Breverton's Complete Herbal



Family Apiaceae/Umbelliferae, Carrot


OTHER NAMES: Common fennel (Culpeper), sweet fennel, ffenigl (Welsh).

DESCRIPTION: A perennial standing 4 to 5 feet (1.2 to 1.5 m) high, with bright, yellow flowers in large, flat terminal umbels and feathery ornamental leaves. Note that this is not Florence fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum), which has edible celery-like stalks, an edible bulb, and is only 2 feet (60 cm) high.

PROPERTIES AND USES: Stalks, leaves and seeds are edible. Culpeper relates: “One good old fashion is not yet left off, viz. to boil fennel with fish; for it consumes that phlegmatic humour which fish most plentifully afford and annoy the body with, though few that use it know wherefore they do it; I suppose the reason of its benefit this way is, because it is an herb of Mercury, and under Virgo, and therefore bears antipathy to Pisces…The Leaves or Seed boiled in Barley Water and drunk is good for Nurses to increase their Milk and make it more wholesome for the Child: The Leaves, or rather the Seed boiled in Water stays the Hiccough, and takes away that loathing which oftentimes happens to the Stomachs of Sick, and Feverish Persons, and allays the heat thereof. The Seed boiled in Wine and drunk, is good for those that are bitten by Serpents, or have eaten Poison full Herbs or Mushrooms…The Seed is of good use in Medicines to help shortness of breath, and Wheezing by stopping of the Lungs. It helps also to bring down the Courses and to cleanse the parts after delivery…Both Leaves, Seeds, and Roots hereof are much used in Drinks or Broths, to make people more spare and lean that are too fat.” Culpeper recorded its reputation as a diet aid, and in the 17th century William Coles wrote that fennel was much used “for those that are grown fat, to abate their unwieldiness and cause them to grow more gaunt and lank.” Drinking a cup of fennel seed tea before eating a heavy meal can take the edge off your appetite. As a diuretic fennel seeds are detoxifying and have been recommended to reduce cellulite. Sarah Garland wrote “the seeds were eaten in quantities with fish and with hard fruit because of their digestive qualities. In the 11th century a large household is recorded as having consumed 8.5 pounds (3.9 kg) of fennel seed in a month.” Fresh leaves can be used as flavoring in soups and sauces, and fennel seeds make an excellent tea. Fennel teas are useful for chronic coughs and act as an expectorant to help clear mucus from the lungs, syrup prepared from fennel juice was formerly given for chronic coughs. The seeds are a digestive aid and are known to help with babies’ colic, and adults find they assist with problems of abdominal cramps, flatulence, indigestion and bloating. Fennel not only improves digestion, but also can reduce bad breath and possibly body odor. The fresh stems of fennel can be eaten like celery, and the seeds add an anise flavor to fish and other dishes. If you expect to eat a vegetable that you have trouble digesting, like cabbage, try adding fennel seeds to your recipe. Oil of fennel relieves muscular or rheumatic pains and is warming and soothing in massage oil blends. Fennel is one of the plants that repels fleas, and powdered fennel was used in stables and kennels.

HISTORY: Fennel was supposed to have bestowed immortality upon Prometheus. It has been used to treat digestive ailments since the time of the Egyptians. In the third century BCE Hippocrates recommended its use for infant colic. The Romans and the Greeks cultivated it and Pliny gave 22 uses for it, especially as an eye herb. Pliny also related that snakes casting off their skins ate fennel to restore their eyesight. Dioscorides recommended it as an appetite-suppressant and for nursing mothers to increase milk production. In some countries it is regarded as an aphrodisiac. In the Middle Ages, fennel was used together with St. Johns wort and other herbs as a preventative against witchcraft and other evil influences, being hung over doors on Midsummer’s Eve to ward off evil spirits. It was also used to increase breast milk. Recent studies support its traditional use as a digestive aid. It has been shown to relieve intestinal spasms and cramping in the smooth muscle lining of the digestive tract, helping to relieve discomfort. An expert panel in Germany, that evaluates the safety and effectiveness of herbs, endorses fennel for the treatment of digestive upsets, including indigestion, wind pains, irritable bowel syndrome and infant colic. Some studies have shown the effectiveness of fennel to be comparable to well-known proprietary treatments such as Mylanta, Gaviscon and Maalox.



