RASPBERRY leaves, in one form or another, constituted a Dorset remedy for constipation. There was an ancient use of VIOLETS as a laxative. Gerard prescribed a syrup intended to “soften the belly…”; he also claimed that “the leaves… inwardly taken do… make the belly soluble…”. The use predates Gerard by a very long time, for we find, in the Anglo-Saxon version of Dioscorides, “for hardness of maw, take blossoms mingled with honey, and soaked in very good wine”. Again, we find this syrup being recommended a hundred years before Gerard’s time: “a laxative. Take the juice of Violet or of the flowers, a good quantity of sugar; and mingle them together, and put them in a glass, and stop it; and set it in the sun, and take the (sediment) thereof, and keep it well in a box, and use it first and last”.

FLAX seeds, better known as LINSEED, are laxative, and have always been used, both as food and as medicine. CASTOR OIL is too well known for further comment. But one of the most extraordinary laxatives in the Middle Ages were the very poisonous seeds of CORN COCKLE. Archaeologists have found them, some crushed as if in an apothecary’s mortar, in cesspits of the 13th and 14th centuries. Hill was still recommending them in the 18th century! CAMOMILE tea, that great stand-by for almost any ailment, is used as a laxative, too.

A very odd way to tackle the problem comes from Alabama — you had to boil YARROW and thicken it with meal, and then apply it to the stomach. But the best known of all laxatives is the Cascara Sagrada, the bark of the CALIFORNIAN BUCKTHORN (Rhamnus purshiana). This sacred bark was so named by the Spanish pioneers, who took notice that the Californian Indians used the bark infusion as a physic.