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Gerard's Herbal Vol. 5

Gerard's Herbal - CHAP. 119. Of the Poplar Tree.

CHAP. 119. Of the Poplar Tree.

The Kinds.

There be divers trees under the title of Poplar, yet differing yery notably, as shall be declared in the descriptions, whereof one is the white, another the black, and a third sort set down by Pliny, which is the Aspen, named by him Lybica, and by Theophrastus, Kerkis: likewise there is another of America, or of the Indies, which is not to be found in these regions of Europe.


Fig. 2080. White Poplar (1)

Fig. 2081. Black Poplar (2)


The Description.

1. The White Poplar tree cometh soon to perfection, and groweth high in short time, full of boughs at the top: the bark of the body is smooth, and that of the boughs is likewise white withal: the wood is white, easy to be cleft: the leaves are broad, deeply gashed, & cornered like almost to those of the Vine, but much lesser, smooth on the upper side, glib, and somewhat green; and on the nether side white and woolly: the catkins are long, downy, at the first of a purplish colour: the roots spread many ways, lying under the turf, and not growing deep, and therefore it happeneth that these trees be oftentimes blown down with the wind.

2. The Black Poplar tree is as high as the white, and now and then higher, oftentimes fuller of boughs, and with a thicker body: the bark thereof is likewise smooth, but the substance of the wood is harder, yellower, and not so white, fuller of veins, and not so easily cleft: the leaves be somewhat long, and broad below towards the stem, sharp at the point, and a little snipped about the edges, neither white nor woolly, like the leaves of the former, but of a pleasant green colour: amongst which come forth long aglets or catkins, which do turn into clusters: the buds which show themselves before the leaves spring out, are of a reasonable good savour, of the which is made that profitable ointment called unguentum populeon.


Fig. 2082. Aspen (3)

Fig. 2083. Indian Poplar (4)


3. The third kind of Poplar is also a great tree: the bark and substance of the wood is somewhat like that of the former: this tree is garnished with many brittle and tender branches, set full of leaves, in a manner round, much blacker and harder than the Black Poplar, hanging upon long and slender stems, which are for the most part stll wavering, and make a great noise by being beaten one to another, yea though the weather be calm, and scarce any wind blowing; and it is known by the name of the Aspen tree: the roots hereof are stronger, and grow deeper into the ground than those of the White Poplar.

4. This strange Poplar, which some do call Populus rotundifolia, in English, the Round-Leaved Poplar of India, waxeth a great tree, bedecked with many goodly twiggy branches, tough and limber like the Willow, full of joints where the leaves do grow, of a perfect roundness, save where it cleaveth or groweth to the stalk: from the bosoms or corners of these leaves come forth small aglets, like unto our Poplar, but smaller: the leaf is thick, and very like the leaves of Arbor Indæ, but broader, of an astringent taste, somewhat heating the mouth, and saltish.

Fig. 2085. Small-Leaved White Poplar (5)

5. There is also another sort of Poplar which groweth likewise unto a great tree, the branches whereof are knotty and bunched forth as though it were full of scabs or sores: the leaves come forth in tufts most commonly at the end of the boughs, not cut or jagged, but resembling the leaves of that Atriplex called Pes Anserinus; in colour like the former, but the aglets are not so closely packed together, otherwise it is like.

The Place.

These trees do grow in low moist places, as in meadows near unto ditches, standing waters and rivers.

The first kind of white Poplar groweth not very common in England, but in same places here and there a tree: I found many both small & great growing in a low meadow turning up a lane at the farther end of a village called Blackwall, from London; and in Essex at a place called Ovenden, and in divers other places.

The Indian Poplar groweth in most parts of the islands of the West Indies.

The Time.

These trees do bud forth in the end of March and beginning of April, at which time the buds must be gathered to serve for unguentum populeon.

The Names.

The white Poplar is called in Latin, Populus alba: of divers, Farfarus, as of Plautus in his comedy Penulus, as you may see by his words set down in the chapter of Coltsfoot.

It is called in High Dutch, Poppelbaum, Weisz Alberbaum: in Low Dutch, Abeel, of his hoary or aged colour, and also Abeelboome; which the grammarians do falsely interpret Abies, the Fir tree: in Italian, Popolo albo: in French, Peuplier blanc, Aubel, Obel, or Aubeau: in English, White Poplar tree, and Abeell, after the Dutch name.

The second is called in Latin, Populus nigra: by Petrus Crescentius, Albarus: in High Dutch, Aspen: in Low Dutch, Populier: in Italian, Popolo nero: in French, Peuplier noir: in Spanish, Alamo nigailho: in English, Poplar tree, Black Poplar, and Pepler. The first or new sprung buds whereof are called of the apothecaries, oculi populi, Poplar buds: others choose rather to call it gemma populi: some of the Grecians name it Sperma: whereupon they grounded their error, who rashly supposed that those resiny or clammy buds are not to be put or used in the composition of the ointment bearing the name of the Poplar, and commonly called in English, Popilion and Pompillion, but the berries that grow in clusters, in which there is no clamminess at all.

They are also as far deceived, who giving credit to poets' fables, do believe that amber cometh of the clammy resin falling into the river Po.

The third is called of divers, Populus tremula, which word is borrowed of the Frenchmen, who name it Tremble: it also received a name amongst the Low Country men, from the noise and rattling of the leaves, viz. Rateeler: this is that which is named of Pliny, Libyca and by Theophrastus Kerkis, which Gaza calleth Populus montana: in English, Aspe, and Aspen tree, and may also be called Tremble, after the French name, considering it is the matter whereof women's tongues were made, (as the poets and some others report) which seldom cease wagging.

The Temperature and Virtues.

A. The White Poplar hath a cleansing faculty, saith Galen, and a mixed temperature, consisting of a watery warm essence, and also a thin earthy substance.

B. The bark, as Dioscorides writeth, to the weight of an ounce (or as others say, and that more truly, of little more than a dram) is a good remedy for the sciatica or ache in the huckle bones, and for the strangury.

C. That this bark is good for the sciatica, Serenus Sammonicus doth also write:

Sæpius occultus victa coxendice morbus
Perfurit, & gressus diro languore moratur:
Populus alba dabit medicos de cortice potus.

An hidden disease doth oft rage and reign,
The hip overcome and vex with the pain,
It makes with vile aching one tread slow and shrink;
The bark of white Poplar is help had in drink.

D. The same bark is also reported to make a woman barren, if it be drunk with the kidney of a mule, which thing the leaves likewise are thought to perform, being taken after the flowers or reds be ended.

E. The warm juice of the leaves being dropped into the ears doth take away the pain thereof.

F. The resin or clammy substance of the black Poplar buds is hot and dry, and of thin parts, attenuating and mollifying: it is also fitly mixed acopis & malagmatis ["into a salve used to ease fatigue or pain, or as a poultice]": the leaves have in a manner the like operation for all these things, yet weaker, and not so effectual, as Galen teacheth.

G. The leaves and young buds of black Poplar do assuage the pain of the gout in the hands or feet, being made into an ointment with May butter.

H. The ointment made of the buds is good against all inflammations, bruses, squats, falls, and such like: this ointment is very well known to the apothecaries.

I. Paulus Ægineta teacheth to make an oil also hereof, called Ægyrinum, or oil of black Poplar.

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