Wall rue is native to
Europe and Britain and Ireland, eastern North America and parts of Asia, and is a fern which you can find in crevices on walls, as you can the true maidenhair and adder’s tongue. As a fern it is distantly related to adder’s tongue, common polypody, hart's tongue, bracken, common club moss, horsetail, moonwort, and all other ferns. It grows to around two or three inches high, and resembles maidenhair.
Like most ferns it has no flowers, but the spores can be seen on the underside of the leaves or fronds, being brown and then black when mature.
It is similar in colour to garden rue, which is perhaps why it gets its name. It was a specific for rickets in traditional medicine in
Britain, and was especially used for coughs in children and also for children’s ruptures.
In some parts of
Europe it was infused in milk to treat epilepsy, and a decoction of the fronds was given for kidney complaints. It was also used to staunch bleeding from minor wounds, as it has a fairly high tannin content.
Distilled water made from the fronds has been used as eye lotion for a variety of eye problems.
The fronds may be harvested in late spring and dried for later use, although it may not be possible to do this if the plant is listed as endangered or protected in your country.
The English herbalsit, Nicholas Culpeper, writing in the 17t century linked wall rue closely with maidenhair fern, and had this to say about the properties of each.
“The decoction of the herb Maiden-Hair being drank, helps those that are troubled with the cough, shortness of breath, the yellow jaundice, diseases of the spleen, stopping of urine, and helps exceedingly to break the stone in the kidneys, (in all which diseases the Wall Rue is also very effectual). It provokes women's courses, and stays both bleedings and fluxes of the stomach and belly, especially when the herb is dry; for being green, it loosens the belly, and voids choler and phlegm from the stomach and liver; it cleanses the lungs, and by rectifying the blood, causes a good colour to the whole body. The herb boiled in oil of Camomile, dissolves knots, allays swellings, and dries up moist ulcers. The lye made thereof is singularly good to cleanse the head from scurf, and from dry and running sores, stays the falling or shedding of the hair, and causes it to grow thick, fair, and well coloured; for which purpose some boil it in wine, putting some Smallage seed thereto, and afterwards some oil. The Wall Rue is as effectual as Maiden-Hair, in all diseases of the head, or falling and recovering of the hair again, and generally for all the aforementioned diseases. And besides, the powder of it taken in drink for forty days together, helps the burstings in children.”
SEA ASTERS - CULPEPER'S SEA STAR WORT: HISTORY OF USES AND HEALTH BENEFITS WITH RECIPE FOR SEA ASTERS AND SCALLOPS
SEA ASTER, ASTER TRIPOLIUM
The sea aster was known to Nicholas Culpeper the English herbalist of the 17th century as the Sea Star-wort. However in the previous century, John Gerard had called it tripolium, and had this to say about it:-
“It was reported by men of great fame and learning that it doth change the colour of his flowers thrice a day.”
It doesn’t, but it comes in a range of colours from white to lilac to a deep lilac and blue. The three great men-“tri-polis” (three citizens) were probably Hippocrates, Galen and Dioscorides, whom John Gerard relied heavily upon for his remedies.
He also said that it grew in the
Isle of Wight, (a small island off the south coast of Britain) and Battersea, near the Thames in London, although it doesn’t now.
The plant looks like a Michaelmas daisy, but it isn’t as that one blooms in September and the sea aster blooms from June through to October, depending upon where it grows. It is a member of the daisy or Asteraceae or Compositae family of plants so has many relatives such as pellitory or Roman chamomile, marigolds, purple goat’s beard (salsify), yellow goat’s beard, elecampane, the ox-eye daisy, holy thistles, costmary, tansy, feverfew, groundsel, fleabane and yarrow, to name but a few.
Aster means star, and it gets this name from the appearance of its flowers. There are several legends about asters, one being that Astraea, a goddess associated with the constellation of Virgo, left the Earth and looking down at it, wept sorrowful tears for it, which became asters. Another legend says that the goddess Virgo scattered stardust on the Earth and this turned into asters.
The leaves and stems of this plant are edible and may be substituted for marsh samphire. It is sometimes sold in fishmongers in
Britain. They can be pickled or used as a vegetable as in the recipe below.
The sea aster is a native of northern
Europe, including Britain and Ireland, and may also be found in North Africa and lake shores of Central Asia. It lives on rocky cliffs in crevices and in salt marshes.
Today is it used as a wash for the eyes and is said to be good for the sight. However this is what Nicholas Culpeper has to say about this plant which he called Sea Star wort; according to him it was an aphrodisiac and useful for a variety of complaints.
“Government and virtues. This is …under the dominion of Mercury. The leaves are accounted cooling, and good for burns, scalds, and inflammations, in any part. The seed is narcotic and soporiferous, and rarely used. A slight tincture or infusion of the plant promotes perspiration, and is good in feverish complaints. The juice boiled into a syrup with honey, is excellent in asthmatic complaints, and other disorders of the lungs; and outwardly applied is a cure for the itch, and other cutaneous disorders. A strong decoction given as a *glyster, with the addition of a little oil, eases those colicky pains which arise from the stone and gravel; on infusion of the leaves drank constantly in the manner of tea, is a strengthener, and provocative to #venery, and is supposed to be a cure for barrenness.”
SEA ASTER AND SCALLOPS
4 oz/ 200 gr. smoked salmon, shredded
3 oz butter
8 scallops, cleaned, corals removed from the white meat and the latter thinly sliced.
