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Gerard's Herbal - Part 3

Gerard's Herbal - CHAP. 311. Of Sow-Bread.

CHAP. 311. Of Sow-Bread.

Fig. 1252. Round Sow-Bread (1)

Fig. 1253. Ivy Sow-Bread (2)


The Description.

            1. The first being the common kind of Sow-Bread, called in shops Panis porcinus, and Arthanita, hath many green and round leases like unto Asarabacca, saving that the upper part of the leaves are mixed here and there confusedly with white spots, and under the leaves next the ground of a purple colour: among which rise up little stems like unto the stalks of violets, bearing at the top small purple flowers, which turn themselves backward (being full blown) like a Turk's Cap, or Tulepan, of a small scent or savour, or none at all: which being past there succeed little round knops or heads which contain slender brown seeds: these knops are wrapped after a few days in the small stalks, as thread about a button, where it remaineth so defended from the injury of winter close upon the ground, covered also with the green leaves aforesaid, by which means it is kept from the frost, even from the time of his seeding, which is in September until June: at which time the leaves do fade away, the stalks and seed remaining bare and naked, whereby it enjoyeth the Sun (whereof it was long deprived) the sooner to bring them unto maturity: the root is round like a Turnip, black without and white within, with many small strings annexed thereto.

            2. The second kind of Sowbread, hath broad leaves spread upon the ground, sharp pointed, somewhat indented about the edges, of a dark green colour, with some little lines or streaks of white on the upper side, and of a dark reddish colour on that side next the ground: among which rise up slender footstalks of two or three inches long: at the tops whereof stand such flowers as the precedent, but of a sweeter smell, and more pleasant colour. The seed is also wrapped up in the stalk for his further defence against the injury of winter. The root is somewhat greater, and of more virtue, as shall be declared.

Fig. 1254. Spring Sow-Bread (3)

            3. There is a third kind of Sow-Bread that hath round leaves without peaked corners, as the last before mentioned, yet somewhat snipped about the edges, and speckled with white about the brims of the leaves, and of a blackish colour in the middle: the flowers are like to the rest, but of a deeper purple: the root also like, but smaller, and this commonly flowers in the spring.

Fig. 1255. White-flowered Sow-Bread (4)

Fig. 1256. Is this plant with Ivy-like leaves another Sow-Bread? (5)

            4. This in leaves and roots is much like the last described, but the flowers are smaller, snow white, and sweet smelling. There are divers other varieties of these plants which I think it not necessary for me to insist upon: wherefore I refer the curious to the garden of flowers set forth by Mr. John Parkinson, where they shall find satisfaction.

            5. There is a plant which I have set forth in this place that may very well be called into question, and his place also, considering that there hath been great contention about the same, and not fully determined on either part which hath moved me to place him with those plants that most do resemble one another, both in shape and name: this plant hath green cornered leaves like to Ivy, long and small gaping flowers like the small Snapdragon: more hath not been said of this plant, either of stalk or root, but is left unto the consideration of the learned.

            The plant which our author here would acquaint you with, is that which Lobel figures with this title which I here give, and saith it was gathered amongst other plants on the hills of Italy, but in what part or place, or how growing he knew not; and he only questions whether it may not be the Cyclaminos altera of Dioscorides, lib, 2, cap. 195.

The Place.

            Sow-Bread groweth plentifully about Artois and Vermandois in France, and in the Forest of Arden, and in Brabant: but the second groweth plentifully in many places of Italy.

            It is reported unto me by men of good credit, that Cyclamen or Sow-Bread groweth upon the mountains of Wales; on the hills of Lincolnshire, and in Somersetshire by the house of a gentleman called Mr. Hales; upon a fox-burrow also not far from Mr. Bamfields, near to a town called Harrington. The first two kinds do grow in my garden, where they prosper well. So saith our author, but I cannot learn that this grows wild in England.

The Time.

            Sow-Bread flowereth in September when the plant is without leaf, which doth afterwards spring up, continuing green all the winter covering and keeping warm the seed until Midsummer next, at what time the seed is ripe as aforesaid. The third flowereth in the spring, for which cause it was called Cyclamen vernum: and so doth also the fourth.

The Names

            Sow-Bread is called in Greek Kyklaminos: in Latin, Tuber terræ, and Terræ rapum: of Marcellus, Orbicularis: of Apuleius, Palalia, Rapum porcinum, and Terræ malum: in shops, Cyclamen, Panis porcinus, and Arthanita: in Italian, Pan Porcino: in Spanish, Mazan de Puerco: in High Dutch, Schweinbrot: in Low Dutch Uetkins Brot: in French, Pain de Porceau: in English, Sow-Bread. Pliny calleth the colour of this flower in Latin, Colossinus color: in English, murrey colour.

The Nature.

            Sow-Bread is hot and dry in the third degree.

The Virtues.

            A. The root of Sow-Bread dried into powder and taken inwardly in the quantity of a dram and a half, with mead or honeyed water, purgeth downward tough and gross phlegm, and other sharp humours.

            B. The same taken in wine as aforesaid, is very profitable against all poison, and the bitings of venomous beasts, and to be outwardly applied to the hurt place.

            C. The powder taken as aforesaid, cureth the jaundice and the stoppings of the liver, taketh away the yellow colour of the body, if the patient after the taking hereof be caused to sweat.

            D. The leaves stamped with honey, and the juice put into the eyes, cleareth the sight, taketh away all spots and webs, pearl or haw, and all impediments of the sight, and is put into that excellent ointment called Unguentum Arthanitæ.

            E. The root hanged about women in their extreme travail with child, causeth them to be delivered incontinent, and taketh away much of their pain.

            F. The leaves put into the place hath the like effect, as my wife hath proved sundry times upon divers women, by my advice and commandment, with good success.

            G. The juice of Sow-Bread doth open the hæmorrhoids, and causeth them to flow, being applied with wool or flocks.

            H. It is mixed with medicines that consume or waste away knots, the King's evil, and other hard swellings: moreover it cleanseth the head by the nostrils, it purgeth the belly being anointed therewith, and killeth the child. It is a strong medicine to destroy the birth, being put up as a pessary.

            I. It scoureth the skin and taketh away sun-burning, and all blemishes of the face, pilling of the hair, and marks also that remain after the smallpox and measles: and given in wine to drink, it maketh a man drunk.

            K. The decoction there serveth as a good and effectual bath for members out of joint, the gout, and kibed heels.

            L. The root being made hollow and filled with oil, closed with a little wax, and roasted in the hot embers, maketh an excellent ointment for the griefs last rehearsed.

            M. Being beaten and made up into trochisks or little flat cakes, it is reported to be a good amorous medicine to make one in love if it be inwardly taken.

The Danger.

            It is not good for women with child to touch or take this herb, or to come near unto it, or stride over the same where it groweth: for the natural attractive virtue therein contained is such, that without controversy they that attempt it in manner abovesaid, shall be delivered before their time: which danger and inconvenience to avoid, I have (about the place where it groweth in my garden) fastened sticks in the ground, and some other sticks I have fastened also cross-ways over them, lest any woman should by lamentable experiment find my words to be true, by their stepping over the same.

            So saith our author, but I judge him something too womanish in this, that is, led more by vain opinion than by any reason or experience, to confirm this his assertion, which frequent experience shows to be vain and frivolous, especially for the touching, striding over, or coming near to this herb.

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