Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

The wives' tales of old, an ancient herbology that should never have been lost, are still alive thanks to some stubborn families and skilled researchers. One of the latter is Mary Chamberlain whose book Old Wives' Tales I cannot recommend enough. Here is what she gathered from 19th century England on the use of club moss for eye troubles:

Many incantations involved the use of numbers, often structured so that the numbers diminished... But the quaintness of the spells should not obscure their practical usage. For instance, elements of astrology were perceived as valuable symbols of healing. But more than that, the moon and sun directed not only the course of sickness but often the correct times for harvesting herbs for administering treatment. Club moss, for instance, was believed to be effective for all diseases of the eye, and had to be gathered on the third day of the moon when it was seen for the first time. The gatherer was directed to take the knife with which it was to be cut in the hand, show it to the moon and repeat:

As Christ healed the issue of blood
Do thou cut what thou cuttest for good.

Then, when the moon was setting, the gatherer had to wash the hands and cut the club moss while kneeling and wrap it in a white cloth. Afterwards it had to be boiled in water taken from a spring nearest to the place of growth and then the decoction could be used as a fermentation for the eyes. Or it could be made into an ointment after it had been mixed with butter made from the milk of a new cow.

Although the ritual appears both elaborate and heavily symbolic, it contained important principles. For the efficacy of many herbs does in fact lie in the correct time of harvest. The active principle in the herb may vary according to its freshness and time of gathering. Modern research has demonstrated, for instance, that the yield of morphine from the poppy gathered at nine o'clock in the morning is often four time the yield obtained twelve hours later.

And that once again goes to show that our ancestors, far from being superstitious morons, knew quite a bit more than modern technologies would make it appear.

Header: Woman in a Landscape by Walter Shirlaw via American Gallery


Timmy! said...

Well, it definitely sounds like they knew how to get high anyway, Pauline... And what is the matter with that?

Pauline said...

Or cure eye troubles, depending on how you look at it :)