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Culpeper's Complete Herbal

Review By Cheryl Bolen

Culpeper's Complete Herbal
Nicholas Culpeper
Wordsworth Reference, 603 pages,
Published 1995
Original Publication Date: 1653

I've just learned that other editions of this wonderfully handy reference come with illustrations. Lamentably, my Wordsworth edition does not. I really wish it did.

Actually, my edition contains Culpeper's Complete Herbal (published originally in 1653) as well as his The English Physitian, originally published in 1652. The English Physitian, in continuous publication since its first printing, is the most successful non-religious English book ever published.

The Herbal catalogues most every plant that grows in Great Britain, giving descriptions of the plant, what time it needs to be harvested for medicinal purposes, and which physical complaints a concoction of it will help to alleviate.

The Physitian (that's the way Culpeper spelled it) is a primer for physicians and apothecaries. It includes information on how to make decoctions, syrups, purging electuraries (like laxatives), pills, oils, ointments, and plaisters for a wide variety of ailments.

Since the information in this text was widely in use during the Regency, I've used these works as a resource for almost every book I've published.

Here are some examples of Culpeper's delightful work:

My son was taken with the same disease (the body flux), and the excoriation of his bowels was exceeding great; myself being in the country, was sent for up, with only I gave him, was Mallow bruised and boiled both in milk and drink, in two days (the blessing of God being upon it) it cured it.

On ground pine, which grows low, Culpeper has this to say: It is utterly forbidden for women with child for it will cause abortion or delivery before time.

On mint, he writes: Simeon Sethi saith it helps a cold liver, strengthens the belly, causes digestion, stays vomits and hiccough; it is good against the gnawing of the heart, provokes appetite, takes away obstruction of the liver, and stirs up bodily lust, but therefore too much must not be taken.

He says dill "is a gallant expeller of wind."

So if you need to know what your characters would take if they are suffering from gout, sore throat, headache, tooth ache, to expectorate phlegm, treat asthma, or any infirmity you can devise, check out Culpeper.

This article was first published in The Quizzing Glass in August 2008

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