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Finocchio
Southernwood
(archangelica Officinalis Hoffm)
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Poppy
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Anemone (wood)



Ferns








Only some few of our native Ferns are known to possess medicinal
virtues, though they may all be happily pronounced devoid of
poisonous or deleterious properties. As curative simples, a brief
consideration will be given here to the common male and female
Ferns, the Royal Fern, the Hart's Tongue, the Maidenhair, the
common Polypody, the Spleenwort, and the Wall Rue. Generically,
the term fern has been referred to the word feather, because of
the pinnate leaves, or to farr, a bullock, from the use of the plants
as litter for cattle. Ferns are termed Filices, from the Latin word
filum, a thread, because of their filamentary fronds. Each of those
now particularized owes its respective usefulness chiefly to its
tannin; while the few more specially endowed with healing powers
yield also a peculiar chemical acid filicic, which is fatal to worms.
In an old charter, A.D. 855, the [183] right of pasturage on the
common Ferns was called fearnleswe, or Pascua procorum, the
pasturage of swine (from fearrh, a pig). Matthiolus when writing
of the ferns, male and female, says, Utriusque radice sues
pinguescunt. In some parts of England Ferns at large are known as
Devil's brushes; and to bite off close to the ground the first Fern
which appears in the Spring, is said, in Cornwall, to cure toothache,
and to prevent its return during the remainder of the year.

The common Male Fern (Filix mas) or Shield Fern, grows
abundantly in all parts of Great Britain, and has been known from
the times of Theophrastus and Dioscorides, as a specific remedy for
intestinal worms, particularly the tape worm. For medicinal
purposes, the green part of the rhizome is kept and dried; this is then
powdered, and its oleo-resin is extracted by ether. The green fixed
oil thus obtained; which is poisonous to worms, consists of the
glycerides of filocylic and filosmylic acids, with tannin, starch,
gum, and sugar. The English oil of Male Fern is more reliable than
that which is imported from the Continent. Twenty drops made into
an emulsion with mucilage should be given every half-hour on an
empty stomach, until sixty or eighty drops have been taken. It is
imprudent to administer the full quantity in a single dose. The
treatment should be thus pursued when the vigour of the parasite has
been first reduced by a low diet for a couple of days, and is lying
within the intestines free from alimentary matter; a purgative being
said to assist the action of the plant, though it is, independently,
quite efficacious. The knowledge of this remedy had become lost,
until it was repurchased for fifteen thousand francs, in 1775, by the
French king, under the advice of his principal physicians, from
Madame Nouffer, [184] a surgeon's widow in Switzerland, who
employed it as a secret mode of cure with infallible success. Her
method consisted in giving from one to three drams of the powdered
root, after using a clyster, and following the dose up with a purge of
scammony and calomel. The rhizome should not be used medicinally
if more than a year old. A medicinal tincture (H.) is now
prepared from the root-stock with proof spirit, in the autumn
when the fronds are dying.

The young shoots and curled leaves of the Male Fern, which is
distinguished by having one main rib, are sometimes eaten like
asparagus; whilst the fronds make an excellent litter for horses and
cattle. The seed of this and some other species of Fern is so minute
(one frond producing more than a million) as not to be visible to the
naked eye. Hence, on the doctrine of signatures, the plant--like the
ring of Gyges, found in a brazen horse--has been thought to confer
invisibility. Thus Shakespeare says, Henry IV., Act II., Scene 1,
We have the receipt of Fern seed; we walk invisible.

Bracken or Brakes, which grows more freely than any other of the
Fern tribe throughout England, is the Filix foemina, or common
Female Fern. The fronds of this are branched, whilst the male plant
having only one main rib, is more powerful as an astringent, and
antiseptic; the powder thereof freely beaten healeth the galled
necks of oxen and other cattell. Bracken is also named botanically,
Pteris aquilina, because the figure which appears in its succulent
stem when cut obliquely across at the base, has been thought to
resemble a spread eagle; and, therefore, Linnaeus termed the Fern
Aquilina. Some call it, for the same reason, King Charles in the
oak tree; and in Scotland the symbol is said to be an impression of
the Devil's foot. [185] Again, witches are reputed to detest this Fern,
since it bears on its cut root the Greek letter X, which is the initial
of Christos.

