Fumitory





The common Fumitory (Fumaria officinalis) is a small grey-green

plant, bearing well known little flowers, rose coloured, and tipped

with purple, whilst standing erect in every cornfield, vineyard, or

such-like manured place throughout Great Britain. It is so named

from the Latin fumus terroe, earth smoke, which refers either to

the appearance of its pretty glaucous foliage on a dewy summer

morning, or to the belief that it was produced not from seed but

from vapours rising out of the earth. The plant continues to flower

throughout the year, and was formerly much favoured for making

cosmetic washes to purify the skin of rustic maidens in the spring

time:--



Whose red and purpled mottled flowers

Are cropped by maids in weeding hours

To boil in water, milk, or whey,

For washes on a holiday;

To make their beauty fair and sleek,

And scare the tan from summer's cheek.



In many parts of Kent the Fumitory bears the name of Wax Dolls,

because its rose coloured flowers, with their little, dark, purple

heads, are by no means unlike the small waxen toys given as

nurslings to children.



Dioscorides affirmed: The juice of Fumitory, of that which

groweth among barley, with gum arabic, doth take away unprofitable

hairs that prick, being first plucked away, for it will not

suffer others to grow in their places. It helpeth, says Gerard, in

the summer time those that are troubled with scabs.



Pliny said it is named because causing the eyes to water as smoke

does. In Shakespeare the name is written Fumiter. It continues to

flower throughout the year, and its presence is thought to indicate

good deep rich land. There is also a ramping Fumitory [208]

(capreolata) which climbs; being found likewise in fields and

waste places, but its infusion produces purgative effects.



The whole plant has a saline, bitter, and somewhat acrid taste. It

contains fumaric acid, and the alkaloid fumarina, which are

specially useful for scrofulous diseases of the skin. A decoction of

the herb makes a curative lotion for the milk-crust which disfigures

the scalp of an infant, and for grown up persons troubled with

chronic eruptions on the face, or freckles.



The fresh juice may be given as a medicine; or an infusion made

with an ounce of the plant to a pint of boiling water, one

wineglassful for a dose twice or three times in the day.



By the ancients Fumitory was named Capnos, smoke: Pliny wrote

Claritatem facit inunctis oculis delachrymationemque, ceu fumus,

unde nomen. They esteemed the herb specially useful for

dispelling dimness of the sight, and for curing other infirmities of

the eyes.



The leaves, which have no particular odour, throw up crystals of

nitre on their surface when cool. The juice may be mixed with

whey, and taken as a common drink, or as a medicinal beverage for

curing obstinate skin eruptions, and for overcoming obstructions of

the liver and digestive organs. Dr. Cullen found it most useful in

leprous skin disease. The juice from the fresh herb may be given

two ounces in the day, but the virtues remain equally in the dried

plant. Its smoke was said by the ancient exorcists to have the power

of expelling evil spirits. The famous physician, John of Milan,

extolled Fumitory as a sovereign remedy against malarious fever.



It is a remarkable fact, that the colour of the hair and the complexion

seem to determine the liability, or [209] otherwise, of a European to

West Coast fever in Africa. A man with harsh, bright-coloured red

hair, such as is common in Scotland, has a complete immunity,

though running the same risks as another mall, dark and with a dry

skin, who seems absolutely doomed. A red-haired European will, as

a rule, keep his health where even the natives are attacked. Old

negresses have secret methods of cure which can, undoubtedly, save

life even in cases which have become hopeless to European medical

science.





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