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Magical Uses Nutmegs have long been carried as good luck charms, and are strung with star anise and tonka beans for a potent herbal necklace. Burn for prosperity., luck, psychic awareness, fortune, clairvoyance, divination, justice, and meditation.
Arthritis; Gout; Muscular Aches and Pains; Poor circulation; Rheumatism; Flatulence; Indigestion; Nausea; Sluggish Digestion; Bacterial Infection; Frigidity in Women; Impotence in Men; Neuralgia; Nervous Fatigue. Key Qualities: Aphrodisiac; Analgesic; Narcotic; Tonic (nerve and heart); Comforting; Soothing; Calming; Elevating; Cephalic; Euphoric.
Family: N.O. Amaryllidaceae
The bulbs of plants belonging to the natural order Amaryllidaceae are in many cases poisonous, though they are widely cultivated for the sake of their flowers.
The chief of these is the DAFFODIL, or Lent Lily (Narcissus pseudo-narcissus, Linn.). The botanical name of the genus, Narcissus, is considered to be derived, not as is often said, from the name of the classical youth who met with his death through vainly trying to embrace his image reflected in a clear stream, but from the Greek word narkao (to benumb), on account of the narcotic properties which the plant possesses. Pliny describes it as Narce narcissum dictum, non a fabuloso puero, 'named Narcissus from Narce, not from the fabulous boy.'
Socrates called this plant the 'Chaplet of the infernal Gods,' because of its narcotic effects. An extract of the bulbs, when applied to open wounds, has produced staggering, numbness of the whole nervous system and paralysis of the heart.
The popular English names Daffodowndilly, Daffodily Affodily, are a corruption of Asphodel, with which blossoms of the ancient Greeks this was supposed to be identical. It is in France the fleur d'asphodèle, also 'pauvres filles de Sainte Claire.'
Herrick alludes in his Hesperides to the Daffodil as a portent of death, probably connecting the flower with the asphodel, and the habit of the ancient Greeks of planting that flower near tombs.
The bulbs of the Daffodil, as well as every other part of the plant are powerfully emetic, and the flowers are considered slightly poisonous, and have been known to have produced dangerous effects upon children who have swallowed portions of them.
The influence of Daffodil on the nervous system has led to giving its flowers and its bulb for hysterical affections and even epilepsy, with benefit.
A decoction of the dried flowers acts as an emetic, and has been considered useful for relieving the congestive bronchial catarrh of children, and also useful for epidemic dysentery.
In France, Narcissus flowers have been used as an antispasmodic.
A spirit has been distilled from the bulb, used as an embrocation and also given as a medicine and a yellow volatile oil, of disagreeable odour and a brown coloring matter has been extracted from the flowers, the pigment being Quercetin, also present in the outer scales of the Onion.
The Arabians commended the oil to be applied for curing baldness and as an aphrodisiac.
An alkaloid was first isolated from the bulbs of N. pseudo-narcissus by Gerard in 1578, and obtained in a pure state as Narcissine by Guérin in 1910. The resting bulbs contain about 0.2 per cent and the flowering bulbs about 0.1 per cent. With cats, Narcissine causes nausea and purgation.
N. princeps also contains a minute quantity of this alkaloid.
A case of poisoning by Daffodil bulbs, cooked by mistake in the place of leeks, was reported from Toulouse in 1923. The symptoms were acute abdominal pains and nausea, which yielded to an emetic.
The bulbs of N. poeticus (Linn.), the POET'S NARCISSUS, are more dangerous than those of the Daffodil, being powerfully emetic and irritant. The scent of the flowers is deleterious, if they are present in any quantity in a closed room, producing in some persons headache and even vomiting.
The bulb is used in homoeopathy for the preparation of a tincture.
From the fragrant flowers of the JONQUIL (N. jonquilla) and the CAMPERNELLA (N. odorus), a sweet-smelling yellow oil is obtained in the south of France, used in perfumery.
The ease with which most species of Narcissus can be grown in this country is remarkable, since, being mostly natives of Southern Europe and Northern Africa, they have to adapt themselves to very different conditions of soil and climate.
No genus of flowering plants is more readily cultivated and less liable to disease, and the presence in its leaves and roots of innumerable bundles of needle-shaped crystals of calcium oxalate, termed raphides, protect it from injury of browsing and gnawing animals, rendering the plants indigestible and possibly poisonous to cattle and smaller animals.
The Crocus and Lily are not thus equipped for defence against browsing animals. Rabbits often fall prey to it.
The only insect enemy from which the Narcissus seems to suffer is the fly Merodon equestris, the grub of which lays an egg in or near the bulb, which then forms the food of the larva. This pest causes serious damage in Holland and the south of England.
Family: N.O. Urticanceae
Nettle, White Dead
Nettle, Purple Dead
Nettle, Yellow Dead
The Nettle tribe, Urticaceae, is widely spread over the world and contains about 500 species, mainly tropical, though several, like our common Stinging Nettle, occur widely in temperate climates. Many of the species have stinging hairs on their stems and leaves. Two genera are represented in the British Isles, Urtica, the Stinging Nettles, and Parietaria, the Pellitory. Formerly botanists included in the order Urticaceae the Elm family, Ulmaceae; the Mulberry, Fig and Bread Fruit family, Moraceae; and that of the Hemp and Hop, Cannabinacece; but these are now generally regarded as separate groups.
The British species of Stinging Nettle, belonging to the genus Urtica (the name derived from the Latin, uro, to burn), are well known for the burning properties of the fluid contained in the stinging hairs with which the leaves are so well armed. Painful as are the consequences of touching one of our common Nettles, they are far exceeded by the effects of handling some of the East Indian species: a burning heat follows the sensation of pricking, just as if hot irons had been applied, the pain extending and continuing for many hours or even days, attended by symptoms similar to those which accompany lockjaw. A Java species, U. urentissima, produces effects which last for a whole year, and are even said to cause death. U. crenulato and U. heterophylla, both of India, are also most virulent. Another Indian species, U. tuberosa, on the other hand, has edible tubers, which are eaten either raw, boiled or roasted, and considered nutritious.
Botanical: Urtica dioica (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Urticanceae
Botanical: Urtica urens (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Urticaceae
Medicinal Uses of the Nettle
Action and Uses
Common Nettle. Stinging Nettle.
Our Common Nettle (Urtica dioica, Linn.) is distributed throughout the temperate regions of Europe and Asia: it is not only to be found in distant Japan, but also in South Africa and Australia and in the Andes.
A detailed description of this familiar plant is hardly necessary; its heart-shaped, finelytoothed leaves tapering to a point, and its green flowers in long, branched clusters springing from the axils of the leaves are known to everyone. The flowers are incomplete: the male or barren flowers have stamens only, and the female or fertile flowers have only pistil or seed-producing organs. Sometimes these different kinds of flowers are to be found on one plant; but usually a plant will bear either male or female flowers throughout, hence the specific name of the plant, dioica, which means 'two houses.'
The male flower consists of a perianth of four greenish segments enclosing an equal number of stamens, which bend inwards in the bud stage, but when the flower unfolds spring backwards and outwards, the anthers with the sudden uncoiling, exploding and scattering the pollen. The flowers are thus adapted for wind-fertilization. The perianth of the female flower is similar, but only contains a single, one-seeded carpel, bearing one style with a brush-like stigma. The male flowers are in loose sprays or racemes, the female flowers more densely clustered together.
The Nettle flowers from June to September. As a rule the stem attains a height of 2 to 3 feet. Its perennial roots are creeping, so it multiplies quickly, making it somewhat difficult of extirpation.
The whole plant is downy, and also covered with stinging hairs. Each sting is a very sharp, polished spine, which is hollow and arises from a swollen base. In this base, which is composed of small cells, is contained the venom, an acrid fluid, the active principle of which is said to be bicarbonate of ammonia. When, in consequence of pressure, the sting pierces the skin, the venom is instantly expressed, causing the resultant irritation and inflammation. The burning property of the juice is dissipated by heat, enabling the young shoots of the Nettle, when boiled, to be eaten as a pot-herb.
It is a strange fact that the juice of the Nettle proves an antidote for its own sting, and being applied will afford instant relief: the juice of the Dock, which is usually found in close proximity to the Nettle, has the same beneficial action.
'Nettle in, dock out.
Dock rub nettle out!'
is an old rhyme.
If a person is stung with a Nettle a certain cure will be effected by rubbing Dock leaves over the part, repeating the above charm slowly. Another version is current in Wiltshire:
Out 'ettle in dock,
Dock zhail ha' a new smock;
'Ettle zhant ha' narrun! (none)
The sting of a Nettle may also be cured by rubbing the part with Rosemary, Mint or Sage leaves.
There are two other species of Nettle found in Britain, both annuals. The Lesser Nettle (U. urens) is widely distributed and resembles the Common Nettle in habit, but has smaller leaves and the flowers in short, mostly unbranched clusters, male and female in the same panicle. It is glabrous except for the stinging hairs, whereas U. dioica is softly hairy throughout. It rarely attains more than a foot in height and is a common garden weed.
The Roman Nettle (U. pilulifera), bearing its female flowers in little compact, globular heads, is not general and is considered a doubtful native. It is also smooth except for the stinging hairs, but these contain a far more virulent venom than either of the other species. It occurs in waste places near towns and villages in the east of England, chiefly near the sea, but is rare. It is supposed to have been introduced by the Romans. The antiquary Camden records in his work Britannica that this Nettle was common at Romney, saying that here or near it, Julius Caesar landed and called it 'Romania,' from which Romney is a corruption. Camden adds:
'The soldiers brought some of the nettle seed with them, and sowed it there for their use to rub and chafe their limbs, when through extreme cold they should be stiff or benumbed, having been told that the climate of Britain was so cold that it was not to be endured. '
From their general presence in the neighbourhood of houses or spots where house refuse is deposited, it has been suggested that Nettles are not really natives, a supposition that to some extent receives countenance from the circumstance that the young shoots are very sensitive to frost. However that may be, they follow man in his migrations, and by their presence usually indicate a soil rich in nitrogen.
The common name of the Nettle, or rather its Anglo-Saxon and also Dutch equivalent, Netel, is said to have been derived from Noedl (a needle), possibly from the sharp sting, or, as Dr. Prior suggests, in reference to the fact that it was this plant that supplied the thread used in former times by the Germanic and Scandinavian nations before the general introduction of flax, Net being the passive participle of ne, a verb common to most of the Indo-European languages in the sense of 'spin' and 'sew' (Latin nere, German na-hen, Sanskrit nah, bind). Nettle would seem, he considers, to have meant primarily that with which one sews.
Its fibre is very similar to that of Hemp or Flax, and it was used for the same purposes, from making cloth of the finest texture down to the coarsest, such as sailcloth, sacking, cordage, etc. In Hans Andersen's fairy-tale of the Princess and the Eleven Swans, the coats she wove for them were made of Nettles.
Flax and Hemp bear southern names and were introduced into the North to replace it.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth century Nettle fibres were still used in Scotland for weaving the coarser household napery. The historian Westmacott says: 'Scotch cloth is only the housewifery of the nettle. In Friesland, also, it was used till a late period.' The poet, Campbell, complaining of the little attention paid to the Nettle in England, tells us:
'In Scotland, I have eaten nettles, I have slept in nettle sheets, and I have dined off a nettle tablecloth. The young and tender nettle is an excellent potherb. The stalks of the old nettle are as good as flax for making cloth. I have heard my mother say that she thought nettle cloth more durable than any other species of linen.'
