Looking for a tonic to “make yong wenches look faire and cheery-like”? Or perhaps a “purgation good for mad and furious men”?
Now you could also have a recipe to help “thy wounded poore neighbor”. But, and it’s a big but, only if you are a “courteous gentlewomen” and not part of “the beggarly rabble of witches, charmers and such like couseners, that regard more to get money than to help withe charitie”…
Welcome to the world of the late 1500’s herbal medicine advice from John Gerard, noted botanist of his time (1545-1612). He wrote The Herball or General Historie of Plantes in 1597. I don’t have the original, but the edited version by Marcus Woodward (first printed in 1927, I have the 1972 edition) And I must say it’s a bit of a lark – it’s not supposed to be, although they do say he has a “sly humour and well-flavoured English” whatever that means!
The inside flap has a great food for thought paragraph….
The appeal of this magnificent ‘Herball’ is not restricted to antiquarians. In a world menaced by increasingly sophisticated poisons we should be grateful for the abiding presence and therapeutic power of herbal remedies. Despite botanical discoveries over the past three hundred years, our favourite herbs, flowers and shrubs were Gerard’s too, whereas the chemical treatments of his day are now discredited, just as ours will be a hundred years hence.
If you don’t take to heart Gerard’s obvious dis-like of witches it’s actually a really interesting book to read (it’s written in olde English where they haven’t quite sorted out their spelling, helps to just read it phonetically)! Here I’ve just read how the meate of the Wall-nut, with onions, salt and honey are good “against the biting of a mad dog or man, if they be laid upon the wound”. Who would’ve thought! Then I guess you better look up that tonic for mad and furious men if it was a man that bit you. Obviously was a bit of an issue back in the day.
So if you do come across this book do pick it up, you never know what you’ll discover! In case you don’t I’ll give you that recipe that enticed you here in the first place…..
“If you take the roots of Monks Rubarb (Yellow Dock to us modern folk) and red Madder of each halfe a pound, Sena foure ounces, Anise seed and Licorice of each two ounces, Scabious and Agrimonie of each one handfull; slice the roots of the Rubarb, bruise the Anise seed and Licorice, breake the herbs with your hands and put them in a stone pot called a stean, with foure gallons of strong ale (I’m guessing you should go for a craft beer rather than Speights!) to steep or infuse the space of three daies (days) and then drinke this liquor as your ordinary drink for three weeks together at the least, though the longer you take it, so much the better; providing in a readinesse another stean so prepared, that you may have another, being alwaies carefull to keep a good diet; it purifieth the bloud and makes yong wenches look faire and cherry-like.”
It’s quite a sound recipe really, most of those herbs being alteratives, though these days rather than steeping in ale we’d make a decoction or mix the extracts together. Though making some tasty beer for my ordinary drink… worth a go!