|HERBAL SIMPLES APPROVED FOR MODERN USES OF CURE
W. T. FERNIE, M.D.
Author of "Botanical Outlines," etc_
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION.
It may happen that one or another enquirer taking up this book will
ask, to begin with, "What is a Herbal Simple?" The English word
"Simple," composed of two Latin words, _Singula plica_ (a single
fold), means "Singleness," whether of material or purpose.
From primitive times the term "Herbal Simple" has been applied
to any homely curative remedy consisting of one ingredient only,
and that of a vegetable nature. Many such a native medicine found
favour and success with our single-minded forefathers, this being
the "reverent simplicity of ancienter times."
In our own nursery days, as we now fondly remember, it was:
"Simple Simon met a pieman going to the fair; said Simple Simon
to the pieman, 'Let me taste your ware.'" That ingenuous youth had
but one idea, connected simply with his stomach; and his sole
thought was how to devour the contents of the pieman's tin. We
venture to hope our readers may be equally eager to stock their
minds with the sound knowledge of Herbal Simples which this
modest Manual seeks to provide for their use.
Healing by herbs has always been popular both [xviii] with the
classic nations of old, and with the British islanders of more recent
times. Two hundred and sixty years before the date of Hippocrates
(460 B.C.) the prophet Isaiah bade King Hezekiah, when sick unto
death, "take a lump of Figs, and lay it on the boil; and straightway
the King recovered."
Iapis, the favourite pupil of Apollo, was offered endowments of
skill in augury, music, or archery. But he preferred to acquire a
knowledge of herbs for service of cure in sickness; and, armed
with this knowledge, he saved the life of AEneas when grievously
wounded by an arrow. He averted the hero's death by applying the
plant "Dittany," smooth of leaf, and purple of blossom, as plucked
on the mountain Ida.
It is told in _Malvern Chase_ that Mary of Eldersfield (1454),
"whom some called a witch," famous for her knowledge of herbs
and medicaments, "descending the hill from her hut, with a small
phial of oil, and a bunch of the 'Danewort,' speedily enabled Lord
Edward of March, who had just then heavily sprained his knee, to
avoid danger by mounting 'Roan Roland' freed from pain, as it
were by magic, through the plant-rubbing which Mary
In Shakespeare's time there was a London street, named
Bucklersbury (near the present Mansion House), noted for its
number of druggists who sold Simples and sweet-smelling herbs.
We read, in [ix] _The Merry Wives of Windsor_, that Sir John
Falstaff flouted the effeminate fops of his day as "Lisping
hawthorn buds that smell like Bucklersbury in simple time."
Various British herbalists have produced works, more or less
learned and voluminous, about our native medicinal plants; but no
author has hitherto radically explained the why and where fore of
their ultimate curative action. In common with their early
predecessors, these several writers have recognised the healing
virtues of the herbs, but have failed to explore the chemical
principles on which such virtues depend. Some have attributed the
herbal properties to the planets which rule their growth. Others
have associated the remedial herbs with certain cognate colours,
ordaining red flowers for disorders of the blood, and yellow for
those of the liver. "The exorcised demon of jaundice," says
Conway, "was consigned to yellow parrots; that of inflammatory
disease to scarlet, or red weeds." Again, other herbalists have
selected their healing plants on the doctrine of allied signatures,
choosing, for instance, the Viper's Bugloss as effectual against
venomous bites, because of its resembling a snake; and the sweet
little English Eyebright, which shows a dark pupil in the centre
white ocular corolla, as of signal benefit for inflamed eyes.
Thus it has continued to happen that until the [x] last half-century
Herbal Physic has remained only speculative and experimental,
instead of gaining a solid foothold in the field of medical science.
Its claims have been merely empirical, and its curative methods
those of a blind art:--
"Si vis curari, de morbo nescio quali,
Accipias herbam; sed quale nescio; nec quâ
Ponas; nescio quo; curabere, nescio quando."
Your sore, I know not what, be not foreslow
To cure with herbs, which, where, I do not know;
Place them, well pounc't, I know not how, and then
You shall be perfect whole, I know not when."
Happily now-a-days, as our French neighbours would say, _Nous
avons changé tout cela_, "Old things are passed away; behold all
things are become new!" Herbal Simples stand to-day safely
determined on sure ground by the help of the accurate chemist.
They hold their own with the best, and rank high for homely cures,
because of their proved constituents. Their manifest healing
virtues are shown to depend on medicinal elements plainly
disclosed by analysis. Henceforward the curtain of oblivion must
fall on cordial waters distilled mechanically from sweet herbs, and
on electuaries artlessly compounded of seeds and roots by a Lady
Monmouth, or a Countess of Arundel, as in the Stuart and Tudor
times. Our Herbal Simples are fairly entitled at last to independent
promotion from the shelves of the amateur still-room, from [xi]
the rustic ventures of the village grandam, and from the shallow
practices of self styled botanical doctors in the back streets of our
"I do remember an apothecary,--
And hereabouts he dwells,--whom late I noted
In tatter'd weeds, with overwhelming brows,
_Culling of Simples_; meagre were his looks;
And in his needy shop a tortoise hung,
An alligator stuff'd, and other skins
Of ill-shap'd fishes; and about his shelves
A beggarly account of empty boxes,
Green earthen pots, bladders, and musty seeds,
Remnants of packthread, and old cakes of roses
Were thinly scattered to make up a show."
_Romeo and Juliet_, Act V. Sc. 1.
Chemically assured, therefore, of the sterling curative powers
which our Herbal Simples possess, and anxious to expound them
with a competent pen, the present author approaches his task with
a zealous purpose, taking as his pattern, from the _Comus_ of
"A certain shepherd lad
Of small regard to see to, yet well skilled
In every virtuous plant, and healing herb;
He would beg me sing;
Which, when I did, he on the tender grass
Would sit, and hearken even to constancy;
And in requital ope his leathern scrip,
And show me _Simples_, of a thousand names,
Telling their strange, and vigorous faculties."
Shakespeare said, three centuries ago, "throw physic to the dogs."
But prior to him, one Doctor Key, self styled Caius, had written in
the Latin [xii] tongue (_tempore_ Henry VIII.), a Medical History
of the British Canine Race. His book became popular, though
abounding in false concords; insomuch that from then until now
medical classics have been held by scholars in poor repute for
grammar, and sound construction. Notwithstanding which risk,
many a passage is quoted here of ancient Herbal lore in the past
tongues of Greece, Rome; and the Gauls. It is fondly hoped that
the apt lines thus borrowed from old faultless sources will escape
reproach for a defective modern rendering in Dog Latin, Mongrel
Greek, or the "French of Stratford atte bowe."
Lastly, quaint old Fuller shall lend an appropriate Epilogue. "I
stand ready," said he (1672), "with a pencil in one hand, and a spunge
in the other, to add, alter, insert, efface, enlarge, and delete,
according to better information. And if these my pains shall be
found worthy to passe a second Impression, my faults I will
confess with shame, and amend with thankfulnesse, to such as will
contribute clearer intelligence unto me."