Dog’s Mercury is a common woodland plant in
and England as well as in mainland Wales Europe and can also be found in South West Asia. It is poisonous and really should be avoided, although dogs seek it out their owners say and then vomit, so it is used by them as they use other grasses such as couch grass. Dog’s Mercury is a member of the spurge or Euphorbiaceae family of plants which includes Ricinis communis or the castor oil plant, cassava or manioc, and Croton tiglium or jamalgota among others.
Nicholas Culpeper, writing in the 17th century has this to say of it and certainly cautions against its use, chastising earlier herbalists for not doing the same: -
“This species of mercury has been confounded with others of the same name, with which it has been thought to agree in nature. But there is not a more fatal plant, native of our country, than this. The common herbals, as Gerard's and Parkinson's, instead of cautioning their readers against the use of this plant, after some trifling, idle observations upon the qualities of mercuries in general, dismiss the article without noticing its baneful effects. Other writers, more accurate, have done this; but they have written in Latin, a language not likely to inform those who stand most in need of this caution. This is one of the reasons for compiling of this work.”
The Mercuries as Culpeper calls them got their name, so Pliny says because the Roman god Mercury discovered their medicinal virtues. This is a reference to the fact that Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine as he is known, used the plants for “female” complaints. The plant is also employed in homeopathy for rheumatism and gall bladder and liver complaints, but should not be administered without a physician’s approval.
Traditionally Dog’s mercury has been used in an ointment applied to external dressings for wounds, and it is said to soften and moisturize the skin. It has also been used to get rid of sores in the ears and around the eyes, but that was in the dim and distant past when other forms of medication were unavailable. It was used in ancient
as an antiseptic and to get rid of warts. Greece
It is even more noxious than French, annual or garden mercury, all names of the same plant, Mercurialis annua. For once it would be advisable to keep Culpeper’s advice in mind and stay clear of this plant.
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