The small Shepherd's Purse (Bursa Capsella Pastoris) is one of the most common of wayside English weeds. The name Capsella signifies a little box, in allusion to the seed pods. It is a Cruciferous plant, made familiar by the diminutive pouches, or flattened pods at the end of its branching stems.
Several Herbal Simples go by the name of Selfheal among our wild hedge plants, more especially the Sanicle, the common Prunella, and the Bugle.
Of the more ordinary Sea Weeds (cryptogamous, or flowerless plants) some few are edible, though sparingly nutritious, whilst curative and medicinal virtues are attributed to several others, as Irish Moss, Scotch Dulse, Sea Tang, and the Bladderwrack.
The Sea Holly (Eryngium maritimum), or Sea Hulver, is a well-known prickly sea-green plant, growing in the sand on many parts of our coasts, or on stony ground, with stiff leaves, and roots which run to a great length among the sand, whilst charged with a sweetish juice.
A manufactory for making candied roots of the Sea Holly was established at Colchester, by Robert Burton, an apothecary, in the seventeenth century, as they were considered both antiscorbutic, and excellent for health.
This Scurvy Grass has the botanical name Cochlearia, or, in English, Spoonwort, so named from its leaves resembling in shape the bowl of an old-fashioned spoon. It is supposed to be the famous Herba Britannica of the ancients. Our great navigators have borne unanimous testimony to its never-failing value in scurvy; and it has been justly noticed that the plant grows most plentifully in altitudes where scurvy is specially troublesome and frequent.
The Schalot, or Eschalotte, is another variety of the onion tribe, which was introduced into England by the Crusaders, who found it growing at Ascalon. And Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are an ever green perennial herb of the onion tribe, having only a mild, alliaceous flavour. Epicures consider the Schalot to be the best seasoning for beef steaks, either by taking the actual bulb, or by rubbing the plates therewith.
Savin, the Juniper Savin (Sabina), or Saffern, was known of old as the "Devil's Tree," and the "Magician's Cypress," because much affected by witches and sorcerers when working their spells.
Samphire, of the true sort, is a herb difficult to be gathered, because it grows only out of the crevices of lofty perpendicular rocks which cannot be easily scaled. This genuine Samphire (Crithmum maritimum) is a small plant, bearing yellow flowers in circular umbels on the tops of the stalks, which flowers are followed by seeds like those of the Fennel, but larger.
A well-known monkish line about it ran to this effect: Cur moriatur homo cui Salvia crescit in horto? "Why should a man die whilst Sage grows in his garden?" And even at this time, in many parts of England, the following piece of advice is carefully adopted every year: "He that would live for aye Must eat Sage in May."
The fabled origin of the Saffron plant ran thus. A certain young man named Crocus went to play at quoits in a field with Mercurie, when the quoit of his companion happened by misfortune to hit him on the head, whereby, before long, he died, to the great sorrow of his friends. Finally, in the place where he had bled, Saffron was found to be growing: whereupon, the people, seeing the colour of the chine as it stood, adjusted it to come of the blood of Crocus, and therefore they gave it his name.
The true Rushes (Juncaceoe) include the Soft Rush (effusus); the Hard Rush (glaucus); and the Common Rush (conglomeratus). The Bulrush (Pool Rush) is a Sedge; the Club Rush is a Typha; and the flowering Rush, a Butomus.
This herb was further termed of old "Herb of Grace" as well as "Serving men's joy," because of the multiplicity of common ailments which it was warranted to cure. Rue constituted a chief ingredient of the famous antidote of Mithridates to poisons, the formula of which was found by Pompey in the satchel of the conquered King.
It was usual to burn Rosemary in the chambers of the sick, just as was formerly done with frankincense, which gave the Greeks occasion to call the Rosemary Libanotis. In the French language of flowers this herb represents the power of rekindling lost energy. "The flowers of Rosemary," says an old author, "made up into plates (lozenges), with sugar, and eaten, comfort the heart, and make it merry, quicken the spirits, and make them more lively."
Certain curative properties are possessed both by the Briar Rose, or wild Dog Rose of our country hedges, and by the cultivated varieties of this queen of flowers in our Roseries. The word Rose means red, from the Greek rodon, connected also with rota, a wheel, which resembles the outline of a Rose.
The custom of throwing a shower of Rice after and over a newly married couple is very old, though wheat was at first the chosen grain as an augury of plenty. The bride wore a garland of ears of corn in the time of Henry the Eighth.
Our Garden Rhubarb is a true Dock, and belongs to the "many-kneed," buckwheat order of plants. Its brilliant colouring is due to varying states of its natural pigment (chlorophyll), in combination with oxygen. For culinary purposes the stalk, or petiole of the broad leaf, is used.
The Raspberry (Rubus Idoeus) occurs wild plentifully in the woods of Scotland, where children gather the fruit early in summer. It is also found growing freely in some parts of England--as in the Sussex woods--and bearing berries of as good a quality as that of the cultivated Raspberry, though not so large in size.
The term Ragwort, or Ragweed, is a corruption of Ragewort, as expressing its supposed stimulating effects on the sexual organs. For the same reason the pommes d'amour (Love Apples, or Tomatoes) are sometimes called Rage apples.
Radishes were celebrated by Dioscorides and Pliny as above all roots whatsoever, insomuch, that in the Delphic temple there was a Radish of solid gold, raphanus ex auro dicatus: and Moschinus wrote a whole volume in their praise; but Hippocrates condemned them as vitiosas, innatantes, acoegre concoctiles.
The Quince may well be included among remedial Herbal Simples because of the virtues possessed by the seeds within the fruit. The tree is a native of Persia and Crete; bearing a pear-shaped fruit, golden yellow when gathered, and with five cells in it, each containing twelve closely packed seeds. These are mucilaginous when unbroken, and afford the taste of bitter almonds.
When immersed in water they swell up considerably, and the mucilage will yield salts of lime with albumen.