Mistress Martha extols the benefits of Meadowsweet

Meadowsweet has many other names, including Bridewort, as it was traditional in bridal bouquets. It was also strewn at weddings and handfastings for the bride to walk on,  creating a strong aroma. It has been used in love spells and to promote happiness. The smell was said to cheer the heart and keep peace. Meadowsweet also overcame infections. Strewing it about the house allowed the aroma to spread.

MeadowsweetThe scent was said to have the power to induce a deep, sleep from which one would never wake. Conversely, Meadowsweet tea was drunk to heighten energy and merriment, although excessive consumption can produce a narcotic affect. Meadowsweet can be infused into an oil and inhaled, allegedly making women more attractive.

The plant is associated with Cuchulainn, the Gaelic robber, who took Meadowsweet baths to cure rage and fevers. Regarding fevers, Gerard comments that ‘the floures boiled in wine and drunke do take away the fits of a quartaine ague’ (fever). Gerard also talks of the benefits to the eyes, saying that dropping distilled water of Meadowsweet flowers would reduce burning and itching. Culpeper mentions Meadowsweet and its effectiveness for kidney problems and benefits to the lungs and to ease sore throats.

So that is what the folk of our time believe. Some of these traditional uses have been backed up by scientific research. Meadowsweet has been shown to have adaptogenic qualities, helping the body and mind to deal with stress. This could manifest itself as the ‘cheering the heart, keeping peace and promotion of happiness’ as these are things which can happen when stress is reduced and the body learns to adapt to stress. It could also be said that the heightened energy and merriment and increased attractiveness of women might occur as stress is reduced.

Meadowsweet can control fever, allowing healing to occur, therefore research shows that Cuchulainn’s fever could indeed have been eased by the taking of Meadowsweet. His rage would be calmed due to the aforementioned adaptogenic qualities. This also confirms Gerard’s assertion regarding fevers. There has been research to show that Meadowsweet has antimicrobial properties. This shows that the traditional strewing on the floor could indeed help to overcome infections. Research shows that Meadowsweet is particularly effective in regulating the digestive mucos. This supports Culpeper’s assertion regarding its benefits to the throat, as Meadowsweet has an expectorant effect. Culpeper’s claim that Meadowsweet helps to treat kidney problems, is also substantiated by research. The anti-inflammatory properties of Meadowsweet could be the reason why Gerard observes that the plant has benefits to stinging eyes.

No evidence has been found to indicate that the ‘fatal sleep’ or ‘narcotic effect’ had any basis in fact.

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Mistress Agnes goes Spinning – Distaff Day

Spinning WheelWhat? I hear you exclaim. Hath the good mistress taken up some form of extreme gymnastic activity? Those who do know Mistress Agnes well, will realise that strenuous pursuits are not normally associated with this dear lady. No, despite the attempts of the rascally Puritans to put a damper on Yuletide proceedings, Mistress Agnes did receive a most thrilling gift. This wonderous spinning wheel now graces her cottage and the good lady is awaiting instruction in the use of the same. Really she should have been hard at work last Sunday, which is designated Distaff Day, the day when all good spinsters resume their duties after Twelfth Night. ’Tis also known as Rock Day, as those with the less glamorous drop spindles were said to be spinning on the rock.

Folklore states that young masters might set fire to the flax and tow of the maidens, who would then retaliate by throwing a pail of water. The good masters, by custom, returned to work on Plough Monday, after the blessing of the plough the previous day. This year Plough Monday was on 8 January, so the goodfellows only had one extra day of leisure.

A little ditty from Robert Herrick

Partly work and partly play
Ye must, on St. Distaff’s day;
From the plough soon free your team,
Then come home and fodder them;
If the maids a spinning go,
Burn the flax and fire the tow.
Bring in pails of water then,
Let the maids bewash the men.
Give St. Distaff all the right,
Then bid Christmas sport good night,
And next morrow every one
To his own vocation

Mistress Agnes gets Nominated again

Jo Rutherford Photography_-6 2
Photograph by Jo Rutherford

Swords and Spindles are proud to announce that their very own Mistress Agnes has been nominated for an award. Should any good folk who have heard her wax lyrical on matters historical wish to cast a vote in her favour then though dost need the witchcraft that some do call t’internet and to press just about here to express your appreciation for what she doth do. She will most graciously thank you.

Mistress Martha writes of Master Culpeper

Nicholas Culpeper 1616-1654

Culpeper 1Nicholas Culpeper was born in 1616, the son of a clergyman who died before his son was born. He grew up in Sussex within the home of his Puritan grandfather. He studied at Cambridge before being forced to leave the university. He then became an apprentice to an apothecary in Bishopsgate, London.