After the Nettles had been cut, dried and steeped, the fibre was separated with instruments similar to those used in dressing flax or hemp, and then spun into yarn, used in manufacturing every sort of cloth, cordage, etc., usually made from flax or hemp. Green (Universal Herbal, 1832) says this yarn was particularly useful for making twine for fishing nets, the fibre of the Nettle being stronger than those of flax and not so harsh as those of hemps.
The fibre being, however, produced in less quantities than that of flax, and being somewhat difficult to extract, accounts, perhaps, for the fact that it is no longer used in Britain, though it was still employed in other countries in textile manufactures some sixty years ago. The greatest objection to its extensive employment is the necessity of growing it in rich, deep soil, for otherwise the fibre produced is short and coarse, and on land fitted for it flax can be grown at less cost compared to the value of the seed and fibre yielded. The most valuable sort of Nettle in regard to length and suppleness is most common in the bottom of ditches, among briars and in shaded valleys, where the soil is a strong loam. In such situations the plants will sometimes attain a great height, those growing in patches on a good soil, standing thick, averaging 5 to 6 feet in height, the stems thickly clothed with fine lint. Those growing in poorer soils and less favourable situations, with rough and woody stem and many lateral branches, run much to seed and are less useful, producing lint more coarse, harsh and thin.
When Germany and Austria ran short of cotton during the War, the value of the Nettle as a substitute was at once recognized, and the two ordinary species, U. dioica and U. urens, the great and the smaller Nettle, were specially selected for textiles.
Among the many fibrous plants experimented with, the Nettle alone fulfilled all the conditions of a satisfactory source of textile fibre, and it was believed that it would become an important factor in agriculture and in the development of the textile industry. Investigations and practical tests made in 1916 at Brünn and Reichenberg confirmed the hopes raised concerning the possibilities to be realized in Nettle fibre; the capabilities of the plant were thoroughly tested, and from the standpoint of the factory it was affirmed that goods woven from this fibre were for most purposes equal to cotton goods, so that it was believed that, for Central Europe at least, a large and increasing use of Nettle fibre seemed assured. Mixed with 10 per cent cotton, it was definitely shown that underclothing, cloth, stockings, tarpaulins, etc., could be manufactured from the new fibre.
In 1915, 1.3 million kilograms of this material were collected in Germany, a quantity which increased to 2.7 million kilograms in 1916, and this without any attempt at systematic cultivation. The quantity of Nettles grown wild in Germany was estimated at 60,000 tons, but as time went on it was found that self-sown Nettles were insufficient in quantity for the need, and that their quality could be improved by cultivation, and great efforts were made to increase production, but the cultivation proved more difficult than was expected.
Cloth made from Nettle fibre was employed in many articles of army clothing. Forty kilograms were calculated to provide enough stuff for one shirt. In 1917 two captured German overalls, marked with the dates 1915 and 1916 respectively, were found to be woven of a mixed fibre consisting of 85 per cent of the common Stinging Nettle and 15 per cent of Ramie, the fibre of the Rhea, or Grass (Boehmeria nivea), a tropical member of the Nettle family, which is used in the manufacture of gas-mantles and is also valuable for making artificial silk and was largely employed in war-time in the making of gas-masks.
German army orders dated in March, April and May of 1918 give a good insight into the extent to which use was made of cloth woven from Nettle fibre. In these orders, Nettle is described as the only efficient cotton substitute.
In Austria, also, Nettles were cultivated on a large scale.
The length of the Nettle fibre varies from 3/4 inch to 2 1/2 inches: all above 1 3/8 inch is equal to the best wiccan cotton. It can be dyed and bleached in the same way as cotton, and when mercerized is but slightly inferior to silk. It has been considered much superior to cotton for velvet and plush.
The Textile Department of the Bradford Technical College exhibited in March, 1918, samples of Nettle fibre. It had a pleasing appearance to the eye, but when examined under the microscope, magnification showed that it had a glass-like surface, devoid of the serrations which endow wool as a fibre for textile production, and experts considered that its employment in Germany seemed to point to very straitened circumstances as the motive, rather than any recognition of a true textile value in the fibre.
These properties of the Nettle were recognized before the War, and considerable sums of money were spent in the endeavour to utilize that plant, but trouble was experienced in the separation of the fibres. Recently, great progress has been made and some fifty processes have been patented for attaining this separation. In 1917 some 70,000 hectares of Nettles were cultivated, and it is thought possible to plant a million hectares of lowlands, giving a yield of Nettle fibres that would cover about 18 per cent of Germany's cotton requirements.
The by-products of the Nettle were also stated to be of enormous production, the Nettle not only supplying a substitute for cotton, but for such indispensable articles as sugar, starch, protein and ethyl alcohol.
Another use of great importance is the application of the fibres of Nettle to the manufacture of paper of various qualities. They used to be collected in France in considerable quantities for that purpose, and though, owing to the different ages of the fibre, the attempts to use it for paper-making have not always met with complete success, the subject deserves further attention.
From a culinary point of view the Nettle has an old reputation. It is one of the few wild plants still gathered each spring by country-folk as a pot-herb. It makes a healthy vegetable, easy of digestion.
The young tops should be gathered when 6 to 8 inches high. Gloves should be worn to protect the hands when picking them. They should be washed in running water with a stick and then put into a saucepan, dripping, without any added water, and cooked with the lid on for about 20 minutes. Then chopped, rubbed through a hair-sieve and either served plain, or warmed up in the pan again, with a little salt, pepper and butter, or a little gravy, and served with or without poached eggs. They thus form a refreshing dish of spring greens, which is slightly laxative. In autumn, however, Nettles are hurtful, the leaves being gritty from the abundance of crystals (cystoliths) they contain.
In Scotland it was the practice to force Nettles for 'early spring kail. ' Sir Walter Scott tells us in Rob Roy how Andrew Fairservice, the old gardener of Lochleven, raised early Nettles under hand-glasses. By earthing up, Nettles may be blanched in the same way as seakale and eaten in a similar manner. They also make a good vegetable soup, and in Scotland are used with leeks, broccoli and rice to make Nettle pudding, a very palatable dish.
To 1 gallon of young Nettle tops, thoroughly washed, add 2 good-sized leeks or onions, 2 heads of broccoli or small cabbage, or Brussels sprouts, and 1/4 lb. of rice. Clean the vegetables well; chop the broccoli and leeks and mix with the Nettles. Place all together in a muslin bag, alternately with the rice, and tie tightly. Boil in salted water, long enough to cook the vegetables, the time varying according to the tenderness or other vise of the greens. Serve with gravy or melted butter. These quantities are sufficient for six persons.
Pepys refers to Nettle pudding in his Diary, February, 1661: 'We did eat some Nettle porridge, which was very good.'
The Nettle Beer made by cottagers is often given to their old folk as a remedy for gouty and rheumatic pains, but apart from this purpose it forms a pleasant drink. It may be made as follows: Take 2 gallons of cold water and a good pailful of washed young Nettle tops, add 3 or 4 large handsful of Dandelion, the same of Clivers (Goosegrass) and 2 OZ. of bruised, whole ginger. Boil gently for 40 minutes, then strain and stir in 2 teacupsful of brown sugar. When lukewarm place on the top a slice of toasted bread, spread with 1 OZ. of compressed yeast, stirred till liquid with a teaspoonful of sugar. Keep it fairly warm for 6 or 7 hours, then remove the scum and stir in a tablespoonful of cream of tartar. Bottle and tie the corks securely. The result is a specially wholesome sort of ginger beer. The juice of 2 lemons may be substituted for the Dandelion and Clivers. Other herbs are often added to Nettles in the making of Herb Beer, such as Burdock, Meadowsweet, Avens Horehound, the combination making a refreshing summer drink.
As an arrester of bleeding, the Nettle has few equals and an infusion of the dried herb, or alcoholic tincture made from the fresh plant, or the fresh Nettle juice itself in doses of 1 to 2 tablespoonsful is of much power inwardly for bleeding from the nose, lungs or stomach. Old writers recommended a small piece of lint, moistened with the juice, to be placed in the nostril in bad cases of nosebleeding. The diluted juice provides a useful astringent gargle. Burns may be cured rapidly by applying to them linen cloths well wetted with the tincture, the cloths being frequently re-wetted. An infusion of the fresh leaves is also soothing and healing as a lotion for burns.
Nettle is one of the best antiscorbutics. An infusion known as Nettle Tea is a common spring medicine in rural districts, and has long been used as a blood purifier. This tea made from young Nettles is in many parts of the country used as a cure for nettlerash. It is also beneficially employed in cases of gouty gravel, but must not be brewed too strong. A strong decoction of Nettle, drunk too freely, has produced severe burning over the whole body.
The homoeopathic tincture, Urtica, is frequently administered successfully for rheumatic gout, also for nettlerash and chickenpox, and externally for bruises.
'Urtication,' or flogging with Nettles, was an old remedy for chronic rheumatism and loss of muscular power.
Young Nettles, mashed and pulped finely, mixed with equal bulk of thick cream, pepper and salt being added to taste, have been considered a valuable food for consumptives.
---Medicinal Uses of the Nettle---
Parts employed: The whole herb, collected in Mayand June, just before coming into flower, and dried in the usual manner prescribed for 'bunched' herbs.
When the herb is collected for drying, it should be gathered only on a fine day, in the morning, when the sun has dried off the dew. Cut off just above the root, rejecting any stained or insect-eaten leaves, and tie in bunches, about six to ten in a bunch, spread out fanwise, so that the air can penetrate freely to all parts.
Hang the bunches over strings. If dried in the open, keep them in half-shade and bring indoors before there is any risk of damp from dew or rain. If dried indoors, hang up in a sunny room, and failing sun, in a well-ventilated room by artificial heat. Care must be taken that the window be left open by day so that there is a free current of air and the moisture-laden, warm air may escape. The bunches should be of uniform size and length, to facilitate packing when dry, and when quite dry and crisp must be packed away at once in airtight boxes or tins, otherwise moisture will be reabsorbed from the air.
The seeds and flowers are dried in the sun, or over a stove, on sheets of paper.
The Nettle is still in demand by wholesale herbalists, who stock the dried and powdered herb, also the seeds. Homoeopathic chemists, in addition, employ the green herb for the preparation of a tincture.
The analysis of the fresh Nettle shows the presence of formic acid, mucilage, mineral salts, ammonia, carbonic acid and water.
It is the formic acid in the Nettle, with the phosphates and a trace of iron, which constitute it such a valuable food medicinally.
---Action and Uses---
Although not prescribed by the British Pharmacopceia, the Nettle has still a reputation in herbal medicine, and is regarded in homoeopathy as a useful remedy. Preparations of the herb have astringent properties and act also as a stimulating tonic.
Nettle is anti-asthmatic: the juice of the roots or leaves, mixed with honey or sugar, will relieve bronchial and asthmatic troubles and the dried leaves, burnt and inhaled, will have the same effect. The seeds have also been used in consumption, the infusion of herb or seeds being taken in wineglassful doses. The seeds and flowers used to be given in wine as a remedy for ague. The powdered seeds have been considered a cure for goitre and efficacious in reducing excessive corpulency.
In old Herbals the seeds, taken inwardly, were recommended for the stings or bites of venomous creatures and mad dogs, and as an antidote to poisoning by Hemlock, Henbane and Nightshade.
A quaint old superstition existed that a fever could be dispelled by plucking a Nettle up by the roots, reciting thereby the names of the sick man and also the names of his parents.
Preparations of Nettle are said to act well upon the kidneys, but it is a doubtful diuretic, though it has been claimed that incipient dropsy may be remedied by tea made from the roots.
