Emmenagogue? Hormones?

Cullen notes a claimed, but to him unproven, emmenagogic action to the bitters. Wormwood is recorded with this property. The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia does not record this action for wormwood, despite such a property in both the sister herbs, Artemisia abrotanum and Artemisia vulgaris. Indeed there is no strong modern tradition for its use in this regard, even when designated emmenagogue, other than cautions against its use in pregnancy, carried by all our modern authors. Mills & Bone expand the caution to association with foetal malformation, and contraindication in breast feeding. Only Bartram recommends its use for abnormal absence of periods and Menzies-Trull for atonic vaginal discharge and leucorrhoea. Mills (1991), together with strong cautions, mentions its use for spasmodic dysmenorrhoea and relief of pain in childbirth. Wood lists it for amenorrhoea, infertility, menstrual cramps and painful parturition but does not discourse further, and Barker (2001) records an anecdotal transient worsening of premenstrual tension symptoms in susceptible individuals, preferring different plants to bring on delayed periods. Beyond this there is little discussion. Past tradition is only a little more fulsome with its recommendations in this regard. Dioscorides is clear – it draws down the menses both when drunk and used topically with honey. Pliny’s ‘topically’ is as a pessary to provoke periods, in honey and wrapped in a lock of wool. Pliny is the only author to express a use in pregnancy to cure pregnant women of their strange longings – hopefully not by any means too drastic. Some Renaissance authors cite Dioscorides on its emmenagogue action but expand no further, while Dodoens and Gerard, despite recording Dioscorides closely, omit this reference altogether, perhaps due to abortifacient sensitivities. Culpeper is circumspect with his ‘it helps the evils of Venus and the wanton Boy by antipathy”. Serapio makes no further comment on such a use, nor Mesue, cited by Bauhin and Dalechamps. Ibn Sina reads much like Pliny: wormwood powerfully induces urination and menses, especially as a bougie with honey-water. Emmenagogue action is not mentioned by Miller, nor Quincy, nor later in Grieve. Cook carries only that it is a little stimulating on the uterus, taken advantage of in atonic amenorrhoea. The Salernitan Herbal carries instruction to induce menstrual flow by giving wormwood juice as a pessary and making a suppository of absinthium, Artemisia (vulgaris) and ordinary oil or musk oil ‘which is better’. As might be expected The Trotula offers a greater number of recommendations. There is a remedy containing sea wormwood, betony, pennyroyal and mugwort, boiled and the water mixed with fumitory juice, for scant menses emitted with pain. For excessive flux two plasters made from wormwood with animal grease should be tied upon the loins and the belly. For descent of the womb aromatics are mixed with wormwood and the belly anointed with a feather. For a difficult birth, rue, mugwort, opopanax and wormwood are ground with oil and sugar and applied to the pubic area or navel. For exit of the womb after birth a woman should bathe in juniper, camphor, wormwood, mugwort and fleabane. There is also a rare remedy for men, for swelling of the testicles: marshmallow, wormwood, vervain, chamomile, henbane, mugwort and cabbages, these herbs to be ground with honey, boiled and applied with wine two or three times a day. It is notable that all these remedies are for external use. Green (2001) discusses Latin binomials for the herbs in her text.