He married 15 year old Alice and due to her wealth was able to set up as an astrologer and herbalist in Spitalfields. He was able to charge nothing or very little for his services. Here he began translating medical books into English, thus making them more accessible to those who could not read Latin. He used local ingredients in his treatments, many from his own herb garden.

As a Parliamentarian, he performed surgery during the English Civil War and during the First Battle of Newbury in 1643 he received a bullet wound from which he never fully recovered. In 1649 he published his Physical Directory beforeissuing his most important work, The English Physician in 1653. He died aged 37 in 1654. Culpeper was described as a radical, witty and eloquent as well as being prone to melancholy.

Culpeper contributed much to the corpus of knowledge. He was an early proponent of the importance of caring for the sick and the poor. He was of the opinion that all people who required it should be treated and social status should not prevent necessary care from being given. In his book The English Physician (now Culpeper’s Complete Herbal) he integrated astrological ideas as well as ideas from the Doctrine of Signatures (a ‘like for like’ theory that the medical use of a herb could be ascertained from its appearance) into herbal medicine. This book is an index of illnesses and herbal remedies has never been out of print.

Some Handy Cures for those who Ail

Mistress Agnes decided that she would share a few receipts from goodwives of her acquaintance in case any do be ailing.

Ground IvyDr Wadenfield’s Remedy for Lunacy, as penned by the inestimable Mrs Kettilby. Take of ground-ivy three large handfuls shred small, boil it in two quarts of white wine, till two parts in three be consumed. Strain and add to it six ounces of the best sallad oil, boil it up to an ointment; let the patient’s head be shaved, rub and chafe it with the ointment made warm. Then take fresh herbs, bruised and applied plaisterwise, tying it on the top of the head very hard. Repeat this every other day, ten or twelve times, give the patient three spoonfuls of the juice of ground-ivy every morning fasting, in a glass of beer for the first ten days.

Mrs Kettliby’s own receipt for an ointment for the back of a ricketty child. Pick snails clean out of the shells and prick them full of holes, hang them up in a cloth and put a bason to catch what drops from them; which you must boil up with speracity and blades of mace, of each one ounce. Rub this ointment along the back-bone, round the neck, wrists and ancles. Use this constantly night and morning and chase it in by the fire. This with the drink that follows has recovered many weak children from sickness, lameness and deformity.

To make the Ricketty Drink: Put an ounce of rhubarb, three hundred live wood-lice, sassafras, china and eringo roots of each three ounces; roots of Ismond-royal, two ounces, raisins of the sun ston’d two ounces; Hart’s Tongue, two handfuls. Put these into six quarts of small ale and drink spring and fall, no other drink; tis almost infallible for weak children.

Mistress Agnes be gathering wood-lice this very minute.

Halberds in the Hall

Halberd.JPGThe summer is a time for polishing armour and honing our swords. Actually we don’t do a lot of honing. True, we have Master Christopher to re-attach severed appendages but it plays havoc with the public liability insurance premiums and doesn’t go down too well with our audiences. Our latest acquisition for our armoury is a halberd, acquired by armourer in chief Master Christopher (multi-tasking you see) at a local farm auction. Allegedly ’tis a garden tool but what do farm auctioneers know? Fortunately Master Christopher was the only one in the crowd who recognised its true purpose, or indeed had a use for it, so very few groats changed hands. The many talented Master Arthur fashioned a new haft for it and Sir Francis, as the officer within our ranks, will be wielding it to good purpose.

Of Frogs and Foreign Parts

Mistress Agnes has not put quill to keyboard lately but rest assured we have not been idle. Armour is being polished, shifts are being darned, herb gardens are being tended, research is being done. The diary is looking very full for 2018, those who are responsible for the education of young folks are advised to book early to be assured of enjoying the ministrations of our wonderous characters in the forthcoming school year. Our presence amongst older folks has also been requested in places near and far.

DSCF3080In preparation for next year’s voyaging to continents unknown, Mistress Agnes has been looking out some new cures. We need to be in good health to be travelling hither and yon. We will therefore be concocting a mouthwash by boiling frogs in vinegar. Should we become jaundiced we will be eating the fresh dung of a grass-fed goose or cutting open a live trout and laying it on our stomachs. Other ailments will be suitably ‘cured’ by the deployment of items in Master Christopher’s surgeon’s kit.

* With grateful thanks to Evans, Jennifer and Read, Sara Maladies and Medicine: exploring health and healing 1540-1740 (Pen and Sword 2017)