The Citrus in the Old Pharmacopoeias

The importance of some species of Citrus (orange, lemon, citron) in therapy and pharmacy received official recognition with the appearance of the first pharmacopoeias. In the 1550 edition of the El Ricettario del I’Arte et Universita de Medici, et Spetiali della Citta di Firenze we find the recipe for a Sciroppo di Acetosita di Limoni. Later editions (Ricettario Fiorentino, 1802) included preparations using the leaves, fruit peel, fresh orange flowers, fresh citron fruit juice (Citrus limonia off., C. medica Linn.) and the peel of the fruit of lemon, Mela Rosa, bergamot etc. These were considered varieties of citron and were used for preparing Acqua Carminativa Comune. Orange and lemon peel was used for preparing Acqua di Fior d’Aranci (Vulgo Acqua Lanfa). The following are also described: Waters of whole citron or orange, lemon and bergamot peel; troches of orange or citron or lime, from the peel of the fruit; orange, bergamot, citron, lemon or Mela Rosa peel oil; Lemon juice syrup (Sciroppo d!Acetosita di Limoni) and Orange or Citron Peel Syrup. The Antidotarium of Carolus Clusius, published in Antwerp in 1561, describes how to prepare conserves of citriorum, malorum medicorum and limonum, and Syrupus acetositatis 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 […]

Sweet Violet: Echoes, Changes And Additions

With the medieval herbals there are echoes, changes and additions. Macer writes of ‘vyolet’ as cold in the first degree, moist in the second; how it is good for sore, swollen or ‘blasted’ eyes, the root being stamped with myrrh and saffron – no distinction here between the purple and the yellow; for head wounds a plaster of the leaves stamped with honey and vinegar – is this a version of ‘when the head burns’?; and as a foot bath and a binding for the temples for poor sleep due to sickness, ‘and ye shall sleep well by the Grace of God’. The Old English Herbarium carries two uses: for fresh or old wounds (not just the head this time), swellings and calluses, the leaves are applied with lard. Then violet’s use for constipation is introduced; take the flowers mixed with honey and soaked in very good wine to relieve the constipation. Hildegard records a number of uses. She begins with use of the oil for the eyes, against fogginess of the eyes. She gives a recipe for this oil ‘take good oil and make it boil in a new pot, either in the sun or over a fire. When it boils, put violets in so that it becomes thickened. Put this in a glass vessel and save it. At night put this unguent around the eyelids and eyes. Although it Read more […]

Sweet Violet: Renaissance Use

The Renaissance writers rehearse the themes. A number, for example Gerard, Parkinson and Dodoens, relate the origin of the Greek name for violet, ‘Ion’. How either, according to Nicander, it was named after the nymphs of Ionia, who first gave the flower to lupiter; or rather after the ‘young damosell, Io’ (Gerard), ‘that sweete girle or pleasant damosell’ (Dodoens) whom lupiter courted and then, ‘after that he had got her with child’ (Dodoens) turned her into a cow, or ‘trim heiffer’ according to Dodoens, to protect her from the jealous eyes of Hera. lupiter then caused the flowers to grow as fragrant food for his erstwhile mistress. The Latin term ‘viola’ is then proffered to come from ‘vitula’ meaning heifer. De Cleene & Lejeune (2003) add that the violet is dedicated to Persephone, goddess of fertility and queen of the underworld; it is often associated with death, particularly of a young person. In Christian legend the violet hangs its head because the shadow of the cross fell on the flower. Gerard is comprehensive in his coverage of violets. He begins with a more ‘moral’ influence through their beauty; violets ‘… have a great prerogative above others, not only because the minde conceiveth a certain pleasure Read more […]

Sweet Violet: More Modern Application And Cancer

The plant does not appear in Cook or Ellingwood in the USA. The National Botanic Pharmacopoeia summarizes the view in the early part of the 20th century. Inflammation of the eyes, sleeplessness, pleurisy, jaundice and quinsy ‘are but a few of the ailments for which it was held potent’. The general assessment in this herbal is not encouraging; ‘it is still found in the pharmacopoeias though many of the virtues ascribed to it in the Middle Ages have not stood the test of time and greater experience’. This might be a rather severe judgement, particularly given the narrow range of application mode and lack of emphasis or perhaps sufficient appreciation of its broader cooling properties within its earlier context. Its reputation as an anti cancer herb is explored in Potter’s Bulletin of May 1902, cited by the National Botanic Pharmacopoeia, recording the case of a 67-year-old lady whose malignant throat tumour was cleared in 14 days on use of this herb. They suggest a handful of fresh green violet leaves infused in 1 pint of boiling water covered for 12 hours; this is strained and warmed; then a piece of lint, soaked in this infusion, is placed ‘where the malady is’, covered with oilskin or flannel and changed when dry or Read more […]

