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Thursday, April 12, 2012
STAVESACRE - INSECTICIDE, BUT POISONOUS: HISTORY, USES AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF STAVESACRE
Stavesacre is a really pretty tall flowering plant which is highly toxic. It contains diterpene alkaloids which can prove fatal. The symptoms begin with euphoria, followed by depression and extreme sensitivity of the nerves, then paralysis, the slowing of the pulse and respiration until finally it causes death by asphyxiation. It acts in much the same way as Monkshood or aconite (also blue-flowered).
Stavesacre is clearly a corruption of its Latin name, staphisagria (say it and you’ll see how!) It was given the name lousewort, because its main use was to kill parasites, especially head lice in children. It was much used in the Middle Ages, when there were hygiene issues!
Stavesacre is a member of the buttercup family, or Ranunculaceae, making it a relative of Lesser Celandine, marsh marigolds, black cohosh, wood anemones, goldenseal and wolfsbane (another aconite). It is a native of the Mediterranean region and southern
Europe, and can grow to around four feet high, so is quite conspicuous.
The seeds are the main parts used, and these are collected and dried for later use, although given the toxicity of this plant is best left alone. It was known to Dioscorides and Pliny who both mention its use as a purgative and for killing parasites and insects externally. It has been used for skin problems and was thought to be an effective wart remover.
Nicholas Culpeper, the 17th century English herbalist had this to say about it: -
“Government and virtues. It is seldom given inwardly, being of a hot burning taste, though Sylvius de la Boe commends it from gr. xii. to a scruple in a dose, which purges upwards and downwards, causing a great flux of spittle; and is serviceable against the lues neverea. It is sometimes used in masticatories and gargarisms for the toothach. The vulgar use the powder of it to kill lice. The seeds are kept by the druggists, and they have been given in small doses against rheumatic and venereal disorders; they vomit and purge, and that in so rough a manner, that it is better to omit their internal use entirely. Chewed in the mouth, they excite a very large discharge of watery humours from adjacent parts, and frequently prove serviceable in disorders of the head; but they are chiefly used to destroy lice in children's heads, for this purpose the seeds coarsely powdered are to be strewed among the hair, and it never fails of destroying them.”