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The sooterkin dissected. : In a letter to John Maubray, M.D. alias Dr. Giovanni. Wherein is clearly prov'd, I. That there never was such an animal in the world. II. That God never made it. III. That the Devil cannot make it. IV. That it is impudence to assert it. V. That it is stupidity to believe it. VI. That it is a mere fiction of his own brain. VII. That it is contrary to the opinion of the most learned physicians and philosophers in our days, who maintain the truth of univocal generation.
Paeonia officinalis L. Paeoniaceae, European Peony, Distribution: Europe. The peony commemorates Paeon, physician to the Gods of ancient Greece (Homer’s Iliad v. 401 and 899, circa 800 BC). Paeon, came to be associated as being Apollo, Greek god of healing, poetry, the sun and much else, and father of Aesculapius/Asclepias. Theophrastus (circa 300 BC), repeated by Pliny, wrote that if a woodpecker saw one collecting peony seed during the day, it would peck out one’s eyes, and (like mandrake) the roots had to be pulled up at night by tying them to the tail of a dog, and one’s ‘fundament might fall out’ [anal prolapse] if one cut the roots with a knife. Theophrastus commented ‘all this, however, I take to be so much fiction, most frivolously invented to puff up their supposed marvellous properties’. Dioscorides (70 AD, tr. Beck, 2003) wrote that 15 of its black seeds, drunk with wine, were good for nightmares, uterine suffocation and uterine pains. Officinalis indicates it was used in the offices, ie the clinics, of the monks in the medieval era. The roots, hung round the neck, were regarded as a cure for epilepsy for nearly two thousand years, and while Galen would have used P. officinalis, Parkinson (1640) recommends the male peony (P. mascula) for this. He also recommends drinking a decoction of the roots. Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal (1737), published by the College of Physicians, explains that it was used to cure febrile fits in children, associated with teething. Although she does not mention it, these stop whatever one does. Parkinson also reports that the seeds are used for snake bite, uterine bleeding, people who have lost the power of speech, nightmares and melancholy. Photographed in the Medicinal Garden of the Royal College of Physicians, London.
- Dr Henry Oakeley