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Nicholas Culpeper’s Spitalfields

May 23, 2017
by the gentle author

Ragwort in Hanbury St

(The concoction of the herb is good to wash the mouth, and also against the quinsy and the king’s evil)

Encouraged to view the plaque upon the hairdresser at the corner of Puma Court and Commercial St, commemorating where Nicholas Culpeper lived and wrote The English Herbal, the celebrated seventeenth century Herbalist returned to his old neighbourhood for a look around and I was designated to be his guide.

Naturally, he was a little disoriented by the changes that time has wrought to Red Lion Fields where he once cultivated herbs and gathered wild plants for his remedies. Disinterested in new developments, instead he implored me to show him what wild plants were left and thus we set out together upon a strange quest, seeking weeds that have survived the urbanisation. You might say we were searching for the fields in Spitalfields since these were plants that were here before everything else.

Let me admit, I did feel a responsibility not to disappoint the old man, as we searched the barren streets around his former garden. But I discovered he was more astonished that anything at all had survived and thus I photographed the hardy specimens we found as a record, published below with Culpeper’s own annotations.

Honeysuckle in Buxton St (I know of no better cure for asthma than this, besides it takes away the evil of the spleen, provokes urine, procures speedy delivery of women in travail, helps cramps, convulsions and palsies and whatsoever griefs come of cold or stopping.)

Dandelion in Fournier St (Vulgarly called Piss-a-beds, very effective for obstructions of the liver, gall and spleen, powerful cleans imposthumes. Effectual to drink in pestilential fevers and to wash the sores. The juice is good to be applied to freckles, pimples and spots.)

Campion in Bishop’s Sq (Purges the body of choleric humours and helps those that are stung by Scorpions and other venomous beasts and may be as effectual for the plague.)

Pellitory of the Wall  in Hanbury St (For an old or dry cough, the shortness of breath, and wheezing in the throat. Wonderfully helps stoppings of the urine.)

Herb Robert in Folgate St (Commended not only against the stone, but to stay blood, where or howsoever flowing, and it speedily heals all green wounds and is effectual in old ulcers in the privy parts.)

Sow Thistle in Princelet St (Stops fluxes, bleeding, takes away cold swellings and eases the pains of the teeth)

Groundsel off Brick Lane (Represses the heat caused by motions of the internal parts in purges and vomits, expels gravel in the veins or kidneys, helps also against the sciatica, griping of the belly, the colic, defects of the liver and provokes women’s courses.)

Ferns and Campanula and in Elder St (Ferns eaten purge the body of choleric and waterish humours that trouble the stomach. The smoke thereof drives away serpents, gnats and other noisome creatures which in fenny countries do trouble and molest people lying their beds.)

Sow Thistle and Herb Robert in Elder St

Yellow Wood Sorrel and Sow Thistle in Puma Court (The roots of Sorrel are held to be profitable against the jaundice.)

Comfrey in Code St (Helps those that spit blood or make a bloody urine, being outwardly applied is specially good for ruptures and broken bones, and to be applied to women’s breasts that grow sore by the abundance of milk coming into them.)

Sow Thistle in Fournier St

Field Poppy in Allen Gardens (A syrup is given with very good effect to those that have the pleurisy and is effectual in hot agues, frenzies and other inflammations either inward or outward.)

Fleabane at Victoria Cottages (Very good to heal the nipples and sore breasts of women.)

Sage and Wild Strawberries in Commercial St (The juice of Sage drank hath been of good use at time of plagues and it is commended against the stitch and pains coming of wind. Strawberries are excellent to cool the liver, the blood and the spleen, or an hot choleric stomach, to refresh and comfort the fainting spirits and quench thirst.)

Hairy Bittercress in Fournier St (Powerful against the scurvy and to cleanse the blood and humours, very good for those that are dull or drowsy.)

Oxe Eye Daisies in Allen Gardens (The leaves bruised and applied reduce swellings, and a decoction thereof, with wall-wort and agrimony, and places fomented or bathed therewith warm, giveth great ease in palsy, sciatica or gout. An ointment made thereof heals all wounds that have inflammation about them.)

Herb Robert in Fournier St

Camomile  in Commercial St (Profitable for all sorts of agues, melancholy and inflammation of the bowels, takes away weariness, eases pains, comforts the sinews, and mollifies all swellings.)

Unidentified herb in Commercial St

Buddleia in Toynbee St (Aids in the treatment of gonorrhea, hepatitis and hernia by reducing the fragility of skin and small intestine’s blood vessel.)

Hedge Mustard in Fleur de Lys St (Good for all diseases of the chest and lungs, hoarseness of voice, and for all other coughs, wheezing and shortness of breath.)

