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Chap. 087. Brittany.

Britannica or Darkcoloured Water Dock. I. The Names. It is called by Pliny, lib. 20. cap. 21. in Greek ******, Hydrolapathum: in Latin, Lapathum Sylvestre longifolium nigrum, Hydrolapathum, Hydrolapathum nigrum, and Britannica: in English, the Wild Black long-leav'd Water-Dock, or Black Water-Dock, and Britanny, which last is its most Common Appellation.

II. The Kinds. The Arabian, Greek and Roman Authors affirm it to be a Species of Lapathum, or Dock, which that laborious Botanist Abraham Munting in his famous Herbal, published in Holland, in Folio, Anno 1696. has sufficiently demonstrated. And of this Plant there are two special kinds,

  • 1. The European, simply called Britannica, and Britannica Antiquorum vera, or Britanny. (Rumex hydrolapathum. -Henriette.)
  • 2. The American, called by the aforenamed Author, Britannica Americana; and from some of the places where it grows, Britannica Virginiana, American, or Virginian Britanny. (Rumex orbiculatus. -Henriette.)

III. This Plant has layen in the Dark for many Ages, ever since the Times of the Ancient Romans, to whom it was well known, and by whom it was much used, as Avicen, Dioscorides, Pliny, Galen, Aegineta, Aetivs, Orobasius, and others, testifie; whereby it is manifest, that in Ancient times it was famous for its cures, which it performed in the Roman Armies, which in Britanny and the Low Countries, they laboured under, being chiefly the Scurvy, or Scorbutick Distempers, as Diarrhea's, or Fluxes of the Bowels, Pains or Aches, Looseness of Teeth, &c. for which reason Claudius Caesar carried it along with him to Rome, ordering it to be spread upon the Pageants of his Triumph, and to be hung up in the Capitol: And Nero himself took care of it afterwards for its Culture, by causing it to he nurst up in the Gardens of Rome. But it seems when the Goths, and other Barbarous Nations overrun the Roman Empire, and the greatest part of Christendom, destroying and rooting up every thing they came near, that this Plant was buried or lost, in that Universal Destruction of almost all things, and has lain forgotten for above eight hundred Years, till this our Author discovered it anew.

IV. The name of this Plant, Britannica, came not, says Munting, from the Island of that Name, but its Etymology (says he) is taken from the Frisian language, Brit signifying Consolidare, vel firmare, Tan, Dens, and lea, loose, or a thing going forth, which is as much as to say, to fasten loose Teeth, the loosness of the Teeth and Gums being one of the Grand Symptoms of the Scurvy. But by that great Man's, favour, we can give little credit to that tar fetch'd Etymology, it being always a thing known, that the pride of the Ancient Romans was too great to invent, or investigate any thing whatsoever with a Latin Name, whose Etymology should arise from the unpolished Particles or Words of Barbarous Nations: Without doubt the Romans first finding it in England or Britannia in great plenty (tho’ afterwards they might find it in Friesland, and other places of the Low Countries) gave it the Denomination from the Name of the Countrey they first found it in, and so called it Britannica, quasi Herba Britannica, and this is that which I adhere to, and really believe.

V. All the Botanists of the last six or seven hundred Years, knew nothing at all of it: indeed they have named Britannica, but they never durst venture to fix it, so as to describe it, or figure it in Sculpture. And according to the several Ages, several kinds of Herbs or Plants, were taken to be this Plants of ours, as, Bistorta, Betonica, Beccabunga aquatica, Bugla, Cochlearia, Heptaphyllon, Plantago aquatica, Primula veris, Tormentilla, Veronica, and several others; all which were falsly, in their several Ages, said to be the Britannica of the Ancients: and the two famous Bauhins, who spent their whole lives in the Botanick Study, made so great a mistake, as to take Colubrina, or a sort of Snake-weed for it: And Cambden makes our English Herborists to say, that Scurvy-Grass was the true Britannica Plinij; than which nothing is more remote: without doubt this our Hydrolapathum nigrum, is the genuine or true Britannica of the Ancients, its description agreeing exactly in every particular with their Descriptions, and performing every thing, and more than they ascribed to it.

VI. The Description. The first of these, which is our European or English kind, has a Tuberous Root, large and roundish, sending forth from it almost round about, several Arms or Branches of a considerable thickness, all which seem knobbed or gouty, and ill shaped: From this Root rises up several Leaves pretty large, not much unlike to those of the largest Dock, but every way broader and longer, growing upright, and sharp pointed, sometimes of a blackish green, sometimes of a purplish green, and sometimes of a yellowish green color, sometimes spotted, and sometimes not. From the midst of these Leaves rises up, one pretty large Stalk, sometimes three or four Feet high, of the shape and color of an ordinary Dock, except that sometimes it is inclining to a reddish green; it has a kind of joints, whence spring forth Leaves like the former, but much less and from the same places it sends forth manifold Branches, not much unlike to the Common Water Dock, but more numerous, larger and higher. The flowers grow all over these Branches, almost from their very beginning, up even to their several Tops, in a kind of Case or Husk, each set upon a small, slender, short Footstalk, and of a brown color; which being vanished, the Seed is contained in Chaffy husks, not much unlike to other Dock Seed, especially that of the Water Dock.

