans, such as the “cabbage soup diet,” as it is a low calorie food.
A Family of Cabbages
The 1935 Triangle of U theory about the evolution of relationships within the cabbage family has been proved recently. Three separate ancestral species of Brassica—Brassica rapa (turnip, Chinese cabbage); Brassica nigra(black mustard); and Brassica oleracea (cabbage)—combined to create the three new separate species known as Indian mustard; Ethiopian mustard; and rapeseed and rutabaga.
Varieties Developed Include:
Cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata) was developed by the 12th century. It has a large head on a stout stem. Fleshy leaves are folded into a head, or leaves are somewhat open. There are now more than 200 cultivars of cabbage.
Kohlrabi or “cabbage turnip” (var. caulorapa) in its primitive form was used in Charlemagne’s gardens. It is now widely used as animal fodder, being nutritious and easily stored.
Kale and collards (var. acephala) were developed for their leaves.
Broccoli (var. botrytis, formerly var. italica) has edible stems and flower buds, and was favored by Romans.
Cauliflower (var. botrytis) We eat the white inflorescence, which lacks chlorophyll. There is a condensed, much branched thickened stem supporting tightly closed flower buds, developed in Italy from broccoli before the 1600s.
Brussel sprouts (var. gemmifera). The plants that have a main stem on which the axillary buds develop into small, edible heads (like baby cabbages).
HISTORY: Forms of Brassica oleracea have been chosen for cultivation from earliest times. There is evidence of this plant growing at the Neolithic dwellings at Robenhausen, near Lake Pfäffikon, Switzerland. Plants were selectively bred over the years for the following features: loss of the strong, pungent flavors produced by the irritant mustard oils (sulfur-containing glucosinolates); enlargement of certain parts for eating; loss of toughness; and growth in cool climates with long, cool growing seasons.
Family Apiaceae/Umbelliferae, Carrot
OTHER NAMES: Persian cumin, meridian fennel.
DESCRIPTION: Hardy biennial, growing to two feet (60 cm) tall with a 12-inch (30-cm) spread and bearing delicate white flowers. Its feathery leaves resemble those of carrots, and its leaves and hollow stem taste of aniseed. Each “seed” is half of a caraway fruit, used whole or ground in cooking and herbal medicine.
PROPERTIES AND USES: All parts of the plant are edible: roots, leaves and seeds. The leaves are used in soups and salads. The roots may be boiled and treated like cooked parsnips or carrots. The liquorice-flavored seeds give rye bread its characteristic taste and are also used in potato soup, cheese spreads, sauerkraut and salad dressings. It is one of the ingredients in kümmel liqueur. Culpeper wrote: “Caraway Seed has a moderate sharp quality whereby it breaks Wind and provokes Urine…and helpeth to sharpen the Eye-sight. The Powder of the Seed put into a Poultice, takes away black and blue spots of Blows or Bruises. The Herb it self, or with some of the Seed bruised and fryed, laid hot in a bag or double cloth to the lower part of the Belly, easeth the pains of the wind Chollick. Caraway Comfits, once only dipped in Sugar, and half a spoonful of them eaten in the morning fasting, and as many after each meal is a most admirable Remedy for such as are troubled with Wind.” In Elizabethan times, eating the seeds ended a banquet to aid digestion and sweeten the breath.
HISTORY: Caraway seeds have been found in prehistoric food remains from 3500 BCE and Dioscorides mentioned that the seeds aided digestion. It was offered at the caravan stops on the Silk Road and is found in Egyptian tombs. Throughout history, caraway was a favorite addition to laxative herbs because it tempered their often violent effects. It was also used for menstrual cramps, menstruation promotion and milk promotion in nursing mothers.
A Burglar Alarm
Caraway was thought to confer the gift of retention, preventing the theft of any object which contained it, and holding the thief in custody within the broken-into house. Similarly, it was used to keep lovers from straying, forming an ingredient of Elizabethan love potions, and also to prevent fowls and pigeons from straying. “It is an undoubted fact that tame pigeons, who are particularly fond of the seeds, will never stray if they are given a piece of baked Caraway dough in their cote.” (Maud Grieve, 1931)
OTHER NAMES: Culpeper calls this the “Clove Gillyflower.” Gilliflower, July flower, pink, clove pink, gillie, Jove’s flower, scaffold flower, sops-in-wine.
DESCRIPTION: Probably native to the Mediterranean, its exact range is unknown due to extensive cultivation for the last 2000 years. It is the wild ancestor of the garden carnation, a herbaceous perennial plant growing to 2 feet (60 cm) tall. The leaves are slender, up to 6 inches (15 cm) long, and the flowers are sweetly scented. The original natural flower color is bright pinkish-purple, but cultivars of other colors, including red, white, yellow and green, have been developed. Pinks are not named for their color, but because their petals appear to be “pinked” or ragged. The term is still used in “pinking shears” or scissors.
PROPERTIES AND USES: In the Renaissance, white wine infused with the petals (until they are pale, then strain) was drunk as a nerve tonic: “They are great strengtheners of the brain and heart, and will therefore make an excellent cordial for family purposes. Either the conserve or syrup of these flowers taken at intervals, is good to help those whose constitution is inclinable to be consumptive. It is good to expel poison and help hot pestilent fevers.” The pestilence referred to is the bubonic plague, prevalent in Europe at this time. Gerard says: “A water distilled from Pinks has been commended as excellent for curing epilepsy.” The largest world producer is now Colombia, as part of a US-financed program to replace drug cultivation.
HISTORY: Dianthus caryophyllus is so named after anthos (flower), dios (of Jupiter, Io), and caryophylli (cloves). Crusaders brought them back to Europe, where they were grown in medieval gardens and in pots indoors in great houses. In the Middle Ages, the petals were used as a substitute for cloves, which were more expensive and had to be imported. The petals were also steeped in rosewater and used as a hair perfume. Culpeper’s “gillyflower” may be a stock, a wallflower or carnation. The word is often regarded as a modification of July flower, or of the French giroflee, or the Old English gilofre, clove. Carnations were thought to have a rejuvenating effect on the body and spirit. In Elizabethan times, the highly fragrant flowers were steeped in wine and ale to make a delightful drink. Sops, small pieces of toast or stale bread, were offered as solid food for dipping in the tasty liquid of “soppes in wine.”
Family Apiaceae/Umbelliferae, Carrot
OTHER NAMES: Queen Anne’s lace, bird’s-nest (as the seeds ripen, the umbels contract to form a cup-like shape).
DESCRIPTION: Unlike our modern carrot, the wild carrot has a white, woody taproot, rather than the orange, fleshy one we are familiar with after hundreds of years of development for the table. It has small white flowers, grows to 3 feet (90 cm) tall and has a deep, fleshy, conical root.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper wrote: “Wild carrots belong to Mercury, and therefore expel wind, and remove stitches in the sides, provoke urine and women’s menses, and help to break and expel the stone; the seed also of the same work the like effect, and is good for the dropsy, and those whose bellies are swollen with wind…” Its seeds were used by sufferers of flatulence and coughs, something some older people sometimes suffer simultaneously. Carrot roots, the part that we eat, contain 89 percent water and about 4.5 percent sugar, making them a good snack food for dieters. These domesticated carrots are not the same species as the wild carrot, commonly known as Queen Anne’s lace, the seed of which is the part used medicinally. The best-known use for the seeds has been as a natural morning-after contraceptive. Today, as it is rich in vitamin A, wild carrot is used in antiwrinkle creams.
HISTORY: The carrot was well known to Greek and Latin writers under various names, and the name Carota for the garden carrot is found first in the writings of Athenaeus (200 CE). From the time of Dioscorides and Pliny to the present day, the carrot has been in constant use by all nations. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the feathery leaves decorated ladies’ head-dresses. In Love’s Martyr (1601) we read: “This Root procured in Maids a perfect love,” but it seems that young women these days require more than a carrot as a token of affection.
Until 400 years ago, carrots were always white, cream and purple. There was no orange carrot, but the Dutch wanted to create a vegetable in their national color, and so bred the carrot that we now recognize today. We can now buy pale cream carrots again in supermarkets, such as Crème de Lite. New fruit and vegetables are constantly being developed, such as Tiny Tangerines, Black Velvet Apricots and Baby Lemons (chop one in half for two gin and tonics).
Family Lamiaceae, Mint
OTHER NAMES: Catnip, catnep, cat’s wort, cat, catrup, field balm. Culpeper calls this nep.
DESCRIPTION: A hardy perennial which grows to 3 feet (90 cm) with a spread of 2 feet (60 cm), with clusters of pinkish-white flowers and downy heart-shaped leaves. It has an aromatic odor, which resembles both mint and pennyroyal. The scent has a strange fascination for cats, which according to Grieve “will destroy any plant of it that may happen to be bruised.”
PROPERTIES AND USES: Young minty leaves can be used in soups and sauces. It has been used for children’s coughs and colic, and its leaves can be made into an ointment to relieve hemorrhoids. Catmint leaves contain the antioxidant vitamins C and E, and its primary phytochemicals are mild sedatives. It induces sleep and soothes the nervous system. Catnip teas have long been used in traditional herbal medicine to quell digestive disturbances, and help stimulate menstruation. Researchers have discovered that the essential oil in catnip that gives the plant its characteristic odor is ten times more effective at repelling mosquitoes than the modern formulation DEET.
HISTORY: Nicholas Culpeper wrote: “Nep is generally used for women to procure their courses, being taken inwardly or outwardly, either alone, or with other convenient herbs in a decoction to bathe them, or sit over the hot fumes thereof; and by the frequent use thereof it takes away barrenness, and the wind, and pains of the mother. It is also used in pains of the head coming of any cold cause; catarrhs, rheums, or any swimming and giddiness thereof, and is of special use for the windiness of the stomach and belly. It is effectual for any cramp, or cold aches, to dissolve cold and wind that affects the place; and is used for colds, coughs, and shortness of breath. The juice thereof drank in wine, is profitable for those that are bruised by an accident. The green herb bruised and applied to the fundament, and lying there for two or three hours, eases the pains of the piles; the juice also being made up into an ointment, is effectual for the same purpose. The head washed with a decoction thereof, it taketh away scabs, and may be effectual for other parts of the body also.”
Cool For Cats
Catnip acts as a mild sedative and digestive aid for most animals, making it very useful to treat high-strung animals with nervous stomach upsets. Cats seemingly become intoxicated when they sniff the bruised leaves of this plant. Some people, noticing the effect upon cats, have taken to smoking catmint as a milder substitute for cannabis.
Family Papaveraceae, Poppy
OTHER NAMES: Celandine, common celandine, garden celandine, kill wart, wart flower, wart weed, devil’s milk, swallow wort, tetter wort, dilwydd.
DESCRIPTION: This upright, widely branching perennial grows to a height of between 1 to 2 feet (30–60 cm) and bears flowers with four yellow petals. Like the yellow Welsh poppy, the greater celandine has yellow sap or latex rather than the white sap of other poppies. It can blister the skin, being caustic, and is poisonous, leading to the common name of “devil’s milk.” The seeds are small and black, borne in a long fleshy capsule. This attracts ants to disperse the seeds in suitable habitats (a type of seed dispersal known scientifically as myrmecochory).
PROPERTIES AND USES: Greater celandine acts as a mild sedative and has been used historically to treat asthma, bronchitis, and whooping cough. Its antispasmodic effect improves bile flow in the gallbladder and it has been reputed to treat gallstones and gallbladder pain. Modern herbalists value its purgative properties. Culpeper recommended it for yellow jaundice, dropsy, itch, old sores, toothache and “griping pains in the bowels.”
HISTORY: As far back as Pliny the Elder and Dioscorides, the herb has been recognized as a detoxifying agent. The root has been chewed to relieve toothache. It was formerly used by gypsies as a foot refresher, and across Europe as a herbal aid in removing warts, papillomas and other skin malformations, hence the name kill wart. A yellow juice pervades the plant’s root, stem and leaves. Its resemblance to bile in color led those who practiced the Doctrine of Signatures to use the drug in hepatic disorders. In the Middle Ages, this acrid juice was used to remove filming from the cornea of the eye, “for the juice cleanseth and consumeth away slimy things that cleaves about the ball of the eye and hinder the sight.” Culpeper recommended this course of action rather than a needle to clean the eye, mixing the celandine latex with breast-milk to allay the “sharpness of the juice.”
Hard to Swallow
This plant is said to derive its name Chelidonium from the Greek chelidon, swallow, as it comes into flower when these birds arrive and fades at their departure. Celandine is a corruption of the Greek. It was also thought that swallows used the juice of the celandine to feed their young and improve their eyesight.
Family Ranunculaceae, Buttercup
OTHER NAMES: Small celandine, figwort, pilewort, smallwort, brighteye, butter and cheese.