A novel treatment for diabetes was reported by a sufferer from that disease in the daily press of April, 1926, it being affirmed that a diet of young Nettles (following a two days' fast) and drinking the brew of them had been the means of reducing his weight by 6 stone in three days and had vastly improved his condition.
An efficient Hair Tonic can be prepared from the Nettle: Simmer a handful of young Nettles in a quart of water for 2 hours, strain and bottle when cold. Well saturate the scalp with the lotion every other night. This prevents the hair falling and renders it soft and glossy. A good Nettle Hair Lotion is also prepared by boiling the entire plant in vinegar and water, straining and adding Eau de Cologne.
For stimulating hair growth, the old herbalists recommended combing the hair daily with expressed Nettle juice.
The homoeopathic tincture of Nettle is made of 2 OZ. of the herb to 1 pint of proof spirit.
The powder of the dried herb is administered in doses of 5 to 10 grains.
Fluid extract of herb, 1/2 to 1 drachm. Infusion, 1 OZ. of the herb to a pint of boiling water.
Nettles are of considerable value as fodder for live-stock, and might be used for this purpose where they occur largely. When Nettles are growing, no quadruped except the ass will touch them, on account of their stinging power, but if cut and allowed to become wilted, they lose their sting and are then readily cleared up by livestock. It is well known that when dried and made into hay, so as to destroy the poisonous matter of the stings, cows will relish them and give more milk than when fed on hay alone. In Sweden and Russia, the Nettle has sometimes been cultivated as a fodder plant, being mown several times a year, and given to milch cattle.
Nettles were much used as a substitute for fodder during the war, and instructions for their use were laid down by German military authorities. It was found that horses which had become thin and suffered from digestive troubles benefited from the use of Nettle leaves in their rations. When dried, the proportion of albuminoid matter in Nettles is as high as in linseed cake and the fat content is also considerable.
The Nettle is also of great use to the keeper of poultry. Dried and powdered finely and put into the food, it increases egg-production and is healthy and fattening. The seeds are also said to fatten fowls. Turkeys, as well as ordinary poultry, thrive on Nettles chopped small and mixed with their food, and pigs do well on boiled Nettles.
In Holland, and also in Egypt, it is said that horse-dealers mix the seeds of Nettles with oats or other food, in order to give the animals a sleek coat.
Although in Britain upwards of thirty insects feed solely on the Nettle plant, flies have a distaste for the plant, and a fresh bunch of Stinging Nettles will keep a larder free from them.
If planted in the neighbourhood of beehives, it is said the Nettle will drive away frogs.
The juice of the Nettle, or a decoction formed by boiling the green herb in a strong solution of salt, will curdle milk, providing the cheese-maker with a good substitute for rennet. The same juice, if rubbed liberally into small seams in leaky wooden tubs coagulates and will render them once more watertight.
A decoction of Nettle yields a beautiful and permanent green dye, which is used for woollen stuffs in Russia: the roots, boiled with alum, produce a yellow color, which was formerly widely used in country districts to dye yarn, and is also employed by the Russian peasants to stain eggs yellow on Maundy Thursday.
The expressed seeds yield a burning oil, which has been extracted and used in Egypt.
The following passage from Les Misérables on the utilization of Nettles, shows how conversant Victor Hugo was with the virtues of this commonly despised 'weed':
'One day he (Monsieur Madeleine) saw some peasants busy plucking out Nettles; he looked at the heap of plants uprooted and already withered, and said - "They are dead. Yet it would be well if people knew how to make use of them. When the nettle is young, its leaf forms an excellent vegetable; when it matures, it has filaments and fibres like hemp and flax. Nettle fabric is as good as canvas. Chopped, the nettle is good for poultry; pounded it is good for cattle. The seed of the nettle mingled with fodder imparts a gloss to the coats of animals; its root mixed with salt produces a beautiful yellow color. It is besides excellent hay and can be cut twice. And what does the nettle require? Little earth, no attention, no cultivation. Only the seed falls as it ripens, and is difficult to gather. That is all. With a little trouble, the nettle would be useful; it is neglected, and becomes harmful." '
Nettles are increasing all over the country, and for the benefit of those who desire their eradication, the Royal Horticultural Society, in their Diary for 1926, informed their members that if Nettles are cut down three times in three consecutive years, they will disappear.
NETTLE, WHITE DEAD
Botanical: Lamium album (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Labiatae
Archangel. White Dead Nettle. Blind Nettle. Dumb Nettle. Deaf Nettle. Bee Nettle.
The White Dead-Nettle owes its name of Nettle to the fact that the plant as a whole bears a strong general resemblance to the Stinging Nettle, for which it may easily be mistaken in the early spring, before it is in bloom; but the flowers are absolutely different in the two plants, which are quite unrelated. It can, moreover, be always readilydistinguished from the Stinging Nettle, even when not in flower, by the squareness and hollowness of its stem.
The 'Dead' in its name refers to its inability to sting. Lord Avebury points out that this resemblance is a clever adaption of nature.
'It cannot be doubted that the true nettle is protected by its power of stinging, and that being so, it is scarcely less clear that the Dead Nettle must be protected by its likeness to the other,'
the two species being commonly found growing together. The resemblance serves probably not only as a protection against browsing quadrupeds, but also against leaf-eating insects.
Many other country names refer to this false suggestion of stinging power. In some localities it is called White Archangel, or Archangel alone, probably because it first comes into flower about the day dedicated to the Archangel Michael, May 8, old style - eleven days earlier than our May 8.
This plant is also known as the Bee Nettle, because bees visit it freely for the honey which it provides lavishly. The flower is specially built to encourage bee visitors - especially the bumble bee. In the axils of the leaves are whorls, or rings, of the flowers each ring composed of six to twelve blossoms of a delicate creamy white; out of the spiky green, five-pointed calyx rises the white petal tube, which expands into an erection of very irregular shape, composed of five petals, one forming the lip, two the hood, and two form the little wings.
Four stamens lie in pairs along the back of the flower, with their heads well up under the hood and their faces downwards. The long column from the ovary also lies with them, but its top, the stigma, hangs a little out beyond the pollen-bearing anthers of the stamens. At the bottom of the corolla-tube is a rich store of honey.
When a bee visits the flower, he alights on the lower lip, thrusts his proboscis down the petal tube, which is nearly 1/2 inch long, and reaches the honey, his back fitting meanwhile exactly into the conformation of the corolla, so that he first, as he settles on the lip, rubs the projecting stigmas with the pollen already on his back (thus affecting the fertilization of the flower), and then presses on to the stamens and gets dusted with their pollen in exchange, and this is then passed on to the next flower he visits. Unless the insect visitor is a big one, his back will not fill the cavity and neither stigma nor stamens are touched. The honey is placed in such a position that only the big humble bees with their long probosces can reach it. The flower also guards against smaller insects creeping down its tube by placing a barrier of hairs round it just above the honey. Some insects, whose tongues are too short to reach the honey, get at it by biting through the wall of the white tube right down at its base, and sucking away the honey without taking any share in the fertilization of the flower.
When the flower fades, the green calyx still remains to protect the tiny nutlets. It is somewhat stiffened, and when the nutlets are ripe and ready for dispersal, any pressure upon it forces it back and on the pressure being removed, the nuts are shot out with some force.
The plant is to be found in flower from May almost until December. The heartshaped leaves, with their saw-like margins, are placed on the square, hollow stems in pairs, each pair exactly at right angles to the one above and below. Both stems and leaves are covered with small rough hairs, and contain certain essential oils which probably make them distasteful to cattle, even after their powerlessness to sting has been discovered. When bruised, the whole plant has a strong, rather disagreeable smell.
The corners of the hollow stems are strengthened by specially strong columns of fibres. In the country, boys often cut the stems and make whistles out of them.
The generic name of the Dead Nettles Lamium, is derived from the Greek word laimos (the throat), in allusion to the form of the blossom.
NETTLE, PURPLE DEAD
Botanical: Lamium purpureum (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Labiatae
Medicinal Action and Uses
The Purple Dead-Nettle is a common weed in cultivated ground and by waysides, found in the same spots as the other species, but less conspicuous.
It has heart- or kidney-shaped leaves, blunt, not pointed as in the preceding species, and is distinguished by the purple tinge of its foliage, crowded upper leaves and small, reddish flowers, which have much shorter petal tubes than the Yellow and White DeadNettles, so that bees with shorter tongues than the humble-bee, can reach its honey and fertilize it. It is, indeed, a favourite with bees, who find abundance of honey in its blossoms. The upper leaves are often densely clapped with silky hairs.
It flowers all the summer - from April to September and in mild seasons, both earlier and later. This species of Dead-Nettle is an annual, propagated by its seeds alone. It is one of the earliest weeds in gardens, but being an annual is easily eradicated.
The plant varies greatly in appearance, according to the situation in which it grows. On the open ground, it is somewhat spreading in habit, rarely more than 6 inches in height, whilst specimens growing in the midst of crowded vegetation are often drawn up to a considerable height, their leaves being of a dull green throughout, whereas those of the smaller specimens grown in the open are ordinarily more or less warm and rich in color. At first glance the variation in the appearance of specimens grown under these different circumstances would leave the casual observer to suppose them to belong to different species.
---Medicinal Action and Uses---
The herb and flowers, either fresh or dried, have been used to make a decoction for checking any kind of haemorrhage.
The leaves are also useful to staunch wounds, when bruised and outwardly applied.
The dried herb, made into a tea and sweetened with honey, promotes perspiration and acts on the kidneys, being useful in cases of chill.
Linnaeus reported that this species also has been boiled and eaten as a pot-herb by the peasantry in Sweden.
Part Used Medicinally
Medicinal Action and Uses
The HENBIT DEAD-NETTLE (Lamium amplexicaule, Linn.), a small annual, fairly common on cultivated and waste ground, is not unlike the Purple Dead-Nettle, but somewhat lighter and more graceful. Its fine, deep rose-colored flowers have a much slenderer tube, thrown out farther from the leaves.
The SPOTTED DEAD-NETTLE (L. maculatum), not considered a true wilding, but an escape from old-fashioned cottage gardens, is by some botanists regarded as a variety of the White Dead-Nettle, which it closely resembles, the flowers being, however, pale purple, instead of white and the foliage often marked by a broad, irregular streak of white down the centre of each leaf, with a few blotches on each side.
The HEMP NETTLE (Galeopsis tetrahit, Lirm.) (named from gale (weasel) and opsis (a countenance), because of a fancied resemblance of its blossom to a weasel's face) is supposed to have been the source of one of Count Mattei's nostrums: Pettorale.
It is found on roadsides and borders of cornfields, tall-stemmed and erect, covered with long, dense bristles, the stem-joints thickened and the egg-shaped leaves hairy. The flowers, in dense whorls, are white, purple or yellow and are specially adapted for the visits of long-lipped bees, being much visited by the Humble Bee.
Gerard tells us:
'the White Archangel flowers compass the stalks round at certain distances, even as those of Horehound, whereof this is a kind and not of Nettle. The root is very threddy. The flowers are baked with sugar; as also the distilled water of them, which is said to make the heart merry, to make a good color in the face, and to make the vital spirits more fresh and lively.'
Linnaeus tells us that although refused by cattle, the leaves are eaten in Sweden as a pot-herb in the spring, in like manner as the True Nettle.
---Part Used Medicinally---The whole herb, collected in May and June, when just coming into flower and the leaves are in their best condition, and then dried in the manner directed for 'bunched' herbs.