In Ireland it is called the Fern of God, because of the belief that if
the stem be cut into three sections, on the first of these will be seen
the letter G; on the second O; and on the third D.

An old popular proverb says about this Bracken:--

When the Fern is as high as a spoon
You may sleep an hour at noon,
When the Fern is as high as a ladle
You may sleep as long as you're able,
When the Fern is looking red
Milk is good with faire brown bread.

The Bracken grows almost exclusively on waste places and
uncultivated ground; or, as Horace testified in Roman days,
Neglectis urenda filix innascitur agris. It contains much potash;
and its ashes were formerly employed in the manufacture of soap.
The young tops of the plant are boiled in Hampshire for hogs' food,
and the peculiar flavour of Hampshire bacon has been attributed to
this custom. The root affords much starch, and is used medicinally.
For thigh aches [sciatica], says an old writer, smoke the legs
thoroughly with Fern braken.

During the Seventeenth Century it was customary to set growing
Brakes on fire with the belief that this would produce rain. A like
custom of firing the Bracken still prevails to-day on the
Devonshire moors. By an official letter the Earl of Pembroke
admonished the High Sheriff of Stafford to forbear the burning of
Ferns during a visit of Charles I., as His Majesty desired that the
country and himself may enjoy fair weather as long as he should
remain in those parts.

In northern climates a coarse kind of bread is made [186] from the
roots of the Brake Fern; whilst in the south the young shoots are
often sold in bundles as a salad. (Some writers give the name of
Lady Fern, not to the Bracken, but to the Asplenium filix
foemina, because of its delicate and graceful foliage.) The Bracken
has branched riblets, and is more viscid, mucilaginous, and diuretic,
than the Male Fern.

Its ashes when burnt contain much vegetable alkali which has been
used freely in making glass.

It was customary to watch the Fern on Midsummer eve, when the
plant put forth at dusk a blue flower, and a wonderful seed at
midnight, which was carefully collected, and known as wish seed.
This gave the power to discover hidden treasures, whilst to drink the
sap conferred perpetual youth.

The Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis), grows abundantly in many
parts of Great Britain, and is the stateliest of Ferns in its favourite
watery haunts. It heeds a soil of bog earth, and is incorrectly styled
the flowering Fern, from its handsome spikes of fructification.
One of its old English names is Osmund, the Waterman; and the
white centre of its root has been called the heart of Osmund. This
middle part boiled in some kind of liquor was supposed good for
persons wounded, dry-beaten, and bruised, or that have fallen from
some high place. The name Osmund is thought to be derived from
os, the mouth, or os, bone, and mundare, to cleanse, or from
gross mond kraut, the Greater Moonwort; but others refer it to
Saint Osmund wading a river, whilst bearing the Christ on his
shoulders. The root or rhizome has a mucilaginous slightly bitter
taste. The tender sprigs of the plant at their first coming are good
to be put into balmes, oyles, and healing plasters. Dodonoeus says,
the harte of the root of [187] Osmonde is good against squattes,
and bruises, heavie and grievous falles, and whatever hurte or
dislocation soever it be. A conserve of these buds, said Dr. Short
of Sheffield, 1746, is a specific in the rickets; and the roots
stamped in water or gin till the liquor becometh a stiff mucilage, has
cured many most deplorable pains of the back, that have confined
the distracted sufferers close to bed for several weeks. This
mucilage was to be rubbed over the vertebrae of the back each night
and morning for five or six days together. Also for rickets, take of
the powdered roots with the whitest sugar, and sprinkle some
thereof on the child's pap, and on all his liquid foods. It maketh a
noble remedy, said Dr. Bowles, without any other medicine. The
actual curative virtues of this Fern are most probably due to the salts
of lime, potash, and other earths, which it derives in solution from
the bog soil, and from the water in which it grows. On July 25th it is
specially dedicated to St. Christopher, its patron saint.