DESCRIPTION: This is a lowgrowing, hairless perennial plant, with fleshy, dark green, heart-shaped leaves, and yellow buttercup-like flowers with eight to 12 petals. It is one of the earliest spring flowers. It was loved by Wordsworth and its flowers were carved on his tomb, but like all the buttercup family, it is toxic. The blossoms shut up before rain, and even in fine weather do not open before 9 a.m. By 5 p.m. they have already closed for the night. It derives its species name ficaria from ficus, the Latin word for the fig, and this relates to the appearance of the root tubers of the plant.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper wrote: “It is certain by good experience that the decoction of the leaves and roots doth wonderfully help piles and haemorrhoids; also kernels by the ears and throat called the King’s Evil, or any other hard wens or tumours…The very herb borne about one’s body next the skin helps in such diseases though it never touch the place grieved.” The plant used to be known as pilewort, as it was used to treat hemorrhoids. Supposedly the knobbly tubers resemble piles, and according to the Doctrine of Signatures this resemblance suggests that pilewort could be used to cure piles. Its saponins are fungicidal and locally antihaemorrhoidal, an action enhanced by its astringent tannins, and protoanemonin in the fresh plant is antibacterial.
HISTORY: In the Western Isles of Scotland they were believed to resemble a cow’s udder, and they were hung in cow byres to encourage high milk yields. Boiled with white wine and sweetened with honey then drunk before bed, lesser celandine was believed to induce pleasant dreams. It was used as a visionary herb to increase psychic abilities and as a wash in divination, to consecrate a divinatory tool or to bathe the body. The German name Scharbockskraut (scurvywort) derives from the use of the early leaves, which are high in vitamin C, to prevent scurvy. The Russian name for it is chistotel (clean body) and it is brewed and used in baths to help cure dermatitis and other skin irritations such as rosacea. It was believed that beggars would use lesser celandine juice to create sores on their bodies to encourage people to give them alms.
Family Apiaceae/Umbelliferae, Carrot/Parsley
OTHER NAMES: Culpeper calls it Smallage. Smallage is the wild variety of celery. The two domestic cultivars cultivated from it are what we now call celery (Apium graveolens var. dulce) and celeriac (Apium graveolensvar. rapaceum.)
DESCRIPTION: A plant growing 1–3 feet (30–90 cm) tall, this is the ancestor of our garden celery, with thin hollow stalks and a marked smell of celery. It blossoms with flat, umbrellalike masses of tiny white blooms. Italian farmers developed what we now call celery in the 17th century.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper noted “It is under the dominion of the Sun, as are all celeries. The root, in its wild state, is of an acrid, noxious nature, but culture takes away those properties, and renders the plant mild and succulent.” Celery has been promoted as a stimulant, diuretic and tonic, promoting restfulness and sleep. In France, smallage is often used in soups and stews, as the French feel it gives more concentrated flavor than domesticated celery. One French name for smallage, “celeri à couper” (celery to cut), tells us that it can be treated as a cut-and-come-again plant. However, celery is among a small group of foods, such as peanuts, that can cause severe allergic reactions. Wild celery seeds are those sold as “Celery Seed” in health food shops. It is drunk as tea to reduce blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels as it contains chemical compounds called coumarins that thin the blood. Celery seed also helps rid the body of uric acid that often causes pain and inflammation in gout and arthritis. The plant compound luteolin reduces inflammation in the brain, and benefits cognitive health.
HISTORY: Traditionally it was used in Indian medicine to treat flatulence, asthma and hiccups, and remains of it was found in Tutankhamen’s tomb—as was chervil. Smallage is one of the oldest vegetables in recorded history. Ancient Egyptians were known to gather wild celery from marshy seaside areas for food, and Greeks crowned their athletes with celery leaves to honor them.
Attractive to Bees
Apium graveolens is a member of the Apiaceae (parsley) family and a relative of dill and carrots. The genus name is derived from the Latin, apis (bee), as bees are attracted to its small white flowers. The species name graveolens means “heavy scented.” Our English word celery is possibly from the Latin celer, meaing swift, as celery is considered a fast-acting remedy.
Family Gentianaceae, Gentian
OTHER NAMES: Bitterherb, centaury gentium, common centaury, European centaury, “Ordinary Smaller Centaury” (Culpeper).
DESCRIPTION: An erect biennial herb growing to 18 inches (46 cm) from a small basal rosette, and bearing many pinkish-lavender inflorescenses
PROPERTIES AND USES: “Of all the bitter appetizing wild herbs which serve as excellent simple tonics, the Centaury is the most efficacious, sharing the antiseptic virtues of the Field Gentian and the Buckbean.” (Grieve 1931). It is a gentle laxative, and an excellent remedy for heartburn. Like other bitter tonics, centaury is effective in reducing fever and has been used in place of quinine. Culpeper recommended centaury for sciatica, colic, jaundice, obstructions of the liver, spleen and gall, ague, dropsy, “worms in the belly,” childbirth, joint pains, snake bites, gout, cramp, convulsions, dimness of sight, ulcers, wounds, scabs etc.
HISTORY: It is one of the “nine sacred herbs” of the Anglo-Saxons, the others being fennel, chervil, crab apple, nettle, betony, watercress, plantain and mugwort.
Centaur Chiron’s Herbal Cure
The name of the species to which centaury is at present assigned, Erythraea, is derived from the Greek erythros (red), referring to the color of the flowers. The genus was formerly called Chironia, from the centaur Chiron, who was famous in Greek mythology for his skill in using medicinal herbs, and who is supposed to have cured himself with it from a wound he had accidentally received from an arrow belonging to Heracles. The arrow’s tip had been poisoned with the blood of the Hydra.
…A mighty arrow not for him to wield,
The wound being deep, and with a venomed point,
To Deaths arrestment he began to yield,
And there with sundry Balms they did anoint,
His wounded foot being stricken through the joint:
All would not serve till that an old man brought,
This Centaurie that ease to him hath wrought…
Robert Chester, Love’s Martyr, 1601
ANTHEMIS NOBILIS (SYN. CHAMAEMELUM NOBILE)
Family Asteraceae/Compositae, Sunflower
OTHER NAMES: Camomile, chamomel, maythen (Saxon), whig plant, earth apple, English chamomile, garden chamomile, lawn chamomile, low chamomile, Roman chamomile, manzanilla (Spanish, “little apple”), noble chamomile, ground apple. In Greek, chamaimelon means earth-apple and refers to the strong apple-like scent when walked upon. Its Welsh name is camri, meaning footsteps or walk. It is also called the physician’s plant, as when planted next to sick plants, it helps them revive.
DESCRIPTION: A hardy lowgrowing herb, with profuse white daisy-like flowers with yellow centers.
PROPERTIES AND USES: It makes an excellent calming tea, helping with stress and insomnia, and has a soothing effect on the digestion. It is a good herb to give to hyperactive children or children with colic. It can relieve the pain of arthritis and gout, and also period pains, PMT and thrush. It also helps with colds, catarrh, hay fever and asthma. Used as an oil, chamomile is anti-inflammatory, cooling and calming. It is good for allergies and inflamed itchy skin conditions. Culpeper wrote: “A decoction made of Camomile, and drank, taketh away all pains and stitches in the side…The flowers of Camomile beaten, and made up into balls with oil, drive away all sorts of agues, if the part grieved be anointed with that oil, taken from the flowers, from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, and afterwards laid to sweat in his bed, and that he sweats well.” Chamomile is also used commercially in a number of personal care products including cosmetics, hair colorings, mouthwash, sunscreen, shampoos and conditioners to bring out the highlights in blond hair, and as a moisturizer for dry hair.
HISTORY: Chamomile has been accepted as an herbal remedy for stress and restlessness since the time of ancient Egypt. It was worshiped by Egyptians and dedicated to their Sun god Ra because of its gold-centered disc, and because it was well known for its power to cure chills and fevers. It was also prescribed by Greek doctors and is celebrated as one of the most sacred herbs in the Anglo-Saxons’ collection of medical remedies, the manuscript known as Lacnunga. Chamomile was often used to create a lawn instead of grass, and was employed as a strewing herb and to scent herb seats in medieval gardens. “Though the camomile, the more it is trodden upon, the faster it grows…” William Shakespeare, Henry IV Part I. Before the invention of refrigeration, meat was immersed in a camomile infusion to prevent spoilage.
Family Lamiaceae (formerly Verbenaceae), Verbena
OTHER NAMES: Chasteberry, monk’s pepper, Abraham’s balm, chaste lamb-tree, safe tree. It is not mentioned in Culpeper, although it was known in his time.
DESCRIPTION: A deciduous shrub native to the Mediterranean region with lance-like leaves, fragrant flowers and gray or purple berries
PROPERTIES AND USES: The herb has had a history as an effective treatment for menstrual disorders for at least 2500 years. The Greek physician Hippocrates (460-377 BCE) wrote, “If blood flows from the womb, let the woman drink dark wine in which the leaves of the chaste tree have been steeped.”
HISTORY: Pliny and Dioscorides (first century CE), and Theophrastus (third century CE) recommended its use. Athenian matrons in the sacred rites of Ceres used to string their couches with the leaves of the chaste tree, because of the seed’s reputation for securing chastity. Dioscorides recommended the fruit for inflammations of the womb and to stimulate milk flow in nursing mothers. Gerard (1633) recommended chaste tree for those “willing to live chaste” and for treating inflammation of the uterus. In Rome, vestal virgins carried twigs of chaste tree as a symbol of chastity. Later ceremonial uses include the strewing of flowers along the entrances of monasteries as a symbol of celibacy.
From Love’s Martyr, 1601
[Phoenix] Here need they not of aches to complain,
For Physics’ skill grows here without compare:
All herbs and plants within this Region are,
But by the way sweet Nature as you go,
Of Agnus Castus speak a word or two.
[Nature] That shall I briefly; it is the very handmaid
To Vesta, or to perfect Chastity,
The hot inflamed spirit is allayed
By this sweet herb that bends to Luxury,
It drieth up the seed of Venerie:
The leaves being laid upon the sleepers bed,
With chasteness, cleanness, pureness he is fed.
Burn me the leaves, and straw then on the ground,
Whereas foul venomous Serpents use to haunt:
And by this virtue here they are not found…
Family Rosaceae, Rose
OTHER NAMES: Wild cherry, sweet cherry, gean, mazzard, massard.
DESCRIPTION: Masses of showy white or pink flowers, the tree can grow over 50 feet (15 m) in height, and bears fleshy fruits which vary from red to purple in color.
PROPERTIES AND USES: The vast majority of eating cherries are derived from either Prunus avium, the wild cherry or from Prunus cerasus, the sour cherry. Culpeper: “Cherries, as they are of different tastes, so they are of different qualities. The sweet pass through the stomach and the belly more speedily, but are of little nourishment; the tart or sour are more pleasing to an hot stomach, procure appetite to meat, and help to cut tough phlegm and gross humours; but when these are dried, they are more binding to the belly than when they are fresh, being cooling in hot diseases, and welcome to the stomach, and provoke urine. The gum of the cherry-tree, dissolved in wine, is good for a cold, cough, and hoarseness of the throat; mends the colour in the face, sharpens the eyesight, provokes appetite, and helps to break and expel the stone; the black cherries bruised with the stone, and dissolved, the water thereof is much used to break the stone, and to expel gravel and wind.” Compounds in cherry juice significantly reduce the chemicals in the body that cause joint inflammation. The hard, reddish-brown wood is valued as a hardwood for turnery, musical instruments and cabinet-making.
HISTORY: Wild cherry stones have been found in Bronze Age settlements throughout Europe, carbon dated to 2000 BCE. By 800 BCE, cherries were being cultivated in Asia Minor, and soon after in Greece. As the main ancestor of the cultivated sweet cherry, the wild cherry is one of the two cherry species which supply most of the world’s commercial cultivars of edible cherry. The other is the sour cherry Prunus cerasus, also known as Morello cherry, which is mainly used for cooking.
The wild cherry’s scientific name Prunus avium literally means “bird cherry.” However, the bird cherry species is actually Prunus padus. The English name refers to the berries, which are astringent and bitter-sweet. They are seldom used in Western Europe but readily eaten by birds, which do not taste astringency as unpleasant. It was used medicinally during the Middle Ages, and the bark, placed at the door, was supposed to ward off plague. Another name for Prunus padus is the Hagberry, and the fruit can be known as hags.
Family Umbelliferae/Apiaceaea, Umbillifers
OTHER NAMES: Garden chervil, gourmet’s parsley, French parsley, anise parsley. Culpeper says “It is called cerefolium, mirrhis, and mirrha, chervel, sweet chervil, and sweet cicely.” (However, for Culpeper’s sweet chervil see sweet cicely, and for his wild chervil see cow parsley).
