MENTAL ILLNESS

2010

Given that WALNUT, by the strange doctrine once current bears the signature of the head and brain, it follows that it must be used for mental cases, from depression and mental fatigue to outright insanity. But the tree was involved in so-called cures for madness long before the doctrine of signatures was fashionable. A 15th century leechdom spoke of a sovereign medicine for madness and for “men that be troubled with wicked spirits: upon midsummer night betwixt midnight and the rising of the sun, gather the fairest green leaves of the walnut-tree, and upon the same day between sunrise and its going down, distill thereof a water in a still between two basins. And this water is good if it be drunken for the same malady”. Another nut featured in cures for insanity is KOLA. But it is the leaf of the Kola, together with leaves of three other shrubs, all ground up and mixed with black soap, that makes a Yoruba Ewe cure for mental illness. The roots of CHRISTMAS ROSE were used as a purge, a dangerous practice, for all the hellebores are poisonous, but this treatment was also prescribed for the insane. As Gerard had it, the treatment was to be given to “mad and furious men… and all those that are troubled with blacke choler, and molested with melancholy”, i.e., for nervous disorders and hysteria. A DAFFODIL bulb had virtues in this field — “if neb possessed with evil spirits, or mad men, bear it in a clean napkin, they be delivered from their disease” (Albertus Magnus), put into verse in a late 14th century manuscript as:

This herb in a clean cloth, and its root

Against the falling evil is medicine.

Affodille in clean cloth kept thus

Shall suffer no fiend in that house;

If ye bear it on you day and night,

The fiend of you shall have no sight (quoted in Rickert).

As Albertus Magnus said, “it suffereth not a devil in the house”.

It was believed once, that CLOVER, gathered with a gloved hand, and brought into the house in which there was a lunatic, without anyone knowing, would cure madness by its very presence. PEONY, when worn on the person, was long considered an effective remedy for insanity. The Anglo-Saxon version of Apuleius has: “For lunacy, if a man layeth this wort over the lunatic, as he lies, soon he upheaveth himself whole; and if he hath (this wort) with him, the disease never again approaches him”. MANDRAKE was used for mental disorders of various kinds, the idea being generally to produce sleep (see MANDRAKE). Wesley advised his readers to take the decoction of AGRIMONY for “Lunacy”, for which it was to be given four times a day.

Brazilian curanderos, or traditional healers, put a ZINNIA leaf (Z elegans) on top of a patient’s head to cure madness. It was also an ingredient in the ritual bath that accompanies Brazilian healing ceremonies.