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Visit Culpeper’s Spitalfields

June 19, 2022
by the gentle author

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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

12 Responses leave one →
  1. Lizebeth permalink
    June 19, 2022

    I loved this. I’ll have to learn from you to identify the many plants growing as “weeds” all around London. Nature has a way of showing herself to us.

  2. Annie Green permalink
    June 19, 2022

    One of my favourite posts and you have solved the question of what-is-that-funny-plant-in-the-corner? Turns out to be campion (I think). Such a cheerful and hopeful set of images. Thanks, GA.

  3. June 19, 2022

    Dear GA
    I love erigeron. As did my wife before me. It grows all over the walls and steps at RHS Wisley
    Gardens. There it is admired by the public who pay small fortunes for tiny pots of erigeron. I never knew it was “fleabane”. Thank you

  4. June 19, 2022

    What a wonderful tour, in such great company (NC and GA both)! For me there is no sight more joyous than wildflowers, Chelsea and Kew are all well and good but a meadow of wild weeds giving life blows those two away for me.

    I am a huge fan of Culpeper, for both is deep knowledge and deep kindness, and would love so much to one day create a delft ‘tegeltableau’ in his honour!

  5. June 19, 2022

    My goodness, this duplicity of cases: a few days ago I was photographing magnificent rose blossoms in our Stadthallen Garden (Kassel’s tiny “Central Park”). And then I noticed a small poppy that had fought its way between stone slabs. I took a photo of her, too. I didn’t want her to get a complex…

    Love & Peace
    ACHIM

  6. Saba permalink
    June 19, 2022

    GA, I can never imagine how you manage to research, photograph, write, and post these wonderful articles every single day. Any one of them would take me a week. Keep them coming. They are great and I am a loyal fan. Saba

  7. Marnie permalink
    June 19, 2022

    Lovely article and walkabout, GA, especially on this unusually bright, sunny morning in NE Ohio (167 days out of 365). Unknowing folks hereabouts–including myself–likely give these beneficents a hearty dose of toxic Roundup without a further thought.

    I wonder whether my Huguenot ancestors who spent a while in Spitalfields before boarding ships for the perilous journey to the New World would have known about and used these herbs. (And, yes, we DO pronounce the ‘h.’)

  8. June 19, 2022

    Fascinating, thanks! I’m especially intrigued about the buddleja: the Asian species pictured wasn’t introduced until about the 1890s, and Buddleja americana, though named by Linnaeus, was (I believe) not very common. Did Culpeper know it, or is this a quote from a much more recent edition? (Agree with Bob about Erigeron – I can never understand how it sells, as it self-seeds so easily!)

  9. Jacqueline Feasey permalink
    June 19, 2022

    Thank you for all of your wonderful posts. I especially enjoyed this one.
    I have foxgloves kindly planted by the wind or the birds perhaps. I read that they are used in some heart medication but known as Digitalis. I suffer from heart problems and I wonder if nature knows.

  10. Cherub permalink
    June 20, 2022

    This was really very interesting. In Basel the city has a number of historic fountains that dispense clean drinking water. They encourage the public to use them for keeping feet cool and a huge one near me has small children paddling in it all summer.

    This year the water company decided to have an urban city project where 4 fountains at a time are drained and planted out on rotation during the summer – some have flowers, but others herbs that people are encouraged to pick either for cooking or medicinal purposes. There have been a few complaints as it’s so hot and some people would prefer the water, but the ones planted out do look lovely and smell wonderful.

  11. Hetty Startup permalink
    June 20, 2022

    this photographic tour is completely wonderful – lots of information and birds eye or worm’s eye views – thank you! Could you add it to your programme of tours? Hetty

  12. June 20, 2022

    Thank you for you encyclopaedic knowledge and your diligence in searching out all these different plants in unlikely places. I was passionate about herbal remedies when I was younger and this is a reminder to actually use them again.

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