DESCRIPTION: Hardy biennial, growing up to 2 feet (60 cm) tall with fern-like leaves and tiny white flowers. The leaves taste slightly of aniseed, resembling a mixture of sweet cicely and parsley.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Chervil is a traditional remedy for bad dreams, burns and stomach upsets. It is an excellent source of antioxidants that stabilize cell membranes and reduce inflammation associated with headache, sinusitis, peptic ulcers and infections. It is a good source of vitamin C, magnesium and carotene. Chervil infusions are used to lower blood pressure. It is used as a digestive aid, diuretic, stimulant and for menstrual cramps. Chervil is particularly popular in France, where it is added to omelets, salads and soups. The root can be eaten as a vegetable. More delicate than parsley, it has a faint taste of liquorice. Cooking destroys the color and flavor of this delicate herb, so add last to soups and stews. Leaves infused in water act as a skin freshener and to treat eczema. “The garden chervil being eaten, doth moderately warm the stomach, and is a certain remedy (saith Tragus) to dissolve congealed or clotted blood in the body, or that which is clotted by bruises, falls, &c. The juice or distilled water thereof being drank, and the bruised leaves laid to the place, being taken either in meat or drink, it is good to help to provoke urine, or expel the stone in the kidneys, to send down women’s courses, and to help the pleurisy and pricking of the sides” (Culpeper).
HISTORY: The herb was found in Tutankhamen’s tomb. It was a popular herb at Lent, being eaten on Maundy Thursday for its blood-cleansing properties—a “Spring cleansing” tonic for the body. The name is derived via Latin from the Greek chairephyllon, a compound of chairein (“to delight in”) and phyllon (“leaf”), a reference to the plant’s pleasing scent. Chervil was one of the nine sacred herbs of the Anglo-Saxons, along with betony, mugwort, plantain, watercress, chamomile, crab apple, nettle and fennel.
Gather With Care
It is not advisable to collect chervil from the wild as it resembles hemlock, which is poisonous. It is one of the traditional “fines herbes” of French cuisine along with parsley, chives and tarragon, and is used in ravigote and Béarnaise sauces.
Family Fagaceae, Beech
OTHER NAMES: Culpeper calls it a “chesnut tree.” Marron, Sardian nut, Jupiter’s nut, husked nut, Spanish chestnut, Portuguese chestnut, European chestnut.
DESCRIPTION: This tree can reach a huge size—up to 115 feet (35 m) in height—and is used for landscaping.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper: “The tree is abundantly under the dominion of Jupiter, and therefore the fruit must needs breed good blood, and yield commendable nourishment to the body; yet if eaten overmuch, they make the blood thick, procure head-ach, and bind the body; the inner skin, that covereth the nut, is of so binding a quality, that a scruple of it taken by a man, or ten grains by a child, soon stops any flux whatsoever: The whole nut being dried and beaten into powder, and a dram taken at a time, is a good remedy to stop the terms in women. If you dry chesnuts, (only the kernels I mean) both the barks being taken away, beat them into powder, and make the powder into an electuary with honey, so have you an admirable remedy for the cough and spitting of blood.” Easy to peel, unlike their spiky “conker” cousins, horse chestnuts, sweet chestnuts can be eaten raw but are usually roasted. They also make an excellent stuffing for turkey and pheasant. Chestnut leaves were chewed or made into tea as a popular remedy in fever and ague, for their tonic and astringent properties. Chestnut powder was sold for paroxysmal and convulsive coughs. The candied nuts are sold as marron glacés.
HISTORY: It was introduced into Europe from Sardis in Asia Minor, thus the fruit was called the “Sardian nut.” Theophrastus called it the “Euboean nut” from the large Greek island in the Adriatic, where it was abundant. Roman soldiers were given chestnut porridge before entering battle. Evelyn spoke of chestnuts as “delicacies for princes and a lusty and masculine food for rusticks, and able to make women well-complexioned,” and then complained that in England they were chiefly given to pigs. In many European countries, they are sold, freshly roasted, by street vendors as a snack. Chestnut wood is more durable than oak for woodwork that has to be partially sunk in the ground, such as stakes and fenceposts. Because of this, it was used for making pitprops, wine barrels, house building and household furniture. In hop-growing areas it was in great demand for hop poles.
Family Carophylaceae, Pink
OTHER NAMES: Starweed, star chickweed, common chickweeds, adder’s mouth chickweed, Indian chickweed, satinflower, scarweed, scarwort, starwort, stitchwort, tongue grass, white bird’s-eye, winterweed (as it is found year-round), little star lady, bird herb, chick whittle, chicken’s meat, cluckweed (chickens love it, as do most birds).
DESCRIPTION: This small creeping plant is found everywhere, throughout the year; it has small white starry flowers on weak stems.
PROPERTIES AND USES: “It is a fine soft pleasing herb under the dominion of the Moon. The herb bruised or the juice applied with cloths or sponges dipped therein to the region of the liver, and as they dry to have it fresh applied, doth wonderfully temperate the heat of the liver,” Nicholas Culpeper. Chickweed is best known for its ability to cool inflammation and speed healing for internal or external flare-ups. Herbalists often recommend it as a poultice or ointment for minor burns, insect bites, skin irritations, skin abscesses and boils. Chickweed’s use as a wound herb is probably due to its saponin content. It can cool inflammation and speed healing. It is used for rashes, particularly when associated with dryness and itching. Chickweed is an effective and gentle laxative. Chickweed water is an old remedy for obesity, which may have been associated with its laxative properties. The juice was once taken to combat scurvy. Fresh chickweed can be eaten in summer salads and can be fed to pets to assist in the expulsion of hair balls, and sooth the digestive tract.
HISTORY: It can be used both internally and externally for healing and has been used throughout history to stop bleeding in the stomach and bowels. Chickweed has been used as a culinary herb in Britain since at least the Middle Ages. Paracelsus in 1530 described it as “The Elixir of Life…one of the supreme healers.”
Chickweed is a favorite source of food for chickens kept outdoors, hence its name. “Scarwort” alludes to its healing properties for skin abrasions, and “stitchwort” probably applies to chickweed lotion being used when wounds have been stitched. All varieties of chickweed share the interesting practice termed the Sleep of Plants, when every night (and when the weather is cloudy) the leaves fold over the tender buds and the new shoots.
Family Asteraceae/Compositae, Daisy
OTHER NAMES: Culpeper calls it succory or garden succory. Leaf chicory, Italian chicory, witloof, Belgian endive, French endive, red endive, sugar loaf chicory, radicchio, barbe de capucin (blanched), blue sailors, coffeeweed.
DESCRIPTION: A hardy perennial which grows 2–3 feet (60–90 cm) high, with dandelion-like leaves and edible bright pale blue/lavender (sometimes white) flowers which can color a salad or rice dish.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper: “Garden Succory, as it is more dry and less cold than endive, so it opens more. An handful of the leaves, or roots boiled in wine or water, and a draught thereof drank fasting, drives forth choleric and phlegmatic humours, opens obstructions of the liver, gall and spleen; helps the yellow jaundice, the heat of the reins, and of the urine; the dropsy also; and those that have an evil disposition in their bodies, by reason of long sickness, evil diet, &c. which the Greeks call Cachexia [a loss of body mass, caused by chronic illness, that cannot be reversed nutritionally]. A decoction thereof made with wine, and drank, is very effectual against long lingering agues; and a dram of the seed in powder, drank in wine, before the fit of the ague, helps to drive it away. The distilled water of the herb and flowers (if you can take them in time) hath the like properties, and is especially good for hot stomachs, and in agues, either pestilential or of long continuance; for swoonings and passions of the heart, for the heat and headache in children, and for the blood and liver. The said water, or the juice, or the bruised leaves applied outwardly, allay swellings, inflammations, St. Anthony’s fire, pushes, wheals, and pimples, especially used with a little vinegar; as also to wash pestiferous sores. The said water is very effectual for sore eyes that are inflamed with redness, for nurses’ breasts that are pained by the abundance of milk. The Wild Succory, as it is more bitter, so it is more strengthening to the stomach and liver.”
A tonic was made, to increase the flow of bile, and a tea made from the leaves was used to aid the liver and digestion. A decoction of the bitter root was recommended for jaundice, liver enlargements, gout and rheumatic complaints. Syrup of succory was a popular laxative for children, and the leaves when bruised made a good poultice for swellings, inflammations and inflamed eyes. The flowers were also used to make a distillation to help cure inflammation of the eyes, and chicory leaves can make a blue dye. The leaves are used in salads, generally blanched, as unblanched leaves are bitter. This forced foliage is termed by the French barbe de capucin and forms a favorite winter salad, much eaten in France and Belgium. Chicory is becoming increasingly popular, and is an excellent winter crop for salads. There are three main types, all with slightly bitter leaves. “Forcing” chicories such as Witloof (white leaf) give leafy plump heads known as chicons when blanched. “Non-forcing” chicories produce large-hearted lettuce-like heads in the autumn and are known as Sugarloaf varieties. Red chicory (radicchio) includes older cultivars which respond to lower temperatures and daylight hours by turning an attractive red color.
When fully opened, the blooms are large and shaded a delicate tint of blue, blossoming from July to September. However, even on a sunny day, by the early afternoon every bloom is closed, the petal-rays drawing together. Linnaeus used the chicory as one of the flowers in his Floral Clock (see pages 152–153) at Uppsala, in Sweden because of its regularity in opening at 5 a.m. and closing at 10 a.m. at that latitude. In Britain, it opens between 6 and 7 a.m. and closes just after midday.
HISTORY: Chicory was used by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans as a salad plant, vegetable and medicinal plant. In 1573, Thomas Tusser thought that chicory, together with endive, was a remedy for ague. The botanist and apothecary to King James I and Charles I, John Parkinson (1567–1650), pronounced succory a “fine, cleansing, jovial plant.” With violets, chicory was used to make the sweet, “violet plates” (tablets), in the time of Charles II. The confections used sweet violets and chicory flowers, being “most pleasant and wholesome, and especially it comforteth the heart, and inward parts.” The tablets were also added to soups and stews. Used as a fodder plant in Europe, the young and tender roots or blanched heads are also boiled and eaten with butter like parsnips.
Chicory roots were roasted and ground as a coffee substitute in France during Napoleonic times, when the naval blockade cut off coffee supplies. It is extensively cultivated in Europe to supply ground chicory which forms an ingredient or addition to some coffees. When infused, chicory gives to coffee a more bitter taste and a darker color. The French believe it to be a “contra-stimulante,” correcting the excessively stimulative effects caused by coffee, and think that such a drink suits bilious subjects who suffer from habitual constipation.
Family Solanaceae, Nightshade or Potato
OTHER NAMES: Culpeper calls it guinea pepper, cayenne pepper and bird pepper. Red pepper, pimento.
DESCRIPTION: A small shrub, whose white flowers become green, yellow and bright red, with hot-tasting seed pods.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper: “…All kinds of guinea pepper are under Mars, and are of a fiery, sharp, biting taste, and of a temperature hot and dry, to the end of the fourth degree; they burn and inflame the mouth and throat so extremely that it is hard to be endured, and if it be outwardly applied to the skin in any part of the body, it will exulcerate and raise it as if it had been burnt with fire, or scalded with hot water. The vapours that arise from the husks or pods, while a person opens them to take out the seed, (especially if he beats them into powder, or bruises them) will so pierce the brain by flying up into the head through the nostrils, as to produce violent sneezings, and draw down abundance of thin rheum, forcing tears from the eyes, and will pass into the throat, and provoke a sharp coughing, and cause violent vomiting; and if any shall with their hands touch their face or eyes, it will cause so great an inflammation that it will not be remedied in a long time by all the bathing thereof with wine or cold water that can be used, but yet will pass away without further harm. If any of it be caste into fire, it raises grievous strong and noisome vapours, occasions sneezing, coughing, and strong vomiting to all that be near it; if it should be taken simply of itself (though in very small quantity, either in powders or decoction) it would be hard to be endured, and might prove dangerous to life. Such are the dangers attending the immoderate use of these violent plants and fruits; yet, when corrected of their evil qualities, they are of considerable service…” He recommends making a powder to season meat or sauces, then: “It is of singular service to be used with flatulent or windy diet, and such as breeds moisture and crudities; one scruple of the said powder, taken in a little broth of veal or of a chicken, gives great relief and comfort to a cold stomach, causing phlegm and such viscous humours as lie low in the bottom thereof, to be voiced: it helps digestion, for it occasions an appetite to meat, provokes urine, and taken with saxifrage water expels the stone in the kidneys, and the phlegm that breeds it, and takes away dimness or mistiness in the sight, being used in meats…it helps the dropsy…expels the dead birth…will ease all the pains of the mother…it helps the quinsy…it takes away the morphew and all freckles, spots, marks, and discolourings of the skin…dissolves all cold imposthumes and carbuncles, and mixed with sharp vinegar dissolves the hardness of the skin…The decoction of the husks themselves, made with water, and the mouth gargled therewith, helps the tooth-ach, and preserves the teeth from rottenness; the ashes of them being rubbed on the teeth, will cleanse them, and make them look white…A little of the pulpy part of the fruit, held in the mouth, cures the tooth-ache…” Its name possibly comes from Greek kapso to bite, and cayenne and tabasco are obtained from varieties of chili pepper. The world’s hottest chili, the Dorset Naga, measures 1.6 million SHUs (Scoville heat units), compared to the 2500–5000 rating of tabasco sauce. Capsaicin, the essential ingredient, has antibiotic qualities and can be detected by taste buds at a level of 1 in 15,000,000 parts. Capsaicin clears mucus and aids nasal and lung decongestion. It eases pain, prevents stomach ulcers, lessens the risk of blood clots and lowers cholesterol.
