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In Search Of Culpeper’s Spitalfields

July 24, 2019
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)

Taking the opportunity 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 visit 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

14 Responses leave one →
  1. Greg Tingey permalink
    July 24, 2019

    Pellitory of the Wall
    Was quite unknown in London until recently – it is very sensitive to airborne pollution.
    Now ( & in the past 5 or 7 years or so ) it has re-appeared & is everywhere ….
    Parietaria officinalis – the second half of the latin name is a give-away that it is a medicinal, of course

  2. Jerome Fagan permalink
    July 24, 2019

    This is a truly beautiful article. I am a student of Nicholas Culpeper and love to see the plaque above Tony and Guy’s. Looking at the various maps of the period, before and after Nicholas’s life in Spitalfields, it seems that the plaque is on the site of the Red Lion Inn. Would the plan of the Culpeper house be on the current site of St John Bread and Wine? Puma Court seems to have shifted little since the 17th century. But, regardless, the plaque is where the famed herbalist and astrologer lived and tended to the poor. I look forward to returning to Spitalfields.

  3. Laura Williamson permalink
    July 24, 2019

    This is wonderful. I am quite ashamed that I had no idea of the names of some of these, “Herb Robert” for example, which I’ve always thought very pretty. Many grew very profusely in the industrial Midlands where I grew up-we used to call camomile “pineapples”, for obvious reasons -and it is amazing how well these little plants cope with pollution.

    I’m going to look at the little dribs of plants growing around us in unlikely locations with new interest, thank you GA (and Mr Culpeper)

  4. Judie permalink
    July 24, 2019

    I love today’s story! It’s excellent! However, I wonder if the Fleabane at Victoria Cottages is really Erigeron karvinskianus, and the Camomile in Commercial Street could perhaps be Pineapple Weed. It doesn’t matter.

  5. Robin permalink
    July 24, 2019

    What a wonderful, imaginative post! Thank you, GA. I had no idea how useful all those thistles and fleabane could be. A new perspective on urban plants.

  6. Ron Bunting permalink
    July 24, 2019

    The unidentified Herb has a good bud coming on there for such a short specimen .Some enterprising soul will recognize it and harvest the bud to grow some more in a less public environment no doubt.

  7. Elizabeth permalink
    July 24, 2019

    – another wonderful article, thank you!

    Looking back at ‘The Return of Nicholas Culpeper’ I noticed a comment from Chris Mills, April 9th 2014: “1616-1654, he should have concentrated on the day job perhaps”.

    During the Civil War Culpeper sustained a severe injury at the Battle of Newbury. He never fully recovered from receiving either shot or shrapnel in the chest.

  8. July 24, 2019

    Thanks for this lovely piece, GA! Did Culpeper actually know buddleia? I thought it didn’t arrive until the eighteenth century. (This is my piece on pellitory, with which my garden is cursed …

  9. Esther permalink
    July 24, 2019

    How wonderful to get a light shone on those neglected plants 🙂 Since the introdutcion of modern synthetic medicine much knowledge has been lost about the use of these medicical plants. God has given us everything we need in the wonderful plantworld.

  10. Catherine permalink
    July 25, 2019

    Thank you (once again) for an absolutely delightful post!

  11. July 29, 2019

    This series of photos and the accompanying texts is an utterly brilliant concept…how very smart. This is a real photo essay. Love it.

  12. Jill Wilson permalink
    August 1, 2019

    Yes – another brilliant concept for a blog – very enjoyable!

    I’m always amazed at how plants can grow in such seemingly unpromising situations with virtually no soil. I also read recently that both plants and birds thrived in the bomb sites and derelict buildings after the Blitz. I’m sure that Mother Nature and all the herbs will outlive us mere humans.

  13. Sarah Catterall permalink
    August 8, 2019

    Fascinated to read about the many plants that still survive in the Urban Metropolis that Spifalfields has become. I am sure my ancestor Benjamin Hooper who was an Apothecary and married to Elizabeth Rondeau ( Silk weavers of Spitalfields) according to census lived at Red Lion Court .Surely they must have known Mr Culpepper unless he was an Apprentice of Benjamin’s ??

  14. September 9, 2019

    The unidentified plant could be Angelica – hope it managed to survive and flower.

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