A Macabre Medley of Medical Ministrations

A Macabre Medley of Medical Ministrations

As a special halloween treat, or perhaps trick, I thought we would look at a macabre medley of medical ministrations! Some of the gory ancient medical treatments in the search for good health!

First up, mind your brain…

A Macabre Medley of Medical Ministrations
crankshaft for trepanation from St Lizier apothecary

There is centuries of evidence of our ancestors boring into skulls (trepanation).

Many theories abound as to why this was done. While some consider a ritualistic cause the general belief is medical intervention.

Seems likely this was for pain relief perhaps following trauma. A release of pressure from headaches and other neurological conditions such as epileptic convulsions.

Creepy crawly blood suckers …

Any Outlander fans, of books or TV series, may remember Jamie Fraser bloodied and battered, after taking punishment for Laoghaire at Castle Leoch. Mrs Fitz brought leeches for reducing swelling. She pointed out to Claire they were of no use after the bruising has set.

Although the above is a fictional account, leeches were used. Most commonly utilised in cleaning wounds to avoid infection.

Oil of what for sciatica ??

A Macabre Medley of Medical Ministrations
old oil jars from St Lizier apothecary

I learnt of one ancient treatment, which I found particularly horrific, at the apothecary of St Lizier.

This treatment, utilised to treat sciatica, contained dog oil and 500 g of worms marinated in hot oil.

The dog oil recipe contained four small puppies! In the image of the old oil jars you can just see to the left the word ‘chien’. The jar reads ‘H. de chien’ translating as oil of dog. Poor puppies. I cannot imagine this treatment of worms and puppies provided any benefit to the sciatica patient. Certainly no life for the poor puppies or indeed, the worms!

Thankfully the above treatments have fallen out of favour.

New Orleans Pharmacy Museum – an eclectic exhibit

New Orleans Pharmacy Museum

New Orleans Pharmacy MuseumI have written previously about my visit to New Orleans and Voodoo. Looking through some old photographs recently reminded me of this trip. The photographs included in this post are from an enjoyable visit to the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum seven years ago.
New Orleans Pharmacy Museum

I do love visiting old pharmacies and seeing all the old herb bottles and jars and drawers and accoutrements.

The one in New Orleans was a wonderful example. In true New Orleans style some Voodoo potions are included in the exhibits. Should you ever visit New Orleans the pharmacy museum is well worth a visit.

There were many things I enjoyed about the museum. Especially relevant, the information on plants and herbs was of particular interest to me.

This settler’s quote from 1760 mentions ginseng and sarsaparilla. Nowadays, both plants well-known and in use by European herbalists, particularly ginseng. At the time, sarsaparilla would have been less well-known in the UK. It is a woody vine from the Smilax genus. Found growing in southern Europe and throughout Asia.

The ginseng mentioned here is probably Panax quinquefolius or American ginseng. In Europe P. ginseng, the Asian or Chinese ginseng, is more popular. However, in 1760 ginseng would have been relatively unknown in European medicine.

New Orleans Pharmacy Museum

In addition, I enjoyed reading the botanical magic and superstitions. There are many ticks in the forests in this area in France. How-in-ever, I doubt very much I would fancy walking around with a piece of fennel in my right shoe. That would be a little too uncomfortable, I fear!

However, I may source a dollar bill to wrap around a horse chestnut next time I fear my winter EDF electricity bill hitting my postbox.

New Orleans Pharmacy Museum

Four Robbers Vinegar and Secret Ingredients

Four Robbers Vinegar and Secret Ingredients

four robbers vinegar and secret ingredients
St Lizier apothecary

I have previously written about my visit to the wonderful ancient pharmacy of St Lizier. The guide for the apothecary had many tales to tell. One of the apothecary anecdotes refers to the famous four robbers vinegar and secret ingredients.

The story goes thus …

It was the time of a plague. A highly contagious, epidemic disease with a high degree of mortality. Characterised by high fever, often with delirium, swollen lymph nodes and infectious lungs.