The characteristic Dead-Nettle odour is lost in drying, but a slightly bitter taste remains.
The herb may be cultivated and propagated by means of seed sown in shallow drills, or by cuttings or division of roots - it spreads rapidly by means of its creeping, perennial roots, so that when once established, it is hard to get rid of it - but it would hardly pay for cultivation and is generally collected in the wild state.
---Medicinal Action and Uses---The whole plant is of an astringent nature, and in herbal medicine is considered of use for arresting haemorrhages, as in spitting of blood and dysentery. Cotton-wool, dipped in a tincture of the fresh herb, is efficacious in staunching bleeding and a homoeopathic tincture prepared from the flowers is used for internal bleeding, the dose being 5 to 10 drops in cold water.
As a blood purifier for rashes, eczema, etc., a decoction of Nettle flowers is excellent.
It has the reputation of being effectual in the healing of green wounds, bruises and burns.
This and the other species of Dead-Nettle have also been used in female complaints for their astringent properties.
Culpepper and the old herbalists tell us that the Archangel is an exhilarating herb, that it 'makes the heart merry, drives away melancholy, quickens the spirits, is good against the quartan agues, stauncheth bleeding at the mouth and nose if it be stamped and applied to the nape of the neck.'
It was used with great success in removing the hardness of the spleen, which was supposed to be the seat of melancholy, a decoction being made with wine and the herb applied hot as a plaster to the region of the spleen, the decoction also being used as a fomentation.
Bruised and mixed with salt, vinegar and lard, it has proved useful in the reduction of swellings and also to give ease in gout, sciatica and other pains in the joints and muscles.
NETTLE, YELLOW DEAD
Botanical: Lamium Galeobdolon (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Labiatae
Yellow Archangel. Weazel Snout. Dummy Nettle.
The closely-allied Yellow Archangel and the Purple Dead-Nettle (Lamium purpureum) have also been used medicinally for the same purposes as the White Dead-Nettle, Culpepper telling us that the Yellow Archangel is most to be commended of the three for healing sores and ulcers.
All three species have hollow, square stalks, with the leaves opposite, in pairs.
The Yellow Archangel resembles in habit the White Dead-Nettle, but its stems are straighter and more upright, the pairs of leaves farther apart, the leaves themselves, narrower, longer and more pointed. The flowers, which also grow in whorls, are a little longer. They are large and handsome; pale yellow, blotched with red, visited by both Humble- and Honey-bee.
It has a much shorter flowering season than either of the other Dead-Nettles, being only in flower for two months - mid-April to mid-June, or May to July, according to district.
The plant is not infrequent in damp woods and shady hedgerows, but is much more local in its habitat than either the White or Purple Dead-Nettle, being common in some localities and altogether absent from others.
Its specific name, Galeobdolon, is made up from two Greek words, gale (a weasel) and bdolos (a disagreeable odour), an allusion to the somewhat strong odour of the plant when crushed.
The whole herb was used medicinally, dried and employed in the same manner as the White Archangel.
Botanical: Solanum nigrum (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Solanaceae
Steadman Shorter's Medical Dictionary, Poisons & Antidotes: Atropine
Medicinal Action and Uses
Garden Nightshade. Petty Morel.
Whole plant, fresh leaves.
The Black Nightshade is an annual plant, common and generally distributed in the South of England, less abundant in the North and somewhat infrequent in Scotland. It is one of the most cosmopolitan of wild plants, extending almost over the whole globe.
In this country, it is frequently to be seen by the wayside and is often found on rubbish heaps, but also among growing crops and in damp and shady places. It is sometimes called the Garden Nightshade, because it so often occurs in cultivated ground.
It rarely grows more than a foot or so in height and is much branched, generally making a bushy-looking mass. It varies much according to the conditions of its growth, both as to the amount of its dull green foliage and the size of its individual leaves, which are egg-shaped and stalked, the outlines bluntly notched or waved. The stem is green and hollow.
The flowers are arranged in clusters at the end of stalks springing from the main stems at the intervals between the leaves, not, as in the Bittersweet, opposite the leaves. They are small and white, resembling those of Bittersweet in form, and are succeeded by small round berries, green at first, but black when ripe. The plant flowers and fruits freely, and in the autumn the masses of black berries are very noticeable; they have, when mature, a very polished surface.
On account of its berries, the Black Nightshade was called by older herbalists 'Petty Morel,' to distinguish it from the Deadly Nightshade, often known as Great Morel. Culpepper says: 'Do not mistake the deadly nightshade for this,' cautiously adding, 'if you know it not, you may then let them both alone.'
In the fourteenth century, we hear of the plant under the name of Petty Morel being used for canker and with Horehound and wine taken for dropsy.
The whole plant, gathered in early autumn, when in both flower and fruit and dried. Also the fresh leaves.
When the plant grows at all in a bunchy mass, strip off the stems singly and dry them under the same conditions as given above for Belladonna leaves, tying several stems together in a bunch, however, spread out fanwise for the air to penetrate to all parts, and hang the bunches over strings, rather than in trays. The bunches should be of uniform size.
---Medicinal Action and Uses---
This species has the reputation of being very poisonous, a fact, however, disputed by recent inquiries. In experimenting on dogs, very varying results have been obtained, which may be explained by the fact that the active principle, Solanine, on which the poisonous properties of this and the preceding species depend, and which exists in considerable quantity in the fresh herb, varies very much at different seasons.
The berries are injurious to children, but are often eaten by adults with impunity, especially when quite ripe, as the poisonous principle is chiefly associated with all green parts. Cattle will not eat the plant and sheep rarely touch it.
It is applied in medicine similarly to Bittersweet, but is more powerful and possesses greater narcotic properties.
According to Withering and other authorities, 1 or 2 grains of the dried leaves, infused in boiling water, act as a strong sudorific.
In Bohemia the leaves are placed in the cradles of infants to promote sleep. In the islands of Bourbon and Mauritius, the leaves are eaten in place of spinach: and the fruit is said to be eaten without inconvenience by soldiers stationed in British Kaffraria. (Lindley's Treasury of Botany.)
It has been found useful in cutaneous disorders, but its action is variable, and it is considered a somewhat dangerous remedy except in very small doses.
The bruised fresh leaves, used externally, are said to ease pain and abate inflammation, and the Arabs apply them to burns and ulcers. Their juice has been used for ringworm, gout and earache, and mixed with vinegar, is said to be good as a gargle and mouthwash.
Besides the above-mentioned species, others are used for medicinal, alimentary, and other purposes. Some are employed almost universally as narcotics to allay pain, etc.; others are sudorific and purgative. Solanum toxicarium is used as a poison by the natives of Cayenne. S. pseudo-quina is esteemed as a valuable febrifuge in Brazil. Among those used for food, are S. Album and S. Æthiopicum, the fruits of which are used in China and Japan. Those of S. Anguivi are eaten in Madagascar. S. esculentum and its varieties furnish the fruits known as Aubergines or Brinjals, which are highly esteemed in France, and may sometimes be met with in English markets; they are of the size and form of a goose's egg and usually of a rich purple color. The Egg-plant, which has white berries, is only a variety of this. The Peruvians eat the fruits of S. muricatum and S. quitoense; those of S. ramosum are eaten as a vegetable in the West Indies. The Tasmanian Kangaroo Apple is the fruit of S. laciniatum; unless fully ripe this is said to be acrid. In Gippsland, Australia, the natives eat the fruits of S. vescum, which, like the preceding, is not agreeable till fully ripe, when it is said to resemble in form and flavour the fruits of Physalis peruviana. Of other species the leaves are eaten; as those of S. oleraceum in the West Indies and Fiji Islands, of S. sessiflorum in Brazil, etc.
Other species are used as dyes. S. indigoferum, in Brazil, cultivated for indigo. The juice of the fruit of S. gnaphalioides is said to be used to tint the cheeks of the Peruvian ladies, while their sisters of the Canary Isles employ similarly the fruits of S. vespertilia. The fruits of S. saponaceum are used in Peru to whiten linen in place of soap. S. marginatum is used in Abyssinia for tanning leather.
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Steadman Shorter's Medical Dictionary, Poisons & Antidotes: Atropine
Botanical: Atropa belladonna (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Solanaceae
Medicinal Action and Uses
Preparations and Dosages
Belladonna. Devil's Cherries. Naughty Man's Cherries. Divale. Black Cherry. Devil's Herb. Great Morel. Dwayberry.
---Parts Used---Root, leaves, tops.
Widely distributed over Central and Southern Europe, South-west Asia and Algeria; cultivated in England, France and North America.
Though widely distributed over Central and Southern Europe, the plant is not common in England, and has become rarer of late years. Although chiefly a native of the southern counties, being almost confined to calcareous soils, it has been sparingly found in twenty-eight British counties, mostly in waste places, quarries and near old ruins. In Scotland it is rare. Under the shade of trees, on wooded hills, on chalk or limestone, it will grow most luxuriantly, forming bushy plants several feet high, but specimens growing in places exposed to the sun are apt to be dwarfed, consequently it rarely attains such a large size when cultivated in the open, and is more subject to the attacks of insects than when growing wild under natural conditions.
The root is thick, fleshy and whitish, about 6 inches long, or more, and branching. It is perennial. The purplishcolored stem is annual and herbaceous. It is stout, 2 to 4 feet high, undivided at the base, but dividing a little above the ground into three - more rarely two or four branches, each of which again branches freely.
The leaves are dull, darkish green in color and of unequal size, 3 to 10 inches long, the lower leaves solitary, the upper ones in pairs alternately from opposite sides of the stem, one leaf of each pair much larger than the other, oval in shape, acute at the apex, entire and attenuated into short petioles.
First-year plants grow only about 1 1/2 feet in height. Their leaves are often larger than in full-grown plants and grow on the stem immediately above the ground. Older plants attain a height of 3 to 5 feet, occasionally even 6 feet, the leaves growing about 1 to 2 feet from the ground.
The whole plant is glabrous, or nearly so, though soft, downy hairs may occur on the young stems and the leaves when quite young. The veins of the leaves are prominent on the under surface, especially the midrib, which is depressed on the upper surface of the leaf.
The fresh plant, when crushed, exhales a disagreeable odour, almost disappearing on drying, and the leaves have a bitter taste, when both fresh and dry.
The flowers, which appear in June and July, singly, in the axils of the leaves, and continue blooming until early September, are of a dark and dingy purplish color, tinged with green, large (about an inch long), pendent, bell-shaped, furrowed, the corolla with five large teeth or lobes, slightly reflexed. The five-cleft calyx spreads round the base of the smooth berry, which ripens in September, when it acquires a shining black color and is in size like a small cherry. It contains several seeds. The berries are full of a dark, inky juice, and are intensely sweet, and their attraction to children on that account, has from their poisonous properties, been attended with fatal results. Lyte urges growers 'to be carefull to see to it and to close it in, that no body enter into the place where it groweth, that wilbe enticed with the beautie of the fruite to eate thereof.' And Gerard, writing twenty years later, after recounting three cases of poisoning from eating the berries, exhorts us to 'banish therefore these pernicious plants out of your gardens and all places neare to your houses where children do resort.' In September, 1916, three children were admitted to a London hospital suffering from Belladonna poisoning, caused, it was ascertained, from having eaten berries from large fruiting plants of Atropa Belladonna growing in a neighbouring public garden, the gardener being unaware of their dangerous nature, and again in 1921 the Norwich Coroner, commenting on the death of achild from the same cause, said that he had had four not dissimilar cases previously.
