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Balm








The herb Balm, or Melissa, which is cultivated quite commonly
in our cottage gardens, has its origin in the wild, or bastard Balm,
growing in our woods, especially in the South of England, and
bearing the name of Mellitis. Each is a labiate plant, and
Bawme, say the Arabians, makes the heart merry and joyful.
The title, Balm, is an abbreviation of Balsam, which signifies
the chief of sweet-smelling oils; Hebrew, Bal smin, chief of
oils; and the botanical suffix, Melissa, bears reference to the
large quantity of honey (mel) contained in the flowers of this
herb.

When cultivated, it yields from its leaves and tops an essential oil
which includes a chemical principle, or stearopten. The juice of
Balm, as Gerard tells us, glueth together greene wounds, and
the leaves, say [40] both Pliny and Dioscorides, being applied, do
close up woundes without any perill of inflammation. It is now
known as a scientific fact that the balsamic oils of aromatic plants
make most excellent surgical dressings. They give off ozone, and
thus exercise anti-putrescent effects. Moreover, as chemical
hydrocarbons, they contain so little oxygen, that in wounds
dressed with the fixed balsamic herbal oils, the atomic germs of
disease are starved out. Furthermore, the resinous parts of these
balsamic oils, as they dry upon the sore or wound, seal it up, and
effectually exclude all noxious air. So the essential oils of balm,
peppermint, lavender, and the like, with pine oil, resin of
turpentine, and the balsam of benzoin (Friars' Balsam) should
serve admirably for ready application on lint or fine rag to cuts and
superficial sores. In domestic surgery, the lamentation of Jeremiah
falls to the ground: Is there no balm in Gilead: is there no
physician there? Concerning which balm of Gilead, it may be
here told that it was formerly of great esteem in the East as a
medicine, and as a fragrant unguent. It was the true balsam of
Judea, which at one time grew nowhere else in the whole world
but at Jericho. But when the Turks took the Holy Land, they
transplanted this balsam to Grand Cairo, and guarded its shrubs
most jealously by Janissaries during the time the balsam was
flowing.

In the Treacle Bible, 1584, Jeremiah viii., v. 22, this passage is
rendered: Is there not treacle at Gylead? Venice treacle, or
triacle, was a famous antidote in the middle ages to all animal
poisons. It was named Theriaca (the Latin word for our present
treacle) from the Greek word Therion, a small animal, in
allusion to the vipers which were added to the triacle by
Andromachus, physician to the emperor Nero.

[41] Tea made of our garden balm, by virtue of the volatile oil,
will prove restorative, and will promote perspiration if taken hot
on the access of a cold or of influenza; also, if used in like manner,
it will help effectively to bring on the delayed monthly flow with
women. But an infusion of the plant made with cold water, acts
better as a remedy for hysterical headache, and as a general
nervine stimulant because the volatile aromatic virtues are not
dispelled by heat. Formerly, a spirit of balm, combined with lemon
peel, nutmeg, and angelica-root, enjoyed a great reputation as a
restorative cordial under the name of Carmelite water. Paracelsus
thought so highly of balm that he believed it would completely
revivify a man, as primum ens melissoe. The London Dispensatory
of 1696 said: The essence of balm given in Canary wine every
morning will renew youth, strengthen the brain, relieve languishing
nature, and prevent baldness. Balm, adds John Evelyn, is
sovereign for the brain, strengthening the memory, and powerfully
chasing away melancholy. In France, women bruise the young shoots
of balm, and make them into cakes, with eggs, sugar, and rose
water, which they give to mothers in childbed as a strengthener.

It is fabled that the Jew Ahasuerus (who refused a cup of water to
our Saviour on His way to Golgotha, and was therefore doomed to
wander athirst until Christ should come again) on a Whitsuntide
evening, asked for a draught of small beer at the door of a
Staffordshire cottager who was far advanced in consumption. He
got the drink, and out of gratitude advised the sick man to gather
in the garden three leaves of Balm, and to put them into a cup of
beer. This was to be repeated every fourth day for twelve days, the
refilling of the cup to be continued as often as might be wished;
then the [42] disease shall be cured and thy body altered. So
saying, the Jew departed and was never seen there again. But the
cottager obeyed the injunction, and at the end of the twelve days
had become a sound man.





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