VII. The American or Virginian Britanny has a Root consisting of a Head thick and gouty, but not of a round tuberous body like the former, from which Head grows downward into the Earth, several Arms or Branches, which are thick, brownish without, and yellowish within: from this Root rises up one up-right Stalk of several feet high, which has also joints upon it like knees, from whence come forth very long and large Leaves, strong and hard, not much unlike to Monks Rhubarb, but that these are much longer. The Stalk (which is very like that of other Docks) rises up oftentimes to a considerable height, about the middle of which it sends forth a great number of Branches not much unlike the European, which have some few Leaves, like the others upon them, but much less. The Flowers grow in vast numbers upon all these Branches single, and each upon a small short Footstalk, even from their beginning up to their very tops, set in spaces at certain distances, in a seeming Uniform manner: After the Flowers are past away, the Seed comes, which is contained in a Chaffy Husk like the first, and differs not much from it, neither in shape, nor color, nor magnitude.

VIII. The Places. It commonly grows in Marshy and Fenny Grounds, banks of Ditches, and moist Places, and in sides of Ditches, and watry Plashes which are between the Land Ground and Fen Grounds in several parts of this Kingdom: I found some of it in the Borders of the Fens in Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, and in other moist and watry places. It glows plentifully also in Friesland, Overyssel, Gelderland, and Holland, and possibly in many other places in the Low Countries.

IX. The Times. It shoots forth its Leaves in April; its Flowers in the latter end of May, or beginning of June and its Seed is ripe in August. The Root is to be gathered in the beginning or the Spring, or in Autum, viz. in March or September; the Leaves and Flowers in June and July and the Seed in the latter end of August, or beginning of the next Month.

X. The Qualities. It is temperate in respect of heat or cold, but dry in the latter end of the second Degree. It is astringent, Aperitive, Digestive, and Traumatick; Stomatick, Hepatick, Hysterick, Arthritick and Alterative.

XI. The Specification. It is peculiar for the curing the Scurvy, and all sorts of Fluxes of what kind, soever and Munting says, it is a Specifick against Poisons and Convulsions.

XII. The Preparations. You may have therefrom,

  • 1. A liquid Juice.
  • 2. An Essence.
  • 3. A Decoction.
  • 4. A Spirituous Tincture.
  • 5. A Spirit by Fermentation.
  • 6. A Balsam or Ointment.
  • 7. The Fixed Salt.
  • 8. The Pouder of the Root.

The Virtues.

XIII. The liquid juice. Given to five or six spoonfuls, or more, either by it self; or mixt with Red Port Wine, it strengthens and confirms the Stomach and Bowels, and powerfully refills the Scurvy in all its appearances, viz. with all its Symptoms, as Ulcers and Cankers in the Mouth, looseness of the Teeth, wandering pains, weakness and sickness at Stomach, &c. It is good also against all manner of fluxes whatsoever, as Diarrhea's, Dysenteries, Lienteries, Hepatick fluxes, overflowing of the Terms in Women, It is to be taken Morning and Evening for some time.

XIV. The Essence. It has all the former Virtues, besides which, it is laid to cure Pleurisies, Quinsies, the Hemorrhoids, and all sorts of Inflammations; and is very powerful and successful in the cure of Hydropical Distempers, more especially if it is impregnated with the fixed Salt of the same Plant, It is also an extraordinary Traumatick, tor the curing of Wounds and old Ulcers, being taken Morning, Noon, and Night for some time, two or three ounces for a Dose in a Glass of Wine.

XV. The Decoction. It has all the Virtues of the Juice and Essence, but not all out so powerful it is an excellent Traumatick, and Antiscorbutick, and prevails against spitting and pissing of Blood, and all other Fluxes of Blood whatsoever.

XVI. The Spirituous Tincture. It has all the Virtues of the liquid Juice and Essence, a famous thing against the Scurvy in a cold and moist habit of Body, a very great stomatick, stengthening that Viscus in all its faculties: It is a kind of Panacea, and a Specifick against Convulsions, and Poisons, yea the Plague it self; it stops all sorts of Fluxes, and strengthens the Viscera to a Miracle: but it (as also the other Preparations) ought not to be given to costive Bodies, by reason of their Astringency.

XVII. The Spirit. It is made of the Juice by Fermentation: and is used (being dulcified) as a Cordial Antiscorbutick, and to comfort and strengthen the Bowels in Hydropick and Consumptive Persons, and such as have been in long Fluxes: being held in the Mouth, it strengthens the Gums, and fastens loose Teeth. Dose from half an ounce to an ounce twice a day, or upon any fainting or illness.

XVIII. The Balsam, or Ointment. It cleanses, incarnates, and heals singularly well; it cures Green Wounds at two or three times dressng, by reason of its Stypticity. Applied to the Hemorrhoids, and the Gout, it eases the pains of those Parts.

XIX. The Fixed Salt. It is singular against Quinsies, Pleurisies, and other Inflammations of the Viscera, opens Obstructions of the Reins, provokes Urine, and absorbs the Acid Humor, which is the cause of Fluxes of the Bowels; it also helps to carry off the Watry Humor in Dropsies. Dose from fifteen to thirty grains, in any Homogene Liquor, Decoction, &c. proper against the same Diseases, two or three times a day.

XX. The Pouder of the Root. It may be given from half a dram to two drams, Morning and Night, in any Flux of the Bowels, whether Simple or Bloody; it is also good against the Terms in Women, spitting and pissing of Blood, or any weaknesses of those parts; it strengthens the Stomach and resists Vomiting. It may be given in Port Wine, or other Vehicle proper against the Distemper. Strewed upon moist and running Ulcers, it dries up the Humor, and disposes them to heal.

XXI. The American has the same Qualities, Specification, Preparations, Virtues and Uses with the former.


Botanologia, or The English Herbal, was written by William Salmon, M.D., in 1710.
This chapter has been proofread by Nick Jones.



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