It is said that when taken by accident, the poisonous effects of Belladonna berries may be prevented by swallowing as soon as possible an emetic, such as a large glass of warm vinegar or mustard and water. In undoubted cases of this poisoning, emetics and the stomach-pump are resorted to at once, followed by a dose of magnesia, stimulants and strong coffee, the patient being kept very warm and artificial respiration being applied if necessary. A peculiar symptom in those poisoned by Belladonna is the complete loss of voice, together with frequent bending forward of the trunk and continual movements of the hands and fingers, the pupils of the eye becoming much dilated.
The plant in Chaucer's days was known as Dwale, which Dr. J. A. H. Murray considers was probably derived from the Scandinavian dool, meaning delay or sleep. Other authorities have derived the word from the French deuil (grief), a reference to its fatal properties.
Its deadly character is due to the presence of an alkaloid, Atropine, 1/10 grain of which swallowed by a man has occasioned symptoms of poisoning. As every part of the plant is extremely poisonous, neither leaves, berries, nor root should be handled if there are any cuts or abrasions on the hands. The root is the most poisonous, the leaves and flowers less so, and the berries, except to children, least of all. It is said that an adult may eat two or three berries without injury, but dangerous symptoms appear if more are taken, and it is wiser not to attempt the experiment. Though so powerful in its action on the human body, the plant seems to affect some of the lower animals but little. Eight pounds of the herb are said to have been eaten by a horse without causing any injury, and an ass swallowed 1 lb. of the ripe berries without any bad results following. Rabbits, sheep, goats and swine eat the leaves with impunity, and birds often eat the seeds without any apparent effect, but cats and dogs are very susceptible to the poison.
Belladonna is supposed to have been the plant that poisoned the troops of Marcus Antonius during the Parthian wars. Plutarch gives a graphic account of the strange effects that followed its use.
Buchanan relates in his History of Scotland (1582) a tradition that when Duncan I was King of Scotland, the soldiers of Macbeth poisoned a whole army of invading Danes by a liquor mixed with an infusion of Dwale supplied to them during a truce. Suspecting nothing, the invaders drank deeply and were easily overpowered and murdered in their sleep by the Scots.
According to old legends, the plant belongs to the devil who goes about trimming and tending it in his leisure, and can only be diverted from its care on one night in the year, that is on Walpurgis, when he is preparing for the witches' sabbath. The apples of Sodom are held to be related to this plant, and the name Belladonna is said to record an old superstition that at certain times it takes the form of an enchantress of exceeding loveliness, whom it is dangerous to look upon, though a more generally accepted view is that the name was bestowed on it because its juice was used by the Italian ladies to give their eyes greater brilliancy, the smallest quantity having the effect of dilating the pupils of the eye.
Another derivation is founded on the old tradition that the priests used to drink an infusion before they worshipped and invoked the aid of Bellona, the Goddess of War.
The generic name of the plant, Atropa, is derived from the Greek Atropos, one of the Fates who held the shears to cut the thread of human life - a reference to its deadly, poisonous nature.
Thomas Lupton (1585) says: 'Dwale makes one to sleep while he is cut or burnt by cauterizing.' Gerard (1597) calls the plant the Sleeping Nightshade, and says the leaves moistened in wine vinegar and laid on the head induce sleep.
Mandrake, a foreign species of Atropa (A. Mandragora), was used in Pliny's day as an anaesthetic for operations. Its root contains an alkaloid, Mandragorine. The sleeping potion of Juliet was a preparation from this plant - perhaps also the Mandrake wine of the Ancients. It was called Circaeon, being the wine of Circe.
Belladonna is often confused in the public mind with dulcamara (Bittersweet), possibly because it bears the popular name of woody nightshade. The cultivation of Belladonna in England dates at least from the sixteenth century, for Lyte says, in the Niewe Herball, 1578: 'This herbe is found in some places of this Countrie, in woods and hedges and in the gardens of some Herboristes.' Though not, however, much cultivated, it was evidently growing wild in many parts of the country when our great Herbals were written. Gerard mentions it as freely growing at Highgate, also at Wisbech and in Lincolnshire, and it gave a name to a Lancashire valley. Under the name of Solanum lethale, the plant was included in our early Pharmacopoeias, but it was dropped in 1788 and reintroduced in 1809 as Belladonna folia. Gerard was the first English writer to adopt the Italian name, of which he makes two words. The root was not used in medicine here until 1860, when Peter Squire recommended it as the basis of an anodyne liniment.
Before the War, the bulk of the world's supply of Belladonna was derived from plants growing wild on waste, stony places in Southern Europe. The industry was an important one in Croatia and Slavonia in South Hungary, the chief centre for foreign Belladonna, the annual crop in those provinces having been estimated at 60 to 100 tons of dry leaves and 150 to 200 tons of dry root. In 1908 the largest exporter in Slavonia is said to have sent out 29,880 lb. of dry Belladonna root.
The Balkan War of 1912-13 interrupted the continuity of Belladonna exports from South Hungary. Stocks of roots and leaves made shorter supplies last out until 1914, when prices rose, owing to increasing scarcity roots which realized 45s. per cwt. in January, 1914, selling for 65s. in June, 1914. With the outbreak of the Great War and the consequent entire stoppage of supplies, the price immediately rose to 100s. per cwt., and soon after, from 300s. to 480s. per cwt. or more. The dried leaves, from abroad, which in normal times sold at 45s. to 50s. per cwt., rose to 250s. to 350s. or more, per cwt. In August, 1916, the drug Atropine derived from the plant had risen from 10s. 6d. per oz. before the War to L. 7 (pounds sterling) per OZ.
Belladonna herb and root are sold by analysis, the value depending upon the percentage of alkaloid contained. A wide variation occurs in the amount of alkaloid present. It is important, therefore, to grow the crop under such conditions of soil and temperature as are likely to develop the highest percentage of the active principle.
In connexion with specimens of the wild plant, it is most difficult to trace the conditions which determine the variations, but it has been ascertained that a light, permeable and chalky soil is the most suitable for this crop. This, joined to a south-west aspect on the slope of a hill, gives specially good results as regards a high percentage of alkaloids. The limits of growth of Belladonna are between 50 degrees and 55 degrees N. Lat. and an altitude of 300 to 600 feet, though it may descend to sealevel where the soil is calcareous, especially where the drainage is good and the necessary amount of shade is found. The question of suitability of soil is especially important. Although the cultivated plant contains less alkaloid than that which grows wild, this in reality is only true of plants transported to a soil unsuited to them. It has been found, on the contrary, that artificial aids, such as the judicious selection of manure, the cleansing and preparation of the soil, destruction of weeds, etc., in accordance with the latest scientific practice, have improved the plants in every respect, not only in bulk, but even in percentage weight of alkaloidal contents.
Authorities differ on the question of manuring. Some English growers manure little if the plants are strong, but if the soil is really poor, or the plants are weak, the crop may be appreciably increased by the use of farmyard manure, or a mixture of nitrate of soda, basic slag and kainit. Excellent results have been obtained in experiments, by treating with basic slag, a soil already slightly manured and naturally suited to the plant, the percentage of total alkaloid in dry leaf and stem from third-year plants amounting to 0.84. In this case, the season was, however, an exceptionally favourable one, and, moreover, the soil being naturally suited to the plant, the percentage of alkaloid obtained without added fertilizer was already high. Speaking from the writer's own experience, Belladonna grows in her garden at Chalfont St. Peter. The soil is gravelly even stony in some parts, with a chalk subsoil - the conditions similar to those that the plant enjoys in its wild state. This neighbourhood, in her opinion, is a suitable one for growing fields of Belladonna as crops for medicinal purposes.
Notes and statistics taken from season to season, extending over nine years, have shown that atmospheric conditions have a marked influence on the alkaloidal contents of Belladonna, the highest percentage of alkaloid being yielded in plants grown in sunny and dry seasons. The highest percentage of alkaloid, viz. 0.68 per cent, was obtained from the Belladonna crop of 1912, a year in which the months May and June were unusually dry and sunny; the lowest, just half, 0.34 was obtained on the same ground in 1907, when the period May and June was particularly lacking in sunshine. In 1905, August and September proving a very wet season, specimens analysed showed the low percentages of 0.38 and 0.35, whereas in July and October, 1906, the intervening period being very fine and dry, specimens analysed in those months showed a percentage of 0.54 and 0.64 respectively.
There appears to be no marked variation in alkaloidal contents due to different stages of growth from June to September, except when the plant begins to fade, when there is rapid loss, hence the leaves may be gathered any time from June until the fading of the leaves and shoots set in.
In sowing Belladonna seed, 2 to 3 lb. should be reckoned to the acre. Autumn sown seeds do not always germinate, it is therefore more satisfactory to sow in boxes in a cool house, or frame, in early March, soaking the soil in the seed-boxes first, with boiling water, or baking it in an oven, to destroy the embryo of a small snail which is apt, as well as slugs and various insects, to attack the seedlings later. Pieces of chalk or lime can be placed among the drainage rubble at the bottom of the boxes. Belladonna seed is very slow in germinating, taking four to six weeks, or even longer, and as a rule not more than 70 per cent can be relied on to germinate. On account of the seeds being so prone to attack by insect pests, if sown in the open, the seed-beds should first be prepared carefully. First of all, rubbish should be burnt on the ground, the soil earthed up and fired all over, all sorts of burnt vegetable rubbish being worked in. Then thoroughly stir up the ground and leave it rough for a few days so that air and sun permeate it well. Then level and rake the bed fine and finally give it a thorough drenching with boiling water. Let it stand till dry and friable, add sharp grit sand on the surface, rake fine again and then sow the seed very thinly.
Considerable moisture is needed during germination. The seedlings should be ready for planting out in May, when there is no longer any fear of frost. They will then be about 1 1/2 inch high. Put them in after rain, or if the weather be dry, the ground should be well watered first, the seedlings puddled in and shaded from the sun with inverted flower-pots for several days. About 5,000 plants will be needed to the acre. If they are to remain where first planted, they may be planted 18 inches apart. A reserve of plants should be grown to fill in gaps.
The seedlings are liable to injury by late frosts and a light top dressing of farmyard manure or leaf-mould serves to preserve young shoots from injury during sudden and dangerous changes of temperature. They do best in shade. In America, difficulties in the cultivation of Belladonna have been overcome by interspersing plants with rows of scarlet runners, which, shading the herb, cause it to grow rapidly. Healthy young plants soon become re-established when transplanted, but require watering in dry weather. Great care must be taken to keep the crop clean from weeds and handpicking is to be recommended.
By September, the single stem will be 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 feet high. A gathering of leaves may then be made, if the plants are strong; 'leaves' include the broken-off tops of the plants, but the coarser stems are left on the plant and all discolored portions rejected, and the plants should not be entirely denuded of leaves.
Before the approach of winter, plants must be thinned to 2 1/2 to 3 feet apart, or overcrowding will result in the second year, in which the plant will bear one or two strong stems.
The writer finds that the green tips and cuttings from side branches root well and easily in early summer, and that buds with a piece of the root attached can be taken off the bigger roots in April, this being a very successful way of rapid propagation to get big, strong plants.
In the second year, in June, the crop is cut a few inches above the ground, while flowering, and delivered to the wholesale buyer the same day it is cut.
The average crop of fresh herb in the second and third years is 5 to 6 tons per acre, and 5 tons of fresh leaves and tops yield 1 ton of dried herb. A second crop is obtained in September in good seasons.
The yield per acre in the first year of growth should average about 6 cwt. of dry leaves.
