Seen this species growing abundantly in Somerset and that it was effective asa diuretic, was misread by John Parkinson73as implying that that herbal usewas a speciality of the region.Cuscuta epithymum (Linnaeus) LinnaeusdodderEurope, western Asia; introduced into North America, South Africa,Australasia‘Hairweed’, a name recorded for Cuscuta epithymum in three of the EasternCounties of England, was added to nettle tea in the Fens of East Anglia andgiven to children whenever their mother detected signs of scurvy betweentheir ﬁngers.74The plant was recommended in herbals as a purge for ‘ague’and the intention may have been to cleanse the system of the impurities sus-pected of being responsible.MENYANTHACEAEMenyanthes trifoliata Linnaeusbogbean, báchránEurope, northern and central Asia, Morocco, North AmericaWherever Menyanthes trifoliata occurs in any quantity, mainly in the boggyregions of the north and west of the British Isles, it has constituted one ofthe staples of the folk repertory and in some parts has been the most prizedherb of all. Its intense bitterness has led it to be used as a substitute for hopsin brewing or for adulterating beer, and it was probably in that connectionthat large quantities of the plant’s pressed leaves and stems found round someof the ancient Irish raths are thought to have been deposited.75Whether ornot that interpretation is correct,it is highly likely that bogbean was in favourfor medicine as well at the same period.Except in Wales the plant has predominantly served in Britain as a tonic,like the various imported bitters that have largely replaced it, while in thecourseof revitalising the system also resolving digestiveproblems (Cumbria,76Berwickshire,77Shetland,78Isle of Man79). As an‘astringent’ it has banishedheadaches in the Outer Hebrides80and stopped loose bowels in Colonsay inthe Inner Hebrides81and the Highlands,82while in the last83and in Shetland84to the north it has been rated a cure for jaundice—so much so in Shetlandthat it bore a name there from the Old Norse word for that affliction.85A second cluster of ailments for which bogbean has been widely used isrheumatism and the like. Though Scottish records for that seem to be lacking Gentians and Nightshades 201
202 Menyanthes trifoliataMenyanthes trifoliata, bogbean(Green 1902, ﬁg. 424)and English ones limited—Sussex,86Kent (?),87Hertfordshire88and, as one ofﬁve ingredients in a mixture, the East Riding of Yorkshire89—in Wales it hasbeen recorded from at least six of its counties90with a marked peak in Den-bighshire,91and that total would rise to nine if one could be sure that by‘backache’ people meant this, too. Confusingly, though, ‘backache’ is some-times a synonym of kidney trouble—which is bogbean’s other principalapplication in Wales, known from ﬁve counties there but apparently nowhereelse in Britain.92As it ‘helps to open up the tubes’, bogbean has been a natural choice inLewis in the Outer Hebrides for asthma93and elsewhere in Scotland for per-sistent coughs (Argyllshire94) and pulmonary tuberculosis (the Highlands95),while in the nearby Isle of Man it has been favoured for fevers.96More exclu-
Gentians and Nightshades 203sively Scottish has been the use of a decoction of the root for easing the painof a stomach ulcer in the Highlands,97the plant’s application as a poultice tothe sores of scrofula in Orkney98and to those caused on the necks of ﬁsher-men in the Highlands by the friction of nets and ropes,99and a conviction inLewis that the ribbed side of the leaf was good for drawing pus from a septicwound and the smooth side for healing it100(a property elsewhere ascribedto the leaves of other species, in particular, plantains).The Irish pattern is broadly similar. Records of the use of bogbean,though, come largely from Ulster, showing a marked concentration in Done-gal,101where in one area every household used to collect the roots in spring,‘when the blood gets out of order’, and boil them with treacle and sulphur102;and as in Britain that reputation for cleansing the system has extended to theclearing up of boils and skin troubles (Londonderry,103Donegal,104Louth,105Clare,106Limerick107) and assisting the digestion (Antrim,108Louth109). Sim-ilarly, as an ‘astringent’ it has been valued for stomach upsets (Leitrim,110Roscommon,111Kerry112) though held to have the reverse effect in Tyrone113by ending constipation, while