Welsh, Deilen dda, or Deilen ddu dda, Craith unos. - French, Scrophulaire, Herbe du siege. - German, Braunwurtz. - Dutch, Skrofebruid. - Italian, Scrofolaria. - Spanish and Portuguese, Escrofularia. - Russian, Naryschnik.
The fig-worts are not plants of any beauty, yet, when we look closely into their little helmet-shaped blossoms, we find that the colours which appear so dull in the general mass, are in reality clear and well defined, and that therefore - like all things which possess these characteristics - they are not without grace and attractiveness. These colours, in three out of the four English species, are a pale yellow green, bordered and marked with a rich and deep claret; while the remaining species is of a bright yellow, exhibiting, says Sir J. Smith, a close affinity to the Peruvian Calceolaria.
The growth, too, of the tribe is both handsome and characteristic, more especially in the case of the water fig-wort (S. aquatica).
The whole of the fig-worts are described as being foetid and acrid to such an extent as to be refused by cattle, but I have frequently seen cows browsing on the tender shoots of the water fig-wort, even when better pasture was at hand.
Our species (S. nodosa) very closely resembles the aqudtica, but is distinguished by its long, triangular, heart-shaped leaves, which have a purplish brown hue, and by the distinctly square stem, which has merely a slight membranous appearance of a wing at each angle; while the leaves of the S. aqudtica are bluntly oval at the point, of a good clear green, and the stem has very conspicuous wings protruding from its angles. The chief difference, however, lies in the root, which in the S. nodosa is knobbed or knotted, while in all the other species it is fibrous. I have been thus precise in pointing out the means of distinguishing between the two, because the blos-soms so exactly resemble each other; and because the nodosa is the only one of the English species which appears to be really possessed of medicinal properties.
The name of Scrophularia has been derived from the employment of the plant in the cure of scro-fulous complaints; it is now, however, rarely used for this purpose, except in the rustic practice of the peasants of Wales, who hold it in the highest esti-mation for various swellings, boils, and even burns; applying it either in the form of an ointment, or, in simpler cases, merely tying a leaf on the part affected. From their almost unlimited faith in its virtues, it has received the name of Deilen dda, good leaf; or Deilen ddu dda, good black leaf; the latter title alluding to the colour, and corresponding with the English Brown-wort, and the German Braunwurtz.
The high place which it formerly held in the English herbals has been lost; a state of things which was probably in a great degree hastened by the supersti-tious practice, of which Gerarde says; "Divers doe rashly teach, that if it be hanged about the necke, or else carried about one, it keepeth a man in health," And yet that there was equal rashness in entirely banishing it, and classing it with "signature medi-cines" is shewn, not only by what we know of its use in Wales, but also by the fact that an eminent Dublin physician, having lately seen extraordinary relief given by the use of this herb in a skin com-plaint, where his professional skill and care had un-happily proved unavailing, made public the remedy, and by giving it the weight of his sanction and ap-proval, caused its more general, and frequently very successful, employment by the medical profession in similar cases. It has also been internally admi-nistered as a cathartic, but with what benefit I know not.
The root is edible and wholesome; and is said to have for some time formed the sole support of the garrison of Rochelle, during the celebrated siege of that place by Cardinal Richelieu, in the year 1628. From this circumstance arose its French name of Herbe du siege.