This little plant, with its exquisite flowers of celestial blue, grows most familiarly in our hedgerows throughout the Spring, and early Summer. Its brilliant, gemlike blossoms show a border of pale purple, or delicate violet, marked with deeper veins or streaks. But the lovely circlet of petals is most fragile, and falls off at a touch; whence are derived the names Speedwell, Farewell, Good-bye, and Forget-me-not.
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The name Hypericum is derived from the two Greek words, huper eikon, "over an apparition," because of its supposed power to exorcise evil spirits, or influences; whence it was also formerly called Fuga doemoniorum, "the Devil's Scourge," "the Grace of God," "the Lord God's Wonder Plant." and some other names of a like import, probably too, because found to be of curative use against insanity.
The Spearmint (Mentha viridis) is found growing apparently wild in England, but is probably not an indigenous herb. It occurs in watery places, and on the banks of rivers, such as the Thames, and the Exe. If used externally, its strong decoction will heal chaps and indolent eruptions.
Southernwood, or Southern Wormwood is the Artemisia Abrotanum, a Composite plant of the Wormwood tribe, commonly known as "Old Man." Pliny explains that this title is borne because of the plant being a sexual restorative to those in advanced years.
The Arabs understand by Solomon's Seal the figure of a six-pointed star, formed by two equilateral triangles intersecting each other, as frequently mentioned in Oriental tales. Gerard maintains that the name, Sigillum Solomunis, was given to the root "partly because it bears marks something like the stamp of a seal, but still more because of the virtue the root hath in sealing or healing up green wounds, broken bones, and such like, being stamp't and laid thereon."
The Soapworth root has a sweetish bitter taste, but no odour. It contains resin and mucilage, in addition to saponin, which is its leading principle, and by virtue of which decoctions of the root produce a soapy froth. A similar soapy quality is also observed in the leaves, so much so that they have been used by mendicant monks as a substitute for soap in washing their clothes.
Snake Root, Echinacea or Purple Coneflower is a North American perennial that is indigenous to the central plains where it grows on road banks, prairies, fields and in dry, open woods; it belongs to the Aster, or Daisy family. It is called snake root because it grows from a thick black root that Indians used to treat snake bites.
The term Sloe, or Sla, means not the fruit but the hard trunk, being connected with a verb signifying to slay, or strike, probably because the wood of this tree was used as a flail, and nowadays makes a bludgeon.
Country folk often call it Cramp Weed: but it is more generally known as Goose Tansy, or Goose Gray, because it is a spurious Tansy, fit only for a goose; or, perhaps, because eaten by geese. Other names for the herb are Silvery Cinquefoil, and Moorgrass. It occurs especially on clay soils, being recognised by its pinnate white silvery leaves, and its conspicuous golden flowers.
A useful medicinal tincture (H.) is made from the Skullcap (Scutellaria), which is a Labiate plant of frequent growth on the banks of our rivers and ponds, having bright blue flowers, with a tube longer than the calyx.
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.