Family Fagaceae, Beech
OTHER NAMES: Quercus infectoria, olivier, oak gall, nut-galls, Lusitanian oak, dyer’s oak.
DESCRIPTION: A small, crooked, shrubby oak 4–6 feet (1.2–1.8 m) high native to Morocco, Portugal and Spain, and also Asia. The gall nuts that are used commercially for dyes are produced by the action of wasps. Culpeper says: “This tree flowers and bears acorns, as also round woody substances, which are called galls, and the timber is very hard. There are other kinds, much shorter, bearing leaves more or less cut or jagged on the edges, and producing a great quantity of galls, and no acorns: some bear large galls, others small; some knobbed or bunched, and others smooth: they are of different colours white, red, yellow, and green…chiefly grow in hot countries, Italy, Spain, &c.” The galls are the result of a puncture made in the bark by a wasp (Diplolepis gallae tinctoriae or Cynips quercusfolii) to deposit its egg. A small tumor soon appears, forming a dense mass about the egg. The egg hatches into the larval wasp while still inside these galls, and it eats its way out through a small opening. The excrescences vary from the size of a large pea to that of a chestnut, are nearly round and hard. Those in which the egg has not yet turned into a larva are most compact and heavy, and dark blue or bluish-green. When the larva has developed, the external color lightens. Those of large size and grayish appearance are more or less consumed internally by the grub, and consequently of less commercial value.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper relates: “The small gall is Saturnine, of a sour harsh nature, dry in the third degree, and cold in the second. It is effectual in drawing together and fastening loose and faint parts, as the overgrowing of the flesh: it expels and dries up rheums [watery mucus expelled from the eyes, nose and mouth during sleep] and other fluxes, especially those that fall upon the gums, almonds of the throat, and other places of the mouth. The other whiter gall also binds and dries, but not so much as the former, having a less quantity of that sour harshness in it: it is good against the dysentery and bloody flux. The decoction of them in water, is of a mean astriction [binding or confining], but more powerful in harsh red wine. Being sat over, it remedies the falling of the mother, or the galls being boiled and bruised, and applied to the fundament when fallen, or to any swelling or inflammation will prove a certain cure. The pods of burned galls being quenched in wine and vinegar are good to staunch bleeding in any place. They will dye hair black, and are one of the chief ingredients for making ink: it is also used by dyers for colouring black. The oak apple is much of the nature of galls, though inferior in quality, but may be substituted for them with success to help rheums, fluxes, and other such like painful distempers.” The common oak gall wasp (Cynips quercusfolii), induces characteristic 1-inch (2.5-cm) spherical galls on the underside of oak leaves in other varieties of oak across the world. These turn reddish in the autumn and are commonly known as “oak apples.” Dr. William Cook, in his 1869 The Physiomedical Dispensatory, wrote: “Oak galls…are one of the strongest natural astringent herbs available and also are antiseptic. Useful in leucorrhoea and other vaginal discharges and in profuse menstruation. Also useful in chronic diarrhoea, dysentery, bleeding haemorrhoids, gleets [bodily discharges, for instance from the urethra of gonorrhea sufferers], varicose veins and long standing gonorrhoea. They are also used as a gargle and mouthwash to treat sore throat, stomatitis [inflammation of any parts of the mouth], pharyngitis, laryngitis and tonsillitis. The blood-clotting agents active in Oak Bark are also helpful to cease nosebleeds…”
HISTORY: Oak galls preserved during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE have been found, and they probably intended for use in medicines. Pliny the Elder (23–79 CE) recorded an experiment in which he noted the reaction of iron sulfate on a sheet of papyrus that had been soaked in tannic acid: “The fraud may also be detected by using a leaf of papyrus, which has been steeped in an infusion of nut-galls; for it becomes black immediately upon the genuine verdigris being applied.” Native North Americans used poultices of ground gall nuts on sores, cuts and burns.
Oak galls have been used externally to blacken hair since ancient times. Containing tannic acid, they were ground and mixed with iron sulfate, gum arabic and liquid (e.g. rainwater, beer or wine) to form an indelible black ink. The use of iron gall ink eventually became popular from the fifth century CE, owing to the fact that it does not easily rub off or erase. Iron gall ink turns light brown over time, as we see on old parchments. Dr. William Cook noted “Their decoction or tincture forms bluish-black precipitates with salts of iron, and is a basis in all black writing inks.”
Family Alliaceae (formerly Liliaceae), Lily
OTHER NAMES: Poor man’s treacle, rustic treacle, stinkweed, stinking rose, clove garlic, nectar of the gods, camphor of the poor.