Buttercup at Spitalfields City Farm (A tincture with spirit of wine will cure shingles very expeditiously, both the outbreak of small watery pimples clustered together at the side, and the accompanying sharp pains between the ribs. Also this tincture will promptly relieve neuralgic side ache, and pleurisy which is of a passive sort.)

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The Return of Nicholas Culpeper

Nicholas Culpeper in Spitalfields

17 Responses leave one →
  1. Jim McDermott permalink
    May 23, 2017

    A very clever post! Sore breasts eased, ‘courses’ provoked, serpents driven away and frenzies calmed (by what appears to be a tincture of domestic opium). My city walks will never be the same again.

  2. May 23, 2017

    A brilliant botanical journey. Not only do these herbs and flowers heal, but they are tenacious and resourceful to flourish in such unpromising nooks and crannies.

  3. Sarah Johnson permalink
    May 23, 2017

    Loved it … nature overwhelms “progress”.

  4. May 23, 2017

    An inspired posting of survival against the odds on this sad morning.

  5. May 23, 2017

    Good herb & plant session from GA today, for some they appear as weeds in the past they have saved lives, leave a crack in the ground and they are in ~ all good medicinal stuff. Seek and thou shalt find. Dandelion heads were traditionally picked on St Georges Day not now with global warming they do make good wine cheers. Herby places to visit, a must for the overseas visitor Chelsea Physic Garden and Kew Gardens both in London. At this time Honeysuckle as shown here is peaking the perfume is overwhelming at dawn & late evening. Ragwort is not taken internally as described also ‘do not’ let animals feed on this plant. Poet John

  6. Jonathan Madden permalink
    May 23, 2017

    Wonderful and timely post especially considering the awful events unfolding in Manchester this morning. Sometimes life in the City is so hard and difficult but between the pavements springs hope and healing. Truly magical.

  7. Lara permalink
    May 23, 2017

    Thank you for this fascinating post! I’m so encouraged to see so many surviving native species literally on my doorstep. This is such a useful post for my own historical research! The Royal Pharmaceutical Society in Smithfield should be leading walks on the topic! Thank you, thank you again!

  8. Peter Lewy permalink
    May 23, 2017

    Fascinating! One of your most creative posts … must have involved a huge amount of research and prior knowledge.

  9. Gaye Tirimanne permalink
    May 23, 2017

    What lovely pictures. I certainly wont pass by “weeds” again without considering Culpepper and his work.

  10. Sparks permalink
    May 23, 2017

    I always find the way little plants are able to grow in corners and walls where there is no soil a very magical thing.
    Nature is amazing.

  11. steve clarke permalink
    May 23, 2017

    Loved the idea behind this story. The idea that Culpeper’s remedies and herbs are still all around the Spitalfields area today…….if you know where to look. Obviously I am entirely in the hands of Mr Gentle regarding his identification of them but to me this is living history. Thank You

  12. Christine Thomas permalink
    May 23, 2017

    Brilliant, brilliant concept and brilliantly, brilliantly brought to fruition. Gentle Author I’d have never thought it possible, after so many intriguing and delightful posts, for you to excel even yourself! With thanks and gratitude for all the inspiration to joyous living your blog so freely offers.

  13. May 23, 2017

    Just fascinating, and some beautiful shots!

  14. Linda Kincaid permalink
    May 23, 2017

    I’m so impressed that you can identify these herbs. A wonderful piece of writing. Thankyou.

  15. Gary Arber permalink
    May 23, 2017

    These old books are ideal to read for entertainment but beware trying them out yourself. If you which to try the herbs please purchase a modern herbal, old books should be treated with caution.
    I have a mid nineteenth century gardening book which says :- To fumigate a greenhouse place a saucer of Sulphuric Acid on the floor, put in a teaspoonful of Potassium Cyanide and retire being careful not to breath the white fumes – enough said.

  16. Shawdian permalink
    May 24, 2017

    Having just been told I am gifted a book “The secrets of Nicholas Culpepper” 1945, which apparently is in the snail post on its way to me; this unique post could not have arrived at a better time to enthuse me for its arrival. GA never fails to surprise. Two days ago my husband and I were having a delightful discussion about the kind of weeds (herbs & wild flowers ) from our childhood that we no longer see in common abundance and how we miss seeing them. So much change in such short time. Bricks & morter the wild weeds slaughterer. A flower is a flower.

  17. May 27, 2017

    What a beautiful account, thanks for sharing! Hard to see from the picture but the unidentified herb looks a bit like Valerian. Will go and have a look next time we are passing!!

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