The Greek name for fennel was marathon, derived from “maraino,” to grow thin, reflecting the widely held belief that drinking fennel tea would have a slimming effect. In Ancient Greece, the famous battle against the Persians in 490 BCE was fought on a field of fennel.



Family Apiaceae/Umbelliferae, Carrot


OTHER NAMES: Culpeper says it is “called also Sow-Fennel, Hoar-Strange, Hoar-Strong, Sulphur-Wort and Brimstone Wort.” Milk parsley, marsh parsley, sulphur weed, marsh smallage.

DESCRIPTION: Culpeper tells his readers that it “grows plentifully in the salt low marshes near Faversham in Kent.” Now rare, it still grows here and at the “backwaters” at Walton-on-Naze in Essex. Related to dill, it resembles fennel, and grows to 3–5 feet (90–152 cm), with large umbels of yellow flowers. “Peucedanum” indicates that its leaves resemble those of the pine tree.

PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper recorded: “The Juice of SowFennel (say Dioscorides and Galen) used with Vinegar and Rosewater, or the Juice with a little Euphorbium put to the Nose, helps those that are troubled with the Lethargy, Frenzy, turning or Giddiness of the Head, Falling-Sickness, long and inveterate Headache, the Palsy, Sciatica, and Cramp, and generally all the Diseases of the Sinews, used with Oil and Vinegar. The Juice dissolved in Wine, or put into an Egg, is good for the Cough, or shortness of Breath and for those that are troubled with the Wind in the Body; It purges the Belly gently, helps the hardness of the Spleen, gives ease to Women that have sore travail in Childbirth, and eases the pains of the Reins and Bladder, and also of the Womb. A little of the Juice dissolved in Wine and dropped into the Ears, eases much of the pains in them; and put into an hollow Tooth, eases the pain thereof. The Root is less effectual in all the aforesaid Diseases: yet the Powder of the Root cleanses foul Ulcers being put into them; and takes out Splinters of broken Bones or other things in the Flesh and heals them up perfectly, as also it dries up old and inveterate running Sores, and is of admirable Virtue in all green Wounds.

HISTORY: This plant is now naturalized in North America, where in addition to the name of sulphurwort, it is called chucklusa. The juice is used for epilepsy and as a vinegar substitute in Russia. Its active ingredients act a diuretic and as an emmenagogue, stimulating blood flow in the uterus and pelvic area.

Smell of Sulfur

The thick root has a strong odor of sulfur, hence the popular names of the plant, sulphurwort, sulphur weed and brimstonewort. When wounded in the spring, the plant yields a considerable quantity of a yellowish-green juice, which dries into a gummy resin and retains the strong sulfuric scent of the root.



Family Asteraceae/Compositae, Daisy/Sunflower


OTHER NAMES: Culpeper calls it common feverfew. Featherfew, flirtwort, bachelor’s buttons, featherfoil, febrifuge plant, pyrethrum parthenium, altamisa, chamomile grande, featherfoil, midsummer daisy, nosebleed, wild chamomile, wild quinine. The Welsh name, wermod wen, means white wormwood. Culpeper also describes corn feverfew and sea feverfew.

DESCRIPTION: A hardy perennial growing to 15 inches (38 cm) with clusters of small daisy-like flowers and bright green, bitter, serrated leaves. Its bright white flower is similar to chamomile, and the plant is popular in flower gardens.

PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper recommends it for headaches, and states: “Venus commands this herb, and has commended it to succour her sisters [women], to be a general strengthener of their wombs, and to remedy such infirmities as a careless midwife has there caused.” Up to four leaves eaten daily sandwiched in bread (the bitter leaves can otherwise hurt the mouth) has a preventative effect on migraine. Alternatively, a few drops can be taken of a tincture made from the leaves and flowers. Feverfew inhibits platelets aggregating in the bloodstream, thus preventing blockage of small capillaries. This action has a mild tranquilizing effect and is especially good for headaches caused by tension or fatigue. (Do not mix with any warfarin treatment, as feverfew also thins the blood). Taken hot, feverfew will bring down fevers and act as a decongestant for coughs and catarrh. It has an antihistamine action, offering allergy relief to hay fever and asthma sufferers. A household disinfectant can be made from the leaves. It is a fly and flea repellent, and must be kept away from plants which need to be pollinated by bees, as bees also dislike its pungent aroma.