The greatest loss of plants is in wet winters. Young seedling plants unless protected by dead leaves during the winter often perish. On the lighter soils there is less danger from winter loss, but the plants are more liable to damage from drought in summer.
One of the principal insect pests that attack Belladonna leaves is the so-called 'fleabeetle.' It perforates the leaves to such an extent as to make them unfit for sale in a dried state. It is when the plants are exposed to too much sunlight in open spots that the attacks of the beetle are worst, its natural habitat being well-drained slopes, partly under trees. If therefore the ground around the plants is covered with a thick mulch of leaves, they are not so likely to be attacked. The caterpillars from which the beetles come feed on the ground, and as they dislike moisture, the damp leaves keep them away. If napthalene is scattered on the soil, the vapour will probably help to keep the beetles off. The only way to catch them is to spread greased sheets of paper below the plants, and whenever the plants are disturbed a number of beetles will jump off like fleas and be caught on the papers. This at best only lessens the total quantity, however, and the other methods of precaution are the best.
The plant is dug or ploughed up during the autumn in the fourth year and the root collected, washed and dried, 3 to 4 tons of fresh root yielding a little over 1 ton of dry root. In time of great scarcity, it would probably pay to dig the root in the third year.
Old roots must be replaced by a planting of young ones or offsets, and if wireworm is observed, soot should be dug in with replacements.
Although Belladonna is not a plant that can be successfully grown in every small garden, yet in a chalky garden a few plants might be grown in a shady corner for the sake of the seed, for which there is a demand for propagation. Those, also, who know the haunts of the plant in its wild state might profitably collect the ripe berries, which should then be put into thin cotton bags and the juice squeezed out in running water. When the water is no longer stained, wring the bag well and turn out the seeds on to blotting paper and dry in the sun, or in a warm room near a stove. Sieve them finally, when dry, to remove all portions of the berry skin, etc.
Belladonna has been successfully cultivated in the neighbourhood of Leningrad since 1914, and already good crops have been obtained, the richness of the stems in alkaloids being noteworthy. It is stated that in consequence of the success that has attended the cultivation of Belladonna in Russia, it will no longer be needful to employ German drugs in the preparation of certain alkaloids. Much is also being collected wild in the Caucasus and in the Crimea.
It is hoped that if sufficient stocks can be raised in Britain, not only will it be unnecessary to import Belladonna, but that it may be possible to export it to those of our Dominions where the climate and local conditions prevent its successful culture, though at present it is still included among the medicinal plants of which the exportation is forbidden.
The following note on the growth and cultivation of Belladonna is from the Chemist and Druggist, of February 26, 1921:
'Belladonna is a perennial, but for horticultural purposes it is treated as a biennial, or triennial plant. The root in 3 years has attained very large dimensions around Edinburgh; in fact, often so large as to make the lifting a very heavy, and therefore costly, matter, and in consequence 2 years' growth is quite sufficient. One-year-old roots are just as active as the three-year-old stocks, and to the grower it is merely a matter of expediency which crop he chooses to dig up. The aerial growth is very heavy, twoyear-old plants making 5 to 6 feet in the season if not cut for first crop, and if cut in July they make a second growth of 2 to 3 feet by September. To obtain a supply of seeds certain plantations must be left uncut, so as to get a crop of seeds for the next season. Moisture is, from a practical point of view, a very important matter. A sample, apparently dry to the touch, but not crisp, may have 15 per cent to 20 per cent of moisture present. Therefore if a pharmacist was to use a sample of such Belladonna leaves, although assayed to contain 0.03 per cent of alkaloids, he would produce a weaker tincture than if he had used leaves with, say, only 5 per cent of water present. The alkaloidal factor of this drug is the index to its value. Both the British and the United States Pharmacopoeias adopt the same standard of alkaloidal value for the leaves, but the British Pharmacopceia does not require a standard for the root, which is one of those subtle conundrums which this quaint book frequently presents! Plants grown in a hard climate, such as Scotland, give a good alkaloidal figure, which compares favourably with any others. For roots, the British Pharmacopoeia as just stated, requires no standard, but United States Pharmacopceia standard is 0.45 per cent, and Scottish roots yielded 0.78 per cent and 0.72 per cent. There is not a great deal of alkaloidal value in the stalks. About 0.08 in the autumn.'
The medicinal properties of Belladonna depend on the presence of Hyoscyamine and Atropine. The root is the basis of the principal preparations of Belladonna.
The total alkaloid present in the root varies between 0.4 and 0.6 per cent, but as much as 1 per cent has been found, consisting of Hyoscyamine and its isomer Atropine, 0.1 to 0.6 per cent; Belladonnine and occasionally, Atropamine. Starch and Atrosin, a red coloring principle, are also present in the root. Scopolamine (hyoscine) is also found in traces, as is a fluorescent principle similar to that found in horse-chestnut bark and widely distributed through the natural order Solanaceae. The greater portion of the alkaloidal matter consists of Hyoscyamine, and it is possible that any Atropine found is produced during extraction.
The amount of alkaloids present in the leaves varies somewhat in wild or cultivated plants, and according to the methods of drying and storing adopted, as well as on the conditions of growth, soil, weather, etc.
The proportion of the total alkaloid present in the dried leaves varies from 0.3 to 0.7per cent. The greater proportion consists of Hyoscyamine, the Atropine being produced during extraction, as in the root. Belladonnine and Apoatropine may also be formed during extraction from the drug. The leaves contain also a trace of Scopolamine, Atrosin and starch.
The British Pharmacopoeia directs that the leaves should not contain less than 0.3 per cent of alkaloids and the root not less than 0.45 per cent.
A standardized liquid extract is prepared, from which the official plaster, alcoholic extract, liniment, suppository, tincture and ointment are made. The green extract is prepared from the fresh leaves.
---Medicinal Action and Uses---
Narcotic, diuretic, sedative, antispasmodic, mydriatic. Belladonna is a most valuable plant in the treatment of eye diseases, Atropine, obtained during extraction, being its most important constituent on account of its power of dilating the pupil. Atropine will have this effect in whatever way used, whether internally, or injected under the skin, but when dropped into the eye, a much smaller quantity suffices, the tiny discs oculists using for this purpose, before testing their patient's sight for glasses, being made of gelatine with 1/50000 grain of Atropine in each, the entire disk only weighing 1/50 grain. Scarcely any operation on the eye can safely be performed without the aid of this valuable drug. It is a strong poison, the amount given internally being very minute, 1/200 to 1/100 grain. As an antidote to Opium, Atropine may be injected subcutaneously, and it has also been used in poisoning by Calabar bean and in Chloroform poisoning. It has no action on the voluntary muscles, but the nerve endings in involuntary muscles are paralysed by large doses, the paralysis finally affecting the central nervous system, causing excitement and delirium.
The various preparations of Belladonna have many uses. Locally applied, it lessens irritability and pain, and is used as a lotion, plaster or liniment in cases of neuralgia, gout, rheumatism and sciatica. As a drug, it specially affects the brain and the bladder. It is used to check excessive secretions and to allay inflammation and to check the sweating of phthisis and other exhausting diseases.
Small doses allay cardiac palpitation, and the plaster is applied to the cardiac region for the same purpose, removing pain and distress.
It is a powerful antispasmodic in intestinal colic and spasmodic asthma. Occasionally the leaves are employed as an ingredient of cigarettes for relieving the latter. It is well borne by children, and is given in large doses in whooping cough and false croup.
For its action on the circulation, it is given in the collapse of pneumonia, typhoid fever and other acute diseases. It increases the rate of the heart by some 20 to 40 beats per minute, without diminishing its force.
It is of value in acute sore throat, and relieves local inflammation and congestion.
Hahnemann proved that tincture of Belladonna given in very small doses will protect from the infection of scarlet fever, and at one time Belladonnna leaves were held to be curative of cancer, when applied externally as a poultice, either fresh or dried and powdered.
Belladonna plasters are often applied, after a fall, to the injured or sprained part. A mixture of Belladonna plaster, Salicylic acid and Lead plaster is recommended as an application for corns and bunions.
---Preparations and Dosages---
Powdered leaves, 1 to 2 grains. Powdered root, 1 to 5 grains. Fluid extract leaves, 1 to 3 drops. Fluid extract root, B.P., 1/4 to 1 drop. Tincture, B.P., 5 to 15 drops. Alkaloid Atropine, Alcoholic extract, B.P., 1/4 to 1 grain. Green extract, B.P., 1/4 to 1 grain. Juice, B.P., 5 to 15 drops. Liniment, B.P. Plaster, B.P. and U.S.P. Ointment, B.P.
Botanical: Solanum Dulcamara (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Solanaceae
Medicinal Action and Uses
Bittersweet. Dulcamara. Felonwood. Felonwort. Scarlet Berry. Violet Bloom.
The large and important natural order of Solanaceae contains, besides Henbane and the Nightshades, some of the most poisonous of our native plants, such useful economic plants as the Potato, Tomato, Aubergine Capsicum and Tobacco, also the medicinally valuable Thornapple (Datura Stramonium) the Winter Cherry and the Mandrake, which in earlier days was supposed to possess miraculous properties.
The prevailing property of plants belonging to the Nightshade tribe is narcotic, rendering many of them in consequence highly poisonous.
The genus Solanum - to which the older herbalists formerly assigned Atropa Belladonna, and to which the Potato and Aubergine belong, is represented in this country by two species: Solanum nigrum (Black or Garden Nightshade) and S. Dulcamara (Bittersweet or Woody Nightshade). The leaves bear a certain resemblance to those of Belladonna, and the flowers of both Bittersweet and Belladonna are purple, though totally distinct in shape, and both have berries, red in the case of Bittersweet, not black as in the Belladonna. Bittersweet is common throughout Europe and America. It abounds in almost every hedgerow in England, where it is rendered conspicuous in the summer by its bright purple flowers, and in autumn by its brilliant red berries. Belladonna for which it is often mistaken is rare.
It is a perennial, shrubby plant, quite woody at the base, but throws out long, straggling, slender branches, which trail over the hedges and bushes among which it grows, reaching many feet in length, when supported by other plants. They are at first green and hairy, but become woody and smooth as they grow older, with an ashygreen bark.
The flowers, which are open all the summer, are in loose, drooping clusters, on short stalks opposite the leaves. They are of a bluish purple tint, with reflexed petals when expanded, so as almost to appear drooping. Their bright yellow stamens project in a conical form around the pistil, or seedbearing portion of the flower.
The leaves are chiefly auriculate on the upper stems, i.e. with little ears, having at their base from one to two (rarely three) wing-like segments, but are heart-shaped below. They are placed alternately on either side of the stem and arranged so that they face the light. The flower-clusters always face a different direction to the leaves. 'One may gather a hundred pieces of the Woody Nightshade, and this strange perversity is rampant in all,' remarks an observer of this very curious habit.
The berries are green at first, afterwards becoming orange and finally bright red, and are produced in constant succession throughout the summer and early autumn, many remaining on the plant long after the leaves have fallen.
The plant was called the Woody Nightshade by the old herbalists to distinguish it from the Deadly Nightshade. Its generic name Solanum is derived from Solor (I ease), and testifies to the medicinal power of this group of plants. The second name, Dulcamara, used to be more correctly written in the Middle Ages, Amaradulcis, signifying literally 'bittersweet,' the common country name of the plant, given to it in reference to the fact that the root and stem, if chewed, taste first bitter and then sweet. Another old name is Felonwood, probably a corruption of Felonwort, the plant for felons - felon being an old name for whitlow. We are told by an old writer that:
'the Berries of Bittersweet stamped withrusty Bacon, applied to the Joynts of the Finger that is troubled with a Felon hath been found by divers country people who are most subject thereto to be very successful for the curing of the same.'
