Wednesday, 15 February 2012


This pale purple iris has a bad name because of the smell it is said to give off, although I have never found it to smell so bad. The bruised or crushed leaves are said to smell like roasting beef, which is how it gets one of its common names in Britain, Roast Beef. However I can’t say that it smells like this to me either. (Perhaps my sense of smell isn’t well developed.) The name “gladwyn” means sword-grass, and the plant does have sword-like leaves, and is said to smell unpleasant, so that’s how it gets the name “stinking gladwyn.”
  In his English translation of Dodoen’s book, “A New Herbal”, Henry Lyte wrote of it as “Stinking Gladin’” whose leaves were “of a loathsome smell or stinke, almost like unto the stinking worme, called in Latin Cimex.”
  The iris was a symbol of life after death for the ancient Egyptians, but probably not this iris. This one is one of only two native to Britain (Yellow Water Flag being the other), although there are many varieties of iris growing around the world. This one is native to Europe, and North Africa, so it could be the one which was sacred to Osirus and Horus, the ancient Egyptian gods. The oil obtained from the iris was used in perfume and in the wrappings of mummies as was the dried flowers.
  For the ancient Greeks, the iris was a source of medicine, and Dioscorides, Pliny and Theophrastus mention it as a remedy for chest complaints such as bronchitis. They used a decoction of the iris, hyssop and honey or liquorice for these ailments.
  It used to be used to draw out arrowheads and splinters in poultices made with the crushed leaves. The dried powdered root was used in an infusion for hysterical outbursts, fainting and so on and to relieve stomach cramps and pains.
  Today it is used as a remedy for migraines, although it has a laxative action and can be as drastic a purgative as its relative the Yellow Water Flag. The infusion is made with one teaspoon of chopped leaves to one cup of boiling water left to steep for 10 minutes before straining and drinking. You can take this three times a day. The plant has also been used, it is said effectively, for ringworm.
  This iris has mild pain-relieving properties, is antiseptic, and a very strong laxative. It has been used in the past to promote women’s periods, and the infusion above can be used for skin problems such as pimples.
  Nicholas Culpeper, the 17th century English herbalist describes its actions and uses in this way:-
  “Government and virtues. It is supposed to be under the dominion of Saturn. It is used by many country people to purge corrupt phlegm and choler, which they do by drinking the decoction of the roots; and some to make it more gentle, do but infuse the sliced roots in ale; and some take the leaves, which serve well for the weaker stomach. The juice hereof put up, or snuffed up the nose, causes sneezing, and draws from the head much corruption; and the powder thereof doth the same. The powder thereof drank in wine, helps those that are troubled with the cramps and convulsions, or with the gout and sciatica, and gives ease to those that have griping pains in their body and belly, and helps those that have the stranguary. It is given with much profit to those that have had long fluxes by the sharp and evil quality of humours, which it stays, having first cleansed and purged them by the drying and binding property therein. The root boiled in wine and drank, doth effectually procure women's courses, and used as a pessary, works the same effect, but causes abortion in women with child. Half a dram of the seed beaten to powder, and taken in wine, doth speedily cause one to make water abundantly. The same taken with vinegar, dissolves the hardness and swellings of the spleen. The root is very effectual in all wounds, especially of the head; as also to draw forth any splinters, thorns, or broken bones, or any other thing sticking in the flesh, without causing pains, being used with a little verdigrease and honey, and the great Centaury root. The same boiled in vinegar, and laid upon an eruption or swelling, doth very effectually dissolve and consume them; yea, even the swellings of the throat called the king's evil; the juice of the leaves or roots heals the itch, and all running or spreading scabs, sores, blemishes, or scars in the skin, wheresoever they be.”

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