Grasses





Our abundant English grasses furnish nutritious herbage and

farinaceous seeds, whilst their stems and leaves prove useful for

textile purposes. Furthermore, some few of them possess distinctive

medicinal virtues, with mucilaginous roots, and may be properly

classed among Herbal Simples.



The Sweet-scented Vernal Grass (Anthoxanthum, with Yellow

Anthers) gives its delightfully characteristic odour to newly mown

meadow hay, and has a pleasant aroma of Woodruff. But it is

specially provocative of hay fever and hay asthma with persons

liable to suffer from these distressing ailments. Accordingly, a

medicinal tincture is made (H.) from this grass with spirit of wine,

and if some of the same is poured into the open hand-palms for the

volatile aroma to be sniffed well into the nose and throat, immediate

relief is afforded during an attack. At the same time three or four

drops of the tincture should be taken as a dose with water, and [242]

repeated at intervals of twenty or thirty minutes, as needed.



The flowers contain coumarin, and their volatile pollen

impregnates the atmosphere in early summer. The sweet perfume is

due chiefly to benzoic acid, such as is used for making scented

pastilles, or Ribbon of Bruges for fumigation.



Again, the Couch Grass, Dog Grass, or Quilch (Triticum repens)

found freely in road-sides, fields, and waste places, has been

employed from remote times as a vulnerary, and to relieve

difficulties of urination. Our English wheat has been evolved

therefrom.



In modern days its infusion--of the root--is generally regarded as a

soothing diuretic, helpful to the bladder and kidneys. Formerly, this

was a popular drink to purify the blood in the Spring. But no special

constituents have been discovered in the root besides a peculiar

sugar, a gum-like principle, triticin, and some lactic acid. The

decoction may be made from the whole fresh plant, or from the

dried root sliced, two to four ounces being put in a quart of water,

reduced to a pint by boiling. A wineglassful of this may be given for

a dose. It certainly palliates irritation of the urinary passages, and

helps to relieve against gravel. A liquid extract is also dispensed by

the druggists, of which from one to two teaspoonfuls are given in

water.



The French specially value this grass for its stimulating fragrancy of

vanilla and rose perfumes in the decoction. They use the Cocksfoot

Grass (Dactylis), or pied de poule, in a similar way, and for the

same purposes.



Also the bearded Darnel, Lolium temulentum (intoxicated), a

common grass-weed in English cornfields, will produce medicinally

all the symptoms of drunkenness. The French call it Ivraie for this

reason, and [243] with us it is known as Ray Grass, or in some

provincial districts as Cheat. The old Sages supposed it to cause

blindness, hence with the Romans, lolio victitare, to live on

Darnel, was a phrase applied to a dim-sighted person. Gerard says,

the new bread wherein Darnell is eaten hot, causeth drunkenness.



From lolium the term Lollard given in reproach to the Waldenses,

and the followers of Wickliffe, indicated that they were pernicious

weeds choking and destroying the pure wheat of the gospel. Milne

says the expression in Matthew xiii. v. 25, would have been better

translated darnel than tares.



A general trembling, followed by inability to walk, hindered speech,

and presently profound sleep, with subsequent headache and

vomiting, are the symptoms produced by Darnel when taken in a

harmful quantity. So that medicinally a tincture of the plant may be

expected, if given in small diluted doses, to quickly dispel

intoxication from alcoholic drinks; also to prove useful for

analogous congestion of the brain coming on as an illness, and for

dimness of vision. Chemically, it contains an acrid fixed oil, and a

yellow glucoside.



There is some reason to suspect that the old custom of using Darnel

to adulterate malt and distilled liquors has not been wholly

abandoned. Farmers in Devonshire are fond of the Ray Grass, which

they call Eaver or Iver; and Devon-ever is noted likewise in

Somersetshire.





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