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In Search Of Culpeper’s Spitalfields

May 20, 2015
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)

A year after a plaque was placed upon the erstwhile Spitalfields Organics 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.)

You may like to read about

The Return of Nicholas Culpeper

Nicholas Culpeper in Spitalfields

28 Responses leave one →
  1. May 20, 2015

    A fascinating challenge you set for yourself. Astonishing, the tenacity of these plants. Thank you for a most enlightening herbalist tour.

  2. May 20, 2015

    I was wondering what to do about my King’s evil, thanks for listing the cure. (Great writing!)

  3. Marianne Last permalink
    May 20, 2015

    The unidentified herb in Hanbury Street looks like Pellitory of the Wall – for an old or dry cough, the shortness of breath, and wheezing in the throat. Wonderfully helps stoppings of the urine.

  4. May 20, 2015

    I love the strength of the wild flowers and herbs, and how they manage to push themselves through cracks and survive in the worst conditions. They would probably be the only things that Culpepper would recognise today. Valerie

  5. Jasmin Leuthold permalink
    May 20, 2015

    Dear Gentle Author.What a delightful post.I really felt as though Culpeper was
    with you !

  6. May 20, 2015

    I think Culpeper would be pleased indeed to see such an array of herbs still surviving in his manor. Really enjoyed the document of his return!

  7. Barbara permalink
    May 20, 2015

    What beautiful and interesting photographs taken from such an assortment of perspectives . One of my most favourite posts ever . T he thought of these little plants thriving (mostly unnoticed ) in the urban sprawl is somehow reassuring . Pity there is not a rare wild orchid somewhere that would stop the developers in their tracks !!!!

  8. Greg Tingey permalink
    May 20, 2015

    Unfortunately, most local authorities hate these outgrowings of life & vigour.
    It is certain that the borough in which I live (Waltham Forest) spends far too much money & time, in indiscriminately spraying weedkiller around … killing everything on or near the pavements, including plants in people’s gardens.

  9. Elizabeth cornwell permalink
    May 20, 2015

    What a wonderfyl post!Arent plants tough little things!

  10. May 20, 2015


  11. May 20, 2015

    What a wonderful post, Gentle Author. I am fascinated to find that Culpeper wrote about Buddleia, which I always think of as being a much more recent introduction. And what a variety of plants you’ve found! I love ‘weeds’, as you know…

  12. Ann permalink
    May 20, 2015

    My favourite blog so far; and I happened to have my wild flower books out at the time. I had just identified my own sightings from a walk yesterday. Thank you.

  13. May 20, 2015

    What a lovely post. I must read the book.

    And thank you for identifying Herb Robert and Yellow Wood Sorrel, there’s lots of it in my garden. This post reminds you that they’re not just weeds, they’re useful plants and survivors.

  14. May 20, 2015

    This was a good game – Identifying the herb or plant before the writing. 18/24!

  15. May 20, 2015

    Never undervalue the street herbs !

    Love & Peace

  16. anna permalink
    May 20, 2015

    what a beautiful post, that completely made my day. Gorgeous and inspiring!

  17. Tony McSweeney permalink
    May 20, 2015

    This is such a good post. I scrolled through it with a smile on my face and now I know where to go if I contract Pleurisy.

  18. May 20, 2015

    Hello reading your blog is always a total delight as well as being super informative thank you soooo much
    Fay x

  19. Bronchitikat permalink
    May 20, 2015

    Amazing the way plants just seem to spring up given the slightest opportunity. I’ve seen a Buddleia sprouting from an ancient chimney before now!

  20. May 20, 2015

    Lovely post and photos! Made me realise that half the time I think I’ve recognised a campion plant it’s been herb robert instead. I haven’t seen any honeysuckle blooming yet in my part of London, though, is it really already blooming so full in Spitalfields, or are some of these photos from last year?

    btw I think your camomile is pineapple weed, which *is* a wild camomile, but smells different to the one that people make tea from (though you can also make tea from it)

  21. Jacqueline Mulligan permalink
    May 20, 2015

    I feel vindicated – we have several of these growing in our small courtyard garden in Hull and also at the front of our little Victorian terrace house. They have all self seeded and my husband thinks I’m mad for giving ‘weeds’ space and encouraging them! But I like them – especially Herb Robert.

  22. Gary Arber permalink
    May 20, 2015

    Read and enjoy this article but be careful about trying the remedies.
    Ragwort is deadly, so much so that the Cinnabar Moth caterpiller eats it and becomes deadly to anything that eats it and the poison lives on into the adult moth. Honeysuckle berries are also poisonous.

  23. Roger Carr permalink
    May 20, 2015

    Another lovely post. I was amused by the juxtaposition on Commercial Street of Tobacco and Camomile. Maybe drinking more of one would help with cravings for the other? Wished I’d been there on the walk.

  24. May 20, 2015

    Great idea for a blog! Culpepper must have enjoyed your companionship and chat en route.
    I had to chuckle at the winking woman mural paired with buddleia and what it was used for! Ha!
    As always, a pleasure to read your blog.

  25. Sandra Gibson permalink
    May 20, 2015

    Enchanting. How wonderful that these plants, often regarded merely as weeds, endure against all the odds. I was glad of the identification of herb Robert which has appeared in my garden. Thank you for this.

  26. Patricia Celeveland-Peck permalink
    May 20, 2015

    What a wonderful idea!
    It clearly illustrates the amazing persistence of plants especially when one thinks that when Culpeper foraged for herbs for his impoverished patients he was gathering plants which had probably originally been planted in Medieval times.
    The archeobotanical finds when the Prior’s Garden (13th -116th century) of the Hospital of St Mary Spital was excavated revealed seeds of a huge variety of herbs and flowers and it is s wonderful to think that they are still there, forcing their way to the light from the fields of Spitalfields which lie beneath the pavements.
    How great that you sought them out.

  27. May 21, 2015

    An outstanding post GA many thanks!! Also loved the echium that muscled in on the act in Bishops Square!!

  28. Martin Palmer permalink
    September 8, 2016

    So that is Herb Robert!
    Where I live in the USA, there is a competition every year, run by the local newspaper, for the first buttercup of the year. If I’m not mistaken (and it has been known…) every year, early in the year, the compettion is won by a child taking in a celandine flower. Oh well, a celandine by any other name…. is still a pretty yellow flower. 😎

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