Monday, 30 January 2017

11 June 1881 - 'What May be Done With Simple Herbs' by Medicus

On board ship, in the merchant service at all events, the cook is usually addressed by the men as "doctor." This, however, is no reason why I, a medical man, should permit may advice to interfere with the province of cook. Nevertheless, as there are many so-called pot herbs which possess medicinal properties of no mean value, I cannot, I think, be greatly exceeding my duty if I say a word or two about gathering and storing them. The old-fashioned plan was to tie the dried leaves in bunches, and hang them on the walls, or to the roof of the kitchen. This is neither a good nor a tidy plan. From the month of May to the end of August is the best time for collecting these herbs. Most of them can be gathered in July, but at all events they must be at the time in full beauty and  luxuriance. In olden times they tell us that witches used to wander over moor and mountain, seeking herbs for love philtres, at the dead of night, and under a full moon. There is no occasion to risk catching cold by being abroad at such unwholesome hours, gathering pot herbs. You do not require the aid of the moon, but it is important that you should avoid the noonday sun; at the same time there should be no moisture on the herbs when collected. Next, you must dry them as speedily as possible. This is best done before a moderately hot fire. When they are perfectly dry you may proceed to store them. If you mean to collect, say, half a dozen different sorts, procure six nice air-tight bottles of small sizes, and label them with the names of the herbs. The dried leaves are then picked from the stems and powdered, then passed through a sieve, and then bottled. I have known a young girl-housekeeper to possess a highly useful and quite ornamental collection of powdered herbs.

Now I do not wish my readers to constitute themselves doctors in embryo, amateur pharmaceutists; no, nor little skilled old wives either; but there are very many things about some of the commonest herbs, which it will do every girl who means to make herself a useful member of society good to know.

I'll take them as they come to my memory. The name *chervil brings back to my mind the days of my youth,

"When I roved a young Highlander o'er the dark heath,"

And used to gather and chew, for sake of its aromatic flavour, a pretty little green plant that grew under hedges and by the waysides. It was called myrrh, however, in my country. It smells exactly like paregoric, and if you do not know it in any other way you may not it by that. But be sure of it, because it grows where the deadly hemlock thrives, *and the leaves of the two are very much alike. Chervil makes a nice addition to a salad, and although not to my knowledge used in medicine, possesses, nevertheless, aromatic qualities, and would therefore tend to strengthen the digestion. There is also a kitchen garden chervil, and it makes a pretty border for a walk. It should be gathered in June for powdering.

The flowery tufted *thyme brings to my recollection the words of Virgil, as translated by Dryden:-

"No more, my goats, shall I behold you climb
The steepy cliffs to crop the flowery thyme."

That would, of course, be the wild thyme. Let us go to the garden to gather ours. It is aromatic in a high degree, the lemon-scented variety being probably the choicest. It is used in making perfumes, its essential oil being called marjoram oil. Gather it in July.

*Sweet basil is worthy of cultivation in gardens. A nice aromatic sauce for table use is made by gathering the fresh leaves in August, putting them in a bottle, covering them with vinegar, and steeping for ten days. This also possesses aromatic qualities.

*Fennel is a well-known plant, and its leaves are gathered about June for drying. Independent of its table use, an infusion or tea may be made of its leaves, a teaspoonful now and then of this being useful in many forms of indigestion.

*Tarragon is easy of cultivation, and if grown on a dry soil is quite hardy. It may be dried as other herbs, or a deliciously flavoured vinegar may be made from the leaves. If the latter is wished, they must be gathered before coming into bloom, and steeped in vinegar for a fortnight in a jug. Fermentation takes place, and it is then strained through flannel, a little isinglass added, and bottled.

The well-known *elder tree is a shrub which is to be found in hedges, and from its flowers or berries many useful articles are made. I may mention one or two. *Elder flower ointment, for instance, is a very nice cooling application  for the skin when red and irritated. The fresh flowers of the elder are simply boiled in the purest lard until crisp, the whole is then strained through a linen cloth, and the ointment thus obtained is poured into stone jars. It has to be kept in a cool place. *Elder flower vinegar is a nice cooling adjunct to the toilet, but of this and of *elder flower water I hope to have the opportunity of writing another day, as well as about other harmless luxuries  for the dressing-room. I might tell you how to make elder-berry wine, but would sooner you should apply to the other "doctor" – the cook.