HISTORY: Feverfew was known as parthenium because it was used to save the life of someone who had fallen from the Parthenon, the Doric temple of Athena on the Acropolis in Athens. Dioscorides recommended it for many complaints, such as arthritis, phlegm (one of the “four humors,” lack of emotion) and melancholy (another of the four humors), and also for “St. Anthony’s Fire [erysipelas], to all hot inflammations and hot swellings.” Feverfew has been used in the treatment of headaches since the first century. It has also been used for inflammation, arthritis, menstrual discomforts, fever and other aches and pains. Double-blind medical studies in England proved that feverfew tea helps migraine sufferers, possibly by controlling levels of serotonin.



Family Moraceae, Fig/Mulberry


OTHER NAMES: Edible fig, tree of life and knowledge.

DESCRIPTION: “The Fig-tree seldom grows to be a tree of any great bigness in our parts, being clothed with large leaves bigger than vine-leaves, full of nigh veins, and divided for the most part into five blunt-pointed segments, yielding a thin milky juice when broken. It bears no viable flowers.”—Culpeper.

PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper describes it thus: “They prosper very well in our English gardens, yet are fitter for medicine than for any other profit that is gotten by the fruit of them. The tree is under the dominion of Jupiter. The milk that issues out from the leaves or branches where they are broken off, being dropped upon warts, takes them away. The decoction of the leaves is excellent good to wash foreheads with. It clears the face also of morphew [a scurfy eruption], and the body of white scurf, scabs, and running sores. If it be dropped into old fretting ulcers, it cleanses out the moisture, and brings up the flesh; because you cannot have the leaves green all the year, you may make an ointment of them whilst you can. A decoction of the leaves being drunk inwardly, or rather a syrup made of them, dissolves congealed blood caused by bruises or falls, and helps the bloody flux. The ashes of the wood made into an ointment with hog’s grease, helps kibes [ulcerated chilblains, especially on the heel] and chilblains. The juice being put into a hollow tooth, eases pain; as also deafness and pain and noises in the ears, being dropped into them. An ointment made of the juice and hogs’ grease, is as excellent a remedy for the biting of mad dogs, or other venomous beasts, as most are; a syrup made of the leaves, or green fruits, is excellent for coughs, hoarseness, or shortness of breath, and all diseases of the breast and lungs: it is very good for the dropsy and falling-sickness.” Figs can be eaten fresh or dried, and are used for their mild laxative action, being used in the preparation of laxative confections and syrups. Possibly the laxative property resides in the saccharine juice of the fresh fruit and in the indigestible seeds and skin of the dried fruit. Syrup of figs, a mild laxative, is suitable for children. Figs are demulcent as well as nutritive. Demulcent decoctions are prepared for the treatment of catarrhal affections of the nose and throat. Roasted and split into two portions, the soft pulpy interior of figs can be applied as emollient poultices to gumboils, dental abscesses and other circumscribed maturating tumors. In the Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament they were used by Hezekiah as a remedy for boils. The milky juice of the freshly-broken stalk of a fig has been used to remove warts on the body.

HISTORY: In Genesis, Adam and Eve used fig leaves to cover “their nakedness” after eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Figs were one of the principal articles of sustenance in Greece, especially among the Spartans. Warriors and athletes fed almost entirely on figs, considering that they increased their strength and swiftness. Figs were such an important staple food in Ancient Greece that there was a law forbidding the exportation of the best fruit from their trees. The term sycophant, meaning a servile, self-seeking flatterer, literally translates as “one who shows the fig.” The term dates back to the Ancient Greek fig trade and originally referred to one who informed on fig smugglers. In Latin mythology the shrub was dedicated to Bacchus and employed in religious ceremonies. The wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus rested under a fig tree, which was therefore held sacred by the Romans, and Ovid states that as part of the celebrations of the first day of the year by Romans, figs were offered as presents. Both Greek and Roman mythology associate the fig with Dionysus (the Roman Bacchus), god of wine and drunkenness, and with Priapus, a satyr who symbolized sexual desire. In Italy, Pliny details 29 kinds of known figs. According to Buddhist legend, the founder of the religion achieved enlightenment in 528 BCE while sitting under a bo, a kind of fig tree. In Victorian times, nude statues had fig leaves added to spare the blushes of any modest viewers.


