Pimpernel





The Poor Man's Weather Glass or Shepherd's Dial, is a very

well-known and favourite little flower, of brilliant scarlet hue,

expanding only in bright weather, and closing its petals at two

o'clock in the day. It occurs quite commonly in gardens and open

fields, being the scarlet Pimpernel, or Anagallis arvensis, and

belonging to the Primrose tribe of plants. Old authors called it

Burnet; which is quite a distinct herb, cultivated now for kitchen

use, the Pimpinella Saxifraga, of so cheery and exhilarating a

quality, and so generally commended, [429] that its excellence has

passed into a proverb, l'insolata non buon, ne betta ove non e

Pimpinella. But this Burnet Pimpinella is of a different

(Umbelliferous) order, though similarly styled because its leaves are

likewise bipennate.



The Scarlet Pimpernel is named Anagallis, from the Greek

anagelao, to laugh; either because, as Pliny says, the plant

removes obstructions of the liver, and spleen, which would

engender sadness, or because of the graceful beauty of its flowers:--



No ear hath heard, no tongue can tell

The virtues of the Pimpernell.



The little plant has no odour, but possesses a bitter taste, which is

rather astringent. Doctors used to consider the herb remedial in

melancholy, and in the allied forms of mental disease, the decoction,

or a tincture being employed. It was also prescribed for

hydrophobia, and linen cloths saturated with a decoction were kept

applied to the bitten part.



Narcotic effects were certainly produced in animals by giving

considerable doses of an extract made from the herb. The flowers

have been found useful in epilepsy, twenty grains dried being given

four times a day. A medicinal tincture (H.) is prepared with spirit of

wine. It is of approved utility for irritability of the main urinary

passage, with genital congestion, erotism, and dragging of the loins,

this tincture being then ordered of the third decimal strength, in

doses of from five to ten drops every three or four hours, with a

spoonful of water.



A decoction of the plant is held in esteem by countryfolk as

checking pulmonary consumption in its early stages. Hill says there

are many authenticated cases of this dire disease being absolutely

cured by the herb, [430] The infusion is best made by pouring

boiling water on the fresh plant. It contains saponin, such as the

Soapwort also specially furnishes.



In France the Pimpernel (Anagallis) is thought to be a noxious

plant of drastic narcotico-acrid properties, and called Mouron--qui

tue les petits oiseaux, et est un violent drastique pour l'homme, et

les grands animaux; a dose tres elevee le mouron peut meme leur

donner la mort. In California a fluid extract of the herb is given for

rheumatism, in doses of one teaspoonful with water three times a

day.



The Burnet Pimpinella is more correctly the Burnet Saxifrage,

getting its first name because the leaves are brown, and the second

because supposed to break up stone in the bladder. It grows

abundantly in our dry chalky pastures, bearing terminal umbels of

white flowers. It contains an essential oil and a bitter resin, which

are useful as warmly carminative to relieve flatulent indigestion, and

to promote the monthly flow in women. An infusion of the herb is

made, and given in two tablespoonfuls for a dose. Cows which feed

on this plant have their flow of milk increased thereby. Small

bunches of the leaves and shoots when tied together and suspended

in a cask of beer impart to it an agreeable aromatic flavour, and are

thought to correct tart, or spoiled wines. The root, when fresh,

has a hot pungent bitterish taste, and may be usefully chewed for

tooth-ache, or to obviate paralysis of the tongue. In Germany a variety

of this Burnet yields a blue essential oil which is used for colouring

brandy. Again the herb is allied to the Anise (Pimpinella

Anisum). The term Burnet was formerly applied to a brown cloth.

Smaller than this Common Burnet is the Salad Burnet, Poterium

sanguisorba, quod sanguineos fluxus sistat, a useful [431] styptic,

which is also cordial, and promotes perspiration. It has the smell of

cucumber, and is, therefore, an ingredient of the salad bowl, or often

put into a cool tankard, whereto, says Gerard, it gives a grace in the

drynkynge. Another larger sort of the Burnet Pimpinella

(Magna), which has broad upper leaves less divided, grows in our

woods and shady places.



A bright blue variety of the true Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis) is

less frequent, and is thought by many to be a distinct species.

Gerard says, the Pimpernel with the blue flower helpeth the

fundament that is fallen down: and, contrariwise, red Pimpernel

being applied bringeth it down.



The Water Pimpernel (Anagallis aquatica) is more commonly

known as Brooklime, or Beccabunga, and belongs to a different

order of plants, the Scrophulariaceoe (healers of scrofula).



It grows quite commonly in brooks and ditches, as a succulent plant

with smooth leaves, and small flowers of bright blue, being found in

situations favourable to the growth of the watercress. It is the brok

lempe of old writers, Veronica beccabunga, the syllable bec

signifying a beck or brook; or perhaps the whole title comes from

the Flemish beck pungen, mouth-smart, in allusion to the pungent

taste of the plant.



It is eaten, says Gerard, in salads, as watercresses are, and is

good against that malum of such as dwell near the German seas,

which we term the scurvie, or skirby, being used after the same

manner that watercress and scurvy-grass is used, yet is it not of so

great operation and virtue. The leaves and stem are slightly acid

and astringent, with a somewhat bitter taste, and frequently

the former are mixed by sellers of water-cresses with their

stock-in-trade.



[432] A full dose of the juice of fresh Brooklime is an easy purge;

and the plant has always been a popular Simple for scrofulous

affections, especially of the skin. Chemically, this Water Pimpernel

contains some tannin, and a special bitter principle; whilst, in

common with most of the Cruciferous plants, it is endowed with a

pungent volatile oil, and some sulphur. The bruised plant has been

applied externally for healing ulcers, burns, whitlows, and for the

mitigation of swollen piles.



The Bog Pimpernel (Anagallis tenella), is common in boggy

ground, having erect rose-coloured leaves larger than those of the

Poor Man's Weather Glass.





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