Parsely is found in this country only as a cultivated plant, having been introduced into England from Sardinia in the sixteenth century. It is an umbelliferous herb, which has been long of garden growth for kitchen uses. The name was formerly spelt "Percely," and the herb was known as March, or Merich (in Anglo-Saxon, Merici).
Its adjective title, Petroselinum, signifies "growing on a rock." The Greeks held Parsley in high esteem, making therewith the victor's crown of dried and withered Parsley, at their Isthmian games, and the wreath for adorning the tombs of their dead. Hence the proverb, Deeisthai selinon (to need only Parsley) was applied to persons dangerously ill, and not expected to live. The herb was never brought to table of old, being held sacred to oblivion and the defunct.
It is reputed to have sprung from the blood of a Greek hero, Archemorus, the fore-runner of death; and Homer relates that chariot horses were fed by warriors with this herb. Greek gardens were often bordered with Parsley and Rue: and hence arose the saying when an undertaking was in contemplation but not yet commenced, "Oh! we are only at the Parsley and Rue."
Garden Parsley was not cultivated in England until the second year of Edward the Sixth's reign, 1548. In our modern times the domestic herb is associated rather with those who come into the world than with those who go out of it. Proverbially the Parsley-bed is propounded to our little people who ask awkward questions, as the fruitful source of new-born brothers and sisters when suddenly appearing within the limits of the family circle. In Suffolk there is an old belief that to ensure the herb coming up "double," Parsley seed must be sown on Good Friday.
The root is faintly aromatic, and has a sweetish taste. It contains a chemical principle, "apiin," sugar, starch, and a volatile oil. Likewise the fruit furnishes the same volatile oil in larger abundance, this oil comprising parsley-camphor, and "apiol," the true essential oil of parsley, which may be now had from all leading druggists. Apiol exercises all the virtues of the entire plant, and is especially beneficial for women who are irregular as to their monthly courses because of ovarian debility. From three to six drops should be given on sugar, or in milk (or as a prepared capsule) twice or three times in the day for some days together, at the times indicated, beginning early at the expected date of each period. If too large a dose of apiol be taken it will cause headache, giddiness, staggering, and deafness; and if going still further, it will induce epileptiform convulsions.
For which reason, in small diluted doses, the same medicament will curatively meet this train of symptoms when occurring as a morbid state. And it is most likely on such account Parsley has been popularly said to be "poison to men, and salvation to women." Apiol was first obtained in 1849, by Drs. Joret and Homolle, of Brittany, and proved an excellent remedy there for a prevailing ague. It exercises a singular influence on the great nervous centres within the head and spine. Bruised Parsley seeds make a decoction which is likewise beneficial against ague and intermittent fever. They have gained a reputation in America as having a special tendency to regulate the reproductive functions in either sex. Country folk in many places think it unlucky to sow Parsley, or to move its roots; and a rustic adage runs thus: "Fried parsley brings a man to his saddle, and a Woman to her grave." Taking Parsley in excess at table will impair the eyesight, especially the tall Parsley; for which reason it was forbidden by Chrysippus and Dionysius.
The root acts more readily on the kidneys than other parts of the herb; therefore its decoction is useful when the urine becomes difficult through a chill, or because of gravel. The bruised leaves applied externally will serve to soften hard breasts early in lactation, and to resolve the glands in nursing, when they become knotty and painful, with a threatened abscess. Sheep are fond of the plant, which protects them from foot-rot; but it acts as a deadly poison to parrots.
In France a rustic application to scrofulous swellings is successfully used, which consists of Parsley and snails pounded together in a mortar to the thickness of an ointment. This is spread on coarse linen and applied freely every day. Also on the Continent, and in some parts of England, snails as well as slugs are thought to be efficacious medicinally in consumption of the lungs, even more so than cod-liver oil. The Helix pomatia (or Apple Snail) is specially used in France, being kept for the purpose in a snaillery, or boarded-in space of which the floor is covered half-a-foot deep with herbs.
The Romans were very partial to these Apple Snails, and fattened them for the table with bran soaked in wine until the creatures attained almost a fabulous size. Even in this country shells of Apple Snails have been found which would hold a pound's worth of silver. The large Snail was brought to England in the sixteenth century, to the South downs of Surrey, and Sussex, and to Box Hill by an Earl of Arundel for his Countess, who had them dressed, and ate them because of her consumptive disease. Likewise in Pliny's time Snails beaten up with warm water were commended for the cure of coughs. Gipsies are great Snail eaters, but they first starve the creatures, which are given to devour the deadly Night Shade, and other poisonous plants. It is certain, that Snails retain the flavour and odour of the vegetables which they consume.