*Parsley cannot always be got fresh. It possesses medicinal qualities of great value, for it not only stimulates digestion but cools and purifies the blood. It is best gathered in July for powdering.

*Sage – This is a well-known garden herb, and one of great utility. Like the domestic cat, it is too well-known to need description. Again I refer you to the other "doctor" to describe its table use; be it mine to inform you of its curative properties. The tea is made as ordinary tea from the dried leaves, and is useful as a stomachic or aid to digestion, and also as an astringent tonic. The smaller leaves only should be used. A large handful of sage leaves may be boiled in a pint of water until it is reduced to half-a-pint. This makes a nice cooling gargle in sore throats, and surely so simple a remedy should be more often used, for, you see, it is always at hand, which a physician is not.

*Peppermint – Three kinds are usually employed. The vinegar of mint is thus made:- Any large open-mouthed bottle is filled with leaves, covered up with vinegar, and left for three weeks ere it is strained off.  Peppermint is a valuable stimulating stomachic. Chewing the young green leaves, while in the kitchen garden, is often sufficient in itself to restore an absent appetite.

The herb called wormwood is a much more valuable tonic and appetiser, in my opinion, than many imagine. I will tell you how to make a tincture of it. Weigh half an ounce of the dried herbs – get it from a chemist's – and cut it fine. This is kept for a week in a bottle containing six ounces of what druggists call proof spirit; it is then squeezed through muslin or fine linen, and afterwards filtered. It is a good thing to know how to filter such preparations as these. The plan is very simple. A common funnel used in filling bottles is placed in a wide-mouthed glass vessel, say a pickle bottle. You must next prepare a piece of blotting paper, so that it will just fit the inside of the top part of the funnel. Fold the paper in the centre twice on its own length, you can then easily form a filter to fit the funnel, which will have three thicknesses of paper at one side and one on the other. You do not tear a hole in the bottom, the liquor makes its way through the blotting paper and drops slowly into the receiver. The dose of the tincture of wormwood is a small teaspoonful or less in a little water twice or thrice daily.

*Dandelion is usually looked upon as a mere weed, but it is a very valuable one indeed, for not only are the young and tender leaves delicious and wholesome when used in a salad, or even as a salad with cheese, but it has a mild yet efficient action on the liver; and even young people's livers are apt to be out of order at times The roots are used medicinally. You may prepare the juice, or wine, I' following way: - First dig your roots clean, and well wash them, cut them in pieces, and put them in a mortar, then well bruise them to extract the juice, and having strained it off, and having measured it, add a third of its bulk of rectified spirits of wine. (Do not make a mistake and put methylated spirits.) It must stand for a week before it is filtered. The dose is about thirty drops three times a day. The decoction of dandelion ma thus be prepared: - Boil an ounce of fresh sliced dandelion root in a pint of water until it is reduced to half a pint; having strained it, add thereto an ounce of the compound tincture of horseradish, and the same quantity of the compound tincture of oranges, and your decoction is complete. The dose is two or three tablespoonfuls thrice a day. *Memo – I only order safe doses, and rather under than over the quantity needed for a girl from twelve to fifteen. Girls under this age should not physic themselves, nor anyone else. A good remedy for anyone who is troubled with biliousness is dandelion tea. You make it thus:- Take of dandelion root, bruised, one ounce. This is to be boiled for ten minutes in a pint of water; pour it off, and add boiling water to make up to a pint. A small wineglassful may be taken three times a day.

*Chamomile – This is one of the most useful herbs that ever grew. I have hardly space to tell of all its virtues, whether it be applied externally as in a poultice, or decoction, or taken internally. It is best used internally in the form of tea. I give its recipe as under:- Take of the flowers one ounce, of bruised ginger one ounce, of boiling water one pint, and a few cloves. Infuse this in an earthenware teapot for half an hour, and when cold your tea is ready. The dose is one or two tablespoonfuls three times a day. If a decoction is wanted for an inflamed surface omit the ginger and cloves, and boil for an hour. I can earnestly recommend chamomile tea to young weakly girls with little appetite, and if they take from five to fifteen drops of tincture of iron three times a day at the same time, much good is sure to accrue.

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