in Clare114and Cork115it is not clear in whatway it assisted ‘liver trouble’or how it cured jaundice in Wicklow.116One dif-ference from England and especially Scotland, on the other hand, has beenthe wide valuing of bogbean juice for rheumatism and allied afflictions, theIrish records for which match the Welsh ones in the number of counties fromwhich they have been traced—with an Ulster-tilted distribution in this case,too. More extremely, Ireland has a wider scatter of records than Wales of usefor kidney trouble (Cavan,117Monaghan,118Clare,119Limerick,120Cork121)just as it greatly outstrips England and Wales in the extent to which the planthas been applied to the heavier kinds of coughs and colds (Donegal,122Cavan,123Louth,124Sligo,125Mayo126). But in heart disease (Mayo127) and itsrelation, dropsy (Louth128), Ireland’s seeming lead is but a bare one.Notes1. Britten & Holland2. Vickery 19953. Shaw, 504. Beith5. Barbour6. Taylor 1901, unpag.7. Hodgson, 2098. Beith9. Moore 1898; Fargher10. Williams MS11. Grant12. McDonald, 239; Carmichael, vi, 12313. McDonald, 239; Carmichael, vi, 12314. Majno15. IFC S 657: 217, 24816. Purdon
204 Notes17. McClafferty18. Moore 1898; Fargher19. Spence20. Jamieson21. Duncan & Robson, 6522. Duddridge23. Baker, 5224. Britten & Holland, 13925. Porter 1969, 87; 1974, 4626. Woodruffe-Peacock27. Beith28. Britten & Holland, 139;‘E.C.’29. Lafont30. Lafont31. Baker, 5232. Porter 1969, 7933. Tongue34. Woodruffe-Peacock; Rudkin, 20235. Lafont36. Bloom, 2637. White, 44438. Sherratt; Long et al.39. Cameron40. Trevelyan41. A. Allen, 8342. Pratt 1850–743. Ellis, 20944. Wigby, 6545. Wright, 24846. A. Allen, 8347. Taylor 1929, 12748. Whitlock 1992, 10949. Maloney50. Moloney51. Maloney52. Hodgson, 22253. Parkinson, 35054. Hatﬁeld, 2755. Bloom, 2556.‘E.C.’57. IFC S 505: 11758. Moore 189859. Fargher60. IFC S 412: 9861. Wigby, 65; Hatﬁeld, 2362. Gerard, 27863. Hatﬁeld, 4064. Hatﬁeld MS65. Johnson 1633, 83966. Johnson 1633, 83967. Townsend, 21868. Bryant, 6369. Anon. (c. 1830), i, 6070. Palmer 1985, 7271. Glassie, 30872. de l’Obel, 23373. Parkinson, 1174. Randell, 8475. Sullivan, ccclxxiv76. Wright, 23977. Johnston 1829–31, i, 5678. Jamieson79. Quayle, 6980. McDonald, 171; Shaw, 4781. McNeill82. Lightfoot, 1093; Hooker, 91; Grant83. Beith84. Beith85. Tait86. Arthur, 4287. Pratt 1850–788. Ellis, 33189. Vickery 199590. Vickery 1995; Williams MS91. Williams MS92. Williams MS93. Beith94. Fairweather95. Beith; Murray, appendix, iv96. Quayle, 6997. Beith98. Spence; Leask, 8099. Beith100. Beith101. Hart 1898, 368; IFC S 1043: 71;1090: 282; 1098: 25, 130102. McGlinchey, 84103. Moore MS
Gentians and Nightshades 205104. IFC S 1121: 354105. IFC S 657: 160106. IFC S 617: 334107. IFC S 484: 43108. Vickery MSS109. IFC S 657: 216110. IFC S 190: 168, 176111. IFC S 250: 273112. IFC S 413: 227113. PLNN, no. 11 (1990), 50114. IFC S 617: 334115. IFC S 385: 55116. McClafferty117. Maloney118. IFC S 932: 239119. IFC S 589: 62120. IFC S 484: 41121. IFC S 313: 213122. IFC S 1090: 125123. Maloney124. IFC S 657: 216125. IFC S 157: 254126. IFC S 132: 98127. IFC S 132: 37128. IFC S 657: 216
12Comfrey, Vervain and MintsDicotyledonous ﬂowering plants in the order Lamiales and families Boragi-naceae (borages),Verbenaceae (vervains) and Lamiaceae (mints) are includedin this chapter.BORAGINACEAELithospermum officinale Linnaeuscommon gromwellEurope, western Asia; introduced into North AmericaIdentiﬁed with a herb recommended by Dioscorides as a cure for the stone,the hard-coated seeds of Lithospermum officinale became popular in thatconnection when plants supposed to reveal their utility through their form(the Doctrine of Signatures) were boosted in the herbals. There is a record ofthis use from the eastern Yorkshire moors dating from as late as 1897.1In Ireland the plant was one of four herbs credited with that same virtuewhich went into a decoction drunk for gravel in several parts of the countryhalf a century earlier.2While that, too,sounds like a legacy from written med-icine, a record from Meath3—a region in which Lithospermum officinale wasat one time locally abundant—of ‘grumble seed’, ‘which grows along theBoyne River’, being collected and boiled for kidney trouble may have moremerit as a relic of the folk tradition.A probable misidentiﬁcation of this species as ‘eyeseed’ in Essex is dis-cussed under wild clary (Salvia verbenaca).