Any unfortunate soul found dead during this plague had their body stripped by the four robbers.

Bizarrely the thieves never fell ill with this highly contagious disease!

Eventually the Sisters discovered the thieves’ identity. Following capture, their sentence was death. However, in exchange for their freedom they were asked to divulge their secret for plague protection.

And so, the four robbers secret ingredients?

Four Robbers Vinegar and Secret Ingredients

Their secret was a strong smelling remedy of five medicinal plants in vinegar.

Those famous plague prevention plants ?

Thyme, rosemary, lavender, mint and sage.

I am not sure if they drank this remedy or covered their skin and clothing in it. Perhaps a combination of the two?

All five plants grow wonderfully well in this region. A wonderful story. So it seems the four robbers vinegar and secret ingredients is no longer quite so secret.

Artemisia or Salvia smudge sticks to cleanse and purify

Artemisia or Salvia smudge sticks to cleanse and purify …

Smudging and Smudge Sticks

Artemisia or Salvia smudge sticks

Many sources consider smudging an ancient tradition of indigenous American Indians. Some believe smudging was just as prevalent in ancient European cultures too.

The idea of smudging is to burn herbs to produce a smoke, no flame, to cleanse and purify. They have many uses. Some utilise them to cleanse rooms, homes or buildings. Others to cleanse and purify the aura or in meditation.

Artemisia or Salvia Smudge Sticks

Smudge sticks known as ‘sage smudge sticks’ are most popular. You will always find these sticks for sale in new age stores. Sometimes white sage (Salvia apiana) is utilised in these sticks. However, it is more often a species of Artemisia and not, botanically speaking, a true sage speciesSeveral different Artemisia species are used.

Artemisia or Salvia smudge sticksArtemisia californica more commonly known as sagebrush apparently has aromatic sage-like foliage. Another species, is A. tridentata or big sagebrush. Perhaps the name ‘sage’ stuck due to the common names rather than scientific.

Another species commonly called California mugwort is Artemisia douglasiana. Occasionally utilised in smudge sticks. Known as mugwort or black sage smudge sticks. 

A newsletter from the Aromatic Plant Project suggest the common name for A. douglasiana is blue or green sage. They mention the herb for smudge sticks too. However, they add use ceremonially in sweat lodges.

The three Artemisia species, mentioned above, and Salvia apiana grow in North America. Of course, it is possible some of these plants were included in indigenous American Indian sacred ceremonies.

in the UK …
Artemisia or Salvia smudge sticks
Mugwort – Artemisia vulgaris

The common mugwort growing in the UK, and indeed here in the Aude, is Artemisia vulgaris. There are many ancient superstitions around it. Travellers carried it to ward of fatigue, wild beasts and evil spirits in the middle ages.

Often considered a herb of magic. A favoured ingredient for dream pillows. In addition a popular smudging herb for clearing negative or stuck energy. Best gathered on a full moon apparently, particularly in June, if using for visions.

Finally, you can make your own smudge sticks and choose any herbs you like. So what would be your preference Artemisia or Salvia smudge sticks ? Perhaps you prefer other plants, like purifying rosemary ?

The Surgery of Davie Beaton the Outlander Castle Leoch Healer

The Surgery of Davie Beaton the Outlander Castle Leoch Healer

In the first Outlander book, and the first TV series, Claire is taken by Colum MacKenzie to Davie Beaton’s dank surgery. The surgery is located in the basement of fictional Castle Leoch.

Last we saw of Claire in the TV show she had returned to her own time. With less than a month until Season 3 of the popular series airs, one wonders if Claire shall return to Castle Leoch at any point in the future, or should I say past!

In Season 1 Claire makes many interesting discoveries in the surgery of Davie Beaton and not all of them useful.

Davie Beaton’s Patient Log Book

It seems Davie Beaton, in life, was unfortunately not the best healer. Incidentally, he died of fever.

On browsing his log book, Claire reads an entry for a female patient with a thumb injury. Sarah had the misfortune of catching her thumb in a spinning wheel.

