White Deadnettle: Renaissance Debate And Use

The question of identification becomes critical in the Renaissance texts, yet remains elusive. Fuchs distinguishes three types of deadnettle: white deadnettle, lamium proper; spotted deadnettle with purple flowers, Lamium maculatum; and yellow archangel, Lamium galeobdolon. Turner writes only of Lamium album, dede nettle urtica iners/mortua/alba, archangelica. Dodoens has a title archangel or deadnettle, of which there are two kinds: the first, which does not smell, of which there are three sorts, with white, yellow and reddish flowers; the second has a strong and stinking savour, of which there are two sorts which differ only in flower color, one being pale, the other of a brown red color, smaller than the flowers of the first deadnettle. This does sound rather like a figwort. Dale-champs distinguishes between lamium, which has white flowers growing by walls and footpaths or yellow flowers growing in shady wooded places, and galiopsis, the foetid deadnettle with purple flowers. He says of galiopsis ‘the Ancients and those after them were familiar with the notable qualities of this deadnettle, which was easily distinguished from lamium and the like… yet the images of the species here do not differentiate to my untrained Read more […]

White Deadnettle: Later Confusion

Grieve is no less confusing. There is an entry for white deadnettle with no medicinal uses appended, followed by purple deadnettle with medicinal actions and uses ― decoction of herb and flowers for haemorrhage, leaves to staunch wounds, dried herb as tea with honey to promote perspiration and act on kidneys, useful in cases of chill. Then, under a subheading ‘other species’, henbit, spotted deadnettle and hempnettle are described. This is followed by a quote from Gerard on white archangel after which the next heading, ‘parts used medicinally’, begins ‘the whole herb collected…’, but which herb is meant here is far from clear. Then a further ‘medicinal actions and uses’ confuses the picture even more. Whichever plant (or plants) is meant, it is astringent in nature, Grieve tells us, and used for stopping haemorrhage, spitting of blood and dysentery. The decoction of the flowers is a blood purifier for rashes, eczema etc., but no source is cited. Reputations from the tradition then follow – healing green wounds, bruises and burns. Culpeper and others follow, on lifting spirits, against quartan agues, and bleeding of nose and mouth applied to nape of neck. She rehearses use in the past for hardness of spleen, the Read more […]

White Deadnettle: Modern Use

Modern texts, if the herb appears in them at all, mainly limit themselves to white deadnettle, but vary quite widely in their range of applications. Chevallier cites Gerard on lifting the spirits but restricts his internal uses mainly to women’s complaints. It is, he says, astringent and demulcent, used as a uterine tonic, to stop intermenstrual bleeding and menorrhagia; traditionally for vaginal discharge; sometimes taken to relieve painful periods. It can be taken against diarrhoea and externally used for varicose veins and haemorrhages. Wood cites Hill, Weiss and a 19th century UK herbalist who records the familiar traditional uses of helping the spleen, whites, flooding, nose bleeds, spitting blood, haemorrhages, green wounds, bruises and burns. The source of some of his specific indications ― cough, bronchitis, pleurisy, inflamed prostate, anaemia -is unclear, given his text. Menzies-Trull covers a broad range of uses, although there is no specific discussion of them. Bartram too gives a broad sweep, designating the flowering tops haemostatic, astringent, diuretic, expectorant, anti-inflammatory, vulnerary, antispasmodic and menstrual regulator, with uses including heavy and painful menstrual bleeding, cystitis, Read more […]

Heartsease: A Later Discovery

This violet does not appear in Dioscorides, Galen nor Pliny. It first appears among our authors in the 1500s. Parkinson tags ‘Pansyes’ or ‘Hearts ease’ to the end of the entry for garden violets, denoting them somewhat hotter and drier, yet very temperate. Their viscous or glutinous juice mollifies, though less so than mallows; like violets it is good for hot diseases of the lungs and chest, agues, convulsions and the falling sickness in children; the decoction is used to bathe those troubled with the itch or scabs; the juice or distilled water helps old sores; and it has a reputation for healing green wounds too, he says. Culpeper, under a separate entry from violets, says heart’s-ease is really saturnine (yet under the sign of Cancer) ‘something cold, viscous and slimy’; a strong decoction of the herbs and flowers, or syrup if preferred, is an excellent cure for venereal disease, the ‘French pox’, since the herb is ‘a gallant antivenereal’. It is the spirit of it, he says, which is good for convulsions in children, and the falling sickness, as well as a remedy for inflammations of the lungs and breasts, ‘pleurisy, scabs, itch, etc.’. Dodoens and Fuchs differ little from Parkinson and Culpeper in designation of Read more […]

External Use As An Astringent

Before moving to current practice, we can trace long usage of tormentil as an astringent in external remedies. Dioscorides advises the decoction of root, boiled down to one third, held in the mouth to relieve toothache, used as a rinse to control putrid humours in the mouth and as a gargle for hoarseness of the trachea. These are also given by Dodoens, who suggests the root and the leaf together. Dioscorides then gives a long list of indications and recommends a preparation of boiled root, ground up in vinegar to keep shingles in check, restrain herpes, disperse scrophulous swellings in glands, indurations, swellings, aneurysms, abscesses, erysipelas, fleshy excrescences in fingers, callous lumps and mange. Galen recommends pentaphyllum to dry wounds. Apuleius advises the juice of the herb bruised and mixed with egg yolk, rubbed on painful feet to take away the pain in 3 days. This usage also is given by Dalechamps and Bauhin, and reappears as a balm for the feet in Gloucestershire. The Salernitan herbal refers to tormentil, which resembles cinquefoil, and recommends the juice of the root placed inside a fistula and the juice mixed with white wine applied for fleck in the eye. Turner finds it similar to bistort Polygonum Read more […]

A Warming Respiratory Herb And Further Applications

From Dioscorides and Galen we have a picture of a warming herb, dispelling cold by heating and thinning. Hyssop’s prime reputation lies in its use for the respiratory system: it clears the build up of cold mucus and eases its effects, extending even to the ears. All authors to the present day refer in some way to this virtue. Dodoens specifically recommends the preparation of a lohoch or loch – a ‘licking medicine’, of middle consistency, between a soft electuary and a syrup – for relief of obstruction, shortness of breath and an old, hard cough. Parkinson offers a recipe for old coughs and voiding tough phlegm; a handful of hyssop, 2 oz figs, 1 oz sugar candy; boil in a quart of Muscadine until half a pint be consumed; strain and take morning and evening. In the more local tradition too this application appears in the Myddfai texts, with hyssop and centaury Centaurium erythraea pounded and strained and mixed with white of egg and drunk for 3 days for tightness of the chest; and red fennel and the tops of hyssop, bruised with mallows and boiled to strengthen the lungs, throat and chest. Its warming influence reaches the bowels too, moving cold, heavy deposits there. The warmth generated inside is presumably responsible Read more […]