Echium vulgare Linnaeusviper’s-buglossEurope, Asia Minor; introduced into North America, AustralasiaAn infusion of the leaves of Echium vulgare has been drunk in Somerset as acure for a headache.4Pulmonaria officinalis Linnaeus lungwortnorthern and central Europe, Caucasus; introduced into western Europe, North America(Folk credentials questionable) Two members of the genus Pulmonaria areaccepted as native in England, but both are too limited in their range to havebeen likely candidates for herbal use. That function has been served by theintroduced P. officinalis, which is very widely grown in gardens and oftennaturalised on banks and in woods. Commonly dismissed as merely anotherof the plants supposed to reveal their utility through their form (the Doctrineof Signatures), the spots on its leaves supposedly having prompted its appli-cation to spots on the lungs, the plant does in fact contain active principleswhich are claimed in alternative medicine circles to be genuinely beneﬁcialfor respiratory complaints. Folk records of its use for pulmonary tuberculo-sis in Hampshire5and Norfolk6may thus not be the products of credulity, asusually imagined—though the sources in these cases were more probablycottage gardens than colonies of the plant growing wild. Alternatively, therecords may refer to the lichen Lobaria pulmonaria, which is sometimes called‘lungwort’, too.In Ireland, ‘lungwort’ was one of the names borne by mullein (Ver ba s-cum thapsus), to which Irish records can safely be referred.Symphytum officinale Linnaeuscommon comfreyEurope, western Asia; introduced into North America, AustralasiaAnother of the chief stand-bys in the folk repertory, very widely known aboutand still frequently used, Symphytum officinale is nevertheless a rarity, andalmost certainly not native, over most of the north and west of the BritishIsles as well as in East Anglia. Two colour forms occur, one reddish, the otherwhite-ﬂowered, each on the whole with different distributions. Populationscontaining both are almost conﬁned to the Thames Valley and to ﬁve of thesouthernmost counties of England from Sussex to Devon.7Two of these, Sus-sex8and Dorset,9are also among the three counties (the third is Shropshire10) Comfrey, Vervain and Mints 207
from which records have been traced of a presumably age-old belief that thereddish form must be used for healing men and the white one for healingwomen if success is to be assured (a gender distinction similar to thatrecorded for the two bryonies and several other‘paired’ plants as well).By far the commonest use of comfrey, re-corded from most parts of the British Isles—except apparently the southern half of Wales—has been for treating injuries to limbs andligaments, in particular, sprains (twice asoften mentioned as fractures).Identiﬁed witha herb mentioned by Dioscorides, whose namefor it passed into Latin as Symphytum, grow-together-plant, the plant is rich in allantoin,which promotes healing in connectivetissues through the proliferation ofnew cells. Not for nothing was itwidely known as ‘knitbone’, a namewhich still lingers on in places.Var ious parts of the plant yield astrongly astringent oily juice, but fortreating injuries the roots are mostoften preferred. The usual process isto clean, peel, pound or grate and boilthese, in order to extract a thick pastewhich is then applied like plaster of Paris.Alternatively, the leaves and/or stem areheated and put on as a poultice.A third,much rarer method is to mix the juicewith lard and rub the ointment in. Of141 records traced from the BritishIsles as a whole for uses of comfrey for non-veterinary therapeutic purposes, no fewerthan 60 are accounted for by sprains andfractures. But records for swellings of otherkinds as well as for bruises and internal bleed-ing are perhaps logically combined withthose, in which case 85, or well over half,208 Symphytum officinaleSymphytum officinale, commoncomfrey (Brunfels 1530, p. 76)
Comfrey, Vervain and Mints 209would fall into that category. The 56 records remaining can be classiﬁed forthe most part into four broad groups: rheumatism and allied complaints(which the leaves have a reputation for relieving, though at the cost of largeblisters); nasal and bronchial infections; boils; and wounds and cuts.In Britain none of these four subsidiary categories of use seems to be onrecord from Scotland, where comfrey probably never grew wild in earliertimes, though in the nearby Isle of Man a decoction of roots and stems hasbeen drunk to get rid of phlegm11and the leaves bound on cuts to ﬁrst drawforeign matter out and then heal them.12The English records traced for theapplication of the plant to colds and the like, however, are all from the south-ern half of the country (Devon,13Gloucestershire,14Norfolk15), though thosefor treating the rheumatism group (Devon,16Suffolk,17Caernarvonshire18)and for poulticing boils (Norfolk,19Shropshire,20Lancashire21) are morescattered, while the applying of an ointment made from the root to openwounds appears to be peculiarly East Anglian (Essex and Norfolk22). Apartfrom those, the only more minor use noted in Britain has been for leg ulcers(Norfolk,23Westmoreland24).Ireland’s speciality among the four subsidiary categories is applying theplant to wounds and cuts. Records have been picked up for that from sevencounties there, all but two of them along the mid-western coast. The Irishrecords for treating colds and the like come from rather more counties thanin England (Cavan,25Meath,26Sligo,27Wex fo rd,28Kerry29) and the same istrue of the poulticing of boils (Cavan,30Mayo,31Kilkenny,32Kerry33), butcomfrey’s use for rheumatism has been noted only from Sligo.34As so often,though, doubtless as a result of the more intensive investigation to which Ire-land has been subjected, especially in the 1930s, that country has yielded agreater range of rare, minor applications: to toothache in Kilkenny,35kidneytrouble in Tipperary36and warts and all manner of skin complaints in Lim-erick.37There is also an Irish record of the juice being rubbed into the face toimprove the complexion38; like other astringent herbs this one had a role asa cosmetic as well, even if a tiny one apparently.Symphytum tuberosum Linnaeustuberous comfreycentral and southern Europe, Asia Minor; introduced into NorthAmericaThere is a record of Symphytum tuberosum from Aberdeenshire, where S. offi-cinale is much the scarcer of the two species,being valued for fractures,too.39
