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Saturday, March 12, 2011
BLACK BRYONY( TAMUS COMMUNIS) - NO LONGER RECOMMENDED FOR MEDICINAL USE
Black Bryony is related to the yam as it is in the Dioscorea family of plants along with Dioscorea deltoides, and is the only one of the species that grows in most parts of Britain. It is native to northern European countries although its relatives also grow around the Mediterranean. It has tuberous roots and is a climbing vine plant and the young shoots can start their convolutions after 2½ to 3 hours of sprouting. It is a very fast growing plant and in November 2008 the popular UK tabloid newspaper “The Daily Mail” reported that it was the plant that was increasing in numbers quicker than any other native wild plant, along with ivy which was in third position. Unfortunately this is at the expense of other plants such as the wild strawberry and the harebell which grow closer to the ground. These climbers take over from the lower plants and deprive them of sunlight and root space. Unfortunately those who own land are not managing hedgerows and fields as well as they did in the past because of the expense involved, so there are concerns about Britain’s wild fauna.
The name Bryony comes from the Greek bryo which means shoot or sprout, presumably referring to the fast-growing nature of the young shoots. Pliny referred to this plant as Uva Tamina it is thought, hence the botanical name Tamus, and it is called communis because it is wide spread. Pliny says that it was eaten like asparagus and used as a diuretic and for the spleen. In Italy, especially in Tuscany, the young shoots are still boiled and eaten like asparagus and the Greeks also use a Bryony variety in the same way (Tamus cretica).
Black Bryony is also called Black Bindweed, because of the way it clings to a support and climbs, and Our Lady’s Seal, because its roots were pounded to a pulp and used to heal scars and bruises (this is because of the saponins contained in the roots). Another name for this plant is Oxberry as farmers used to give it to cows to improve their chances of conceiving. There was once a commonly-held belief that snakes lurked close to Black Bryony, and so it got the name Serpent’s Meat It could be that this was in reference to its climbing nature rather than the fact that snakes did like it.
Black Bryony is a poisonous plant and an irritant which has been employed to relieve the pain of rheumatism, gout and paralysis with the scraped pulp from the plant applied to the painful areas. The berries have emetic properties and produce vomiting so children should avoid eating them. They are bright red and attractive to both birds and children, although they tend to propagate around the parent plant when they fall.
The expressed juice from the root used to be taken in wine to dispel gravel and stones from the organs, and it is also a diuretic, but is no longer used because it is too powerful and other plants are much more useful as diuretics (mooli for example or broom tisane). The juice was mixed with honey and given to asthma sufferers but once again this is no longer recommended as there are much safer remedies. Try a mullein ‘cigarette’ instead.
At one time the berries would be steeped in gin for a long period and then the spirit would be applied to chilblains that had not broken. However this would be a terrible waste of gin!
Black Bryony is actually not recommended for use today, but it is worth writing about it for interest’s sake, and to see how modern medical research has invalidated traditional remedies that were probably dubious.