HISTORY: Chili was a common folk remedy for flatulence, and for centuries red pepper was rubbed into inflamed and painful joints. It now gives relief from lumbago, arthritis, rheumatism and neuralgia when applied in an ointment. For reasons still not completely understood, capsaicin interferes with the action of substance P, a nerve chemical that sends pain messages to the brain. It is also used to help cure cluster headaches.
Why Is A Chili Pepper Hot?
The areas of the tongue that normally sense heat and pain are stimulated by capsaicin, which also increases perspiration and raises the heart rate. Most of the heat-causing capsaicin is found in the white pith of the chili pepper, not in the seeds as most celebrity chefs inform us. The burning sensation causes the release of endorphins, natural painkillers in the body that also give us a feeling of happiness. Some people build up their tolerance of chili peppers over time. If a curry containing excessive chili is too hot, the Indian cucumber- and yogurt-based side dish, raita, seems to dissolve the capsaicin and relieve the burning sensation. Also the proteins in a drink of milk help to wash away capsaicin.
Family Alliaceae, Onion
OTHER NAMES: Culpeper calls these “Cives, Rush-Leeks, Civet and Sweth.” Rush leek is a translation of its Latin name.
DESCRIPTION: Hardy perennial with a 12-inch (30-cm) height and spread, with pink or purple globe-shaped flowers. Will multiply rapidly and form clumps.
PROPERTIES AND USES: The flowers are edible, with a mild onion flavor, to decorate salads, and can be infused in white wine vinegar to make fine-tasting pink vinegar. Leaves are best used fresh and go well with cheese, eggs, pasta and potatoes or with anything that does not overpower their delicate taste. Cooking takes away a lot of their flavor so add them last to a dish that is cooking. Chives can be useful in fighting infection and anemia and provide antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal actions. Culpeper states: “They are indeed a kind of leeks, hot and dry in the forth degree, and so under the dominion of Mars. If they be eaten raw (I do not mean raw opposite to roasted or boiled, but raw opposite to chemical preparation) they send up very hurtful vapours to the brain, causing troublesome sleep and spoiling the eyesight; yet of them, prepared by the act of the alchemist, may be made an excellent remedy for the stoppage of urine.” The rhyme “chives next to rosies creates posies” denoted that the plant kept black spot away from the flowers.
HISTORY: Chives were used as far back as 3000 BCE as a remedy to staunch blood flow and as an antidote to poison. Having a bunch of chives in the house was thought to ward off evil spirits and disease. In Ancient Rome chives were used to relieve the pain from sunburn or a sore throat, increase blood pressure and encourage urination. It is said that during the approach of Alexander the Great (356–23 BCE) the people of the Persian province of Bactria appealed to him (in honor of his upcoming marriage to their Princess Roxana) with their only treasure, chives, because it was believed to be an aphrodisiac. The belief that chives was an aphrodisiac remained part of folklore until into the 19th century.
Whenever serving a dish that is high in fats, consider also serving a salad that has fresh chives added. Even chewing one fresh stalk will aid the digestion of a fatty meal, and the scent on one’s breath does not last as long as onion or garlic. “He who bears chives on his breath / Is safe from being kissed to death.” (Epigrams of Marcus Valerius Martialis, c. 100 CE.)
Family Lauraceae, Laurel
OTHER NAMES: Sweet wood, true cinnamon.
DESCRIPTION: A medium sized evergreen tree, of which the former name was Cinnamomum zeylanicum, named after the island of Ceylon. Ninety percent of the world’s production comes from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). It is harvested by growing the tree for two years and then coppicing it. The following year, about a dozen shoots will form from the roots. The outer bark is scraped off, and the inner bark is beaten out in long lengths. These curl into rolls (“quills”) on drying, then the bark is sold either cut into 2–4 inch (5–10 cm) lengths, or powdered.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Cinnamon bark is widely used as a culinary spice, often in desserts, such as apple pie, doughnuts and pastries, as well as used in spicy sweets, tea and liqueurs. This is true cinnamon, rather than the stronger cassia (Cinnamon aromaticum). In medicine its antimicrobial oil acts like other volatile oils and was once used as a cure for colds. It has also been used to treat diarrhea and other problems of the digestive system. According to Maud Grieve, “It stops vomiting, relieves flatulence, and given with chalk and astringents is useful for diarrhoea and haemorrhage of the womb.” Cinnamon is high in antioxidants. Half a teaspoon of cinnamon a day reduces blood sugar levels in diabetics.
HISTORY: Cinnamon was one of the first known spices. Moses was commanded to use it as an anointing oil, and in the Book of Proverbs the lover’s bed is perfumed with aloe, myrrh and cinnamon The Romans believed cinnamon’s fragrance was sacred and Nero is said to have burned a year’s worth of the city’s supply for his wife Poppaea Sabina, in remorse for having murdered her in 65 CE. At that time, Pliny the Elder wrote of 350 grams of cinnamon as being equal in value to over five kilograms of silver, about 15 times the value of silver per weight. Throughout the Middle Ages, the source of cinnamon was a mystery to the Western world. Arab traders brought the spice via overland trade routes to Alexandria in Egypt, where it was bought by Venetian traders who held a monopoly on the spice trade in Europe.
Herodotus wrote of the huge Phoenix bird gathering the priceless cinnamon spice sticks. Gatherers would lure the bird with heavy pieces of meat which the bird would laboriously haul to its nest. In legend, the weight of the meat would cause the nest to fall, allowing the valuable sticks to be harvested safely.
Family Lamiaceae, Mint
OTHER NAMES: Culpeper writes: “Wild Clary is often, though I think imprudently, called Christ’s Eye, because it cures the diseases of the eyes.” Wild sage, wild clear-eye, vervain sage, vervain salvia, wild English clary, Christ’s eye, oculus Christi, eyeseeds.
DESCRIPTION: A perennial herb about 18 inches (46 cm) high, smaller than clary sage, with hairy stems and branches, with soft purple to violet lipped flowers. To protect the honey from the rain and flies, the tube of the corolla is lined with hairs. A bee inserting its head in the mouth of the flower touches the inner end of the anther, and raising it acts as a lever and causes the outer surface to rub on its back and so deposit pollen.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper: “It is something hotter and drier than the garden clary, yet nevertheless under the dominion of the Moon, as well as that the seeds of it being beaten in powder and drunk in wine is an admirable help to provoke lust; a decoction of the leaves being drunk warms the stomach, and it is a wonder if it should not, the stomach being under Cancer in the house of the Moon. It helps digestion, scatters congealed blood in any part of the body, and helps dimness of the sight; The distilled water thereof cleans the eyes of redness, wateriness and heat: it is a gallant remedy for dimness of sight, to take one of the seeds of it and put it into the eyes, and there let it remain till it drops out of itself, the pain will be nothing to speak on: it will cleanse the eyes of all filthy and putrid matter; and in often repeating, will take off a film which covers the sight. It is a great deal handsomer, safer and easier remedy than to tear it off with a needle.”
HISTORY: This aromatic sage was used as flavoring in foods and to make tea. The flowers can be added to salads. Eyeseeds was a name given because it was “a plant whose seeds if blown into the eye are said to remove bits of dust, cinders, or insects that may be lodged there.”
Clearing the Eyes
This type of clary was thought to be more beneficial to the eye than the garden clary variety, clary sage. The seeds, like those of the garden clary, produce a great quantity of soft, tasteless mucilage when moistened. If seeds were inserted under the eyelids for a few moments, the tears dissolved the mucilage, which then enveloped any dust or motes and brought irritating matter out safely.
Family Rubiaceae, Madder
OTHER NAMES: According to Culpeper: “Aparine, Sticky Weed, Grip Grass, Goose-Share and Goosegrass.” Clivers, catchweed, beggar lice, goose-grass, goosebill, sticky willy, stickyweed, catchweed bedstraw, Robin-run-the-hedge, bedstraw, coachweed, cleaverwort, goose’s hair, gosling weed, hedge-burrs, clabber grass, milk sweet, poor Robin, stick-a-back, sweethearts, scratchweed, barweed, hedgeheriff, hariff, hayriffe, hayruff, hay reve, eriff, scratweed, mutton chops, Robin-run-in-the-grass, everlasting friendship, loveman.
DESCRIPTION: The long stems of this climbing plant sprawl over the ground and other plants, reaching heights of 4–6 feet (1.2–1.8 m). Both leaves and stem have fine hairs tipped with tiny hooks, making them cling to clothes and fur. The bristle-covered fruit (burrs) will latch on (cleave) to animals who brush past, hence its names cleavers and catchweed.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Use leaves for an infusion to treat sunburn and a tea for insomnia. In France, the plant is crushed and used as a poultice for blisters and sores. Herbalists have long regarded cleavers as a valuable lymphatic tonic and diuretic. A tea made from cleavers can be used as a skin wash to improve the complexion and to treat skin disorders, minor cuts and scrapes. The tea can also be put to good use as a hair rinse to help combat dandruff.
HISTORY: Seeds have been found in Neolithic settlements, and in times past the herb was used to curdle milk into cheese. Over the centuries used for skin conditions, internal and external ulcers, wounds and as a diuretic for bladder problems. Culpeper noted, “It is under the dominion of the Moon. The juice of the herb and the seed together taken in wine, help those bitten with an adder, by preserving the heart from the venom. It is familiarly taken in broth, to keep them lean and lank that are apt to grow fat.”
Galium is derived from the Greek word for milk, relating to the fact that the plant has the ability to curdle milk, which was beneficial in the making of cheese. The specific name of the plant, aparine, also refers to its habit of “catching,” being derived from the Latin aparare. Loveman and everlasting friendship are Anglicized versions of philanthropon, its Greek name. It was often collected for feeding to poultry, and horses, cows and sheep will also eat it with relish.
Family Lamiaceae/Labiatae, Mint
OTHER NAMES: Also known as woundwort, marsh woundwort, clown heal, hedge nettle, downy woundwort, swine’s beads, swine’s arnit, marsh betony.
DESCRIPTION: An invasive perennial, it reaches 22–32 inches (56–81 cm) in height. It has velvety leaves and there are spikes of pink/purple hooded flowers.
PROPERTIES AND USES: The green parts have been used in poultices to stem bleeding for centuries. The young shoots can be cooked like asparagus, and the tubers are also edible when cooked. The bulb-like swellings at the ends of the rhizomes were boiled, dried and used in making bread.
HISTORY: Culpeper noted: “It is singularly effectual in fresh and green wounds, and therefore bears not the name for nought: And is very available in staunching of blood, to dry up the fluxes of humours in old fretting ulcers, cancers, &c. that hinder the healing of them. A syrup made of the juice of it is inferior to none for inward wounds, ruptures of veins, bloody flux, vessel broken, spitting, pissing, or vomiting blood: rupture are excellently and speedily, even to admiration, cure by taking now and then a little of the syrup, and applying an ointment or plaster of the same to the place; and also if any vein be swelled, or muscle cut, apply a plaster of this herb to it, and, if you add a little comfrey to it, it will not do amiss: I assure you this herb deserves commendation, though it have gotten but a clownish name; and whoever reads this, if he try it as I have done, will commend it as well as me, it is of an earthly nature.” Pigs love the roots, thus the names swine’s beads and arnit (earth-nut).
Curing Grievous Wounds
John Gerard, in his 1597 Great Herbal, tells us that he was in Kent, visiting a patient, when he heard of a farm worker who had cut himself severely with a scythe. The laborer had bound all-heal, bruised with grease and “laid upon in manner of a poultice,” over the wound, which healed in a week, though it would “have required forty days with balsam itself…I saw the wound and offered to heal the same for charity, which he refused, saying I could not heal it so well as himself—a clownish answer, I confess, without any thanks for my good-will: whereupon I have named it ‘Clown’s Woundwort.’” Gerard himself realized the herb’s use and according to his own account, afterward “cured many grievous wounds, and some mortal with the same herb.”
Family Lycopodiaceae, Clubmoss
COMMON NAMES: Wolf’s claw, wolfpaw clubmoss, stag’s horn moss, stagshorn clubmoss, vegetable sulfur, selago, foxtail clubmoss, foxtail, common clubmoss, running clubmoss, running ground-pine, groundpine, running pine, running moss, princess pine, muscus terrestris repens (Grieve).
DESCRIPTION: Clubmoss is usually ground-creeping, and often inhabits moist places, with stems up to 10 feet (3 m) long. The stems are much branched, and densely clothed with small spiraly-arranged leaves. The stems superficially resemble small seedlings of coniferous trees. Evolutionarily, it is more advanced than other mosses.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Traditionally, herbal healers employed the entire plant to relieve muscle cramping, and as a diuretic in kidney and liver complaints. It may have analgesic and antiseptic properties. Today, the only part of the plant used medicinally are the powdered spores by which it reproduces. It promotes healing in wounds, stops bleeding and helps drain tissues of excess fluids. The leaves and stems contain two poisons, lycopodine and clavadine, but the spores are completely non-toxic.
