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Wednesday, June 13, 2012
YELLOW RATTLE: NO LONGER USED IN MEDICINE: HISTORY OF YELLOW RATTLE
Yellow rattle or yellow rattle grass, gets its name because the flowers are yellow and when ripe, the seeds rattle in their husky pod. In the past this was named Rhinanthus crista-galli which once again is evidence of the imagination of our ancestors. The Rhin part of the genus name means nose and anthus is flower, so it is the nose flower, because of the protruding top part of the flower. Crista-galli, means cock’s comb and Pliny tells us that it was thought that the hairs and leaves of the plant looked liked a cock’s crest. However now it is just the minor or lesser nose flower!
It grows to heights of around two feet and is native to
Europe, including Britain and the USA and Canada, although perhaps it has naturalized there. The stems of the plants are spotted with purple which makes it easy to identify.
The seed pods are flattened, and round, which is probably why the 16th century English herbalist John Gerard referred to it as “Pennygrass.”
It is a hemiparasite and lives partially off grass, so if you want to give other plants more room to grow and to get rid of unwanted grass, this is the plant for you. Experiments are underway to discover just how this plant can help agriculturists and the soil.
In Mediaeval times this yellow rattle was thought to have similar medicinal properties to Eyebright, and was thought to be very efficacious in eye problems. This is how Nicholas Culpeper, the 17th century English herbalist describes its medicinal use in his Herball:-
“The yellow rattle, or cock's comb, is held to be good for those that are troubled with a cough, or dimness of sight, if the herb, being boiled with beans, and some honey put thereto, be drank or dropped into the eyes. The whole seed being put into the eyes, draws forth any skin, dimness or film, from the sight, without trouble, or pain.”
It is currently in the Orobanchaceae family (so it is a relative of the parasitic Common broomrape) having being recently moved from that of the Scrophulariaceae which formerly made it a relative of mullein and figwort.
However it is another of the ancient herbs that are no longer used.