The Hart's Tongue or Hind's Tongue, is a Fern of common English
growth in shady copses on moist banks, it being the Lingua cervina
of the apothecaries, and its name expressing the shape of its fronds.
This, the Scolopendrium vulgare, is also named Button-hole,
Horse tongue; and in the Channel Islands Godshair. The older
physicians esteemed it as a very valuable medicine; and Galen gave
it for diarrhoea or dysentery. By reason of its tannin it will restrain
bleedings, being commended, says Gerard, against the bloody
flux. People in rural districts make an ointment from its leaves for
burns and scalds. It was formerly, in company with the common
Maidenhair Fern, one of the five great capillary herbs. Dr. Tuthill
Massy advises the drinking, in Bright's disease, of as much as three
[188] half-pints daily of an infusion of this Fern, whilst always
taking care to gather the young shoots. Also, in combination (H.)
with the American Golden Seal (Hydrastis canadensis). the Hart's
Tongue has served in not a few authenticated cases to arrest the
progress of that formidable disease, diabetes mellitus. Its distilled
water will quiet any palpitations of the heart, and will stay the
hiccough; it will likewise help the falling of the palate (relaxed
throat), or stop bleeding of the gums if the mouth be gargled
therewith.

From the Ophioglossum vulgatum, 'Adder's tongue,' or 'Christ's
Spear,' when boiled in olive oil is produced a most excellent greene
oyle. Or rather a balsam for greene wounds, comparable to oyle of
St. John's Wort; if it doth not far surpasse it. A preparation from
this plant known as the green oil of charity, is still in request as
a vulnerary, and remedy for wounds.

The true Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum capillus veneris), of
exquisite foliage, and of a dark crimson colour, is a stranger in
England, except in the West country. But we have in greater
abundance the common Maidenhair (Asplenium trichomanes),
which grows on old walls, and which will act as a laxative
medicine; whilst idiots are said to have taken it remedially, so as to
recover their senses. The true Maidenhair is named Adiantum,
from the Greek: Quod denso imbre cadente destillans foliis tenuis
non insidet humor, Because the leaves are not wetted even by a
heavily falling shower of rain. In vain, saith Pliny, do you plunge
the Adiantum into water, it always remains dry. This veracious
plant doth strengthen and embellish the hair. It, occurs but rarely
with us; on damp rocks, and walls near the sea. The Maidenhair is
called Polytrichon because it brings forth a multitude of hairs;
[189] Calitrichon because it produces black and faire hair;
Capillus veneris because it fosters grace and love.

From its fine hairlike stems, and perhaps from its attributed virtues
in toilet use, this Fern has acquired the name of Our Lady's Hair
and Maria's Fern. The true Maidenhair, says Gerard, maketh
the hair of the head and beard to grow that is fallen and pulled off.
From this graceful Fern a famous elegant syrup is made in France
called Capillaire; which is given as a favourite medicine in
pulmonary catarrh. It is flavoured with orange flowers, and acts as a
demulcent with slightly stimulating effects. One part of the plant is
gently boiled with ten parts of water, and with nineteen parts of
white sugar. Dr. Johnson says Boswell used to put Capillaire into
his port wine. Sir John Hill instructed us that (as we cannot get the
true Maidenhair fresh in England) the fine syrup made in France
from their Fern in perfection, concocted with pure Narbonne honey,
is not by any means to be thought a trifle, because barley water,
sweetened with this, is one of the very best remedies for a violent
cold. But a tea brewed from our more common Maidenhair will
answer the same purpose for tedious coughs. Its leaves are sweet,
mucilaginous, and expectorant, being, therefore, highly useful in
many pulmonary disorders.