HISTORY: Maud Grieve says: “the whole plant was used, dried, by ancient physicians as a stomachic and diuretic, mainly in calculous and other kidney complaints; the spores do not appear to have been used alone until the seventeenth century” for dropsy, diarrhea, suppression of urine, spasms, hydrophobia, gout, scurvy, rheumatism and as an application to wounds. Native North Americans used the spores as a drying agent for wounds and rashes. It is such a powerful water-repellent that when a hand is coated with the spore powder, it will not become wet when dipped in water, so it has also been used to coat medicine tablets and to dress molds in iron foundries. Clubmoss is an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine to treat fever and inflammation. Recently it has been found to contain a substance which appears to shield brain cells from injury and it may be useful in treating strokes, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease.
Its oily, yellow spore dust was known as “druid’s flour,” and was said to be used by the druids and holy men over the centuries. It explodes with a bright flash when thrown onto flames, this effect impressing onlookers, and was used even by 19th-century theater directors as a stage effect. These reproductive spores, also known as “vegetable sulfur” and “lycopodium powder,” can be explosive if present in the air in sufficient density, and they were used for fireworks and as flash powder in early photography.
Family Rubiceae, Madder or Coffee
OTHER NAMES: Coffea arabica is a species of coffee indigenous to the mountains of Yemen in the Arabian Peninsula (hence its name), Ethiopia and Sudan. It is also known as the coffee shrub of Arabia, mountain coffee or arabica coffee, and has much less caffeine than other coffee species. It is considered to produce better coffee than the other major commercially grown coffee species, Coffea canephora(syn. robusta), and is the coffee referred to, and much hated by, Culpeper. Seventy-five percent of the world’s coffee production is of the arabica species.
DESCRIPTION: In the wild, plants grow up to 36 feet (11 m), with open branches and broad, glossy leaves. The white flowers are followed by fruits technically known as drupes, but which are commonly called coffee berries. These bright red to purple drupes each contain two seeds, wrongly called coffee “beans.”
PROPERTIES AND USES: Global consumption of caffeine has been estimated at 120,000 tons per year, making it the world’s most popular psychoactive substance. This amounts to one serving of a caffeinated beverage, usually coffee, for every person on Earth every day. Caffeine is a central nervous system and metabolic stimulant, and is used both recreationally and medically to reduce physical fatigue and restore mental alertness when unusual weakness or drowsiness occurs. Research is contradictory on health benefits, but some studies suggest that coffee consumption reduces the risk of being affected by Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, diabetes mellitus type 2, cirrhosis of the liver, and gout. The presence of antioxidants in coffee has been shown to prevent free radicals from causing cell damage.
A coffeehouse or coffee shop is called a café in France or Portugal, and a cafetería or café in Spain. In Italy they are caffetterias, and Kaffeehausen in Germany. They first spread across the Ottoman Empire, but in Mecca they were banned (along with coffee) by the imams between 1512 and 1524 because they became a center for political gatherings. In 1530 the first coffee house was opened in Damascus, Syria and soon after coffeehouses had spread to Cairo. The Turkish chronicler Ibrahim Peçevi reported the opening of the first known coffeehouse in Istanbul in 1555. In the 17th century, coffee appeared for the first time in Europe outside the Ottoman Empire, and coffeehouses were rapidly established. The first coffeehouse in England was set up in Oxford in 1650 in a building now known as “The Grand Café.” In Germany women were allowed to frequent Kaffeehausen, but in England and France they were banned from using them.
There’s an Awful Lot of Coffee…
Brazil is the world’s largest producer of coffee beans with an estimated 2.6 million tons being produced per annum (2006 figures). Thousands of square miles of rainforest have been lost for its cultivation. It is surprisingly followed by Vietnam (0.85mmt), then more predictably comes Colombia (0.70mmt) and Indonesia (0.65mmt). Finland is the highest per capita consumer of coffee in the world, with a yearly average of 26.5 pounds (12 kg) per person. It is followed by eight other Northern European countries: Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium and Luxembourg. The UK lies in 47th place with 6.2 pounds (2.8 kg) per year, probably because tea is the more common drink. The USA is surprisingly only in 26th place, despite the preponderance of coffee shops, with 9.3 pounds (4.2 kg). However, it is the greatest consumer by nation, with each coffee drinker consuming an average 3.2 cups per day.
HISTORY: Coffea arabica was probably the first species of coffee to be cultivated, having been grown in southwest Arabia for well over 1000 years. In legend, human cultivation of coffee began after goats in Ethiopia were seen mounting each other, after eating the leaves and fruits of the coffee tree. The first written record of coffee made from roasted coffee beans comes from Arabian scholars who wrote that it was useful in prolonging their working hours. Culpeper described coffee: “It is said of itself to be insipid, having neither scent nor taste, but being pounded and baked, as they do prepare it to make the coffee-liquor with it then stinks most loathsomely…the proponents for this filthy drink affirm that it causes watchfulness…they also say that it makes them sober when they are drunk; yet they would always be accounted sober persons, or at least think themselves so, when they can but once sit down in a coffee-house. If there had been any worth in it, some of the ancient Arab physicians, or others near those parts, would have recorded it; but there is no mention made of any medicinal use thereof; neither can it be endowed with any such properties as the indulgers of it feed their fancies with…” The first coffeehouse in London opened in 1652 in St. Michael’s Alley, Cornhill, and by 1675 there were more than 3000 coffeehouses in England. Culpeper’s Herbal was published in 1653, and he died on January 10, 1654, so we can see the astonishing speed of their growth.
Family Asteraceae/Compositae, Sunflower/Daisy
OTHER NAMES: Horsehoof, horsefoot, foal’s foot, ass’s foot, bullsfoot, hallfoot, fieldhove, coughwort.
DESCRIPTION: The name coltsfoot refers to its hoof-shaped round leaves. The hardy perennial does not flower while it is in leaf, as its large yellow dandelion-like flowers come in early spring.
PROPERTIES AND USES: “The plant is under Venus. The fresh leaves, or juice, or a syrup made thereof, is good for a hot dry cough, for wheezings and shortness of breath” (Nicholas Culpeper). It has been used to treat asthma and as an expectorant and cough suppressant for thousands of years. Maud Grieve noted that there was a fine coating of hairs on the leaves: “This felty covering easily rubs off and before the introduction of matches, wrapped in a rag dipped in a solution of saltpetre and dried in the sun, used to be considered an excellent tinder.”
HISTORY: Pliny recommended that the dried leaves and roots of coltsfoot should be burned and the smoke drawn into the mouth through a reed and swallowed, as a remedy for an obstinate cough, the patient sipping a little wine between each inhalation. To derive the full benefit from it, it had to be burned on cypress charcoal. In 1931, Grieve wrote: “Coltsfoot has justly been termed ‘nature’s best herb for the lungs and her most eminent thoracic’…The leaves are the basis of the British Herb Tobacco, in which Coltsfoot predominates, the other ingredients being Buckbean, Eyebright, Betony, Rosemary, Thyme, Lavender, and Chamomile flowers. This relieves asthma and also the difficult breathing of old bronchitis. Those suffering from asthma, catarrh and other lung troubles derive much benefit from smoking this Herbal Tobacco, the use of which does not entail any of the injurious effects of ordinary tobacco.” A replica of the coltsfoot flower was placed above the door of pharmacies in Paris as an emblem of the effectiveness of their medicine.
The botanical name Tussilago means “cough dispeller,” and the leaf was dried and smoked as a herbal tobacco to ease coughs and asthma, hence the name coughwort. Mrs. Grieve writes: “The specific name of the plant is derived from Farfarus, an ancient name of the White Poplar, the leaves of which present some resemblance in form and colour to those of this plant. An old name for Coltsfoot was Filius ante patrem (the son before the father), because the star-like, golden flowers appear and wither before the broad, sea-green leaves are produced.”
Family Boraginaceae, Borage
OTHER NAMES: Knitbone, boneset, slippery root, blackwort, bruisewort, consound, healing herb, gum plant, knitback, ass ear, miracle herb, wallwort, blackwort, Welsh llysiau’r cwlwm (knot herb).
DESCRIPTION: A hardy perennial which can grow up to 3–4 feet (90–120 cm), with a 3-foot (90-cm) spread, it has hairy, lance-shaped, broad leaves and clusters of white, cream, pink or purple bell-shaped flowers. Its black, turniplike root is responsible for its folk name of blackwort, and the shape of its leaves for the name ass ear.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Young leaves were eaten like spinach, and it has been used as a compress for cuts, for varicose veins and for sores on animals. “Comfrey roots, together with chicory and dandelion roots, are used to make a well-known vegetation ‘Coffee,’ that tastes practically the same as ordinary coffee, with none of its injurious effects” (Grieve). However, internal consumption, such as in the form of herbal tea, is now discouraged for fear of possible liver damage. Comfrey relieves pain and inflammation caused by injuries and degeneration, especially the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Comfrey creams and oils can be used in arthritic pain-relieving massages. Research is ongoing into its allantoin content, which stimulates the growth of new cells. This cell proliferant repairs damaged tissue, so comfrey is the best of all herbs for applying to bruises, sprains and fractures. Adding comfrey to the bath water is said to promote a youthful skin.
HISTORY: Dioscorides in Materia Medica (c. 50 CE) prescribed the plant to heal wounds and broken bones. Comfrey has been used for centuries for its bonemending qualities, for its healing effects on ulcers, and for its general soothing effect on the mucous membranes, making it invaluable in soothing sore throats and coughs. Symphytum comes from the Greek word symphyo meaning to unite, and comfrey is believed to come from Latin confera—knitting together. Comfrey is believed to have been brought to Europe by the Crusaders. “This is an herb of Saturn, and I suppose under the sign Capricorn, cold, dry, and earthy in quality…the root boiled in water or wine, and the decoction drunk, helpeth all inward hurts, bruises, and wounds, and the ulcers of the lungs, causing the phlegm that oppresseth them to be easily spit forth” (Culpeper). Carrying the herb, especially if it was placed in the shoe, was supposed to ensure safety while traveling.
COMPANION PLANTING PRINCIPLES
Beneficial Habitats: Some plants provide a beneficial environment for predatory and parasitic species of insect which help to keep pest populations in check. Predators include ladybirds, lacewings, hoverflies, spiders and predatory mites.
Biochemical Pest Suppression: Some plants exude chemicals from roots or aerial parts that suppress or repel pests, protecting neighboring plants. For example, the African marigold releases thiophene—a nematode repellent—which makes it a good companion for certain garden crops. Also, if you use rye as mulch, its leached allelochemicals prevent weed germination but do not harm transplanted tomatoes, broccoli, or many other vegetables.
Nurse Cropping: Tall or densely canopied plants can protect more vulnerable species through shading or by forming a windbreak. “Nurse crops,” for example oats, are used to help establish alfalfa and other forage plants by supplanting the more competitive weeds that would otherwise grow in their place.
Security Through Diversity: A greater mixture of various crops and varieties provides some security to the grower. If pests or adverse conditions reduce or destroy a single crop or cultivar, others remain to produce a level of yield.
Spatial Interactions: Tall-growing, sun-loving plants may share space with lower-growing, shade-tolerant species, resulting in higher total production. This type of planting can also yield pest control benefits.
Symbiotic Nitrogen Fixation: Legumes, such as peas, beans and clover, have the ability to “fix” atmospheric nitrogen for their own use and for the benefit of neighboring plants, via a symbiotic relationship with Rhizobiumbacteria. Forage legumes are commonly seeded with grasses to reduce the need for nitrogen fertilizer. Similarly, beans are sometimes interplanted with corn.
Trap Cropping: A neighboring crop may be selected because it is more attractive to pests, distracting them from attacking the main crop.
Anise: Grows well with coriander, and together they are a good deterrent for snails and slugs.
Basil: Improves growth and flavor of tomatoes. Indoors it repels houseflies. Do not plant near rue and they do not do well when grown together.
Beebalm: Companion to tomatoes, improves growth and flavor.
Borage: Companion to tomatoes, squash and strawberries; deters tomato worms; attracts bees.
Caraway: Improves the growth and flavor of peas, and loosens heavy soil.
Catnip: Plant in borders; deters flea beetles.
Chamomile: Companion to cabbage and onions, improving growth and flavor. Repels flying insects. Chamomile tea is good for plants as well as people.
Chervil: Companion to radishes, making them hotter and crisper.
Chives: Plant near carrots, roses and apples to make them grow and taste better, preventing scab and black spot.
Comfrey: “Plant healer”—an excellent garden barrier plant.
Coriander: General and anise, attracting bees and improving flavor.
Dill: Helps corn, lettuce, cucumber, carrots and tomatoes. Attracts hoverflies.
