JAUNDICE

2010

An infusion of GROUNDSEL is still in use in Cornwall for jaundice. But most of the older prescriptions are nothing more than aspects of the doctrine of signatures — yellow flowers to cure the yellow disease. Gerard’s recommendation of CORN MARIGOLD for jaundice is a case in point, and the use of GORSE is another example, as is the Irish use of buttercup juice, or the yellow sap of GREATER CELANDINE. TOADFLAX would be used, too, and so would SAFFRON. “Lay saffron on the navel of them that have the yellow jaundice, and it will help them”, was Lupton’s advice. The yellow juice of RED POPPY is the reason for its use in Chinese medicine for the complaint, and the same applies to the yellow latex of MEXICAN POPPY (Argemone mexicana) (See also DOCTRINE OF SIGNATURES). WORMWOOD was prescribed in the old herbals for jaundice. It is possible that this is also doctrine of signatures (it has yellow flowers), but it does not seem all that likely. But the most obvious example is that of TURMERIC, with its yellow dye, and not only in the Pacific islands, but in West Africa, and even in Britain (Thornton, New family herbal, 1810: “Turmeric, when taken internally, tinges the urine a deep yellow colour, and acts as a gentle stimulant. It has been celebrated in diseases of the liver, jaundice, etc.”). SAFFLOWER, the yellow dyestuff, is used in the Philippines to treat it. A root infusion of TREE CELANDINE (Bocconia frutescens) has been used in Colombia for the complaint, and BARBERRY bark would be used in Europe.

The Welsh medical text known as the Physicians of Myddfai has a cure for jaundice involving HAWTHORN: “take the leaves which grow on the branches of the hawthorn and the mistletoe, boiling them in white wine or good old ale, till reduced to the half, then take it off the fire and strain. Drink this three times a day”. ELDER ointment was used for jaundice in Ireland. In Herefordshire, too, the inner rind of the bark, boiled with milk, was taken for this complaint. HONEYSUCKLE leaves are still used in Ireland for jaundice, and Grieve said that a root decoction of BUTCHER’S BROOM was a favourite medicine for jaundice, still being used in Ireland in her day. The complaint was also treated with MISTLETOE, either the leaves, as a receipt from the Welsh text known as the Physicians of Myddfai prescribes, or the berries, which, according to the old usage in the bocage country of Normandy, had to be soaked in a male baby’s urine, and then put on the patient’s head, while an unspecified, and doubtless secret, charm was spoken. A “breakstone” like PARSLEY PIERT would naturally be used for this complaint, as it is a powerful diuretic, and much in demand for bladder and kidney troubles.

The condition has been treated by herbalists with GREAT PLANTAIN in modern times, but Gerard had already recommended it, as “the rootes… with the seed boiled in white wine and drunke, openeth the conduits or passages of the liver and kidnies, cures the jaundice, and ulceration of the kidnies and bladder”. And the treatment was known in folk medicine too; in Cambridgeshire, “the decoctions of the leaves … is a sure remedy for the diseases of the bladder, being drunk night and morning”. WOOD SAGE used to be known as Gulseck-girse in Orkney, and as jaundice was called gulsa in the far north of Britain, one can assume that the plant was used for the complaint there. AGRIMONY tea is another medicine with a reputation for curing the condition. CHICORY enjoyed a similar reputation; gypsies used a root decoction.