Nicholas Culpepper is a well known and beloved herbalist.
When looking for interesting illustrations for this post I came across this 1883 description of Culpepper's writing style in a book about a gentleman who was led into botanizing by, among other fortuitous events, the ownership of Culpepper's Herbal. Since I agree wholeheartedly, here is an excerpt from William Jolly's work.
Before this meeting, however, John's (John Duncan) knowledge of plants was neither small nor uninteresting, as it could scarcely be with so humorous and practical a master as Culpepper. We have seen how he began the study while yet in his teens, during his apprenticeship at Drumlithie, and how he early purchased a copy of Culpepper.
Notwithstanding his strange-looking name, Culpepper was an Englishman, born in London in 1616, and dying in 1654. His book is curious and interesting, bearing on its front that it contains "nearly four hundred medicines made from English herbs, physically applied to the cure of all disorders incident to man, with rules for compounding them," by "Nicholas Culpepper, Student in Physic and Astrology."
Of each plant, it gives a description, sometimes pretty minute, though popular and unscientific; the places where it was to be found; its flowering time; its "government," according to the astrological influences under which it should be gathered, to possess potency ; and its "virtues" or the diseases it was held to cure, with directions for preparation and use. It contains a deal of queer, old world learning.
Nicholas Culpepper's style is quaint, with a touch of biblical antiqueness, often dryly humorous, and not seldom rudely outspoken.
He does not describe the elder tree, for instance, " since every boy that plays with a popgun will not mistake another tree instead of it;" he says that if eyebright " was but as much used as it is neglected, it would half spoil the spectacle-maker's trade ;" and that the common practice of applying a medicine in one part of the body to affect another, is "as proper as for me when my toe is sore to lay a plaister on my nose."
He gives curious personal details, as his curing his own daughter of the king's evil with pilewort. He tells us, "Mars loves no cowards, nor Saturn fools, nor I neither." He essays practical philosophy and kindly moralizing.
|Fuchs - 1543|
For example, he wishes
- "gentlewomen would keep butter-burr preserved, to help their poor neighbours, as it is fit the rich should help the poor, for the poor cannot help themselves ;"
- "let no man," says he, "despise cinquefoil, because it is plain and easy-the ways of God are all such;"
- "seven years' care and fear makes a man never the wiser nor a farthing richer;
- "he that reads this, and understands what he reads, hath a jewel of more worth than a diamond."
He leaves a remedy to the world, "not caring a farthing whether they like or dislike it; the grave equals all men, and therefore will equal me with all princes, until which time the Eternal Providence is over me ; then the ill tongue of a prating fellow, or one that hath more tongue than wit or more proud than honest, shall never trouble me: wisdom is justified by her children: and so much for wormwood."
He talks facetiously of Dr. Tradition, Dr. Reason, Dr. Experience, Dr. Ignorance, Dr. Folly, and Dr. Sickness. Altogether, the good Culpepper aims at being at once the " guide, philosopher, and friend" of his disciples.
Certainly, he cannot be accused of ever being wearisome, obscure, or dull.
I did not know what the king's evil was.I find it was the swelling of lymph nodes due to tuberculosis. (Caution: slightly disturbing vintage photo of a child's head with swellings.)
Now, on to Culpepper's thoughts on dandelions!!
By the way, when posting portions of any book or article I break up paragraphs for easier reading online. I have also changed all the letters "s", written in the style of that day as "f"s, back into an "s". Original scan posted at end of this post.
DANDELION, VULGARLY called piss-a-beds.
Description. IT is well known to have many long and deeply-gashed leaves lying on the ground, round about the head of the root; the ends of each gash or jag on both sides, looking down towards the root, the middle rib being white, which, broken, yieldeth abundance of bitter milk, but the root much more.
From among the leaves, which always abide green, arise many slender, weak, naked, footstalks, every one of them bearing at the top one large yellow flower, consisting of many rows of yellow leaves, broad at the points, and nicked in, with a deep spot of yellow in the middle; which growing ripe, the green husk wherein the flower stood turneth itself down to the stalk, and the head of down becometh as round as a ball, with long reddish seed underneath, bearing a part of the down on the head of every one, which together is blown away with the wind, or may at once be blown away with one's mouth.
The root groweth downwards exceeding deep, which, being broken off within the ground, will, notwithstanding, shoot forth again; and will hardly be destroyed when it hath once taken deep root in the ground.
It groweth frequent in all meadows and pasture grounds.
It flowereth in one place or other almost all the year long.
Government And Virtues.
It is under the dominion of Venus. It is of an opening and cleansing quality, and therefore very effectual for the obstructions of the liver, gall, and spleen, and the diseases that arise from them, as the jaundice and hypochondriacal passion.
It wonderfully openeth the passage of urine, both in young and old; it powerfully cleanseth aposthumes, and inward tumours in the urinary passages, and by the drying and temperate quality doth afterwards heal them; for which purpose the decoction of the roots or leaves in white wine, or the leaves chopped as pot-herbs with a few alisanders, and boiled in their broth, is very effectual. And whoever is drawing towards consumption, or an evil disposition of the whole body, called cachexia, by the use hereof for some time together will find a wonderful help.
It helpeth also to procure rest and sleep to bodies distempered by the heat of ague fits, or otherwise; the distilled water is effectual to drink in pestilential fevers, and to wash the sores.
You see here what virtues this common herb hath, and that is the reason the French and Dutch so often eat them in the spring, and now, if you look a little farther, you may plainly perceive that foreign physicians are more liberal in communicating their knowledge of the virtues of plants than the English.