Adventures in Herbal Studies
I piled my various texts on herbs, and also the relevant encyclopedias, and dug in.
I quickly realized that I’ll have to add botany texts to the study pile – I need to know what these plants look like, and the line drawings from 1636 just aren’t cutting it for me.
In any case, since Culpepper’s herbal is still around after all these years, I decided to start with the first herb in his repertoire and work my way through.
It’s going to take a few years.
The first herb is Amara Dulcis.
This herb is also known as mortal, bittersweet, woody nightshade, felonwort. There’s an American Bittersweet, also known as wax work and false bittersweet, and a European Bittersweet that goes by the names above as well as violet bloom, scarlet berry, dulcamara, and bitter nightshade, and, according to Gerard (another ancient herbalist), Amarodulcis and Amarodulciia. He adds that Pliny called it Melortrum: Theophrastus and vitus sylvestris, but disagrees, saying the latter is what he considers “Ladies’ Seale” and not a member of the Nightshade family.
It’s masculine, under the astrological sign of Mercury and the element of Air.
Culpepper goes on and on about its curative, restorative, and magical powers. Scott Cunningham agrees with some of that, but points out that American bittersweet is poisonous. The Encyclopedia Britannica and Audobon’s Nature Encyclopedia agree.
Culpepper is eager to use it for preventing witchcraft, while Cunningham suggests putting some under the pillow to forget a past love.
According to the encyclopedia articles, there are 1400-3000 species in the Nightshade family (depending on which encyclopedia you read).
Here I thought I was starting in the “A’s” and I’m in Nightshade. Go figure.
What I didn’t know was that potato, tomato, eggplant, cayenne pepper, tobacco, and belladonna are all members of the Nightshade family.
My overall feeling and my personal decision for working with “Amara Dulcis” is:
Good for birds
Bad for people, horses, cows, sheep, etc, despite Culpepper’s recommendations
Maybe I’d rub it on a bruise, but I sure as heck wouldn’t ingest it!
And I’m realizing that part of learning about these herbs isn’t just ingesting information (pun intended), but figuring out where they fit into my overall work and life.
I’m tempted to keep a separate book of poisons and antidotes, but in this day and age of paranoia, it might be misconstrued as something nefarious when it’s true purpose is so I don’t have any poisonous plants where my animals can get at them.
Audobon’s Nature Encyclopedia. Entry for “nightshade”.
Culpepper’s Complete Herbal by Nicholas Culpepper. NJ: Chartwell Books. 1985. H. (originally published in 1653).
Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs by Scott Cunningham. Minnesota: Llwellyn Publications. Second Edition: 2001. P.
Encyclopedia Britannica. Entries for both “bittersweet” and “nightshade”.
Gerard’s Herbal: John Gerard’s Historie of Plants edited by Maras Woodward. Middlesex, UK: Senate. 1998. P. (originally published in 1636).