Fennel: General, and attracts hoverflies.
Flax: Protects potatoes against Colorado potato beetle, and improves clay or heavy soil.
French marigold: Plant near tomatoes to repel whitefly.
Garlic: Plant near roses and raspberries, and throughout the garden or vegetable plot to deter beetles.
Horehound: Repels grasshoppers. Improves fruit yield on tomatoes. Horseradish: Plant at corner of potato patch to deter potato pests.
Hyssop: Companion to cabbage and grapes, deters cabbage moth, but keep away from radishes. Improves the yield from grape crops.
Lavender: Attracts butterflies and bees love it, repels rabbits, mice, ticks, moths and mosquitoes.
Lemon balm: Plant with cucumbers and tomatoes.
Lemon verbena: Repels midges, flies and other pests.
Lovage: Improves the health of all nearby plants, especially beans and sweet peppers.
Marjoram: Companion to sweet peppers and sage.
Mint: Companion to tomatoes and cabbage, deters cabbage moths, grubs, mice and flies.
Nasturtium: Companion to radishes, brassicas, apple, broad beans, tomatoes and cucumbers. Repels aphids, whitefly and ants, and attracts blackfly to itself. Nettle: Plant with angelica to control blackfly and improve soil content. Parsley: Good for chives, tomatoes, carrots, roses and asparagus.
Pennyroyal: General planting as it repels ants.
Rosemary: Plant near cabbage, beans, carrots, sage. It deters cabbage moths, bean beetles, carrot flies, Rue: Good with roses and raspberries. Disliked by cats and dogs, it is incompatible with sage, basil and cabbage. Sage: Good with tomatoes, carrots, vines, cabbage, cabbage and rosemary, repelling cabbage white butterfly and many other flying insects.
Santolina: Good with roses.
Southernwood: Companion to cabbage and deters cabbage moth.
Summer savory: Companion to onions and beans, attracts bees and deters bean beetles.
Thyme: Good for most other herbs and vegetables, particularly aubergines and cabbage.
Valerian: Stimulates growth of all other plants and vegetables in the vicinity; it attracts earthworms.
Yarrow: Invigorating to cucumbers, corn and other herbs, enhances essential oil production.
Family Apiaceae/Umbelliferae, Carrot
OTHER NAMES: Cilantro, Chinese parsley, Greek parsley, Japanese parsley, Arab parsley.
DESCRIPTION: It grows to a height of around 24 inches (60 cm) and a spread of 9 inches (23 cm), and has pale mauve to white flowers followed by round seeds which have a spicy orange flavor. The leaves are finely cut, aromatic with a unique spicy taste, extremely popular in Indian cuisine.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Coriander is a digestive stimulant, helping with the absorption of nutrients, and has recently been studied for its cholesterol-lowering effects and use in type-2 diabetes. Health disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and fibromyalgia have been linked to high levels of heavy metals such as mercury, lead and aluminum in the body. Scientific studies and anecdotal evidence support coriander’s reputation as a purifying purgative. A New York doctor reported that after finding he had been heavily exposed to mercury, he discovered that when taken in a lightly cooked form it causes a massive excretion of mercury via his urine. Herbalists such as Culpeper recommended the seeds as a remedy for worms and in the treatment of sickness and sluggish digestion. They were also used to disguise unpleasant tastes and chewed to counter bad breath. Coriander was employed in poultices to treat inflammation and swellings. The small ball-shaped seeds are used to flavor gin and wheat beers. Seeds lose flavor quickly when ground, so grind just before using. They lose their disagreeable scent on drying and become fragrant, being used in pot-pourris. Culpeper wrote: “The green herb coriander being boiled with crumbs of white bread, or barley meal, consumes and drives away hot tumours, swellings, and inflammations; and with bean-meal, it dissolves the King’s Evil [scrofula, tuberculosis of the neck], hard knobs, and worms; the juice applied with ceruse [a poisonous white pigment containing lead], litharge of silver [a form of lead oxide which is a by-product when separating silver from lead], vinegar, and oil of roses, cures St. Anthony’s Fire [ergotism or erysipelas], and assuages and eases the pains of all inflammations.” Thai research has shown that coriander has an excellent antibacterial effect against the food-poisoning bacteria Campylobacter.
This author was puzzling why the old Welsh word for coriander, brwysgedlys, meant drunken plant. However, coriander seeds can have a narcotic effect when consumed in quantity, which is probably how it became to be known as “dizzycorn” among early American colonists. Perhaps that is the answer.
Lucknow Curry Powder
Maud Grieve in 1931 gave this recipe from an old cookbook in her family’s possession: “Lucknow Curry Powder—1 oz. ginger, 1 oz. Coriander seed, 1 oz. cardamom seed, ¼ oz. best Cayenne powder, 3 oz. turmeric. Have the best ingredients powdered at the druggist’s into a fine powder and sent home in different papers. Mix them well before the fire, then put the mixture into a wide-mouthed bottle, cork well, and keep it in a dry place.”
HISTORY: Hippocrates and other Greek physicians recommended it, and its name Coriandrum is derived from koriannon (a bug or bedbug), in reference to the fetid smell of the leaves. Culpeper calls it a “stinking plant.” It has been found in Neolithic settlements in Israel. Five thousand years ago, coriander seeds from the Mediterranean were being carried along the Silk Road in the caravanserai to enrich the cuisine of China. Cilantro is mentioned in the Medical Papyrus of Thebes (1552 BCE) and is one of the plants which grew in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The Hebrews used coriander to flavor cakes and it plays a role in Jewish ritual as one of the “bitter herbs” prescribed at the Feast of the Passover. It is often mentioned in the Bible: “And the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna: and it was like Coriander seed, white” (Exodus, 16:31). Egyptian mourners placed jars of coriander in Tutankhamen’s tomb to accompany his spirit to the Land of the Dead. Roman soldiers used coriander as a meat preservative and to flavor food. Chinese dined on the plant in the hope of making themselves immortal. Coriander was thought to have been brought to Britain by the Romans, but seeds imported from the Mediterranean have been found in Bronze Age huts. In medieval times it became an aphrodisiac ingredient in love potions, being referred to as such in The Arabian Nights. The herb is believed to have been one of the earliest plantings in North America, in 1670 in Massachusetts. Coated in sugar, coriander seeds were eaten as a pink and white sweet, known as “coriander comfit” and later referred to as “sugarplums,” as in the famous 19th-century poem “The Night Before Christmas” “…The children were nestled all snug in their beds, While visions of sugarplums danced in their heads.” The confection offered a sweet start and then a spicy burst of flavor.
Family Asteraceae, Daisy
OTHER NAMES: Culpeper calls it Blue-Bottle: “It is also called Cyanus, I suppose from the colour of it; Hurt-Sickle, because it turns the edge of the sickles that reap the corn; Blue-Blow, Corn-Flower and Blue-Bottle.” Bachelor’s buttons, ragged sailor, corn bluebottle, sultan’s flower.
DESCRIPTION: A hardy annual, growing to 2 feet (60 cm), with pretty single and double blue flowers and lanced leaves.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Flowers are edible as a tonic and stimulant, and can be dried. It has been used for conjunctivitis and corneal ulcers. Culpeper wrote: “As they are naturally cold, dry, and binding, so they are under the dominion of Saturn. The powder or dried leaves of the Blue-bottle, or Corn-flower, is given with good success to those that are bruised by a fall, or have broken a vein inwardly, and void much blood at the mouth; being taken in the water of Plantain, Horsetail, or the greater Comfrey, it is a remedy against the poison of the Scorpion, and resists all venoms and poisons. The seed or leaves taken in wine, is very good against the plague, and all infectious diseases, and is very good in pestilential fevers. The juice put into fresh or green wounds, doth quickly solder up the lips of them together, and is very effectual to heal all ulcers and sores in the mouth. The juice dropped into the eyes takes away the heat and inflammation of them. The distilled water of this herb, has the same properties, and may be used for the effects aforesaid.”
HISTORY: Juice from the petals made blue ink and watercolor pigments. The color “cornflower blue” is named after this bright plant. A shade of azure, it replicates the hue of the cornflower, one of the few “blue” flowers that are truly blue, most “blue” flowers being a darker blue-purple. Its pigment structure is unlike that of any other blue flower. The French eyewash known as Eau de Casselunettes was made from cornflowers because of their eye-brightening properties. In the past it often grew as a weed in crop fields, hence its name of cornflower, because fields growing grains such as wheat, barley, rye or oats are generally known as “corn fields” in Britain. Its slim stems were so tough that they could make sickles blunt. It almost became extinct across Europe as a result of pesticidal weed control in the 1970s.
Worn in Memory
In France, cornflower is the symbol of the November 11, 1918, Armistice, as like poppies, it was endemic in the cornfields of Flanders. Thus it is worn on Armistice Day.
Family Asteraceae/Compositae, Daisy, Sunflower
OTHER NAMES: Culpeper calls it Lavender cotton. Gray santolina.
DESCRIPTION: It is not a true lavender at all, but has yellow, clustered buttons of composite flowers and finely cut, gray, scented leaves, the odor of which somewhat resembles chamomile. The evergreen ornamental herb grows to about 2 feet (60 cm) tall and its flowers have an unpleasant smell. The bruised leaves can cause a severe rash on sensitive skins.
PROPERTIES AND USES: The Arabs were said to use the juice of this plant for bathing the eyes. Culpeper: “It is under the dominion of Mercury. It resists poison, putrefaction, and heals the biting of venomous beasts. A dram of the powder of the dried leaves taken every morning fasting, stops the running of the reins in men, and whites in women. The seed beaten into powder, and taken as worm-seed, kills the worms, not only in children, but also in people of riper years; the like doth the herb itself, being steeped in milk, and the milk drank; the body bathed with the decoction of it, helps scabs and itch.” Maud Grieve states: “It is used as a vermifuge for children. This plant was once also esteemed for its stimulant properties, and the twigs have been used for placing amongst linen, etc., to keep away moths.” Cotton lavender is versatile in that it can be used as an edging plant, a ground cover, an addition to a rock garden or a herb garden, spreading like a silvery carpet close to the ground. The plant repels various insect pests, especially cabbage moths.
HISTORY: The charity Plants for a Future recently reported: “The leaves and flowering tops are antispasmodic, disinfectant, emmenagogue [stimulating blood flow in the pelvic region], stimulant and vermifuge. Cotton lavender is rarely used medicinally, though it is sometimes used internally as a vermifuge for children and to treat poor digestion and menstrual problems. When finely ground and applied to insect stings or bites, the plant will immediately ease the pain. Applied to surface wounds, it will hasten the healing process by encouraging the formation of scar tissue. The leaves and flowering stems are harvested in the summer and dried for later use.”
Keeping Moths Away
The foliage can be used as a moth repellent either stuffed in sachets or hung in small bunches. The flowers can be dried as everlastings, and the fresh foliage and flowers can be used in cut flower arrangements. The dried leaves are used in pot-pourris and to distil an essential oil for perfumery.
Family Poaceae, Grass
OTHER NAMES: Twitch grass, witchgrass, dog’s grass, scutch, quick grass, quack grass, wheat grass, cough grass, cutch, quitchgrass, quake grass, chandler’s grass, Scotch quelch, devil’s grass, spear grass.
DESCRIPTION: Slender-leaved perennial grass with erect spikes similar in appearance to wheat bearing two rows of flowers. The plant has a long creeping underground stem (rhizome) system and so it has been planted in sand dunes near the coast to bind the soil together. Its names of couch and quickgrass come from the Old English cwice, meaning alive, referring to its vigorous growth.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Couch grass is a cursed by gardeners, considered an invasive weed, and is very hard to remove. Culpeper wrote: “The dog’s grass is under the dominion of Jupiter, and is the most medicinal of all the quick grasses. The roots of it act powerfully by urine; they should be dried and powdered, for the decoction by water is too strong for tender stomachs, therefore should be sparingly used when given that way to children to destroy the worms. The way of use is to bruise the roots, and having well boiled them in white wine, drink the decoction; it is opening, not purging, very safe: it is a remedy against all diseases coming of stopping, and such are half those that are incident to the body of man; and although a gardener be of another opinion, yet a physician holds half an acre of them to be worth five acres of carrots twice told over.” Couch grass was valued by herbalists for its mucilage-rich rhizome. A tea made from the roots is used for treating urinary infections because of its antibiotic and diuretic properties. Couch grass tea will also soothe and coat an inflamed throat, hence the name cough grass.
HISTORY: Couch grass has been used in herbal medicine since classical Greek times. The Romans used it to treat kidney stones and urinary problems. The dried rhizomes of couch grass were used as incense in medieval Northern Europe where other resin-based types of incense were unavailable.
The common name dog grass comes from the fact that sick dogs will dig up the root and eat it. Horses and cats also eat it, possibly to rid themselves of worms. It was renowned as a vermifuge, killing worms in children. In 1694, John Pechey wrote: “Silvius says, that Sheep and Oxen that are troubled with the stone in the wintertime are freed from it in the Spring by eating Grass.”
