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Pulsatilla vulgaris Mill. Ranunculaceae. Pasque flower. Distribution: Europe. Lindley (1838) and Woodville (1790) knew this as Anemone pulsatilla, the common name being Pasque (Easter) Flower. At the end of the 18th century it was recommended for blindness, cataracts, syphilis, strokes and much more, treatments which, as was clear to physicians at the time, were valueless. Gerard (1633) writes: ‘They serve only for the adorning of gardens and garlands, being floures of great beauty’. It is in the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae, all members of which are poisonous. It was recommended, by mouth, for ‘obstinate case of taenia’ (tapeworms). One hopes it was more toxic to the worm than the patient. Flowers with a central disc and radiating florets were regarded as being good for eye complaints under the Doctrine of Signatures. Porta (1588) writes (translated): ‘Argemone [Papaver argemone], and anemone, have flowers of this shape, from this they cure ulcers and cloudiness of the cornea’. There were occupational diseases even before there were words like pneumoconiosis, and Lindley writes that ‘the powder of the root causes itching of the eyes, colic and vomiting, if in pulverising it the operator do not avoid the fine dust which is driven up.’ Photographed in the Medicinal Garden of the Royal College of Physicians, London.
- Dr Henry Oakeley
Tragopogon pratensis L. Asteraceae Goats beard, Salsify, Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon. Distribution: Europe and North America. This is the Tragopogion luteum or Yellow Goats-beard of Gerard (1633) who recommended them boiled until tender and then buttered as being more delicious than carrots and parsnips and very nutritious for those sick from a long lingering disease. Boiled in wine they were a cure for a 'stitch' in the side. In the USA children collect the milky sap onto a piece of glass and, when dry, chew it as bubble-gum. The name 'Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon' referes to the flowers which close at noon and the spherical radiation of seed plumules which then appear. Salsify is now applied as a name for T. porrifolius and Scorzonera hispanica. Photographed in the Medicinal Garden of the Royal College of Physicians, London.
- Dr Henry Oakeley