Early Cultivation

The edible fig was one of the first plants to be cultivated by humans. Nine subfossil figs dating to about 9400–9200 BCE were found in an early Neolithic village 10 miles (16 km) north of Jericho in the Jordan Valley. This find predates the domestication of wheat, barley and legumes, and may be the first known instance of agriculture. It is proposed that they may have been planted and cultivated intentionally, 1000 years before the next crops to be domesticated, wheat and rye.



Fines herbes is a combination of herbs that forms a mainstay of Mediterranean cuisine. The ingredients are usually fresh parsley, chives, tarragon and chervil. These “fine herbs” are not the pungent and resinous herbs that appear in a shop-bought bouquet garni—which, unlike fines herbes, release their flavor in long cooking. Marjoram, cress, cicely or lemon balm may be added to fines herbes, of which marjoram may be dried, but the essence of taste and flavor is to use fresh “fine herbs.” You can simply finely chop a tablespoon each of fresh oregano, savory, thyme, marjoram and rosemary, put them into a bowl and mix together. Make into a bouquet garni for French Provençal dishes, or simply use the mix to complement any salads, vegetables, meat dishes, eggs, cheese, soups, stews, sauces and even hot desserts. Fines herbes are most commonly sprinkled on top of food after it has been cooked. An alternative fines herbes recipe using fresh herbs is to mix a tablespoon each of finely chopped or minced chives, chervil, parsley and tarragon. If using dried herbs in cooking, use a teaspoon each of chives, chervil, parsley and tarragon.

Fresh vegetables, fish, game meats, soups and stews can be flavored with the seasoning blend known as Herbes de Provence. If using fresh herbs use one stem of each herb and tie them together into a bundle. If using dried herbs, place one teaspoon of each herb in the middle of a double layer of cheese cloth and tie the ends together with a piece of string. Place the bundle of herbs into the cooking liquid of the dish that is being prepared, and remove and discard the bundle prior to serving. A recipe using fresh herbs could be made up of basil, lavender flowers, fennel, rosemary, savory and thyme. For a recipe using dried herbs, try crumbled bay leaf, celery seeds, lavender flowers, marjoram, parsley, tarragon and thyme.

The Chinese tried to invent a “wonder powder” balancing the yin and yang of food, encompassing all five flavors—sweet, sour, bitter, pungent and salty. Five Spice Mix is a traditional Chinese recipe, using a mix of powders to flavor poultry and meat dishes in Chinese-style cooking. It can also be added to soy sauce or teriyaki sauce and used as a marinade for meat, fish or poultry. Grind a teaspoon of each of the following ingredients into a fine powder using a pestle and mortar: black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, (sweet) fennel seeds and star anise or one star anise pod. There are many, many variations of this recipe.



Family Linaceae, Flax


OTHER NAMES: Linseed, linen plant. Welsh llin amaeth (farmed linseed).

DESCRIPTION: A hardy annual which grows up to 4 feet (1.2 m) high with a spread of 12–24 inches (30–60 cm). Its sky-blue flowers make an unforgettable waving sea of sky blue in a field of planted flax.

PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper observes: “Of the bark of the stalks of this plant, which is tough, and made up of a great many slender filaments, is made linen cloth…The seed, which is usually called linseed, is emollient, digesting, and ripening; of great use against inflammations, tumours, and impostumes [pus-filled sores], and is frequently put into fomentations and cataplasms, for those purposes. Cold-drawn linseed oil is of great service in all diseases of the breast and lungs, as pleurisies and pneumonia, coughs, asthma and consumption. It likewise helps the colic and stone, both taken at the mouth, and given in clysters [enemas using a syringe].” Poultices treat boils and the plant is used to cure constipation. Flaxseed, or linseed, oil helps maintain a healthy heart and circulation, and the plant is used in cancer treatments. The oil is used in paint as an emulsifier, and the plant fibers make linen, used for clothing, fishing nets, ropes, sacks, candle wicks etc.

