Geoffrey Soma - Herbalist 'Notes From Beyond The Veil' Aug 06
Notes From Beyond the Veil
Every month Herbal Haven asks the shade of a well-known herbalist to briefly drift back from those Elysian fields to discuss herbs of particular interest at this time of Year. This month we welcome back Nicholas Culpeper who was born into a theological family in 1616 just a few days after his father’s death. Though groomed for the church (at 16 he read theology at Cambridge) he spent most of his time attending anatomy lectures, lazing on the river, learning to smoke and frequenting the local taverns. Having fallen in love with an heiress he’d known from childhood but was refused permission to marry, the lovers planned to elope but alas on the dark, rain swept night they tried to meet in Lewes, East Sussex, his beloved was rather spectacularly blown to pieces by a bolt of lightening as she awaited him. Determined after this sad incident to devote himself to help others, he never graduated as a cleric and his understanding family promptly disinherited him as a result. His interest in medicine, originally sparked by the contents of his maternal grandfather’s library, such as William Turners 1568 “New Herball”, meant that by the age of 18 he was familiar with all herbs in his native Sussex. Stealing a copy of Vicary’s “Anatomy of a Man’s Body” from a library he was particularly fascinated with the descriptions therein of the sexual organs and mysteries of reproduction. This led directly to his own directory of medicines in 1651 and his successful Directory for Midwives. He later went on to fight for the parliamentarians in the English civil war, being wounded at the battle of Reading, thereby contracting the TB which years later killed him. He married a different young heiress (Alice who bore him 7 children) and crossed swords with the orthodox medical practitioners of his day (ever was it thus for proper herbalists – he was wary of anyone too cosy with the establishment) because of his bringing medicine to the common man, writing his famous ‘The English Physician’ for them in English rather than the preferred, and unfathomable to most, Latin. There was also the little matter of publishing in English the RCP’s (Royal College of Physicians) ‘Pharmacopoeia Londonensis’, copyright laws being rather lax in those days, complete with his own comments. Oh, and he also referred to members of the RCP as “blood suckers, true vampires [who have] learned little since Hippocrates” and expressed the opinion that with their dodgy and often quite toxic early pharmaceuticals it was a miracle some of their patients recovered. Yes as tactful as a mistress at one’s wedding there are reams one could write about such a man, but enough of the warm-up, I see old Nick is now rising from his crypt so without further ado please give it up for Nicholas Culpeper, in the house and ’aving it large for all of us lucky Herbal Haveners.
Hello lovers of all that flowereth, a funny thing happened on the way here. I came back from the dead. I wasn’t expecting that on a Saturday arvo, I can tell you. With that joke you can see why I became an herbalist instead of a stand-up, not that I’m sure the job was going, back in the day. Still I think you’ll agree I’m better than the warm-up man. I mean, REALLY. “aving it large”, “in the house”? That kind of talk is even more dead than I am. And if he’d said “innit” I think I’d have to have killed him and taken him back with me [er, I was only trying to connect wiv the kids, yeah? Ed.] Hmm, well moving swiftly along, it’s not the most convenient time that I could have been awoken. I was just getting it on with a particularly eager little strumpet who has been haunting my cloud a great deal lately, mooning around and giving me the glad eye. Also in the business, Maude, or Mad Maude as we call her on the other side, is a tasty little tarte as my young friend Sammy Pepys used to say. Still, she isn’t going anywhere, so while I’m here lets see what grows. Ahh, great are the vyrtues of many I see here in Herbal Haven but I think I shalle pick for my three herbes those that are in flower at this time of yeare, and particularly goode, the common or wood betony, yarrow - sometimes called milfoil, and common feverfew.
Betony: which groweth frequently in woods and delighteth in shady places. This herbe is under the governance of Jupiter and the sign of Aries. Antonius Musa, physician to the emperor Augustus Caesar, in his book saith of this herbe, among other vyrtues that it preserveth the liver and save the bodie from witchcraft, both of which were sorely needed in the mouldy snug of the Axeman’s Bucket in Trumpington where I spent so much time avoiding lectures when I was supposed to be learning how to persecute wise-women and spread fear of the Lord. And while a decoction thereof made in wine and taken, killeth the worms in the belly and openeth obstructions of both the spleen and belly, it has found greate esteem in the treatment of frayed nerves, anxiety, headaches and facial pain, especially if of a nervous origin. Formerly used to treat schizophrenia the name Betony is thought to be derived from the Celtic meaning “good head” and I think you can’t go wrong if you think of it that way; good for what ails the head in every sense of the word. They knewe a thing or three those Celts and if they’d been a bit more… but I digress.