Anchusa arvensis (Linnaeus) M. BiebersteinLycopsis arvensis LinnaeusbuglossEurope, western Asia; introduced into North America(Name confusion suspected) A herb described by Dioscorides under thename Anchusa, which means ‘ox-tongue’ in Greek, has been identiﬁed withvarious plants with rough and prickly leaves. The bugloss which occurs inlight cultivated soils across much of the British Isles, A. arvensis, is a likelyplant to have attracted herbal use, but the one or two records in the folk lit-erature ascribed to that lack botanical authentication and could equally wellbelong to other species. In Ireland, the similar name boglus has also beenapplied too variously for any certainties.Myosotis Linnaeusforget-me-nottemperate regions of the northern and southern hemispheresThe name Myosotis in Latin translates as ‘mouse-ear’, a name which has gen-erally been in herbal use for Pilosella officinarum (mouse-ear hawkweed), afavourite folk remedy for coughs. In view of that possible source of confusionand that only two records ascribed to a species of Myosotis have been tracedin the folklore literature (Devon,40Kent41), and those both also of use forcoughs (and other chest complaints in the former case), there must be someslight suspicion whether the identiﬁcations were correct. However, all themembers of this genus are mucilaginous and astringent, like comfrey, andsome at least have featured in official medicine, so the records can perhapsreceive the beneﬁt of the doubt.Cynoglossum officinale Linnaeushound’s-tonguenorthern and central Europe, Asia; introduced into North AmericaWidespread in the south-eastern third of England, Cynoglossum officinalebecomes essentially a maritime plant as it thins out northwards and west-wards—as along the eastern coast of Ireland, where it is locally frequent. Theone localised Irish record from within that range (Portrane, Co. Dublin42)seems likely to have involved the use of wild specimens; juice was rubbed onthe arm rashes locally known as felons. Two other Irish records, however, arefrom counties in which the species is unknown outside gardens: in Mona-ghan it has been valued for coughs43and in Limerick its leaves have supplieda hot dressing for burns.44At one time it was also used in parts of Ireland by210 Anchusa arvensis
Comfrey, Vervain and Mints 211‘country herb-doctors’ as a remedy for both external and internal cancers.45The plant certainly had a reputation in book medicine as a cure for skin trou-bles of various kinds, but a claim46that a name it has borne in Suffolk,‘scald-head’, is a reference to that may be taking things too far.VERBENACEAEVerbena officinalis LinnaeusvervainEurope, western Asia, North Africa; introduced into North America,AustralasiaFor some unknown reason the not very conspicuous and rather scarce Ver -bena officinalis was credited with exceptional magico-religious potency,including as a divinatory, in parts of pre-Christian Europe.Belief in its pow-ers seems to have survived into more recent times, especially strongly in Walesand the Isle of Man, leaving behind a legacy at least in the latter of ostensiblymedicinal uses which are doubtless rooted in a reputation for counteringadverse inﬂuences of all kinds. Some authors47have identiﬁed it as the plantknown under the Manx name yn lus, ‘the herb’, but others hold that that cor-rectly belongs to motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), the ‘gender twin’ in theisland of V. o fficinalis and known there as ‘she-vervain’.48There is nevertheless a sound phytochemical basis for some of the heal-ing virtues attributed to vervain, for it contains a bitter principle, verbenaline,which has an action resembling that of quinine. For that reason the plant hasbeen valued in the Isle of Man49for allaying fevers and in Gloucestershire50drunk as a strengthening tonic. A further internal use, also reported fromGloucestershire, has been as a vermifuge.51Probably more often, though,application has been external.‘Many country people’, wrote John Quincy in1718,‘pretend to get great feats with it in agues, by applying it to the wrist inthe form of a cataplasm [i.e. plaster]; and also to cure gouty pains andswellings with it, used in the same manner.’52More recent such records are forwounds in Sussex,53sunburn in Norfolk54and as an eye lotion in Hereford-shire.55Reportedly, the plant has also been used widely in England for sores.56Ireland has produced the only certain mention (and that an unlocalisedone57) of the wearing in a bag around the body of some portion of this plantas a remedy for scrofula, for which it was at one time held in particularly highrepute; this may well have been the bag, though, that children were given towear in Sussex to cure them of some unidentiﬁed sickness.58As vervain has
212 Ve rbena officinalisno claim to be considered indigenous in Ireland,it is not surprising that onlyone other record of its use there has been traced: for allaying fever in Cavan.59LAMIACEAEStachys officinalis (Linnaeus) TrevisanBetonica officinalis LinnaeusbetonyEurope, Caucasus, Algeria; introduced into North AmericaLike vervain, Stachys officinalis, too, seems to have owed much of its popu-larity as a medicinal herb to magico-religious associations underlying its use.It was early identified with a plant known to the Romans as betonica anddescribed by Pliny the Elder as much in use by barbarian peoples as a nervetonic and a cure for drunkenness and hangovers; no less questionably, a herbprominent in Anglo-Saxon lore was identiﬁed with it, too. To add to the con-fusion, another popular herb, common speedwell (Veronica officinalis), wasknown as betonica Pauli and, to judge from some of the purposes to whichthat species has been put according to the folk records, may have sometimespassed as betony as well. To the settlers in New