HISTORY: In Georgia, dyed flax fibers dating to 30,000 BCE have been found. Flax was one of the first crops to be cultivated, from 5000 BCE, being used to produce seed and textile fiber. It is used to make linen, linseed and rope, and the Egyptians wrapped mummies in linen cloth. Pictures on walls at Thebes show flax plants. Greeks used it to make sails for boats—cotton was not grown in Europe until the Moors introduced it into Spain in the ninth century. In the New Testament, it wrapped the body of Christ in the tomb, and it was the plant to which the plague of hail was so disastrous in the Book of Exodus. The Latin name for flax means “most useful.” Flax flowers were believed in the Middle Ages to be a protection against sorcery. The Bohemians thought that seven-year-old children who danced among the flowers would grow up to be beautiful. Then, as now, flaxseed was used for the laxative effect of the mucilage the seeds give out when soaked in water. Sixty percent of the world’s flax production now comes from Canada and China.

Healthy Flax Seed

Flax seed (making linseed oil) is rich in Omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid, helping prevent heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, inflammation and immune system problems.


Insects visit flowers to collect nectar and thereby help in pollination, which is essential for the survival of plants. Some believe that there is also some kind of “time agreement” between plants and their insect visitors, which is precise to the hour. Only during this “agreed period” do insects visit the flowers, and the flowers in their turn produce the nectar and pollen. Thus neither the visit of the insects, nor the pollen is wasted, and this “clock” is independent of the weather. The great Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707–78) observed over a number of years that the flowers of many plants opened and closed periodically and that these times varied from species to species. Based on this finding, he was said to have planted a “floral clock” in his garden. Carefully chosen plants were arranged in segments around a circle, in the order of their daily blooming time. Linnaeus called it a Horologium Florae, in his Philosophia Botanica (1751). Linnaeus did not understand the mechanism of the response of plants to different day lengths (photoperiodism). This periodic opening and closing of flowers is brought about by the interaction of an endogenous rhythm and the day length (light/dark signal). It appears that the plant is capable of measuring the time after which the light has reappeared. However, even today scientists appear to not know which receptors are used, and all we know about blooming time measurement is that the pigment phytochrome is involved. As well as the circadian rhythm, temperature and humidity are probable stimuli, as well as light intensity.

Linnaues’s garden at Uppsala was situated at 60 degrees north, so many of the plants he selected for his flower clock were long-day species, adapted to short nights and daily photoperiods of 12 hours or more. However, his plants also included species of the intermediate type, which produce flowers regardless of the day length. These day-neutral types, such as dandelion, are not useful time keepers, since their times of opening vary with the season. During the first half of the 19th century keepers of botanic gardens attempted to construct flower clocks, but with little success as many of the plants listed by Linnaeus do not flower at the same month/times in different countries. Not only do the times of opening and closing of some of flowers vary with the month but also with the weather, as in rainy or cold weather blooms may remain closed or their opening may be later. The plant’s aspect (whether it is on the north or south side of a hill, or on a valley floor, or shaded by trees, or near the warmer climates of coastlines) will also affect flowering. In Philosophia Botanica, Linnaeus described three groups of flowers:

Meteorici—flowers which change their opening and closing times according to the weather conditions.

Tropici—flowers which change their times for opening and closing according to the length of the day.

Aequinoctales—flowers which have fixed times of the day or night for opening and closing. Because of this characteristic, only aequinoctales are suitable for use in a flower clock.






Family Plantaginaceae, Plantain


OTHER NAMES: Purple foxglove, fairy gloves, fairy fingers, fairy petticoats, fairy weed, fairy thimbles, witches’ thimbles, witches’ gloves, witches’ bells, virgin’s glove, Our Lady’s glove, gloves of Our Lady, the great herb, fox bells, dead men’s bells, floppy-dock, floptop folk’s glovers, dog’s finger, cow-flop.

DESCRIPTION: It grows up to 5–6 feet (1.5–1.8 m), and is a hardy, pretty biennial with purple bell-shaped flowers.

PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper writes: “The plant is under the dominion of Venus, being of a gentle cleansing quality, and withal very friendly to nature. The herb is familiarly and frequently used by the Italians to heal any fresh or green wound, the leaves being but bruised and bound thereon; and the juice thereof is also used in old sores, to cleanse, dry, and heal them. The decoction hereof made up with some sugar or honey, is available to cleanse and purge the body both upwards and downwards, sometimes of tough phlegm and clammy humours, and to open obstructions of the liver and spleen. It has been found by experience to be available for the king’s-evil, the herb bruised and applied, or an ointment made with the juice thereof, and so used; and a decoction of two handfuls thereof with four ounces of polypody in ale, has been found by late experience to cure divers of the falling sickness, that have been troubled with it above twenty years. I am confident that an ointment thereof is one of the best remedies for a scabby head.” Infusions were made from the leaves to treat sore throats and catarrh, and a compress of leaves was made for bruises and swellings.

HISTORY: In 1785, the physician William Withering learned of the herbalist remedy for dropsy (oedema), using foxglove leaves, but it was unpredictable and could be fatal. He found that the plant affected the heart, stimulating the kidneys to cleanse the body of the fluids which caused dropsy. He experimented to find the correct dosages, leading to the purification of the active ingredients digitoxin and digoxin, which are used in heart stimulants today. In 1799, physician John Ferriar showed that digitalis slows the pulse, and increases the force of heart contractions and the amount of blood pumped per heartbeat.

Dead Man’s Thimbles

The mottlings of the foxglove’s blossoms were said to be marks where elves had placed their fingers, and they were also a warning sign of the harmful juices secreted by the plant, giving it the popular name of “dead man’s thimbles.”



Family Fumariaceae, Fumitory/Fumewort/Bleeding Heart

OTHER NAMES: Earth smoke, smoke of the earth, fumus, vapour, beggary, fumus terrae, fumiterry, drug fumitory, wax dolls.

DESCRIPTION: It is a small and slender plant, with weak, straggling, or climbing stems 4 to 12 inches (10–30 cm) long, and clusters or spikes of small flowers of a pinkish hue, topped with purple, or more rarely, white. The leaves taste bitter and saline.

PROPERTIES AND USES: “The juice or syrup…is very effectual for the liver and spleen, opening the obstructions thereof, and clarifying the blood from saltish, choleric, and adust humours, which cause leprosy, scabs, tetters [a form of herpes, ringworm or eczema], and itches, and such like breakings out of the skin; and, after the purgings, strengthens all the inward parts. It is also good against the yellow jaundice, eradicating it by urine, which it procures in abundance…The distilled water also, with a little water and honey of roses, helps all the sores of the mouth or throat, being gargled often therewith. The juice dropped into the eyes, clears the sight, and takes away redness and other defects in them, although it procures some pain for the present, and causes tears. Dioscorides says, it hinders any fresh springing of hairs on the eyelids (after they are pulled away) if the eyelids be anointed with the juice hereof with gum arable dissolved therein. The juice of the Fumitory and docks mingled with vinegar, and the places gently washed or wet therewith, cures all sorts of scabs, pimples, blotches, wheals, and pushes which rise on the face or hands, or any other parts of the body.”—Culpeper. It is used in eruptive skin diseases such as eczema. Fumitory is claimed as an aperient, depurative, cholagogue (stimulating the flow of bile), skin cleanser, diuretic, laxative, sedative, stomach pacifier, sudorific (sweat inducer), liver detoxifier, blood purifier and tonic.

HISTORY: The dried leaves were smoked in the manner of tobacco for disorders of the head. Dr. Cullen recommended a leaf infusion to clear the skin and get rid of freckles. The plant was burned, so that its smoke might expel evil spirits, in the famous geometrical botanical gardens of St. Gall in Switzerland.


The common name “earth smoke” may come from the appearance of fumitory’s whitish, blue-green flowers when viewed from afar. However, Pliny said that using the juice of the plant for eye infections brings on such a flow of tears, that the sight becomes dim as when affected by smoke. There is also a legend that the plant was produced, not from seed, but from vapors arising out of the earth.