This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
Charles Lamb pronounced, "It might sweeten a man's temper at any time to read the Compleal Angler." Conserves of Lavender were served at table in Gerarde's day. This fragrant herb is hostile by its powerful aromatic odour to pestilent flies, fleas, and other such troublesome insects which assail the person. Even, say the Reliquice Antiquce, "Flys populum Domini coedunt "
- "Fleas afflict the people of the Lord!" It is told on good authority that the lions, and tigers, in our Zoological Gardens are strangely affected by the smell of Lavender, and become docile under its influence. A tea brewed of moderate strength from Lavender tops is excellent for relieving headache from fatigue, or exhaustion; also to mop the temples with Lavender water. Again, for palsied limbs, friction with a spirit of Lavender will powerfully stimulate towards restoring the use thereof. "It profiteth them much," says Gerarde, "that have the palsy if they be washed with the distilled water from the Lavender flowers, or are anointed with the oil made from the flowers, and olive oil, in such manner as the oil of Roses is used".
"In each bright drop there is a spell, 'Tis from the soil we love so well, From English gardens won".
Fifty-six pounds of Lavender will yield exactly one pound of the liquid perfume.
Another favourite pot herb grown in the kitchen garden is Sweet Marjoram, of which the generic title Origanum signifies "Joy of the mountains." This plant furnishes an essential, fragrant, volatile oil which is cordial, warming, and tonic. "Organ," says Gerarde, "is very good against the wambling of the stomacke, and stayeth the desire to vomit, especially at sea. It may be used to good purpose for such as cannot brooke their meate." Externally the herb has been successfully employed against scirrhous tumours of the breast. Murray writes: "Tumores mammarum dolentes scirrhosos herba recens. viridis, per tempus applicata, feliciter dissipavit." The essential oil, when long kept, assumes a solid form, and was at one time much esteemed for being rubbed into stiff joints. A tea brewed from the fresh herb will relieve headache of a nervous hysterical nature.
Several kinds of the Mints have been used medicinally from the earliest times, such as Pennyroyal, Peppermint, and Spearmint; each of which, though growing wild in wet and marshy wastes, is cultivated in our herb gardens for kitchen purposes. Their flowering tops are all found to contain a certain portion of camphor. The Mint plant was -eaten gaily of old, with many a joke, because said to have been originally a pretty girl metamorphosed by Persephone. The Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) was formerly known as Pudding grass, from being used in making stuffing for meat, in days when such stuffing was called a pudding.
"Let the corporal Come sweating under a breast of mutton stuffed with pudding".
Treadwell tells that the Pennyroyal was especially put into hogs' puddings, which were composed of flour, with currants, and spices, stuffed into the entrail of a hog. The fresh herb Pennyroyal yields about 1 per cent of a volatile oil containing oxygen, with other diffusible matters. Folk talk in Devonshire of "Organ broth," and "Organ tea," which are much in favour with women. The oil of Pennyroyal, if applied externally, will promptly relieve severe neuralgic pain. Dryden, in Ovid's Metamorphoses, writes to this effect: -
"They rubbed it o'er with newly-gathered mint, A wholesome herb that breathed a grateful scent".
"Organ tay," say the Devonshire peasants, "sweentened wi' 'oney is a cabbical cure vur a cold ef yu putt'th a drap ov zometheng short in't." "Hillwort" was another old name of the herb.
Our table Mustard, which flanks English roast beef, and other rich viands, is made from the seeds of a herb originally wild on waste places in this country, but now cultivated, the Sinapis, both black, and white. It is the black Mustard which yields the condiment of the mustard pot, and the pungent yellow flour which we employ for the familiar stimulating poultice, or sinapism. The virtues of this black Mustard depend on an acrid volatile oil comprised in the seeds, which is combined with an active principle containing sulphur abundantly; as shown by the discoloration of a silver spoon if left in contact with Mustard made for the table, a black sulphuret of silver being formed. The chemical basis is "sinnigrin," with myronic acid. The acridity of the oil is modified in the seeds by being combined with another fixed oil of a bland nature which can be readily separated by pressure, and which will promote the growth of hair if employed as a mild pomade; it may be used also externally with friction for relieving rheumatic stiffness of muscles.
Mustard flour is a capital antiseptic, and sterilizing agent. Admixture with vinegar will check the development of pungency in Mustard made for the table, so that this practice is now discontinued. Probably the Romans, who were great eaters of Mustard seed, pounded, and steeped in new wine (mustum), brought the condiment with them to our shores, and first taught the ancient Britons how to prepare it. For obstinate hiccough a teacupful of boiling water should be poured on a teaspoonful of Mustard flour, and taken as promptly as may be, half at first, and the other half in ten minutes, if still needed. When an emetic is required for speedy effect, if a tablespoonful of Mustard flour has poured on it a pint of lukewarm water, to be mixed, and taken at a draught, this will operate briskly, and surely. The volatile oil of Mustard flour contains erucic, and sinapoleic acids. A hot Mustard foot-bath serves by the diffusion of this oil around the person to prove soporific by inhalation, whilst the feet also are beneficially stimulated below.
The notion has long prevailed that for preserving one's memory even to an advanced age, nothing is better than Mustard.
Messrs. Keen & Co., the oldest London firm of the Mustard trade, had their place of business as long ago as 1742 at Garlick Hill, or Hythe, the harbour to which garlic, and other such seasonings were brought. Hard by was the church of St. James, who was often represented as a Pilgrim, and whose device in that capacity, a scallop-shell, appears above the church porch. Hence the adoption of this scallop-shell as a trade-mark of the Keen firm. Actual scallop-shells, or metallic imitations of them, were formerly used as scoops by retail dealers in Mustard and spices; it is even said that some specimens of these articles are still to be found in old-fashioned shops kept in out-of-the-way places. Mustard flour is an infallible antiseptic, and sterilizing agent, besides being a capital deodorizer. Black Mustard seed, when bruised, develops a very active pungent principle, with a powerful penetrating odour which makes the eyes water; this principle contains sulphur abundantly. Mustard flour being such a ready deodorizer, if moistened with a little water into a paste has the remarkable property of dispelling the odours of musk, camphor, and the foetid gum resins - turpentine, creosote, asafetida, and such like. "Mustard - the roguish Mustard, dangerous to the nose"- as John Swan has taught in Speculum Mundi (1643) "is marvellous good for the voice of she who would sing clear; but it hath, moreover, another good propertie which must not be forgotten:-