Family Apiaceae/Umbelliferae, Carrot/Parsley
OTHER NAMES: Culpeper calls this wild chervil. Chervil is the cultivated version of this plant. Devil’s parsley, devil’s meat, wild beaked parsley, keck, cow mumble (Suffolk), rabbit meat (Sussex), cow-weed. It is known as Queen Anne’s lace in Britain, but Daucus carota has that name in the USA.
DESCRIPTION: Grows up to 4 feet (1.2 m), with hollow furrowed stems and heads of small (usually) white scented flowers. It is prolific along country lanes, with a froth of white flowers in spring. Because it is easily mistaken for the poisonous hemlock and fool’s parsley, it is nicknamed devils’ parsley, but its leaves are edible, having a mild aniseed flavor.
PROPERTIES AND USES: It is eaten by rabbits, pigs, sheep and cattle, hence its name. It can be harvested all year round for salads, potato soups and chervil sauce as it self-seeds. Cow parsley and its cousin chervil are both made into tisanes and infusions. The tea is used to treat water retention, stomach upsets and some forms of skin eruption and is said to promote wound healing. Cow parsley is rumored to be a natural mosquito repellent when applied directly to the skin. Until recently, a strong infusion was used for treating laminitis in horses.
HISTORY: In the Outer Hebrides, the flowering tips were harvested for the yellow-green dye used in making Harris Tweed. In Dutch it is called “whistle herb,” and in Britain children used to make whistles out of the dried stalks, known in places as “kecks.” Culpeper wrote: “The wild Chervil bruised and applied, dissolves swellings in any part, or the marks of congealed blood by bruises or blows, in a little space.” Cow parsley is one of the three or four plants described as “breaking your mother’s heart,” possibly because the tiny white blossoms drop quickly. In the days when mothers had to clean carpets by hand and floors by sweeping, it was just another time-consuming chore.
Traditional Harris Tweed has flecks of color achieved by vegetable dyes, such as yellow from cow parsley or bracken roots, orange from ragweed, green from heather or stinging nettle, red or purple-brown from lichens or roots of lady’s bedstraw, purple from elderberries etc. It is no longer imbued with the traditional mordant used to fix the natural vegetable dyes that give the wool its vivid earth tones: the urine of the weavers and their families, which they collected in their crofts.
Family Primulaceae, Primrose
OTHER NAMES: Herb Peter, St. Peter’s keys, Our Lady’s bunch of keys, Our Lady’s keys, key of Heaven, key flower, galligaskins, paigles, palsywort, briallu mawr (Welsh for large primroses), fairy cups, palsy flower, palsywort, mayflower, drelip, cuy lippe, peggle, petty mulleins, crewel, buckles, plumrocks, password, arthritica, paralysis, cow flops, golden drops, freckled face. Peagles (Culpeper).
DESCRIPTION: A very pretty, delicately scented flower that has been over picked in the past, this hardy perennial grows to 8 inches (20 cm), with pretty clusters of small, vivid yellow flowers borne on erect stalks. A plant originally of meadows, cowslips are becoming more common, especially alongside motorways, because roadside verges are rarely sprayed with pesticides.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Herbalists used cowslips as a remedy for paralysis and for many other nervous afflictions. Today the root and flower are used internally as a relaxant or sedative and as a general tonic. Cowslips can be a helpful decongestant for colds, and are anti-inflammatory, being used to treat arthritis and gout. Culpeper noted: “Because they strengthen the brain and nerves, and remedy the palsies, the Greeks gave them the name of paralysis. The flowers preserved or conserves, and the same quantity of a nutmeg eaten each morning, is a sufficient does for inward diseases; but for wounds, spots and sun-burning, an ointment is made of the leaves and hog’s grease.” The leaves can also be used for healing wounds. Both the flowers and leaves often used to be eaten, young cowslip leaves being eaten in salads or mixed with other herbs to stuff meat.
HISTORY: According to legend, St. Peter dropped the keys to Heaven and where they landed cowslips grew. Its single flower stalk, with its head of drooping golden bells, was thought to resemble a set of keys. Cowslips have also been used for hundreds of years to treat spasms, cramps, rheumatic pain and paralysis, and it used to be called palsywort for this reason. It has been used since ancient times to make wine, mead, jam, tea and ointments. In the 18th century, powdered roots boiled in ale were used for treating giddiness and nervous ailments. Cowslips used to be popular in Elizabethan knot gardens. Cowslips are believed to be the favorite flower of nightingales, which were said only to frequent places where cowslips grew (often pastures where cattle had been grazing). Girls once made balls of cowslips, “totsies,” which they threw in the air to try and divine the identity of their future husbands.
Family Piperaceae, Pepper
OTHER NAMES: Long-tailed pepper, tailed pepper.
DESCRIPTION: A climbing perennial, extensively grown in coffee plantations, well shaded and supported by the coffee trees. The unripe fruits are gathered, dried and look similar to black pepper, but with stalks attached, the “tails” referred to in “tailed pepper.” They taste like a cross between allspice and black pepper.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper: “Cubebs…of a hot taste, but not so fiery as pepper; and having each a short stalk on them like a tail: these grow on trees less than apple-trees, with leaves narrower than those of pepper; the flower is sweet, and the fruit grows clustering together. The Arabians call them quabebe, and quabebe chini; they grow plentifully in Java: they are used to stir up venery, and to warm and strengthen the stomach, being overcome with phlegm or wind; they cleanse the breast of thick tough humours, help the spleen, and are very profitable for the cold griefs of the womb. Being chewed in the mouth with mastic, they draw rheum from the head, and strengthen the brain and memory.”
HISTORY: In John Parkinson’s Theatrum Botanicum, we read that the king of Portugal in 1640 banned the sale of cubebs in order to promote the black pepper (Piper nigrum) trade, which the Portuguese dominated. Cubeb was probably brought into Europe by the Arabians as a pepper. Grieve lists it as a “stimulant, carminative, much used as a remedy for gonorrhoea, after the first active inflammatory symptoms have subsided; also used in leucorrhoea, cystitis, urethritis, abscesses of the prostate gland, piles and chronic bronchitis.” The Javanese growers protected their monopoly by scalding the berries to sterilize them. It was used as an incense to ward off demons.
Remedy For Infertility
In The Book of One Thousand and One Nights cubeb is a main ingredient in making an aphrodisiac remedy for infertility: “He took two ounces of Chinese cubebs, one ounce of fat extract of Ionian hemp, one ounce of fresh cloves, one ounce of red cinnamon from Sarandib, ten drachms of white Malabar cardamoms, five of Indian ginger, five of white pepper, five of pimento from the isles, one ounce of the berries of Indian star-anise, and half an ounce of mountain thyme. Then he mixed cunningly, after having pounded and sieved them; he added pure honey until the whole became a thick paste; then he mingled five grains of musk and an ounce of pounded fish roe with the rest. Finally he added a little concentrated rose-water and put all in the bowl.”
Family Araceae, Arum
OTHER NAMES: Culpeper calls it Cuckow-Point and Spotted Wake-Robin: “It is also called Aaron, Janus, and Barba-Aron, Calves-Foot, Ramp, Starch-Wort, Cuckow-Pintle, Priest’s-Pintle and Wake-Robin.” Wild arum, Jack in the pulpit, devils and angels (and angels and devils), Adam and Eve, bobbins, naked boys, wake, adder’s root, adder’s meat, friar’s cowl, parson and clerk, quaker, kings and queens, Aaron’s leek, starch-root and starchwort.
DESCRIPTION: Very common, it is unmistakeable in hedgerows, with the tiny flowers borne on a poker-shaped purple inflorescence called a spadix. The spadix is partially enclosed in a pale green spathe or leaf-like hood. In autumn the lower ring of (female) flowers forms a cluster of bright orange, poisonous berries which remain after the spathe and other leaves have withered away.
PROPERTIES AND USES: All parts are toxic, but Culpeper recorded that it could be “a most present and sure remedy for poison and the plague…The green leaves bruised, and laid upon any boil or plague-sore, do very wonderfully help to draw forth the poison…it breaks, digests, and rids away phlegm from the stomach, chest, and lungs;…provokes urine, and brings down women’s courses, and purges them effectually after child-bearing, to bring away the afterbirth: taken with sheep’s milk, it heals the inward ulcers of the bowels…A spoonful taken at a time heals the itch; and an ounce or more, taken at a time for some days together, doth help the rupture; the leaves, either green or dry, or the juice of them, doth cleanse all manner of rotten and filthy ulcers, in whatsoever part of the body, and heals the stinking sores in the nose, called polypus…the country people about Maidstone in Kent use the herb and root, instead of soap.” Culpeper also recommended plant preparations for eye lotions, bruises, piles, gout, scurf, freckles, spots and blemishes.
HISTORY: Carvings have been found on Egyptian walls and it was mentioned by Theophrastus and Pliny the Elder. It was believed to resuscitate bears from hibernation and to protect humans from snake bite. It has been used in “magic” to get rid of unwelcome guests, and as a symbol of sexual intercourse in art. The starch of the root, after repeated washing, was sold as food under the name of Portland sago, or Portland arrowroot. When ground, it was used like salop or saleo, a working class drink popular before the introduction of tea or coffee. However, unless prepared correctly arum can be extremely toxic. Arum starch was used for stiffening ruffs in Elizabethan times, and Gerard says: “The most pure and white starch is made of the roots of the Cuckoo-pint, but most hurtful for the hands of the laundresses that have the handling of it, for it chaps, blisters, and makes the hands rough and rugged and withall smarting.” The starch was sold in Paris as “Cyprus Powder,” a cosmetic for the skin. Presumably ladies of the time believed in the “no pain, no gain” principle as it must have stung and irritated. Robert Hogg, in his 1858 Vegetable Kingdom, reported its use in Italy to remove freckles from the face and hands.
The pint or pintle refers to the male organ, from the Middle English pintel, similar to Middle Low German pint meaning penis, and Old English pinn. It is pronounced to rhyme with mint, not pint. The hooded green cowl embracing an upright purple poker has such sexual symbolism that many of the 100+ common names for it are sexual in nature. Pintle, pint and point are all derived from the Anglo-Saxon word for penis, cuckoo from cucumeaning lively, and robin from the French for penis. The dog’s type names are equally obvious in their phallic reference. Stallions and mares, bulls and cows, lords and ladies, boys and girls, dog bobbins, dog cocks, dog’s dick, dogs dibble, dog’s spear, English passionflower, naked ladies and Willy Lilly all allude to its male/female nature. Its “pint,” the large phallic spadix (club) of the arum, does not rot and turn fetid, as noted in some accounts. It can raise its temperature to an amazing 57° F (14° C) above the surrounding environment, to the extent that the warmth is easily discernible to the touch. This heat volatizes a foul-smelling chemical, which attracts dung-feeding insects. Its pollen also causes the flower heads to glow at night to attract insects, giving it the name of fairy lamp in some areas. Using odor and light, it traps flies in its bulbous leaf bract to aid pollination. These insects are often “owl midges,” tiny, fluffy “moth flies,” family Psychodidae, of which there are 73 species. They alight on the oily hood, lose their foothold and fall into the bulb where they are trapped by a ring of downward-pointing hairs. They become dusted with pollen from male flowers, and trying to escape, transfer it to female flowers. After pollination, the ring of hairs wilts, the spathe loosens and some pollen-covered insects can escape to pollinate other arums.
Family Cucurbitaceae, Gourd
OTHER NAMES: “According to the pronunciation of the vulgar, cowcumbers.” (Culpeper).
DESCRIPTION: This familiar creeping vine roots in the ground and grows up supports, wrapping them with thin, spiraling tendrils. Large leaves form a canopy over the cylindrical green fruit, which can grow up to 20 inches (50 cm) long. Although regarded as a vegetable, it is a fruit, either grown to be eaten fresh (slicers) or intended for pickling (picklers). Cucumbers usually contain over 90 percent water.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper wrote: “There is no dispute to be made, but that they are under the dominion of the Moon, though they are so much rejected for their coldness; it is by some affirmed, that if they were but one degree colder they would be poison. The best of Galenists hold them to be cold and moist but in the second degree, and then not so hot as either lettuce or purslain: they are excellent good for hot stomachs and livers; the immeasurable use of them fills the body full of raw humours, and so indeed does anything else when used to an excess. The juice of cucumbers, the face being washed with it, cleanses the skin, and is excellent good for hot rheums in the eyes; the seed is excellent to provoke urine, and cleanse the passages thereof when they are stopped; neither do I think there is a better remedy for ulcers in the bladder than cucumbers; the usual course is to use the seeds in emulsions, as they make almond milk, but a far better way by far (in my opinion) is this; when the season of the year is, take the cucumbers and bruise them well, and distil the water from them, and let such as are troubled with ulcers in their bladder drink no other drink. The face being washed with the same water, be it never so red, will be benefited by it, and the complexion very much improved. It is also excellent good for sunburning, freckles, and morphew.” Morphew is a skin eruption of blisters caused by scurvy. Some Englishmen in the 17th century were convinced that eating cucumbers would be fatal, although lying on a bed of cucumbers could be a cure for fever. In the later 17th century, a prejudice developed against uncooked vegetables and fruits. A number of articles in contemporary health publications state that uncooked plants brought on summer diseases, and should be forbidden to children. The cucumber acquired a reputation as: “fit only for consumption by cows,” which some believe is why it gained the name “cowcumber.” Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary on September 22, 1663: “this day Sir W. Batten tells me that Mr. Newhouse is dead of eating cowcumbers, of which the other day I heard of another, I think.”