England, betony on the otherhand was a species of lousewort, Pedicularis canadensis Linnaeus, while inIreland the name has been widely applied to bugle (Ajuga reptans).Again like vervain, though, Stachys officinalis does possess some chemicalpotency: the roots are purgative and emetic, the leaves are reputedto act as anintoxicant, and alkaloids which the plant shares with yarrow give it the samewound-healing properties as that. Nevertheless, those virtues may not havebeen enough to warrant its being accorded such a high degree of reverence.Nordothey make it safe to assume that where‘betony’is mentioned in the folkrecordsitisnecessarily this species that is intended nor, for that matter, that itis the same plant in all cases. Those mentions all the same do show a reason-able consistency—and except for one ambiguous Irish one60are all from thesouthern half of Britain,the only part of the British Isles where S. officinalis isplentiful enough to have been able to meet any continuing herbal demand.In only two counties (Wiltshire,61Sussex62) have records been traced of‘betony’ in use for wounds. So highly was it valued in Sussex for this pur-pose, and even more for burns, that it gave rise to the saying there:‘Sell yourcoat and buy betony.’63Like other bitter ‘astringents’, though, the plant orplants bearing that name have principally served as a tonic, an infusion ofthe leaves being drunk as a tea. In Shropshire64that has been more speciﬁcally
Comfrey, Vervain and Mints 213for purifying the blood, in Cumbria65for curing indigestion and in Somer-set66for driving away a headache. Though household recipe books rank asfolk records in the true sense only in part, a migraine remedy extracted c.1800 from one in Cardiganshire is worthy of mention in that last connec-tion: block the nostrils each day of the week with a mixture made from‘betony’ leaves and primrose roots.67Finally, if it really was Stachys officinaliswhich existed in sufficient quantity in part of Kent for ‘large bundles’ to behung up in cottages for winter use, the plant had a further use there as a drinkfor coughs and colds,68presumably because it cleared the nasal passages.Stachys sylvatica Linnaeushedge woundwortwestern and southern Europe, mountains of western and central Asia; introduced into North America, New ZealandStachys palustris Linnaeusmarsh woundwortEurope, temperate Asia, North America; introduced into New ZealandStachys ×ambigua Smithhybrid woundwort‘Woundwort’ has probably always been applied interchangeably to bothStachys sylvatica and S. palustris, and to the hybrid between them,S. ×ambigua,as well. Though only botanists would normally be expected to distinguishhybrids, the one in this case occurs widely in some parts of Britain, especiallythe far north and west, in the absence of one or both parents even though itis normally—though by no means invariably—sterile. It is difficult to seehow it could have attained an independent distribution which extends in theHebrides to many remote parts without helping hands; elsewhere in thenorth of Scotland, for example, close observation does indeed leave theimpression that in places it owes its origin to gardens instead of spontaneouscrossing in the wild,69for noticeably more often than the parents it is foundround houses and farmyards. Its presence in a cave in Rum has even led to thesuggestion that it was introduced there and elsewhere in that region duringthe Bronze Age or later ‘for medicinal or other purposes’.70The implicationis that its hybrid character was recognised and that the plant was deliberatelyselected for propagation. That may have been for consumption as a vege-table—in the nineteenth century a Dr Joseph Houlton was awarded a medal
214 Stachys by the Society of Arts for demonstrating the palatability of the roots of S.palustris.71Hybrids that are more or less sterile tend to compensate for thatwith a greater profuseness in their vegetative parts than either parent spe-cies.Alternatively, or additionally, the plant may have been wanted as a med-icine, in which case the belief may have been that the compensation for steril-ity was greater chemical potency.It was presumably either the hybrid or Stachys palustris that was the‘all-heal’found by Martin Martin72in use in Lewis in the Outer Hebrides150as aningredient in an ointment applied to green wounds. Wounds indeed appearalways to havebeen the premier function of this herbal trio: the name borne bythem collectivelyin Welsh translates as‘woundwort’,it is the one use reportedfrom the Highlands,73while John Gerard in his Herball cites a case from Kentthat plainly counts as a folk one,too.74In places todaythe plants still continueto be prized for their remarkablehealing power.The leaves havebeen used forpoulticing boils and carbuncles in Essex and so bringing them to a head.75In Ireland that reputation for curing wounds has similarly persisted hereand there,76for example in Wicklow77and Galway.78The use of the leaves fordressed sores has also been reported from Westmeath.79Ballota nigra Linnaeusblack horehoundEurope, south-western Asia, Morocco, Azores; introduced into North America, AustralasiaIn common with many other members of the mint family, Ballota nigra hashad some use for colds, coughs, asthma and chest complaints. Except forLeicestershire80—where, puzzlingly, it was reportedly called ‘lound’s wound-wort’(surely a corruption, or mishearing, of ‘clown’s woundwort’, JohnGerard’s name for Stachys palustris?)—all the British records come from theScottish Lowlands (Berwickshire,81Dumfriesshire,82Fife83), a distributionsuggesting it has stood in there for some more warmth-demanding, less‘rough’ alternative, perhaps white horehound (Marrubium vulgare). As B.nigra does not appear to occur in natural habitats anywhere in the BritishIsles except possibly the western Midlands (where it is represented by a dis-tinct, woollier variety), its history as a folk herb is likely to have been a rela-tively short one, doubtless as a spill-over from book medicine.The same remarks appertain to the only two Irish records traced (Lon-donderry,84Cavan85), for the same complaints as in Britain.
