The design and purpose of this work, and the method observed in it.
THE intent of the author in publishing this book, is to inform those who live in the country, and are desirous of being useful to their families and friends, or charitable to the poor in the relief of their disorders, of the virtues of those plants which grow wild about them: that they may be able to supply this necessary assistance, in places where apothecaries are not at hand; and that they may be able also to do it without putting themselves to the expense of medicines of price, when the common herbs, that may be had for gathering, will answer the same purpose.
However, as there are cases, in which more help may be had from drugs brought from abroad than from any thing we can procure at home, an account of those roots, barks, seeds, gums, and other vegetable productions, kept by the druggists and apothecaries, is also added; and of the several trees and plants from which they are obtained; together with their virtues
This work, therefore, will tend to instruct those charitable ladies who may be desirous of giving this great relief to the afflicted poor in their neighbourhood, and to remind apothecaries of what they had before studied: but the first mentioned purpose is by much the most useful, and the most considerable, and for this reason the greatest regard is paid to it.
The plants are disposed in the alphabet, according to their English names, that they may be turned to the more readily; and an account is given, in two or three lines, of their general aspect and place of growth, that those who in part know them already, may understand them at once: if they are not perfectly known from this, a more particular description is added, by observing which, they cannot be mistaken or confounded with any others; and after this follow, not only their virtues, as others are content to set them down, but the part of each plant which contains them in most perfection is named, and the manner in which they may best be given.
With regard to the virtues of plants, it has been the custom to attribute too many to most of them: so much is said more than the truth on these occasions, that those who would be informed, know not what they should believe. This is more cautiously regulated here. The real virtues alone are set down, as they are assured by experience: and the principal of these are always set in the most conspicuous light. Perhaps it may be allowed the author, to speak with more assurance than others of these things, because he has been accustomed to the practice of physic in that way. Very few things are named here that he has not seen tried; and if some are set down, which other writers have not named, and some, of which they have said most, are slightly mentioned, it is owing to the same experience which has added to the catalogue in some things, and has found it too great for truth in others.
Nature has, in this country, and doubtless also in all others, provided, in the herbs of its own growth, the remedies for the several diseases to which it is most subject; and although the addition of what is brought from abroad, should not be supposed superfluous, there is no occasion that it should make the other neglected. This has been the consequence of the great respect shewn to the others; and besides this, the present use of chemical preparations has almost driven the whole of galenical medicine out of our minds.
To restore this more safe, more gentle, and often more efficacious part of medicine to its natural credit, has been one great intent in the writing this treatise; and it is the more necessary for the service of those, who are intended most to be directed in this matter, since this is much less dangerous than the other: nay, it is hard to say, that this is dangerous at all, in most instances.
The apothecaries are apt, in their unfeeling mockery, to say, they are obliged to the good ladies who give medicines to their sick neighbours, for a great deal of their business; for out of little disorders they make great ones. This may be the case where their shops supply the means; for chemical medicines, and some of the drugs brought from abroad, are not to be trusted with those who have not great experience; but there will be no danger of this kind, when the fields are the supply. This is the medicine of nature, and as it is more efficacious in most cases it is more safe in all. If opium may be dangerous in an unexperienced hand, the lady who will give in its place a syrup of the wild lettuce, (a plant not known in common practice at this time, but recommended from experience in this treatise) will find that it will ease pain, and that it will cause sleep, in the manner of that foreign drug, but she will never find any ill consequences from it: and the same might be said in many other instances.
As the descriptions in this work, very readily distinguish what are the real plants that should be used, the great care will remain, in what manner to gather and preserve, and in what manner to give them; it will be useful to add a chapter or two on those heads. As to the former, I would have it perfectly understood, because a great deal depends upon it; the latter cannot easily be mistaken.
Having displaced the drugs brought from abroad in a great measure from this charitable practice, I would have every lady, who has the spirit of this true benevolence, keep a kind of druggist's shop of her own: this should be supplied from the neighbouring fields, and from her garden. There is no reason the drugs should not be as well preserved, and as carefully laid up, as if the product of a different climate, though the use of the fresh plants will in general be best when they can be had.
As there are some which will not retain their virtues in a dried state, and can be met with only during a small part of the year; it will be proper to add the best methods of preserving these in some way, according to the apothecary's manner; and these chapters, with that which shall lay down the method of making the preparations from them for ready service, will be sufficient to lead to the perfect use of the medicines of our own growth: and it will be found upon experience, that those who sufficiently know how to make a proper use of these, need seldom have recourse for any others.