In the days of belief in witchcraft, shepherds used to hang it as a charm round the necks of those of their beasts whom they suspected to be under the evil eye.
The older physicians valued Bittersweet highly and applied it to many purposes in medicine and surgery, for which it is no longer used. It was in great repute as far back as the time of Theophrastus, and we know of it being in use in this country in the thirteenth century.
Gerard says of it:
'The juice is good for those that have fallen from high places, and have been thereby bruised or beaten, for it is thought to dissolve blood congealed or cluttered anywhere in the intrals and to heale the hurt places.'
Boerhaave, the celebrated Dutch physician, considered the young shoots superior to Sarsaparilla as a restorative, and Linnaeus, who at first had an aversion to the plant, later spoke of it in the highest terms as a remedy for rheumatism, fever and inflammatory diseases of all kinds. There are few complaints for which it has not been at some time recommended.
The limited demand for Bitter sweet in modern pharmacy is supplied bythe wild plant.
The dried young branches from indigenous plants, taken when they have shed their leaves, were the parts directed for use up to 1907, by the British Pharmacopoeia, but it has been removed from the last two editions.
The shoots, preferably the extreme branches, are collected from two- to threeyear-old branches, after the leaves have fallen in the autumn, cut into pieces about 1/2 inch long, with a chaff cutter, and then carefully dried by artificial heat. They require no other preparation. The peculiar unpleasant odour of the shoots is lost on drying.
An extract of the leaves or tops is frequently prepared also; 10 lb. of the dried shoots yield about 2 lb. of the extract. A decoction of the dried herb is likewise used.
The drug occurs in commerce in short, cylindrical pieces of a light greenish, or brownish-yellow color, about 1/4 inch thick, bearing occasional alternate scars where the leaves have fallen off, and are quite free from hairs, and more or less longitudinally furrowed and wrinkled. A thin, shining bark surrounds the wood, which is lined internally by a whitish pith, which only partially fills it, leaving the centre hollow.
The active properties of Bittersweet are most developed when it grows in a dry and exposed situation. The bitterness is more pronounced in the spring than in the autumn, and in America the shoots are gathered while still pliant, when the plant is just budding, though the British Pharmacopoeia directs that they shall be collected in the autumn.
Bittersweet contains the alkaloid Solanine and the amorphous glucoside Dulcamarine, to which the characteristic bittersweet taste is due. Sugar, gum, starch and resin are also present.
Solanine acts narcotically; in large doses it paralyses the central nervous system, without affecting the peripheral nerves or voluntary muscles. It slows the heart and respiration, lessens sensibility, lowers the temperature and causes vertigo and delirium, terminating in death with convulsions.
---Medicinal Action and Uses---
The drug possesses feeble narcotic properties, with the power of increasing the secretions, particularly those of the skin and kidneys. It has no action on the pupil of the eye.
It is chiefly used as an alterative in skin diseases, being a popular remedy for obstinate skin eruptions, scrofula and ulcers.
It has also been recommended in chronic bronchial catarrh, asthma and whoopingcough.
For chronic rheumatism and for jaundice it has been much employed in the past, an infusion of 1 OZ. of the dried herb to 1/2 pint water being taken in wineglassful doses, two or three times daily. From the fluid extract made from the twigs, a decoction is prepared of 10 drachms in 2 pints of boiling water, boiled down to 1 pint, and taken in doses of 1/2 to 2 OZ. with an equal quantity of milk.
The berries have proved poisonous to a certain degree to children.
Fluid extract, 1/2 to 2 drachms.
The four following species are all used in Homoeopathic medicine:
Botanical: Solanum Arrabenta
Botanical: Solanum Mammosum
---Synonym---Apple of Sodom.
---Part Used---Fresh ripe fruit.
---Medicinal Use---Irritability and restlessness.
Botanical: Solanum Oleraceae
---Habitat---Shores of Rio Janeiro.
---Medicinal Use---Acts specifically on the mammary glands.
Botanical: Solanum Pseudop-Capsicum
Botanical: Myristica fragrans (HOUTT.)
Family: N.O. Myristicaceae
Medicinal Action and Uses
Uses of Nutmeg
Nux Moschata. Myristica officinalis (Linn.). Myristica aromata. Myristica.
Dried kernel of the seed.
Banda Islands, Malayan Archipelago, Molucca Islands, and cultivated in Sumatra, French Guiana.
The tree is about 25 feet high, has a greyish-brown smooth bark, abounding in a yellow juice. The branches spread in whorls - alternate leaves, on petioles about 1 inch long, elliptical, glabrous, obtuse at base - acuminate, aromatic, dark green and glossy above, paler underside and 4 to 6 inches long. Flowers dioecious, small in axillary racemes. Peduncles and pedicles glabrous. Male flowers three to five more on a peduncle. Calyx urceolate, thick and fleshy, covered with an indistinct reddish pubescence dingy pale yellow, cut into three erect teeth. Female flowers differ little from the male, except pedicel is often solitary. Fruit is a pendulous, globose drupe, consisting of a succulent pericarp - the mace arillus covering the hard endocarp, and a wrinkled kernel with ruminated endosperm. When the arillus is fresh it is a brilliant scarlet, when dry more horny, brittle, and a yellowish-brown color. The seed or nutmeg is firm, fleshy, whitish, transversed by red-brown veins, abounding in oil. The tree does not bloom till it is nine years old, when it fruits and continues to do so for seventy-five years without attention. In Banda Islands there are three harvests, the chief one in July or August, the next in November, and the last in March or April. The fruit is gathered by means of a barb attached to a long stick. The mace is separated from the nut and both are dried separately. The nutmeg or kernel of the fruit and the arillus or mace are the official parts.
After the mace is removed, the nutmegs are dried on gratings, three to six weeks over a slow charcoal fire - but are often sun-dried for six days previously. The curing protects them from insects.
When thoroughly dried, they rattle in the shell, which is cracked with a mallet. The nutmegs are graded, 1st Penang, 2nd Dutch (these are usually covered with lime to preserve them from insects), 3rd Singapore, and 4th long nutmegs.
Nutmegs have a strong, peculiar and delightful fragrance and a very strong bitter warm aromatic taste.
They contain lignin, stearin, volatile oil, starch, gum and 0.08 of an acid substance. By submitting nutmegs and water to distillation, a volatile oil is obtained. The small round heavy nutmeg is the best. Those that are larger, longer, lighter, less marbled, and not so oily, are inferior.
The powder of nutmegs, beaten to a pulp with water, then pressed between heated plates, gives from 10 to 30 per cent of orangecolored scented concrete oil erroneously called 'oil of mace' - an inferior oil is prepared in Holland from the spoiled or inferior nutmegs - and an artificial preparation is made by mixing together tallow, spermaceti, etc., coloring it with saffron and flavouring it with essential oil of nutmeg.
After the nutmegs have been collected, the outside fleshy pericarp is made into a preserve.
The mace of commerce should be somewhat flexible, cinnamon-yellow colored, in single or double blades, with nutmeg-like smell and a warm, sharp, fatty, aromatic taste.
There is a large trade in wild nutmegs, which are known in commerce under the names of long, female, Macassar, Papua, Guinea, or Norse nutmegs. All these varieties have been traced to Myristica argentea of New Guinea, from whence they enter commerce as Macassar nutmegs.
There is much adulteration and fraud in the nutmeg trade. The essential oil has often been extracted before they are marketed - a fraud which can be detected by the light weight. This renders them more subject to attacks by insects.
Concrete oil of nutmeg, often erroneously termed 'oil of mace' or 'nutmeg butter,' is made by bruising the nuts and treating them with steam. The best nutmeg butter is imported from the East Indies in stone jars, or in blocks wrapped in palm leaves - it should be softly solid, unctuous to touch, orange yellow color and mottled, with the taste and smell of nutmeg.
Holland prepares an inferior kind of oil sometimes offered for sale - it is said to be derived from nutmegs that have been deprived of their volatile oil by distillation. It is found in hard shining square cakes, light colored and with less taste and smell than the East Indies oil. Ucuhula nut is the round or oval seed of M. surinamensis. It is distinguished by very large albuminous crystalloids, the seeds containing over 70 per cent solid yellow fat. The Brazilian M. officinalis resembles the nutmeg in form and structure, it contains crystals like the preceding one, though less large; has a black shell covered with broad furrows and yields a fat or bicuhyba balsam very like the ordinary nutmeg, with a sharp sour taste, and a peculiar fatty acid, bicuhybastearic acid. From M. otoba otoba fat is procured. Almost colorless with a fresh smell of nutmeg, it contains myristin, olein, and otobite. The fruit of virola or M. sebifera also gives a fatty substance termed ocuba wax. The following are erroneously called nutmegs:
CALIFORNIAN NUTMEG. The seed of a coniferous tree, Sorreya Californica - its odour and taste terebinthinate.
JAMAICA or CALABACH NUTMEG. Obtained from Monodora myristica.
NEW HOLLAND or PLUME NUTMEG. Obtained from the Atherosperma moschata.
CLOVE NUTMEG. Obtained from Agathophyllum aromaticum.
Insects that attack nutmegs only extract the fat oil. They do not interfere in any way with the essential oil.
---Medicinal Action and Uses---
The tonic principle is Myristicin. Oil of Nutmeg is used to conceal the taste of various drugs and as a local stimulant to the gastro-intestinal tract.
---Uses of Nutmeg---
Powdered nutmeg is rarely given alone, though it enters into the composition of a number of medicines. The expressed oil is sometimes used externally as a gentle stimulant, and it was once an ingredient of the Emplastrum picis.
The properties of mace are identical to those of the nutmeg. Dose, 5 to 20 grains.
Both nutmeg and mace are used for flatulence and to correct the nausea arising from other drugs, also to allay nausea and vomiting.
Nutmeg is an agreeable addition to drinks for convalescents.
Grated nutmeg mixed with lard makes an excellent ointment for piles.
In some places roasted nutmeg is applied internally as a remedy for leucorrhaoea. Dose of the powder, 5 to 20 grains. Fluid extract, 10 to 30 drops. Larger doses are narcotic and produce dangerous symptoms. Spirit, B.P., 5 to 20 drops.
Steadman Shorter's Medical Dictionary, Poisons & Antidotes: Strychnine
Botanical: Strychnos Nux-vomica (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Loganiaceae
Medicinal Action and Uses
Preparations and Dosages
Poisoning and Antidotes
Poison Nut. Semen strychnos. Quaker Buttons.
Dried ripe seeds.
India, in the Malay Archipelago.
A medium-sized tree with a short, crooked, thick trunk, the wood is white hard, close grained, durable and the root very bitter. Branches irregular, covered with a smooth ash-colored bark; young shoots deep green, shiny; leaves opposite, short stalked, oval, shiny, smooth on both sides, about 4 inches long and 3 broad; flowers small, greeny-white, funnel shape, in small terminal cymes, blooming in the cold season and having a disagreeable smell. Fruit about the size of a large apple with a smooth hard rind or shell which when ripe is a lovely orange color, filled with a soft white jelly-like pulp containing five seeds covered with a soft woolly-like substance, white and horny internally. The seeds are removed when ripe, cleansed, dried and sorted; they are exported from Cochin, Madras and other Indian ports. The seeds have the shape of flattened disks densely covered with closely appressed satiny hairs, radiating from the centre of the flattened sides and giving to the seeds a characteristic sheen; they are very hard, with a dark grey horny endosperm in which the small embryo is embedded; no odour but a very bitter taste.