HISTORY: Cucumber is one of the oldest foods, having been gathered and possibly cultivated as long ago as 9750 BCE in Southeast Asia. It is listed among the foods of ancient Ur and the Legend of Gilgamesh describes people eating cucumbers. Cleopatra used to have her legendarily beautiful skin rubbed with cooked cucumber peelings. According to Pliny the Elder, the Emperor Tiberius ordered the cucumber on his table daily. Roman gardeners reportedly used artificial methods (similar to the greenhouse system) to meet his demand. To quote Pliny, “It was a wonderful favourite with the Emperor Tiberius, and, indeed he was never without it; for he had raised beds made in frames upon wheels, by means of which the cucumbers were moved and exposed to the full heat of the sun; while, in winter, they were withdrawn, and placed under the protection of frames glazed with mirrorstone. We find it stated, also, by the ancient Greek writers, that the cucumber ought to be propagated from seed that has been steeped a couple of days in milk and honey, this method having the effect of rendering them all the sweeter to the taste.” Reportedly, they were also cultivated in “cucumber houses” glazed with oiled cloth and known as “specularia.” The Romans are reported to have used cucumbers to treat scorpion bites, bad eyesight, and to scare away mice. Records of cucumber cultivation appear in France in the ninth century in Charlemagne’s gardens, England in the 14th century and in North America by the mid-16th century. Sixty percent of world production of cucumbers is now carried out in China.
Cool As a Cucumber
The slang term “cucumber time,” current around 1700, was also known as “cucumbers,” “taylers” (tailors), and “taylors’ holiday”—referring to the season when cucumbers were ripe, which was when tailors took their holiday. The Pall Mall Gazette explained in 1867: “Tailors could not be expected to earn much money ‘in cucumber season.’ Because when cucumbers are in, the gentry are out of town.” Tailors then were nicknamed “cucumbers” because of this reference to their “cucumber time.” The Germans have a similar phrase, “Die Saure-Gurken-Zeit,” literally “pickled gherkin time,” which means that not much is going on or you don’t have much work to do. The saying “cool as a cucumber,” meaning imperturbable, was first recorded in John Gay’s poem New Song on New Similies in 1732: “I…cool as a cucumber could see / The rest of womankind.”
October 18, 1616–January 10, 1654
His father, the Reverend Nicholas Culpeper, lord of Ockley Manor in Surrey, died 13 days before Nicholas Culpeper was born, and the manor passed into other hands. He learned Latin and Greek from his mother’s father, the Reverend William Attersole, who introduced him to medicinal plants, astrology and medical texts by the age of ten. Aged 16, Culpeper was sent to Cambridge University to study theology and train to be a minister. More interested in medicine, Culpeper never graduated, but planned to marry the heiress Judith Rivers, whom he had known since childhood. Her parents would not consent to the marriage, so the couple decided to elope to Holland until the animosity died down. However, Judith’s coach was struck by lightning on her way to a rendezvous with Culpeper. She was killed and a grief-stricken Culpeper became a recluse. His mother died soon after, and his grandfather disinherited him, shamed by the affair. Culpeper now could not afford to train to become a minister or follow a medical career, and he became apprenticed to an apothecary in London, where he taught his employer Latin. During training he collected herbs noted in Gerard’s Herbal, and determined to help others, after suffering so much from the death of his fiancée. He took over the business in Threadneedle Street, London, on the death of his employer, and from 1635 began visiting the famed astrologer William Lilly (1602–81) who lived nearby in the Strand. Lilly told his friend to combine his new knowledge of being an apothecary, physician and astrologer into an holistic approach, and Culpeper used his Latin and Greek to pore over all the medical and astrological texts available.
In 1640 he married Alice Field, who had just inherited a considerable fortune. They had met when Culpeper successfully treated her father for gout and arthritis. Using her large dowry he was able to build a house next door to the Red Lion Inn in Spitalfields, setting himself up as an astrologer and herbalist. He quickly gained a considerable reputation among the poor people of the area, whom he charged very little or even nothing for his diagnosis and treatments. Culpeper treated anyone, sometimes seeing 40 patients a day for weeks on end. As he worked tirelessly among the poor, he realized that treatment had to be cheaper and readily available, which contributed to the formulation of his belief in “English herbs for English bodies.” His success as a herbalist made him venomously critical of the high-charging medical men of the Royal College of Physicians. Culpeper wrote: “They are bloodsuckers, true vampires, have learned little since Hippocrates; use blood-letting for ailments above the midriff and purging for those below. They evacuate and revulse their patients until they faint. Black Hellebore, this poisonous stuff, is a favourite laxative. It is surprising that they are so popular and that some patients recover. My own poor patients would not endure this taxing and costly treatment. The victims of physicians only survive since they are from the rich and robust stock, the plethoric, red-skinned residents of Cheapside, Westminster and St. James.”
A fervent anti-Royalist, he despised the nobility and during the English Civil War (1642–51), Culpeper joined the Parliamentarian cause. In the first year of the war he volunteered to fight, but when the recruiting officer discovered his profession, he said “We do not need you at the battle front but you can come along as a field surgeon, since most of the barbers and physicians are royal asses and we have use for someone to look after our injured.” In preparation, Culpeper collected medicinal herbs on the way to act as a field surgeon at the bloody Battle of Edgehill, which ended with no clear victor. Next, Culpeper received a commission to captain a troop of infantry, raising a company of 60 volunteers to fight at the First Battle of Newbury. On September 20, 1643, a day when 6000 men fell in battle, Culpeper was conducting battlefield surgery when a stray musket shot severely wounded him in the chest. He was conveyed back to London by carriage but never fully recovered from his injury. In cooperation with William Lilly, he now wrote “A Prophecy of the White King,” predicting the death of Charles I.
Working again among the poor in London, he continued to rail against the Society of Apothecaries and the Royal College of Physicians, the elite authoritative body for the whole medical establishment, saying “For God’s sake build not your faith upon Tradition, ’tis as rotten as a rotten Post.” He hated their “closed shop” monopoly of drugs and medicines, keeping prices high to become wealthy, and the fact that all medical texts were only available in Latin, denying wider knowledge of them to the general public. Apothecaries were only allowed to mix medicines according to the guidelines of the College’s London Pharmacopoeia, written in Latin and used by physicians to prescribe only the most expensive drugs and medicines. As he wished to make herbal medicine available to everyone, especially the poor, in 1649 Culpeper published an English translation of the Pharmacopoeia, calling it A Physical Directory, or a Translation of the London Dispensary. Of this work Culpeper wrote: “I am writing for the Press a translation of the Physicians’ medicine book from Latin into English so that all my fellow countrymen and apothecaries can understand what the Doctors write on their bills. Hitherto they made medicine a secret conspiracy, writing prescriptions in mysterious Latin to hide ignorance and to impress upon the patient. They want to keep their book a secret, not for everybody to know.”
This sparked a major controversy and the College retaliated by attacking him for the rest of his life. In 1651 Culpeper published his Semeiotica Uranica, or an Astrological Judgement of Diseases. Also in 1651 he completed A Directory for Midwives; or a Guide for women in their conception, bearing and suckling of their children, etc. Tragedy in his family life had focused his attention on this issue. By his 14th year of marriage, he and Alice had seven children but only his daughter Mary outlived him. In 1652 Culpeper translated from Latin Galen’s Art of Physic: “That thou mayest understand…in a general way the manifest virtues of medicines…such as are obvious to the senses, especially to the taste and smell.” In 1653, he completed his herbal The English Physitian, or an Astrologo-Physical Discourse of the Vulgar Herbs of this Nation. It was followed in 1653 by The Compleat Herball, but by now Culpeper knew he was dying, writing to his wife of his latest books: “…and my fame shall continue and increase thereby, though the period of my Life and Studies be at hand and I must bid all things under the Sun farewell.” He had wasted to a skeleton from the effects of his injury, overwork, tuberculosis and possibly lung cancer from his tobacco habit. He died on January 10, 1654, at the age of just 38. Alice wrote: “My husband left 79 books of his own making or translating in my hands.”
RIBES: NIGRUM, RUBRUM and GLANDULOSUM
Family Grossulariaceae, Currant/Gooseberry
OTHER NAMES: Blackcurrants were called quinsy berries or squinancy berries, as they were thought to cure quinsy (squinancy), a peritonsular abscess which is a complication of tonsillitis.
DESCRIPTION: Prolific small berries on spiked branches of shrubs which can grow to 6 feet (1.8 m) tall.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper seems to dislike blackcurrants: “Currants…are of a moist, temperate, refreshing nature; the red and white currants are good to cool and refresh faintings of the stomach, to quench thirst, and stir up an appetite, and therefore are profitable in hot and sharp agues: it tempers the heat of the liver and blood, and the sharpness of choler, and resists putrefaction; it also taketh away the loathing of meat, and weakness of the stomach by much vomiting, and is good for those that have any looseness of the belly; Gesner says, that the Switzers [Swiss] use them for the cough, and so well they may; for, take dry currants a quarter of a pound, of brandy half a pint set the brandy on fire, then bruise the currants and put them into the brandy while it is burning, stirring them until the brandy is almost consumed, that it becomes like unto an electuary, and it is an excellent remedy to be taken hot for any violent cough, cold, or rheum. The black currants and the leaves are used in sauces by those who like the taste and scent of them, which I believe very few do of either.” Gerard also favored the redcurrant and whitecurrant, saying the blackcurrant had “a stinking and somewhat loathing savour.”
HISTORY: The juice used be boiled to an extract with sugar, called Rob, and used for inflammatory sore throat conditions such as quinsy. Throat lozenges are prepared from blackcurrants. The infusion of the leaves was said to be “cleansing and diuretic,” as was the raw juice, which was prescribed for those weak with illness. Blackcurrant jelly, tea and wine are all popular in Britain today, a fashion probably stemming from the Second World War. Most fruits rich in vitamin C, such as oranges, were not available, so the planting of blackcurrants, also rich in vitamin C, was encouraged by the British government. From 1942, nearly the entire British blackcurrant crop was made into blackcurrant cordial or syrup and distributed free to all children.
The English name was given because the berries looked like the dried black Corinth grape, the Zante grape (Vitis vinifera), sold in shops as currants. Corinths transmuted into currants over time.
Family Myrsinaceae, Myrsine
OTHER NAMES: Ivy-leaved cyclamen, sowbread, stag truffle.
DESCRIPTION: The nodding pink, pale violet or white flowers, which appear before the leaves, are placed singly on fleshy stalks, 4 to 8 inches (10–20 cm) high. This herb gets its name from the Greek cyclos, circle, a reference either to the appearance of the reflexed lobes of the corolla, or from the spiral form of the fruit-stalk. As the fruit ripens, the flower-stalk curls spiraly and buries it in the earth from its bulb-like, underground stem. The hardy plant now grows wild across Europe, probably spread by the Romans. The favorite greenhouse cyclamens which flower in winter months are varieties of a Persian species, Cyclamen persicum, which were introduced into European horticulture in the middle of the 18th century.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper states: “This is a martial plant. The root of sow-bread is very forcing, and chiefly used to bring away the birth and the secundines [afterbirth], and to provoke the menses. The juice is commended by some against vertiginous disorders of the head, used in form of an errhine [promoting a nasal discharge]; it is of service also against cutaneous [skin] eruptions.” The part used was the acrid tuberous rootstock, used fresh when the plant was in flower. Grieve records that “applied externally as a liniment over the bowels [it] causes purging…An ointment…was made from the fresh tubers for expelling worms, and was rubbed on the umbilicus of children and on the abdomen of adults to cause emesis and upon the region over the bladder to increase urinary discharge.”
HISTORY: Dioscorides suggested its use as a purgative, antitoxin, skin cleanser and labor-inducer. When used as a purgative, juice from the tuberous rootstock was applied externally, either over the bowels and bladder region or on the anus. Dioscorides also mentioned its use as an aphrodisiac, and old writers tell us that sowbread, baked and made into little flat cakes, has the reputation of being “a good amorous medicine,” causing one to fall violently in love.
Favorite of Pigs
The species name hederifolium comes from hedera (ivy) and folium (leaf), because of the shape and patterning of the leaves. The older species name, neapolitanum, refers to Naples, where the species grew in abundance. Many English farmers called cyclamen stagtruffle or sowbread since they often observed deer and swine digging up and eating the roots.