Comfrey, Vervain and Mints 215Leonurus cardiaca LinnaeusmotherwortEurope; introduced into North America, New ZealandA scarcely naturalised,cottage garden herb, reputedly introduced into Britainin the Middle Ages, Leonurus cardiaca features in folk medicine recordsapparently uniquely in the Isle of Man. There it has formed a ‘gender pair’with vervain (Ve rbena officinalis),86regarded as the counterpart of that as ageneral protective against female ills, more particularly those associated withthe womb and menstruation. It was grown in Manx gardens as a tonic at leastto the 1940s.87Its similarity in appearance to that other long-venerated‘mother’ plant, mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), suggests that it may havebecome a stand-in for that.Lamium album Linnaeus white dead-nettle, archangelEurope, Himalaya, Japan; introduced into North America, New ZealandThough so common and generally distributed in much of England, Lamiumalbum appears to be unknown in natural habitats in the British Isles and haslong lain under suspicion of having anciently been introduced, perhaps forfood (it was at one time eaten extensively by peasants in Sweden). In Co.Dublin its distribution closely coincides with the known sites of early Nor-man settlements, while in parts of Wales an association with Roman way-stations has been postulated. It must be considered doubtful whether it wasavailable for use anywhere in the British Isles prehistorically.The few records suggest that the species has never enjoyed much popu-larity in the British Isles as a folk medicine. The ailments for which it hasbeen used, moreover, are curiously diverse: skin complaints in Norfolk88andone region of north-western Eire89(where mixed with mutton suet it hasbeen made into an ointment for treating eczema in adults),arthritis or sciat-ica in Norfolk90and Dumfriesshire,91bleeding and deep cuts in Somerset92and South Uist in the Outer Hebrides—and in this last also, sore feet andtoothache.93None of these corresponds to uses for which the plant is recom-mended in at least some current books of herbal cures.Lamium purpureum Linnaeusred dead-nettleEurope, western Asia; introduced into North America, AustralasiaAn infusion of Lamium purpureum, in a quart of wine, has been drunk in
216 Lamium purpureumEssex as a treatment for piles94(and elsewhere in East Anglia it features as acure for certain diseases of poultry95).In Ireland, on the other hand, a decoction of the roots has been taken inMeath to bring out the rash in cases of measles,96while in Kerry an infusionhas been drunk for headaches.97As similar uses are on record for betony(Stachys officinalis), perhaps Lamium purpureum has served there merely asa stand-in for that.Marrubium vulgare Linnaeuswhite horehoundEurope, western and central Asia, North Africa, Macaronesia;introduced into North America, AustralasiaDubiously identified with herbs featured in Classical and Anglo-Saxonherbals, Marrubium vulgare has long been favoured in both book and folkmedicine as a remedy for sore throats, hoarseness, colds, coughs of all kinds,bronchitis and asthma, for which there are records from many parts ofBritain and particularly Ireland.However, the species is unknown as a macro-fossil from any pre-Roman site in the British Isles (or indeed from any pre-medieval one elsewhere in Europe) and it seems likely to have been a lateaddition to the folk repertory.‘Haryhound’ was widely made into a beer and drunk as a spring tonic inEast Anglia till the early twentieth century.98In the Fenland district of Cam-bridgeshire, expectant mothers used to drink an especially strong mixture ofit with rue (Ruta graveolens, nowhere wild in the British Isles) if they wantedto delayabirth.99In Cumbria,by contrast,it has been valued for nosebleeds.100That tonic of East Anglia has also been recorded from the opposite end ofthe British Isles, in the Aran Islands.101In other, unspeciﬁed parts of Irelandan infusion of the plant is said to have been a common remedy for earache ora headache,102while in Cavan a preparation has had the reputation of clean-ing out the valves of the heart, and a tea has been drunk for rheumatism.103Scutellaria galericulata LinnaeusskullcapEurope, northern and western Asia,Algeria, North America(Folkcredentials questionable) Prized in medieval herbalism for all disordersof the nervous system, the only alleged folk records of Scutellaria galericulatamay in fact have come from that. Assertions that the plant continues‘in gen-eral use’in the Eastern Counties104have been found to be supported by a sin-glelocalised recordonly from Norfolk,105where it has been used for insomnia.
Teucrium scorodonia Linnaeuswood sage, wild sage, mountain sage, heath sagesouthern, western and central Europe; introduced into North AmericaMainly a plant of the acid soils of the north and west of the British Isles, Teu-crium scorodonia seems to have featured as a folk herb only very marginallyin England. A tea made from it in Hampshire has been drunk for swellings, Comfrey, Vervain and Mints 217Marrubiumvulgare, whitehorehound (Fuchs1543, ﬁg. 335)
‘bad stomachs’ and biliousness,106but more usually it has served to counterrheumatism, as in one district of Gloucestershire107and two counties inWales (Pembrokeshire and Flintshire108). It has been used as a purifying tonicin Wiltshire,109Merionethshire110and the Isle of Man.111Like other membersof the Lamiaceae, this species has the production of sweating as its most obvi-ous property and the majority of its recorded applications reflect that.Though those records come principally from Ireland,they include the easingof ‘a sore head’ (presumably a headache) with a plaster made from the plantin the Highlands.112But that can hardly be why wood sage has been used forshingles in Caernarvonshire,113St Vitus’ dance in Denbighshire,114jaundicein Orkney (as reﬂected in the plant’s name there in Old Norse)115and dysen-tery in the Isle of Man.116Though Ireland has echoed that limited use for rheumatism (Cork117and, assuming ‘mountain sedge’was a mishearing for this, Mayo118), it is as acure for colds and coughs, including those of