The Curious Stories of Britain's Wild Plants
Hatfield's Herbal is the story of how people all over Britain have used its wild plants throughout history, for reasons magical, mystical and medicinal. Gabrielle Hatfield has drawn on a lifetime's knowledge to describe the properties of over 150 native plants, and the customs that surround them: from predicting the weather with seaweed to using deadly nightshade to make ladies' pupils dilate appealingly, and from ensuring a husband's faithfulness with butterbur to warding off witches by planting a rowan tree. Filled with stories, folklore and remedies both strange and practical, this is a memorable and eye-opening guide to the richness of Britain's heritage.
The following are extracts from three of the 150 descriptions of British plants in Gabrielle Hatfield's Hatfield’s Herbal
Birch (Betula species)
Devil’s bit (Succisa pratensis)
Certainly, in official medicine, the list of ailments treated with devil’s bit, or devil’s bit scabious, is a long one, and includes wounds and skin conditions. Culpeper in 1653 writes: ‘The herb or the root (all that the devil hath left of it) being boiled in wine and drank is very powerful against the plague … poisons also, and the bitings of venomous beasts.
In folk medicine, the plant has been used to treat dog bites: the wound was bathed in water in which the plant had been steeped, then devil’s bit leaves were placed on the wound to complete the healing.
It seems that the chant could enable them to summon a brownie-like being who would do their household chores for them. At the other end of Britain, though, in Cornwall, if a child picked devil’s bit, the devil would come to their bedside.
Raspberry (Rubus idaeus)
Modern medical herbalists still recommend taking raspberry leaf-tea in the last ten weeks of pregnancy to encourage easy labour. The same infusion is also prescribed for diarrhoea, as an eyewash for conjunctivitis and as a cleanser for ulcers. Dreaming of raspberries is said to be a good omen for a love affair.
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