DESCRIPTION: All parts of the plant are edible, and Culpeper tells us that “It is a Native of the East, but for its use is cultivated every where in gardens.” The differences between garlic and onions is in the bulbs and leaves. Garlic produces heads that a divided into sections (cloves), but onions produce a single multilayer globe. Garlic leaves are flat and almost grass-like, while onions tend to be hollow and erect. Culpeper also mentions “Broadleaved Wild Garlic,” Allium ampeloprasum, which is the ancient broadleaf wild leek, the ancestor of all leeks and elephant garlic. He recommends this plant for opening the lungs, relieving asthma, relieving wind, as a diuretic and for illnesses of the kidney and dropsy, especially anasarca (swelling of the skin).
PROPERTIES AND USES: Culpeper noted: “Mars owns this herb. This was anciently accounted the poor man’s treacle, it being a remedy for all diseases and hurts (except those which itself breeds.) It provokes urine, and women’s courses, helps the biting of mad dogs and other venomous creatures, kills worms in children, cuts and voids tough phlegm, purges the head, helps the lethargy, is a good preservative against, and a remedy for any plague, sore, or foul ulcers; takes away spots and blemishes in the skin, eases pains in the ears, ripens and breaks impostumes, or other swellings; and for all those diseases the onions are as effected. But the Garlic has some more peculiar virtues besides the former, viz. it has a special quality to discuss inconveniences, coming by corrupt agues or mineral vapours, or by drinking corrupt and stinking waters; as also by taking wolf-bane, hen-bane, hemlock, or other poisonous and dangerous herbs. It is also held good in hydropic [relating to dropsy] diseases, the jaundice, falling-sickness, cramps, convulsions, the piles or haemorrhoids, or other cold diseases. Many authors quote many other diseases this is good for; but conceal its vices. Its heat is very vehement; and all vehement hot things send up but ill-savoured vapours to the brain. In choleric men it will add fuel to the fire; in men oppressed by melancholy, it will attenuate the humour, and send up strong fancies, and as many strange visions to the head; therefore let it be taken inwardly with great moderation; outwardly you may make more bold with it.” Along with the related onion, garlic helps to lower hypertension, serum triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Both garlic and onions help thin the blood by discouraging platelets from sticking together. Garlic contains allicin, one of the most impressive broad-spectrum antimicrobial substances found in nature, and over 30 other medicinal compounds have been identified in the plant. Garlic oil or the juice of garlic adds a significant protective quality to cells which help to reduce fatty deposits. Garlic increases the potency of other medical preparations; helps nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs provide greater pain relief; and boosts the infection-fighting capacity of many antibiotics.
HISTORY: It has been a cultivated plant for over 6000 years, originating in central Asia. Garlic was placed by the Greeks on piles of stones at crossroads as a supper for Hecate, their goddess of magic, witchcraft, the night, moon, ghosts and necromancy. According to Pliny, garlic and onion were invoked as deities by the Egyptians at the taking of oaths. It was used as a currency and clay models of bulbs were placed in Tutankhamen’s tomb. During the building of the Pyramids, the workers were given garlic daily to imbue them with vitality and strength. The word derives from Old English garleac, “spear leek.” For all of recorded history it has been considered an aphrodisiac. It was therefore forbidden to monks, who believed it to be a stimulant which aroused passions. Widows, adolescents and those who had taken up a vow or were fasting could not eat garlic because of this stimulant quality. During years of plague in Europe, many people ate garlic daily in an attempt to protect themselves. Louis Pasteur verified its antiseptic properties in 1858. Garlic is a strong antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and antiparasitic herb and throughout history has been used for such purposes. Its properties as a “superfood” have been verified in countless studies. During the two World Wars, when the supply of sulfur drugs ran out, the British relied on garlic’s antiseptic qualities for effectively treating wounds.
Garlic and Vampires
Culpeper wrote: “The offensiveness of the breath of him that hath eaten garlic will lead you by the nose to the knowledge hereof, and (instead of a description) direct you to the place where it groweth in gardens, which kinds are the best, and most physical.” The penetrating odor is so diffusive that if a bulb is applied to the soles of the feet, the breath will smell of it. In the USA in the 1920s it was known disparagingly in slang as Italian perfume, halitosis and Bronx vanilla. It is also said to protect against vampires—presumably you simply breathe upon them.