The common Polypody Fern, or rheum-purging Polypody grows plentifully
in this country on old walls and stumps of trees, in shady places.
In Hampshire it is called Adder's Tongue, as derived from the
word attor, poison; also Wall-fern, and formerly in Anglo-Saxon
Ever-fern, or Boar-fern. In Germany it is said to have sprung
from the Virgin's milk, and is named Marie bregue. The fresh root
has been used successfully in decoction, or powdered, for
melancholia; [190] also of late for general rheumatic swelling of the
joints. By the ancients it was employed as a purgative. Six drachms
by weight of the root should be infused for two hours in a pint of
boiling water, and given in two doses. This is the Oak Fern of the
herbalists; not that of modern botanists (Polypodium dryopteris);
it being held that such Fern plants as grew upon the roots of an oak
tree were of special medicinal powers, Quod nascit super radices
quercus est efficacius. The true Oak Fern (Dryopteris) grows
chiefly in mountainous districts among the mossy roots of old oak
trees, and sometimes in marshy places. If its root is bruised and
applied to the skin of any hairy part, whilst the person is sweating,
this will cause the hair to come away. Dioscorides said, The root of
Polypody is very good for chaps between the fingers. It serveth,
writes Gerard, to make the belly soluble, being boiled in the broth
of an old cock, with beets or mallows, or other like things, that
move to the stool by their slipperiness. Parkinson says: A dram or
two, it need be, of the powdered dry roots taken fasting, in a cupful
of honeyed water, worketh gently as a purge, being a safe medicine,
fit for all persons and seasons, which daily experience confirmeth.
Applied also to the nose it cureth the disease called polypus, which
by time and sufferance stoppeth the nostrils. The leaves of the
Polypody when burnt furnish a large proportion of carbonate of
Potash.

The Spleenwort (Asplenium ceterach--an Arabian term), or Scaly
Fern, or Finger Fern, grows on old walls, and in the clefts of moist
rocks. It is also called Miltwaste, because supposed to cure
disorders of the milt, or spleen:--

The Finger Fern, which being given to swine,
It makes their milt to melt away in fine.

[191] Very probably this reputed virtue has mainly become attributed
to the plant, because the lobular milt-like shape of its leaf
resembles the form of the spleen. No herbe maie be compared
therewith, says one of the oldest Herbals, for his singular virtue to
help the sicknesse or grief of the splene. Pliny ordered: It should
not be given to women, because it bringeth barrenness. Vitruvius
alleged that in Crete the flocks and herds were found to be without
spleens, because they browsed on this fern. The plant was supposed
when given medicinally to diminish the size of the enlarged spleen
or ague-cake.

The Wall Rue (Ruta muraria) is a white Maidenhair Fern, and is
named by some Salvia vitoe. It is a small herb, somewhat nearly
of the colour of Garden Rue, and is likewise good for them that
have a cough, or are shortwinded, or be troubled with stitches in the
sides. It stayeth the falling or shedding of the hair, and causeth them
to grow thick, fair, and well coloured. This plant is held by those of
judgment and experience, to be as effectual a capillary herb as any
whatever. Also, it helpeth ruptures in children. Matthiolus hath
known of divers holpen therein by taking the powder of the herb in
drink for forty days together. Its leaves are like those of Rue, and
the Fern has been called Tentwort from its use as a specific or
sovereign remedy for the cure of rickets, a disease once known as
the taint.

The generic appellations of the several species of Ferns are derived
thus: Aspidium, from aspis, a shield, because the spores are
enclosed in bosses; Pteris, from pteerux, a wing, having doubly
pinnate fronds; or from pteron, a feather, having feathery fronds;
Scolopendrium, because the fructification is supposed to
resemble the feet of Scoltpendra, a genus of mydrapods; and
Polypody, many footed, by reason of the pectinate fronds.

[192] There grows in Tartary a singular polypody Fern, of which the
hairy foot is easily made to simulate in form a small sheep. It rises
above the ground with excrescences resembling a head and tail,
whilst having four leg-like fronds. Fabulous stories are told about
this remarkable Fern root; and in China its hairy down is so highly
valued as a styptic for fresh bleeding cuts and wounds, that few
families will be without it. Dr. Darwin, in his Loves of the Plants,
says about this curious natural production, the Polypodium
Barometz:--

Cradled in snow, and fanned by Arctic air
Shines, gentle Barometz, thy golden hair;
Rooted in earth each cloven hoof descends,
And found and round her flexile neck she bends:
Crops the green coral moss, and hoary thyme,
Or laps with rosy tongue the melting rime;
Eyes with mute tenderness her distant dam,
Or seems to bleat--a vegetable Lamb.





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