The Surgery of Davie Beaton
Yarrow – Achillea millefolium

Treatment involved application of boiled pennyroyal followed by a poultice of one part each of yarrow, St John’s wort, ground slaters and mouse-ear. This combination was mixed in a base of fine clay.

The first two are reasonable choices. Yarrow stanches bleeding. St John’s wort aids wound healing.

However, it is not entirely clear if the last ingredient refers to a plant or not. Cerastium fontanum is a type of chickweed. Commonly called mouse-ear. However, Hieracium pilosella, from the same family as the common dandelion, is commonly known as hawkweed and also mouse ear.

The fictitious treatment of Sarah may well have included one of these two herbs. H. pilosella was indeed traditionally utilised as an astringent, albeit more frequently as an expectorant. It had use in treatment of whooping cough.

Unfortunately, it is also possible the recipe actually means a mouse ear! What is certain? That third ingredient of ground woodlice is definitely not of plant origin!

Consequently the treatment was unsuccessful. Although some potential beneficial herbs in the treatment regime it was seriously in need of a powerful antiseptic and strict hygiene would have been paramount and highly unlikely in poor Sarah’s case.

Davie Beaton’s Recipe Book

In addition the discovery of a book of recipes included some further bizarre and obscure remedies.

A recipe for headache recommended drying one ball of horse dung and pounding this to a powder. The resulting powder mixed in hot ale. Surely that would give you a headache rather than cure it. Perhaps the smell made one vomit. As a result of which there may have been some relief if a digestive headache or migraine.

The recipe for treating children with convulsions was five leeches behind the ear. Poor kids.

Another recipe for jaundice used decoctions of roots of celandine and turmeric. Seems reasonable. However, the addition of the juice of 200 slaters not so much! Beneficial as plant medicines. However, the cause of the jaundice would need sought for best treatment. And the inclusion of the juice of 200 woodlice – erm?

Supplies in the Surgery of Davie Beaton

The Surgery of Davie Beaton
Wormwood – Artemisia absinthium

There were many jars and vials. While some of the jars contained useful ingredients such as angelica, rosemary and wormwood. Others contained dried toads packed in moss, dried snails, oil of earthworms and, of course, horse dung and slaters!

As a result, Claire certainly had her work cut out finding the useful remedies in that surgery.

 

St Lizier Apothecary in the Ariege Department

St Lizier Apothecary in the Ariege Department

The History of the St Lizier Apothecary

St Lizier Apothecary Recently on a visit to a neighbouring department Ariege, I visited an 18th century apothecary in St Lizier. The hospital was funded by a wealthy bishop with a personal fortune. The Sisters of Nevers became the nurses.

The Sisters of Nevers were from a religious institute founded in 1680 to minister to the sick and poor. In St Lizier they took in the sick and wounded, beggars and elderly.

In addition they took in abandoned children. A special opening remains visible to the left of the hospital main entrance. The abandoned baby entrance. After baptism, every child took the surname DeDieu, meaning from God. Apparently a common surname in the area to this day.

The St Lizier Apothecary

St Lizier apothecaryThe Apothecary was a step back in time to 1764. It is quite small. The woodwork is from fruit trees, I believe it was pear and cherry trees.

Behind the glass doors are shelves for jars and vials, liquid contents. Furthermore there are 50 drawers for storing dried herbs. Each drawer numbered with a copper plate. Hence some of the drawers still had labels inside detailing the original contents. The example in the image (slideshow below) is guimauve or Althea officinalis. The English common name is marshmallow.

Behind the glass fronted doors there are a wide of array of glass vials and jars and ceramic pots. Often the contents are on the container. For example ‘H. de Chamomille’ is oil of chamomile. Those with ‘H’ is for huile whereas ‘S’ is for syrup. There are also aromatic waters for example ‘Eau de Menthe’ is peppermint aromatic water.

Other cabinets contained ceramic pots, no doubt used for storing unguents. The small ceramic dishes, like odd shaped egg cups, are eye baths.

