William Thomas Fernie MD was a physician in the late 19th and early 20th century and very little is known about him and his life that is easily discoverable.
However, he left behind a lifetime's fascination and love with exploring not just the world of all things hard, but taking a greater view - comparing his knowledge with that what has been told over the ages, collecting ideas and trying to find connections between people, plants, animals and minerals.
In olden times the Olitory, or Herb-garden, formed an important annex to all demesnes having any pretensions to completeness, and was under "My Lady's" special charge. In fact, the culture and preparing of Herbal Simples formed a part of every lady's education.
Although the Yew--a Conifer--which is so thoroughly English a tree, is known to be highly poisonous as regards its leaves to the humans subject, and as concerning its loppings or half-dead branches, to oxen, horses, and asses, yet a medicinal tincture (H.) is made from the young shoots, which has distinct and curative uses. Both the Yew and the Ivy were called abiga, because causing abortion
Elspeth Reoch, in 1616, when tried for witchcraft, acknowledged to having employed the Yarrow in her incantations. She "plucked one herbe sitting on her right knee, and pulling it betwixt the mid-finger and thumbe, and saying: In nominee Patris, Filii, et Spiritus Sancti."
By the yarrow plant so gathered, she was enabled to cure distempers, and to impart the faculty of prediction.
The Hedge Woundwort was named by Gerard, Clown's all heal, or the Husbandman's Woundwort, because a countryman who had cut his hand to the bone with a scythe, healed the wound in seven days with this plant.
The Wormwood herb was formerly thought to possess the power of dispelling demons, and was thus associated with the ceremonials of St. John's Eve, owning the name, on the Continent, of St. John's Herb, or St. John's Girdle.
In olden days the Monks named this pretty little woodland plant Alleluia, because it blossoms between Easter and Whitsuntide, when the Psalms--from the 113th to the 117th, inclusive--which end with the aspiration, "Hallelujah!" were sung.
Its terminal syllable, "ruff," is derived from rofe, a wheel,--with the diminutive rouelle, a little wheel or rowel, like that of an ancient spur,--which the verticillate leaves of this Woodruff herb closely resemble. They serve to remind us also of good Queen Bess, and of the high, starched, old-fashioned ruff which she is shown to wear in her portraits.
The leaves of the Walnut tree, when slightly rubbed, emit a rich aromatic odour, which renders them proof against the attacks of insects. Qualities of this odoriferous sort commended the tree to King Solomon, whose "garden of nuts" was clearly one of Walnuts, according to the Hebrew word eghoz. The longevity of the Walnut tree is very great. There is at Balaclava, in the Crimea, a Walnut tree believed to be a thousand years old.
There are two varieties of the cultivated Wallflower, the Yellow and the Red; those of a deep colour growing on old rockeries and similar places, are often termed Bloody Warriors, and Bleeding Heart. The double Wallflower has been produced for more than two centuries. If the flowers are steeped in oil for some weeks, they contribute thereto a stimulating warming property useful for friction to limbs which are rheumatic, or neuralgic.
The Viper's Bugloss is called botanically Echium, having been formerly considered antidotal to the bite of (Echis) a viper: and its seed was thought to resemble the reptile's head:
Also, the Sweet Violet is thought to possess admirable virtues as a cosmetic. Lightfoot gives a translation from a Highland recipe in Gaelic, for its use in this capacity, rendered thus: "Anoint thy face with goat's milk in which violets have been infused, and there is not a young prince upon earth who will not be charmed with thy beauty."
The Druids gathered Verbena with as much reverence as they paid to the Mistletoe. It was dedicated to Isis, the goddess of birth, and formed a famous ingredient in love philtres. Pliny saith: "They report that if the dining chamber be sprinkled with water in which the herb Verbena has been steeped, the guests will be the merrier."
The great Wild Valerian, or Heal-all (from valere, to be well), grows abundantly throughout this country in moist woods, and on the banks of streams. It is a Benedicta, or blessed herb, being dedicated to the Virgin Mary, as preservative against poisons.
The roots of Valerian have been given from an early period with much success for hysterical affections, and for epileptic attacks induced by strong emotional excitement, as anger or fear.
From our English Pines, if their stems be wounded, the oleo-resin known as Turpentine, can be procured. This is so truly a vegetable product, and so readily available for medical uses in every household, being withal so valuable for its remedial and curative virtues that no apology is needed for giving it notice as a Herbal Simple.
When mashed, and mixed with bread and milk, the Turnip makes an excellent cleansing and stimulating poultice for indolent abscesses or sores.
The Scotch eat small, yellow-rooted Turnips as we do radishes. "Tastes and Turnips proverbially differ." At Plymouth, and some other places, when a girl rejects a suitor, she is said to "give him turnips," probably with reference to his sickly pallor of disappointment.
A decoction of Tormentil makes a capital gargle, and will heal ulcers of the mouth if used as a wash. If a piece of lint soaked therein be kept applied to warts, they will wither and disappear.
Belonging to the Solanums the Tomato (Lycopersicum) is a plant of Mexican origin. Its brilliant fruit was first known as Mala oethiopica, or the Apples of the Moors, and bearing the Italian designation Pomi dei Mori. This name was presently corrupted in the French to Pommes d'amour; and thence in English to the epithet Love Apples
When used externally an infusion of Toadflax acts as an anodyne to subdue irritation of the skin, and it may be taken as a medicine to modify skin diseases. The fresh juice is attractive to flies, but at the same time it serves to poison them: so if it be mixed with milk, and placed where flies resort they will drink it and perish at the first sip.
The name Thyme is derived from the Greek thumos, as identical with the Latin fumus, smoke, having reference to the ancient use of Thyme in sacrifices, because of its fragrant odour; or, it may be, as signifying courage (thumos), which its cordial qualities inspire. With the Greeks Thyme was an emblem of bravery, and activity; also the ladies of chivalrous days embroidered on the scarves which they presented to their knights the device of a bee hovering about a spray of Thyme, as teaching the union of the amiable and the active.
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