Monday 23 October 2017

Of thistles and boiled worms


AFTER the festive fare comes the time of reckoning and determination to make new and better paths in lifestyle -- to begin a process of recovery from the damage done by overindulgence.

It is not too difficult, like Mark Twain on giving up smoking. It was easy, he said; he did it many times.

Like Yeats's O'Driscoll, we must awake from our dreaming and scatter the cards. We are usually game for anything that will make us feel better.

The old herbalists had reams of concoctions scratched on yellowing manuscripts. Some would appear to be amusedly naïve, others startling. We can go back a couple of centuries.

After too much attention to a butt of sack or a cask of brandy, the Blessed Thistle was recommended to destroy worms in the stomach and other vile after-effects and was "exceedingly good against pestilence, encourages gentle vomiting" -- (come again!) -- "and "is a powerful antidote against poisoning."

This was recommended by a John Keogh, from a C of I vicarage in Co Cork and a herbalist and medical man in the 18th century. He published his formulae in a work called Botanalogia Universalis Hibernica, which appeared in 1735 and which remained obscure until the last century when Anna Livia Press published Irish Herbal, a version edited by Michael Scott.

The Blessed Thistle (cnicus benedictus) seems extra-ordinary, and some con- temporary herbalists sing its praises for a wide variety of complaints.

David Hoffman, of the American Herbalist Guild, said in 1999 that it was beneficial in treating anorexia, dyspepsia, indigestion and colic. It has also antiseptic values for external use and is a "bitter tonic, astringent, diaphoretic, expectorant, emmenagogue and galactagogue". Don't ask!

But more to our needs is the Marian or milk thistle to deal with the ravages of the demon drink. This plant has the delightful name of silybum marianum and the legendary Mrs Grieve (Modern Herbal) also calls it Our Lady's Thistle because of the milk- white veins of the leaves.

Milk thistle capsules are recommended for liver and gall bladder problems.

Dieter Poolech in his Herbs and Healing Plants (Collins) claims that silymarin from the seeds protects the liver from toxins and can deal with jaundice and travel sickness, and even depression.

It seems, at least, to be a more attractive medicine than Rev Keogh's "boiled worms and powdered hog lice" -- which he recommended be taken in the morning to "wonderfully cure the jaundice". He suggested sprinkling the lice in one's breakfast egg! This would surely put one off drink for life. Perhaps that was the intention!

Sunday Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News