Family Asteraceae, Aster/Daisy
OTHER NAMES: Aaron’s rod, cast the spear, farewell summer refer to Solidago virgaurea, but Culpeper names three types of goldenrod. Common goldenrod was named as Solidago fragrans (fragrant), a synonym for Solidago serotina or Solidago odora (sweet goldenrod). Narrow-leaved goldenrod was named as Solidago angustifolia, which appears to now be named Solidago sempervivens (seaside, beach or evergreen goldenrod). The small Solidago cambrica, Welsh goldenrod, may be a variety of S. virgaurea and is extremely rare and seems confined to the mountainous valleys of Snowdonia National Park. Goldenrod is native to Europe, and there are many different species of goldenrod that possess the same medicinal properties. Frequently, many species, such as Solidago canadenis, Solidago gigantea, Solidago serotina, Solidago odora, Solidago nemoralis, Solidago radiata and Solidago spathulata, along with many others are used interchangeably with Solidago virgaurea.
DESCRIPTION: The hardy perennial Solidago virgaurea, with its spikes of golden yellow daisy-like flowers and bright green pointed leaves, may indeed be Culpeper’s “Common Golden Rod” as it also grows about 2 feet (60 cm) high.
PROPERTIES AND USES: According to Culpeper apropos the common goldenrod, “Venus rules this herb. It is a balsamic vulnerary herb, long famous against inward hurts and bruises, for which it is most effectual in a distilled water, and in which shape it is an excellent and safe diuretic; few things exceed it in the gravel, stone in the reins and kidneys, strangury, and where there are small stones so situated, as to cause heat and soreness, which are too often followed with bloody or purulent urine; then its balsamic healing virtues co-operate with its diuretic quality, and the parts at the same time are cleansed and healed. It is a sovereign wound-herb, inferior to none, both for inward and outward use. It is good to stay the immoderate flux of women’s courses, the bloody flux, ruptures, ulcers in the mouth or throat, and in lotions to wash the privy parts in venereal cases. No preparation is better than a tea of the herb for this service: and the young leaves, green or dry, have the most virtue.” He says that the narrow-leaved goldenrod is a native perennial of Ireland, seldom found in Britain, and grows in rocky hills: “It resembles the preceding in virtues as in form. Venus claims the herb, and applied outwardly it is good for green wounds, old ulcers and sores. As a lotion it is effectual in curing ulcers in the mouth and throat, and privy parts of man or woman. The decoction helps to fasten the teeth that are loose.” The Welsh goldenrod is 6 or 7 inches (15–18 cm) high, “a pretty perennial, a native of the Welsh mountains, and a favourite food for the goats…It possesses the same virtues as the first kind, though in an inferior degree. The leaves and tops are the parts used. It is accounted one of our best vulnerary plants, much used in apozems [infusions], and wound-drinks; and outwardly in cataplasms and fomentations. It is somewhat astringent, and useful in spitting of blood, and is of great service against the stone.”
Solidago odora was sold as a medicinal herb for problems with: mucus, kidney/bladder cleansing and stones, diarrhea, colds and digestion. A tea was made from the leaves and flowers for sore throat, snake bite, fever, kidney and bladder problems, period pains, fevers, nausea, cramps, colic, colds, measles, cough and asthma. A poultice was used for boils, burns, headache, toothache, wounds and sores. Poultices also staunched bleeding from wounds. Goldenrod is now used as an anti-inflammatory treatment for cystitis, urethritis and arthritis. Goldenrod has also been used to help prevent kidney stones. Traditionally, goldenrod has been used as a diuretic and also as “irrigation therapy,” taken along with fluids to increase urine flow in the treatment of diseases of the lower urinary tract. Leaves and flowers were used to make a yellow dye for textiles. A companion plant, it attracts lacewings which feed on aphids and whitefly. As it flowers in late summer, it heralds the change of the seasons, thus is called “farewell summer.”
Thomas Edison experimented with goldenrod to produce rubber, which it contains naturally. He created a fertilization and cultivation process to maximize the rubber content in each plant, and experiments produced a 14-foot-tall (4.3-m) plant yielding up to 12 percent latex in 1929. The rubber was resilient and long lasting, and the tires on the Model T car given to him by his friend Henry Ford were made from goldenrod rubber. Edison died before he could bring his project into production and goldenrod rubber never became commercially successful, however, examples of the compound can still be found in his laboratory, elastic and rot-free after more than 80 years.
HISTORY: Originally imported from the Middle East, it was cultivated and naturalized all over Europe and in common use from the 16th century. Solidago means to “make whole” and its ointment healed wounds. It was expensive until found growing wild in London.