Interestingly I assumed the ceramic canards (ducks in English) probably containers for treating the nasal cavity for infections. However, the guide described them as possibly early beakers for giving medicines to weak, infirm or children.

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Although a short tour, at around 20 minutes, it was extremely interesting. Furthermore, St Lizier itself is very beautiful. In conclusion, a wonderful way to spend a morning, particularly with a visit to the St Lizier apothecary.

Some medicinal plant photographs from the garden …

Some medicinal plant photographs from the garden …

 

Some medicinal plant photographs from the garden
lemon balm

It has been an extremely dry summer so far. Very little rain. My poor garden has been struggling this year and I fear I shall have some losses…

The beautiful icy pink of Althea officinalis (marshmallow) flowers were quite beautiful but they are now fading fast in the hot summer sun. A fabulous cooling herb. Both leaf and root have medicinal virtues.

Atropa belladonna better known as deadly nightshade has now changed from her flowers, initially to the green berry, and now covered in those shiny black berries.

Last year Artemisia absinthium (wormwood) succumbed to black fly. With the help of some ladybirds, lady Artemisia survived. This year she has not grown so tall and bushy. Next year I hope she will strengthen for harvesting. I do love her silvery foliage. An excellent digestive remedy, and not just for worms! Talking of lady Artemisia, I have both southernwood and mugwort growing in the garden too.

My golden Solidago canadensis initially coped admirably with the hot sun and glowed just as bright. Solidago virgurea looks a little different. Both commonly known as goldenrod and medicinal uses are interchangeable. A wonderful ally for the urinary tract.

Stacys betonica was quite stunning in June. Such beauty inspired me to post a plant profile. I often return to plant profiles to add some more thoughts or findings. I’m sure this is one I shall frequently return to update.

and so on to the images …

All images taken over June and July. Some medicinal plant photographs from the garden …

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Death by Gold Ring – Pretty Poisonous Potion!

Death by Gold Ring

Death by Gold Ring
Inverary Castle

On a brief trip to Scotland last week, I visited Inverary Castle. A cousin was visiting from Australia and he was keen to visit the ancestral home of the chief of the Clan Campbell.

Although the site of an earlier castle, certainly since the 1400’s, building began on this particular castle in 1743. There are some later additions. The conical roofs of the corner towers are such an addition from 1877.

I personally have always thought this particular building more French château than Scottish castle. The interior continues this theme with French-influenced rooms with Beauvais tapestries. The castle also boasts paintings by French artists Girard and Guinand.

However, for me, I found two particular pieces most fascinating. One was a rubbing stone and the other a poison ring!

Rubbing Stone

Death by Gold RingThe rubbing stone, as you can see, apparently cured colic.

Of course, in some cases a mild colic benefits from a gentle massage, or rubbing, over the tummy area. Perhaps in some cases the rubbing stone was helpful! I can think on several much more effective digestion remedies though.

Poison Ring

Death by Gold RingI would have loved a closer look at the poison ring but unfortunately it was safely stored within the glass display cabinet.

The particular example in the castle is Italian but it seems these were quite popular throughout Europe in the 16th century.

Any fans of singer, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, may remember she used a poison ring to eliminate some of her competitors in the Murder on the Dance Floor video. A lady determined to win that dance competition.

Downtown Abbey

The castle may look familiar to Downtown Abbey fans. The Christmas 2012 episode was filmed in and around Inverary Castle. It served as the fictional Duneagle Castle. Duneagle Castle was the home of cousins young Lady Rose and her parents. Thankfully there was no death by gold ring in that episode!

Elderflower Cordial, Wine or Liqueur ?

Eldeelderflower cordial, wine or liqueurrflower Cordial, Wine or Liqueur ?

Elderflowers are in full beautiful bloom. My mind is currently a spinning wondering what delicacies I can make. Do I opt for more tincture or elderflower cordial, wine or liqueur?