Antimicrobial Plants And Immunomodulators

Herbal tradition includes many infection-fighting plants. Many of these plants are now known to contain various immunomodulating fractions, particularly polysaccharides, as in licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) root and the popular echinacea (Echinacea spp.) roots or seed heads. Both plants can be taken as decoctions of the roots, as herbal tinctures or in combination with other herbs in a formula. Licorice is an underutilized herb in viral infections in Western botanical practice especially in children who typically enjoy its taste. Licorice has not been well studied in influenza but drew much attention in the deadly sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic. An herbal formula containing licorice was dispensed to 3,160 at-risk hospital workers during the epidemic. None of those taking the formula contracted the disease compared to 0.4% among those who did not. Another study looked at the antiviral potential of certain constituents against coronavirus from patients with SARS. Glycyrrhizin from licorice was the most active and successful at inhibiting replication of the virus. Licorice, of course, has a long folk history of use to treat coughs and inflamed throats, providing needed symptom relief in influenza. Echinacea Read more […]


Ruta graveolens The genus includes six species found in Europe. The Flora of Turkey gives two Ruta species, not including Ruta graveolens. Ruta graveolens L. is a native of southeastern Europe but is widely naturalized in southern Europe and cultivated worldwide. It is a shrubby perennial with a distinctive smell. Smooth erect stems (14-45 cm) bear alternate, stalked bluish-grey-green pinnate leaves with deeply lobed obovate leaflets. Shiny yellow flowers with four spoon-shaped petals occur in terminal umbel-like groups in June-August. A smooth green capsule containing many seeds develops in each flower while other flowers around are still coming into flower. Other species used Ruta angustifolia Pers. and Ruta chalepensis L. are found in southern Europe and are similar but with fringed cilia on the petal edge. Quality All Ruta species are associated with phytophotodermatitis (see below) and plants should not be touched with bare hands, especially on sunny days. Rue is included among the plants discussed in this book not because we ourselves use it, but because of its reputation as a great healing medicine in the Western herbal tradition and the suspicion that it is a neglected remedy. Its application extends Read more […]

Rue: Anthelmintic And Spasmolytic

Another traditional use for rue is as an anthelmintic. Dioscorides wants it boiled in olive oil and drunk to remove intestinal worms. This indication passes down through the Arabic and Renaissance sources, then is rarely mentioned, although Cullen recommends a strong decoction as an enema for ascarides in the rectum. Williamson states that the herb is reportedly anthelmintic and recent ethnobotanic research shows that rue is a popular traditional medicine in rural parts of Italy for worms and externally against head lice and parasites. Despite being a non-indigenous herb, it is also in much demand by the people of the Bredasdorp/Elim area of South Africa not only for worms but also for bladder and kidney problems, convulsions, diabetes, fever, headache, stomach complaints and sinus problems, in doses of 1 teaspoon of the herb to a cup of boiling water. An anthelmintic action is derived from the volatile oils and bitterness of rue and leads us to consider the plant’s actions in the digestive tract. Dioscorides notes that eaten or drunk it stops diarrhoea and, taken with dried dill Anethum graveolens, abdominal colic. Pliny says that the pounded leaves in wine with cheese are given to patients with dysentery. Rue soon Read more […]

Cardiac Glycosides

The aglycones in cardiac glycosides fall into one of two categories, both derived from a steroidal base. They can be the more common cardenolides, with a five-member ring attached to the steroidal base, or the much less common bufadienolides, with a six-member ring attached. Regardless of their structure, all cardiac glycosides inhibit Na+/K+-ATPase pumps throughout the body. Because these pumps are most concentrated and critical in cardiac myocytes, they have their greatest effect on this tissue. When an action potential passes through a cardiac myocyte, the cardiac glycoside limits sodium outflow and potassium inflow from the cell. The linked Na+/Ca2+ pump thus does not have sufficient sodium available to move calcium out of the cell. The higher than normal intracellular calcium concentration means that during the next action, potential contractility is increased. This is described as a positive inotropic action. Another consequence of this activity is a reduction in heart rate, described as negative chronotropic action. The glycosides also limit conduction velocity in the atrioventricular node, an action described as negative dromotropic. All of these effects, combined with a mild tendency to reduce tubular Read more […]