tuberculosis, that the plant haspredominantly featured there (‘Ulster’,119Mayo,120Co.Dublin,121Wicklow122and other unspecified areas of the country123). That it also has a relaxingeffect could explain a subsidiary popularity in Ireland for such varied trou-bles as colic, gripe, indigestion,124palpitations125and—in Cork—sprains126and ‘a pain near the heart’.127Particularly striking is the extent to which wood sage has been employedin combination with other herbs. The Welsh cure for shingles already men-tioned, for example, also involves navelwort and greater stitchwort128; as acure for tuberculosis in Wicklow it has been mixed with thyme and honey-suckle129; in Wexford it has shared with equal parts of chickweed the role ofpoulticing boils and ulcers130;while in Mayo it was merely one of eight ingre-dients in a juice taken for coughing after a fever.131Was this because it wastypically seen as fulﬁlling a supporting role, in need of a boost from someother source if it was to overcome the more deep-seated complaints? Yet somepeople do seem to have had great faith in its effectiveness even if utilisedalone: according to one Mayo informant, indeed, it ‘can cure every disease.’132Teucrium scordium Linnaeuswater germandersouthern, western and central Europe, western AsiaLocally abundant in the Cambridgeshire Fens until the eighteenth century, as‘English treacle’Teucrium scordium was said by John Ray to have been in useby women ‘very frequently’ two centuries earlier in a decoction to suppress218 Teucrium scorodonia
menstruation.133Smelling powerfully like garlic, it was also used ‘by the peas-antry’ as a vermicide, according to a later source.134In both cases, though, itis left ambiguous whether it was speciﬁcally Cambridgeshire that was referredto.No other mentions of the plant have been traced in the folklore literatureof Britain.Ajuga reptans LinnaeusbugleEurope, south-western Asia, North Africa; introduced into NorthAmerica, New ZealandThere is one British record, from Sussex,135of the ostensibly folk use of Ajugareptans for wounds, a purpose for which it was anciently valued on accountof its considerable astringency.Two Irish records add support to that. In the early nineteenth century,country people in Londonderry are said to have applied the juice to bruisesas those were at the stage of turning black.136And in Sligo—if,as seems likely,glas-na-coille was a mishearing of glasnair choille (the name in Irish)—it sup-plied till much later a cure for whitlows reckoned infallible.137Nepeta cataria Linnaeuscat-mintEurope, western and central Asia; introduced into North America,South Africa(Confusion suspected) A herb boiled in Meath to drive out a cold by induc-ing sweating has been recorded as Nepeta cataria138;however, no other men-tion of the species in the folklore literature has been traced, and as it is a rar-ish plant in Ireland and not accepted as indigenous there, there must be anelement of doubt. Possibly it was a mishearing of ‘calamint’ (Clinopodiumascendens), another herb used for colds and said to have been formerly drunkas a tea in parts of Ireland.139Glechoma hederacea Linnaeusground-ivy, robin-run-in-the-hedgeEurope, north and western Asia; introduced into North America,New Zealand‘Women of our northern parts, especially about Wales and Cheshire’, wroteJohn Gerard in his Herball,140put pieces of Glechoma hederacea in their ale toclear the head of ‘rheumatic humour flowing from the brain’—hence itsnames of ‘ale-hoof’or‘tun-hoof’. By the time John Ray wrote,nearly a century Comfrey, Vervain and Mints 219
220 Glechoma hederacealater,141that custom had gradually disappeared, following the arrival of hops(Humulus lupulus); he accepted, however,that the herb had the power to clearthe brain, usually within twenty-four hours. Many subsequent authors haveattested to its action on the mucous membranes, which have caused it to beextensively prescribed and used for cleansing the system as a whole as wellas, more speciﬁcally, as an expectorant or inhalant for colds, coughs and res-piratory complaints in general. Records of its folk use for this last purposeGlechoma hederacea,ground-ivy (Fuchs1543, ﬁg. 503)
Comfrey, Vervain and Mints 221are very widely spread but especially frequent from the‘Celtic’west.A naturalfollow-on from the reputation for clearing the head has been to bring thatproperty to bear on deafness (reported from Lincolnshire142) and, of course,headaches,too.The method of administering it for the latter is not mentionedin the one unlocalised Irish record,143but in the case of a seventeenth-centuryone from Staffordshire the juice was put up the nostrils,144while in the High-lands the dried leaves have been made into a snuff.145Predictably, the eyeshave been seen to beneﬁt, too. The deriving of an eye lotion from the plant evi-dently goes back a very long way, for it features among the recipes of the physi-cians of Myddvai in thirteenth-century Carmarthenshire; more recentrecords come from Dorset146and Warwickshire.147Ground-ivy’s more broadly cleansing action has caused its second mostwidespread use, as a purifying tonic. Whereas its records as a cold cure showa preponderantly ‘Celtic’distribution, by contrast they come noticeably muchmore from the southern half of England: Devon,148Dorset,149Wiltshire,150Berkshire and Oxfordshire,151Kent152and Warwickshire.153In this last area,the plant was boiled with the young shoots of nettles to produce a very bitterdrink known as ‘gill tea’, which children were made to drink on nine succes-sive days every spring. Like other purifying herbs, this one has been credited,too, with clearing up skin complaints of a variety of kinds—in Devon154andGloucestershire155as far as Britain is concerned.The plant further enjoyed a reputation, if a more minor one, for healingexternally. In Cornwall, wounds and lesser cuts have been bound with itsfresh leaves, a secondary function of which has been to draw out thorns andsplinters.156It has been valued for wounds in Caernarvonshire,157too, and foradder bites in the Highlands.158And no doubt its claimed success with lard asan ointment for corns in Suffolk159belongs in this category, too.Ireland’s share of these lesser uses extends from clearing up skin com-plaints (Westmeath,160Limerick,161Cork162), ﬂushing out the kidneys (Kil-kenny,163Tipperary164), stimulating menstruation in cases of chlorosis(‘Ulster’165), healing sores and blisters (Louth166) and making ulcers disap-pear (Westmeath,167Wex fo rd168).Prunella vulgaris Linnaeusself-heal; ceannbhan beg, heart’s-ease (Ireland)Europe, temperate Asia, North Africa; introduced into North America, AustralasiaAn Irish herb par excellence—despite being common over most of the British