The chalky downs of the South of England are literally covered with small snails, and many persons suppose that the superior flavour of South Down mutton is due to the thousands of these snails which the sheep consume together with the pasture on which they feed. In 1854 a medical writer set forth the curative virtues of Helicin, a glutinous constituent principle derived from the Snail, and to be given in broth as a remedy for pulmonary consumption. In France the Apple Snail is known as the "great Escargot"; and the Snail gardens in which the gasteropods are fattened, and reared, go by the name of "Escargotoires." Throughout the winter the creatures hybernate, shutting themselves up by their operculum whilst lying among dead leaves, or having fixed themselves by their glutinous secretion to a wall or tree. They are only taken for use whilst in this state. According to a gipsy, the common English Snail is quite as good to be eaten, and quite as beneficial as an Apple Snail, but there is less of him. In Wiltshire, when collected whilst hybernating, snails are soaked in salted water, and then grilled on the bars of the grate. About France the Escargots are dried, and prepared as a lozenge for coughs.
Our common garden Snail is the Helix aspersa. On the Continent for many years past the large Apple Snail, together with a reddish-brown slug, the Arion Rufus, has been employed in medicine for colds, sore throats, and a tendency to consumption of the lungs. These contain "limacine," and eight per cent. of emollient mucilage, together with "helicin," and uric acid just under the shell. Many quarts of cooked garden snails are sold every week to the labouring classes in Bristol; and an annual Feast of Snails is held in the neighbourhood of Newcastle. Mrs. Delaney in 1708, recommended that "two or three snails should be boiled in the barley-water which Mary takes who coughs at night. She must know nothing of it; they give no manner of taste. Six or eight boiled in water, and strained off, and put in a bottle would be a good way of adding a spoonful of the same to every liquid thing she takes. They must be fresh done every two or three days, otherwise they grow too thick." The London Gazette, of March 23rd, 1739, tells that Mrs. Joanna Stephens received from the Government five thousand pounds for revealing the secret of her famous cure against stone in the bladder, and gravel. This consisted chiefly of eggshells, and snails, mixed with soap, honey and herbs. It was given in powders, decoctions, and pills. To help weak eyes in South Hampshire, snails and bread crust are made into a poultice.
A moderate dose of Parsley oil when taken in health, induces a sense of warmth at the pit of the stomach, and of general well-being. The powdered seeds may be taken in doses of from ten to fifteen grains. The bruised leaves have successfully resolved tumours of hard (scirrhous) cancer when cicuta, and mercury had failed.
Though used so commonly at table, facts have proved that the herb, especially when uncooked, may bring on epilepsy in certain constitutions, or at least aggravate the fits in those who are subject to them. Alston says: "I have observed after eating plentifully of raw Parsley, a fulness of the vessels about the head, and a tenderness of the eyes (somewhat inflamed) and face, as if the cravat were too tight."
The victors at the old Grecian games were crowned with chaplets of Parsley leaves; and it is more than probable our present custom of encircling a joint, and garnishing a dish with the herb had its origin in this practice. The Romans named Parsley Apium, either because their bee (apis) was specially fond of the herb, or from apex, the head of a conqueror, who was crowned with it. The tincture has a decided action on the lining membrane of the urinary passages, and may be given usefully when this is inflamed, or congested through catarrh, in doses of from five to ten drops three times in the day with a spoonful or two of cold water.
Wild Parsley is probably identical with our garden herb. It is called in the Western counties Eltrot, perhaps because associated with the gambols of the elves.
The Fool's Parsley (oethusa cynapium) is a very common wayside weed, and grows wild in our gardens. It differs botanically from all other parsleys in having no bracts, but three narrow leaves at the base of each umbel. This is a more or less poisonous herb, producing, when eaten in a harmful quantity, convulsive and epileptic symptoms; also an inflamed state of the eyelids, just such as is seen in the scrofulous ophthalmia of children, the condition being accompanied with swelling of glands and eruptions on the skin. Therefore the tincture which is made of Fool's Parsley, when given in small doses, and diluted, proves very useful for such ophthalmia, and for obviating the convulsive attacks of young children, especially if connected with derangement of the digestive organs. Also as a medicine it has done much good in some cases of mental imbecility. And this tincture will correct the Summer diarrhoea of infants, when the stools are watery, greenish, and without smell. From three to ten drops of the tincture diluted to the third decimal strength, should be given as a dose, and repeated at intervals, for the symptoms just recited.
This variety is named oethusa, because of its acridity, from the Greek verb aitho (to burn). "It has faculties," says Gerard, "answerable to the common Hemlock," the poisonous effects being inflamed stomach and bowels, giddiness, delirium, convulsions, and insensibility. It is called also "Dog's Parsley" and "Kicks."
The leaves of the Fool's Parsley are glossy beneath, with lanceolate lobes, whereas the leaflets of other parsleys are woolly below. Gerard calls it Dog's Parsley, and says: "The whole plant is of a naughty smell." It contains a peculiar alkaloid "cynapina." The tincture, third decimal strength, in half-drop doses, with a teaspoonful of water, will prevent an infant from vomiting the breast milk in thick curds.
Another variety which grows in chalky districts, the Stone Parsley, Sison, or breakstone, was formerly known as the "Hone-wort," from curing a "hone," or boil, on the cheek. It was believed at one time to break a glass goblet or tumbler if rubbed against this article.
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