Nux Vomica contains the alkaloids, Strychnine and Brucine, also traces of strychnicine, and a glucoside Loganin, about 3 per cent fatty matter, caffeotannic acid and a trace of copper. The pulp of the fruit contains about 5 per cent of loganin together with the alkaloid strychnicine.
---Medicinal Action and Uses---
The propertiesof Nux Vomica are substantially those of the alkaloid Strychnine. The powdered seeds are employed in atonic dyspepsia. The tincture of Nux Vomica is often used in mixtures - for its stimulant action on the gastro-intestinal tract. In the mouth it acts as a bitter, increasing appetite; it stimulates peristalsis, in chronic constipation due to atony of the bowel it is often combined with cascara and other laxatives with good effects. Strychnine, the chief alkaloid constituent of the seeds, also acts as a bitter, increasing the flow of gastric juice; it is rapidly absorbed as it reaches the intestines, after which it exerts its characteristic effects upon the central nervous system, the movements of respiration are deepened and quickened and the heart slowed through excitation of the vagal centre. The senses of smell, touch, hearing and vision are rendered more acute, it improves the pulse and raises blood pressure and is of great value as a tonic to the circulatory system in cardiac failure. Strychnine is excreted very slowly and its action is cumulative in any but small doses; it is much used as a gastric tonic in dyspepsia. The most direct symptom caused by strychnine is violent convulsions due to a simultaneous stimulation of the motor or sensory ganglia of the spinal cord; during the convulsion there is great rise in blood pressure; in some types of chronic lead poisoning it is of great value. In cases of surgical shock and cardiac failure large doses are given up to 1/10 grain by hypodermic injection; also used as an antidote in poisoning by chloral or chloroform. Brucine closely resembles strychnine in its action, but is slightly less poisonous, it paralyses the peripheral motor nerves. It is said that the convulsive action characteristic of strychnine is absent in brucine almost entirely. It is used in pruritis and as a local anodyne in inflammations of the external ear.
---Preparations and Dosages---
Strychnine should not be administered in liquid form combined with bromides, iodides or chlorides, there being a risk of formation of the insoluble hydrobromide, etc.
Nux Vomica, 1 to 4 grains. Extract of Nux Vomica, B.P., 1/4 to 1 grain. Extract of Nux Vomica, B.P. 1885, 1/4 to 1 grain. Extract of Nux Vomica, U.S.P., 1/4 grain. Liquid extract of Nux Vomica, B.P., 1 to 3 minims. Fluid extract of Nux Vomica, U.S.P., 1 minim. Tincture of Nux Vomica, B.P., 5 to 15 minims. Tincture of Nux Vomica, B.P. 1885, 10 to 20 minims. Tincture of Nux Vornica, U.S.P., 10 minims. Strychnine, B.P., 1/6 to 1/15 grain. Hypodermic injection of strychnine. Solution of Strychnine Hydrochloride, B.P., 2 to 8 minims. Acid Strychnine Mixture, B.P.C., 1/2 to 1 fluid ounce.
---Poisoning and Antidotes---
In cases of poisoning by strychnine an emetic or the stomach pump should be used at once and tannin or potassium permanganate given to render the strychnine inactive. Violent convulsions should be controlled by administration of chloroform or large doses of chloral or bromide. Urethane in large doses is considered an antidote. Amyl nitrite is also useful owing to its rapid action during the convulsion, and in absence of respiration 3 to 5 minims may be hypodermically injected.
Strychnos tieute, a clumbing shrub growing in Java, gives a juice termed Upas tieute, said to be used by the natives as an arrow poison; it produces death by violent convulsions, the heart stopping before respiration.
S. toxifera yields the deadly poison Curare (Woorari or Urari) used by the natives of British Guiana.
S. ligustrina, the wood of which contains brucine, as does the bark.
S. pseudo is found in the mountains and forests of India. It supplies the seeds known as clearing nuts. The fruit is black, the size of a cherry, containing only one seed; fruit and seeds are used medicinally in India and also to clear muddy water, the seeds being rubbed for a minute inside the vessel and the water then allowed to settle; their efficiency depending on their albumen and casein contents acting as a fining agent similar to those employed to clarify wine and beer.
S. innocua. The fruit and pulp are harmless and are eaten by the natives of Egypt and Senegal.
S. Ignatii is found in the Philippines, the seeds containing strychnine and brucine, strychnine being present in greater quantity than in Nux Vomica. A tincture made from the beans is official in the British Pharmacopoeia Codex.
NAILWORT, OR WHITLOW-GRASS
This very small and common herb hath no roots, save only a few strings: neither doth it ever grow to be above a hand's breadth high, the leaves are very small, and something long, not much unlike those of Chickweed, among which rise up divers slender stalks, bearing many white flowers one above another, which are exceeding small; after which come small flat pouches containing the seed, which is very small, but of a sharp taste.
It grows commonly upon old stone and brick walls, and sometimes in gravelly grounds, especially if there be grass or moss near to shadow it.
They flower very early in the year, sometimes in January, and in February; for before the end of April they are not to be found.
Government and virtues : It is held to be exceedingly good for those imposthumes in the joints, and under the nails, which they call Whitlows, Felons, Andicorns and Nail-wheals.
NEP, OR CATMINT
Common Garden Nep shoots forth hard four-square stalks, with a hoariness on them, a yard high or more, full of branches, bearing at every joint two broad leaves like balm, but longer pointed, softer, white, and more hoary, nicked about the edges, and of a strong sweet scent. The flowers grow in large tufts at the tops of the branches, and underneath them likewise on the stalks many together, of a whitish purple color. The roots are composed of many long strings or fibres, fastening themselves stronger in the ground, and abide with green leaves thereon all the winter.
It is only nursed up in our gardens.
And it flowers in July, or thereabouts.
Government and virtues : It is an herb of Venus. Nep is generally used for women to procure their courses, being taken inwardly or outwardly, either alone, or with other convenient herbs in a decoction to bathe them, or sit over the hot fumes thereof; and by the frequent use thereof, it takes away barrenness, and the wind, and pains of the mother. It is also used in pains of the head coming of any cold cause, catarrhs, rheums, and for swimming and giddiness thereof, and is of special use for the windiness of the stomach and belly. It is effectual for any cramp, or cold aches, to dissolve cold and wind that afflict the place, and is used for colds, coughs, and shortness of breath. The juice thereof drank in wine, is profitable for those that are bruised by an accident. The green herb bruised and applied to the fundament and lying there two or three hours, eases the pains of the piles; the juice also being made up into an ointment, is effectual for the same purpose. The head washed with a decoction thereof, it takes away scales, and may be effectual for other parts of the body also.
Nettles are so well known, that they need no description; they may be found by feeling, in the darkest night.
Government and virtues :
This is also an herb Mars claims dominion over. You know Mars is hot and dry, and you know as well that Winter is cold and moist; then you may know as well the reason why Nettle-tops eaten in the Spring consume the phlegmatic superfluities in the body of man, that the coldness and moistness of Winter hath left behind. The roots or leaves boiled, or the juice of either of them, or both made into an electuary with honey and sugar, is a safe and sure medicine to open the pipes and passages of the lungs, which is the cause of wheezing and shortness of breath, and helps to expectorate tough phlegm, as also to raise the imposthumed pleurisy; and spend it by spitting; the same helps the swelling of the almonds of the throat, the mouth and throat being gargled therewith. The juice is also effectual to settle the palate of the mouth in its place, and to heal and temper the inflammations and soreness of the mouth and throat. The decoction of the leaves in wine, being drank, is singularly good to provoke women's courses, and settle the suffocation, strangling of the mother, and all other diseases thereof; it is also applied outwardly with a little myrrh. The same also, or the seed provokes urine, and expels the gravel and stone in the reins or bladder, often proved to be effectual in many that have taken it. The same kills the worms in children, eases pains in the sides, and dissolves the windiness in the spleen, as also in the body, although others think it only powerful to provoke venery. The juice of the leaves taken two or three days together, stays bleeding at the mouth. The seed being drank, is a remedy against the stinging of venomous creatures, the biting of mad dogs, the poisonous qualities of Hemlock, Henbane, Nightshade, Mandrake, or other such like herbs that stupify or dull the senses; as also the lethargy, especially to use it outwardly, to rub the forehead or temples in the lethargy, and the places stung or bitten with beasts, with a little salt. The distilled water of the herb is also effectual (though not so powerful) for the diseases aforesaid; as for outward wounds and sores to wash them, and to cleanse the skin from morphew, leprosy, and other discolorings thereof. The seed or leaves bruised, and put into the nostrils, stays the bleeding of them, and takes away the flesh growing in them called polypus. The juice of the leaves, or the decoction of them, or of the root, is singularly good to wash either old, rotten, or stinking sores or fistulous, and gangrenes, and such as fretting, eating, or corroding scabs, manginess, and itch, in any part of the body, as also green wounds, by washing them therewith, or applying the green herb bruised thereunto, yea, although the flesh were separated from the bones; the same applied to our wearied members, refresh them, or to place those that have been out of joint, being first set up again, strengthens, dries, and comforts them, as also those places troubled with aches and gouts, and the defluxion of humours upon the joints or sinews; it eases the pains, and dries or dissolves the defluctions. An ointment made of the juice, oil, and a little wax, is singularly good to rub cold and benumbed members. An handful of the leaves of green Nettles, and another of Wallwort, or Deanwort, bruised and applied simply themselves to the gout, sciatica, or joint aches in any part, hath been found to be an admirable help thereunto.
Common Nightshade hath an upright, round green, hollow stalk, about a foot or half a yard high, bushing forth in many branches, whereon grow many green leaves, somewhat broad, and pointed at the ends, soft and full of juice, somewhat like unto Bazil, but longer and a little unevenly dented about the edges. At the tops of the stalks and branches come forth three or four more white flowers made of five small pointed leaves a-piece, standing on a stalk together, one above another, with yellow pointels in the middle, composed of four or five yellow threads set together, which afterwards run into so many pendulous green berries, of the bigness of small pease, full of green juice, and small whitish round flat seed lying within it. The root is white, and a little woody when it hath given flower and fruit, with many small fibres at it. The whole plant is of a waterish insipid taste, but the juice within the berries is somewhat viscous, and of a cooling and binding quality.
It grows wild with us under our walls, and in rubbish, the common paths, and sides of hedges and fields, as also in our gardens here in England, without any planting.
Time : It lies down every year, and rises up again of its own sowing, but springs not until the latter end of April at the soonest.
Government and virtues : It is a cold Saturnine plant. The common Nightshade is wholly used to cool hot inflammations either inwardly or outwardly, being no ways dangerous to any that use it, as most of the rest of the Nightshades are; yet it must be used moderately. The distilled water only of the whole herb is fittest and safest to be taken inwardly. The juice also clarified and taken, being mingled with a little vinegar, is good to wash the mouth and throat that is inflamed. But outwardly the juice of the herb or berries, with oil of roses and a little vinegar and ceruse laboured together in a leaden mortar, is very good to anoint all hot inflammations in the eyes. It also doth much good for the shingles, ringworms, and in all running, fretting and corroding ulcers, applied thereunto. The juice dropped into the ears, eases pains thereof that arise of heat of inflammations. And Pliny saith, it is good for hot swellings under the throat. Have a care you mistake not the deadly Nightshade for this; if you know it not, you may let them both alone, and take no harm, having other medicines sufficient in the book.
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