222 Prunella vulgarisPrunella vulgaris, self-heal (Fuchs1543, ﬁg. 352)Isles—Prunella vulgaris has had three principal but distinct functions in folkmedicine: to staunch bleeding, to ease respiratory complaints and to treatheart trouble.For the ﬁrst of those the plant was once highly valued in officialmedicine as well, but by the eighteenth century it largely fell into disuse andhas lingered on only in country areas: theWeald of Kent (where charcoal burn-ers applied it to cuts and bruises as recently as World War II169), Suffolk,170
Comfrey, Vervain and Mints 223Gloucestershire171and the Highlands172as far as Britain is concerned. Thesecond function, as a treatment for colds and respiratory problems, wasreportedly popular c. 1700 in several parts of Wales173and is on record morerecently from two remote areas where dying usages are likelyto linger longest:the Penninesof Westmoreland174and the island of Colonsay in the Inner Heb-rides.175(Elsewhere in the Hebrides a tea made from self-heal and tansy (Tana-cetum vulgare) was once drunk for cooling the blood.176)For the third mainfunction of the plant, however, no records at all from Britain have been traced.Ireland seems to have had little interest in self-heal’s ability to staunchbleeding, at any rate in more recent times, and the three counties from whichthat action is recorded (Londonderry,177Co.Dublin,178Cork179)are suspi-ciously ones containing large centres of population, suggesting a late arrival.One of John Ray’s correspondents, a physician in Kilkenny accustomed tothat use of the plant elsewhere, was surprised to ﬁnd that Irish herb doctorsinstead gave it frequently, boiled in a posset,‘in all sorts of common continualfevers,some also in intermittent ones’.180It has persisted as a cure for ailmentsof that type in at least Donegal,181Cavan,182the Aran Islands183and Wick-low,184but it is in the more particular guise of a remedy for easing tubercularcoughs that it features in the later records, with a marked concentration—and striking frequency—in the counties of thecentre:Kildare (especially),185Laois,186Carlow187and Offaly.188If this is the plant known there as‘pusey’, itis on record for that from Fermanagh, too.189There was a saying in thoseparts that you could tell whether a person had this fever-like illness, knownthere under the name mionnérach, by rubbing the plant in the hand and see-ing if a froth developed.The third main function of the plant, as a heart remedy, appears to havebeen exclusively Irish, recorded especially along the western coast (Done-gal,190Sligo,191Clare Island off Mayo,192Limerick193) but also farther east(Cavan,194Kildare195). In that capacity it has variously borne the names ofcailleach’s tea196and ceann de dohosaig.197A presumably related use, in someunspeciﬁed part of Eire,198has been for a sudden stroke (or poc).That medicinal uses of self-heal in Ireland have acquired some accretionsof special ritual strengthens the impression that the history of the plant in thatcountry is especially deep-rooted. Not surprisingly, therefore,it has attractedsome further applications there of a more marginal kind: in Kildare199andWicklow200to ridchildren of worms, in Londonderry201and Wexford202as atreatment for piles, in Meath203as a cure for eczema, in Carlow204as a remedyfor ‘a pain in the back’ (renal colic?) and in Cavan205for ‘weak blood’.
224 Clinopodium ascendensClinopodium ascendens (Jordan) SampaioCalamintha ascendens Jordan, Calamintha sylvatica subsp. ascendens(Jordan) P. W. Ballcommon calamintwestern and southern Europe, North Africa; introduced into North America(Folk credentials questionable) There is one vague statement206that the aro-matic Clinopodium ascendens was in frequent use as a herbal tea in parts ofIreland in the early nineteenth century, leaving it unclear whether that was formedicinal purposes (it has been drunk for colds quite widely elsewhere). Thespecies is accepted as a native of that country, occurring there in some quan-tity in limestone districts, so it is a likely one to have been exploited.Origanum vulgare LinnaeusmarjoramEurope, northern and western Asia, North Africa; introduced into North America, New ZealandThough the native version, Origanum vulgare, of this well-known pot-herb islocally common in the British Isles on chalk and limestone and its variedmedicinal virtues have been much publicised in the literature,folk records ofits use are curiously almost wanting. In Kent (?) it was at one time gatheredin large quantities in autumn. Some was made into a tea for drinking imme-diately as a prophylactic and the rest hung up in bunches to dry for winteruse.207On the Isle of Portland in Dorset it has the reputation of relievingheadaches208and in ‘Ulster’ a decoction has been drunk to counter indiges-tion and acidity.209Otherwise it appears to have been essentially a remedyfor horses. That pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) was widely known as ‘organ’,presumably a corruption of Origanum, suggests that the latter largely took itsplace at least in English folk medicine.Thymus Linnaeusthymenorthern Eurasia; introduced into North AmericaLike so many other members of the mint family, Thymus has been one ofmany possible alternatives used for treating coughs and respiratory ailments(including tuberculosis). British records for this usage come from Devon,210Somerset,211Suffolk212and the Highlands.213The most important reason fordrinking thyme tea, though, has been to calm the nerves: the plant is a well-known sedative. Once drunk almost universally in remote parts of Scotland,