Incidentally I cannot abide the smell of elderflowers. In saying that, they are still one of my favourite trees to see in bloom at this time of year. The medicinal virtues far outweigh my dislike for the smell.

Earlier in the month I posted a basic tincture recipe. An easily adapted recipe for other medicinal plants. However, I suggested collecting and drying elderflowers. Ideal to keep as a winter tonic to boost immunity or a hay fever tonic for next spring.

Now I am wondering should I make elderflower cordial, wine or liqueur?

Non alcoholic versus alcoholic I hear you ask?

The Drunken Botanist

And so on to my dilemma.

Anyone knowing me, or even following my blogs, know I LOVE books. So pondering what to do with all the beautiful elderflowers I turned to one of my books – The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart.

Anyone for Sambuca?

My best friend Sharon has always enjoyed a Sambuca after a meal. She believes it helps her digestion. Sambucus nigra is the scientific name for the elderflower tree. Although this thought had crossed my mind I did not realise any part of the plant was an ingredient. Anyone having tried Sambuca will probably agree it is a more aniseed based flavour.

However, in The Drunken Botanist, Amy explains that although artificial flavours and colours are occasionally used some black sambucas actually owe that deep purple-black colour to the crushed skins of the elderberries. So there we have it.

… and back to my dilemma…

Everyone loves a bit of elderflower wine or liqueur. But you don’t always want the alcohol. Sometimes you have to work, write blogs or prepare herbal events!

Amy’s elderflower cordial sounds absolutely delicious. One obvious difficulty for me is she recommends gathering those fresh flowers on a warm afternoon when THAT fragrance is strongest. Oh dear!

 

Voodoo and New Orleans Spells with Herbs

Voodoo and New Orleans Spells

Some years back I was lucky enough to visit New Orleans. A fabulous fun place of blues and jazz. In addition, and right up my street, there are fascinating weird and wonderful herbs and voodoo and New Orleans spells. In fact it is one of the most enjoyable places I have been fortunate enough to visit. Blues, jazz, voodoo, weird and wonderful herbs and fascinating characters – what’s not to like?

Cemeteries and Voodoo

I was there at Halloween so partook in a Cemetery and Voodoo trip. We met at a French cafe. The guide was an entrancing character full of interesting anecdotes with long hair of a similar length and colour to my own. He commented on this to which I replied “Yes, grey”. I still laugh when I hear in my head his response in that New Orleans southern drawl

No honey youse and me just natural platinum blonds.

Voodoo and New Orleans spellsOn the cemetery tour we visited the future pyramidal tomb of actor Nicholas Cage and the tomb of the legendary Marie Laveau, the voodoo priestess.

The tour ended with a visit to a present day, and living, voodoo priestess. I was in a group of perhaps a dozen people. She singled me out asking where I was from. I have to confess I was somewhat unsure what she was going on about but I think she liked me and I had no intention of upsetting a voodoo priestess so happily agreed with whatever she said.

At the end of the trip I felt obliged to purchase some items from her spellbinding wares of herbs, voodoo and New Orleans spells. This brings me on to the focus for this post as one of the items I purchased was a modern herbal spell book!

Tidying the bookcase…

We’ve had some tremendous heat, in the 30’s, this last 10 days or so. This is quite high for this time of year and the garden has required watering most days particularly my small vegetable patch. My water butts for rainwater harvesting are very low.

While tidying my bookcase I came across my New Orleans purchase. Tidying the bookcase is often a lengthy process as I invariably come across a book I haven’t read for sometime and the tidying gets forgotten about for another few hours, days or weeks… and so the book…

Voodoo and New Orleans spells

And so to a make rain spell…

Quite apt for my poor draining water butts I thought!

  • Fill a large pan with water and add a handful each of sulphur, sea wrack and valerian.
  • As you put in each of the ingredients repeat the passage from Deuteronomy 11:14.

I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil.

This spell should be performed on a Monday, the day ruled by the Moon which is the planet controlling weather.

So there you have if it. Should you ever require a bit of rain you could always try the above spell, on a Monday. Good luck.