It is the root of tormentil that is used, and we must start with recommendations for usage of root. Dioscorides advises a decoction of the root, reduced to one third, drunk for use in diarrhoea and dysentery and for suffering in the joints and hip ailments. He recommends the juice extracted when the root is soft for ills of the liver and lung and for deadly poisons. He gives a dose of 3 cyathoi (135 mL) for jaundice. Culpeper advises 4 fl oz of the juice for the same. However, use of the leaf is also recommended for jaundice. For example, Apuleius refers to the seven-leafed plant found in cultivated and sandy places and advises the herb for jaundiced people.
Fuchs, Turner, Dodoens and Parkinson suggest a mixture of powdered root, blended with egg white, and cooked in a terracotta pan, for biliousness or the desire to vomit. Dalechamps and Bauhin give a recipe: take powdered root and the same amount of oatmeal, with half as much egg white and nutmeg Myristica fragrans. Mix to make small cakes and cook ‘in an iron spoon’ (which could be adapted to a bun tin) to make small cakes. Take one daily, in the morning according to Parkinson, for fluxes, choleric humours, loss of appetite and vomiting, and what Culpeper describes as ‘choleric belches and much vomitings with loathing in the stomach’. Dodoens suggests tormentil is ‘good against the disease called choler or melancholy’ and Dalechamps advises the decoction in an earthen vessel given to cholerics, who were considered to become peevish due to an overheated spleen.
The astringent qualities of tormentil lead to its use on ‘all fluxes’ of which the main one is diarrhoea, with or without blood in the stool. This cannot be separated from the recommendation for use in pestilence as infectious disease would have been a common source of uncontrollable diarrhoea. Turner advises a broth of the roots or stilled in a bain marie, for ‘bloody flux’ and pestilence. Culpeper gives recipes for distilling extracts from roots using a bain marie to avoid burning.
Dodoens states that tormentil opens and heals stoppings and hurts of the lungs and liver such as in jaundice. He recommends the dried root, powdered and drunk in wine when there is no fever and with water in which iron has been boiled, for bloody flux and all other fluxes. He suggests the leaf with the root, boiled in wine, or juice, or powdered root to provoke sweat and drive out venom from the heart in poison, plague and pestilence. The phrase ‘provoke sweat and drive out venom from the heart’ refers to alexipharmics.