For in the home: Tension headaches brought on by emotional or physical strain, can be a real pain in the neck which beith another of my little jokes. Okay, very little, but I need the practice. I mean, when I get reincarnated I’m choosing a different game. The RCP were bad enough but if you think I’m going up against the BMA you’ve got another think coming. And don’t get me started on Statutory Regulation. Those b*****ds would have closed down my Spitalfields practise in about three seconds flat! Anyway, for tension headaches, take a break from the task at hand and make thyself a tea with dried or fresh herbe of betony, chamomile and skullcap in the ratio 3:1:1. Brew up in a teapot or a in a cup using a saucer to cover the cup after pouring in the water. Infuse for 5-10 minutes and drink slowly. Have a cup of this tea every hour until the headache subsides.
For stress, make a tea using betony, chamomile and gotu kola in the ratio 2:1:1 infuse for 10 minutes and drink as needed.
Do not take during pregnancy
Yarrow, while almost certainly safe to use when pregnant, should be avoided during pregnancy on the “better safe than sorry” principle as it can induce bleeding in women who have been missing periods. Conversely however it also restrains violent bleedings and indeed it’s botanical name Achillea is given because many, down the ages, have used it to staunch war wounds, going back to Achilles in the battle of Troy. I wish I’d used it myself in 1654 when I took some lead on Cromwell’s behalf. And I’d only gone to Reading to see Placebo and the Kaiser Chiefs! Anyway, the humble milfoil is also a useful urinary disinfectant for laydies who’ve been playing with my mate Sammy. A bitter tonic, it can be used for weak indigestion and colic. It tones varicose veins and is good for the venous circulation in general and lowers blood pressure due to dilation of peripheral blood vessels. Hoffman says it is specific for thrombosis accompanied with high blood pressure and he’s a clever lad so I’d tend to believe him.
In the home:
For colds, make a tea with equal parts of yarrow, peppermint, and elder flower, 1 teaspoon per cup. Infuse in a pot or cup with the saucer on top, for ten minutes, and drink three times a day. You can use an infusion of yarrow on it’s own as a wash for inflamed wounds or eczema, and it can be drunk for cold feet and piles.
Best used fresh rather than dried. Don’t use during pregnancy because of it’s stimulant action on the womb, and in a few people the fresh leaves may cause mouth ulcers. If it giveth you ulcers however, the old wise woman of Grantchester once told me to eat it sandwyched between leaves of mint, and ulcers will not occur. We were in the public bar of the Firkin & Fleapit at the time but I think she was still sober enough to talk sense. I wasn’t, mind. Venus commands this herbe and commends it to succour her sisters, i.e women. I always say that it is a general strengthener of the womb, expelleth afterbirth, and can remedie even such infirmities as caused by a careless midwife and generally doeth all the good a woman can desire of an herbe. I see that nowadays it is also being used to treat migraine, rheumatism and tinnitus. Wish I’d thought of that – had this Jewish tailor in the back of my dispensary once. Terrible ringing he had, in his ears. I think I gave him large amounts of whisky and twenty Bensons but it seemed to work for him.
In the home: For long term prevention of migraine eat 2-3 leaves daily on a piece of bread or make a tincture and take 5-10 drops daily in a glass of water half an hour before eating. A tincture is an alcoholic extract of the plant. Alcohol is used because it is moste effective at extracting the goodeness from the plante and also because it then preserveth the benefits thereof. To make a tincture take 1 part herb to four parts 40% alcohol. Something clear like vodka is ideal. Place the herb in a clean glass jar. Pour the alcohol on top and seal the jar. Shake, then store the jar in a cool, dark place for 10-14 days, shaking the jar once every day. Thereafter, strain and poure into a dark glass bottle and the resulting tincture can be used for up to 2 years.
That’s it from me goode Haveners. I have some rutting to attend to so you’ll excuse me if I dash. Been a pleasure though, but not as much as I hope to get back to. Bye-eeee.
We at Herbal Haven hope you've enjoyed this month's guest correspondent. Remember if you are unsure about the use of herbs, always consult a professional before using herbs on yourself or others. Next month: Dr John Dee will discuss his plants of the month as well as giving handy hints for home remedies.