AGRIMONY (Agrimonia eupatoria)

A bitter herb, one of those once used to make beer keep. But:

Kirn milk and agrimony
Mak’ the lasses fair and bonny.

A Guernsey preservative against spells, and a typically complicated one, to be hung round the neck: take nine bits of green broom, and two sprigs of the same, which you must tie together in the form of a cross; nine morsels of elder, nine leaves of Betony nine of Agrimony, and a little bay salt, salammoniac, new wax, barley, leaven, camphor and quicksilver. The quicksilver must be enclosed in cobbler’s wax. Put the whole into a new linen cloth that has never been used, and sew it well up so that nothing will fall out. Hang this round your neck. It is a sure preservative against the power of witches. Agrimony was used in Guernsey for divinations too; one charm was to put two fronds of agrimony, each bearing nine leaflets, crosswise under the pillow, securing them by two new pins, also crossed. The future husband would appear in a dream. But actually dreaming of agrimony foretells sickness in the house.

Agrimony tea can be drunk as an ordinary beverage tea, popular once with French peasants. It was known as Tea Plant in Somerset, and it is the des bois in France, too. But it can be used as a gargle for a dry cough, or for a whole variety of ailments, lumbago among them. It had a reputation for curing jaundice, and Culpeper assured us that “it openeth and cleanseth the liver”, and in fact that was what it was used for in Gaelic folk tradition. Gerard had already recommended the leaf decoction as “good for them that have naughty livers, and for such as pisse bloud upon the diseases of the kidneys”. It is still used by herbalists as a liver tonic (it is sometimes known as Liverwort), as well as for some kinds of rheumatism, for which it was a popular medicine in Cumbria. The tea was a gypsy remedy for curing coughs, too, and it is good for sore throats. It is still used for digestive disorders, and as a “blood purifier”, the latter recorded as a folk medicine in Dorset.

Agrimony was an ingredient in genuine arquebus-cade water, as prepared against wounds inflicted by an arquebus, and mentioned by Philip de Comines in his account of the Battle of Morat, 1476. Eau d’arquebuscade was still supplied in 1897 for sprains and bruises. “Agrimony sod in red wine, wherewith if wounds be washed, it cleanseth all filth and corruption from it…”. It was an ingredient of a plaster to get thorns or splinters out of a wound, according to a 15th century leechdom. Agrimony and black sheep’s grease were used for a Scottish ointment, and another ointment, for backache, was made with our plant and mugwort, in the 14 and 15 centuries.

Agrimony wine is made, typically, to drink when one has a cold, and the infusion was once used as an eye lotion for the cure and prevention of cataract. This kind of use is ancient; the Anglo-Saxon version of Apuleius, for example, had a remedy for “sore of eyes”, as well as for a number of other ailments, including snake-bite, for which there were other remedies in that period. Storms quoted another Anglo-Saxon magical cure, in which he recommended the use of agrimony to “make one ring about the bite, it (the poison) will not pass any further…”. Lupton, too, noted that agrimony by itself was enough: “… with a wonderful facility (it) healeth the bites of serpents and other venomous beasts”.