5 fl oz /150ml white wine
7 fl oz double (thick) cream
200 gr sea aster leaves and tender stems, or marsh samphire
Melt half the butter in a hot frying pan and add the thin slices of white scallop meat. Fry for one minute and be careful not to overcook it as, like squid and octopus, scallops are tough and rubbery if overcooked.
Remove from the pan and reserve.
In the same frying pan add the sea aster and fry for two to three minutes, tossing frequently.
Melt the remaining half of the butter in a clean frying pan over a medium heat and add the scallop corals and fry for 1 minute.
Add the white wine, and bring to simmering point. Simmer until the liquid has been reduced by half.
Add the cream and bring back to a simmer for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and transfer to a blender.
Blend the coral mixture until smooth. Then pour this into the pan containing the sea aster, add scallop meat and smoked salmon slivers and gently heat through, so that the cream doesn’t boil.
Serve with pasta of your choice.
This has Taste and is a Treat.
Oil of turpentine is manufactured from the resin of the European Silver fir and used extensively in the paint industry, as a solvent. The residue from the process, the rosin oil is used for making varnishes, lacquers and carbon black which is a pigment used in inks and paints. Distilled, it is used in the food industry as a flavouring. In the cosmetics industry it is used to make soaps and bath products as it is said to be good to ease muscle and joint pains and the pains associated with rheumatism, sciatica and neuralgia. Sometimes it is used as a rub because it is a counter-irritant to relieve pain.
The early physicians, Hippocrates, Dioscorides and Galen recommended its use for lung problems and for obstruction in the internal organs, such as stones in the gall bladder which it was thought to dissolve.
However it is lethal in large doses, and as Paracelsus pointed out, “Sola dosis facit venerum” which roughly translates as “only in the dosage lies the poison.” For example in low doses it is good for the kidneys and liver, but in high doses it is very bad for them. High doses can cause nervous system disorders such as convulsions and loss of balance.
The main ingredients of the oil are ά- and β- pinene, which have been found to be effective insecticides, especially against female cockroaches and their eggs, with β- pinene, being the more effective. They are both useful against Candida yeast infections and have a similar action to tea tree oil from Melaleuca alterifolia.
Theses two compounds have also shown in vitro cytotoxic activities against human cancer cells. It has been speculated that ά-pinene might be helpful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease as it has shown to have some positive effects on cognition and memory, although scientists say that it is only useful if combined with essential oils from other plants.
It has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic properties and soothes the muscles of the intestine, and these properties support the use of the oil in traditional medicine systems in Germany and Poland where it has been used to treat diarrhoea, coughs and asthma.
In modern phytotherapy oil of turpentine is used to treat bronchial problems, as an antispasmodic, analgesic, for cystitis and other genito-urinary tract problems, for dissolving gall stones, as a haemostatic for use to relieve the pains of rheumatism and so on and as a diuretic as well as to remove worms from the gastro-intestinal tract. It is also used as an antidote to phosphorous poisoning.
β- pinene is anti-inflammatory and analgesic, and antibacterial, especially good for clearing flora from the mouth. However it is best used with ά-pinene to get rid of bacteria.
The European Silver Fir provides us with many health-giving products, as well as its wood. Next time you see one, you may view it in a different light than you did before.
EUROPEAN SILVER FIR, ALBIES ALBA
The European Silver fir is native to Central and
Southern Europe and has been introduced into Britain where it has naturalized in some parts, particularly in Scotland where it grows well. It is a member of the Pinaceae family of plants and so is a relative of the Western Hemlock tree (Tsuga heterophylla), the trees which produce pine nuts and chilgoza nuts, the Deodar tree (Cedrus deodara), the West Himalayan Fir (Abies pindrow Royle) and the Biblical cedars of Lebanon.
It is an evergreen tree which typically flowers between April and May, with its seeds ripening between September and October. It can grow to around 45 metres high and to 15 metres wide at a fast rate. It was the original Christmas tree, although today the Norway spruce is more generally used.
Timber from the European silver fir is prized as it is lightweight and durable. It is used in construction for furniture and boxes and pulped.
Oil of Turpentine or Strasburg turpentine.
Resin from older trees which have reached the age of between sixty and eighty years are tapped in spring in order to produce distilled oil from the resin. This is common in bath products for those with rheumatism and sore muscles or joints. It is also used n disinfectants and household cleaning products that smell of pine.
The buds of the European silver fir have antibiotic and antiseptic properties; they are also balsamic which means that they have warming, soothing properties. The bark is astringent and antiseptic, and may be harvested at any time of the year. As the bark contains tannin, it can be used in decoctions or infusions for dysentery or diarrhoea.
One study has shown that the essential oil of the European Silver fir has excellent free-radical scavenging activities; “Radical scavenging activity of the essential oil of Albies alba” Seun-Ah Yang et al. Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition 2009 May, Vol. 44 (3). However it did not, in this study show pronounced antibacterial actions.
Petty spurge is a very common weed in
Britain and the rest of Europe. It has spread through introduction to most areas of the world, including North America and Australia. I know this plant by another name, milkweed, which is given to it because of its milky sap or latex which exudes from the stem when it is broken.
It is a member of the Euphorbiaceae or spurge family which makes it a relation of poinsettia, the Candlenut tree, jamalgota (Croton tiglium), the castor bean tree, yucca, and both French and Dog’s mercury.
In the past the milky latex was used to get rid of warts, and callouses, but it should be used with care as it can cause dermatitis, as it is an irritant. The seeds and powdered roots were used as mild laxatives, in similar ways that other members of the family have been employed, for example the castor bean tree from which castor oil is produced.
If you use the latex for any reason, you should wash you hands thoroughly afterwards, and should not touch your eyes, as the latex may cause blindness (rather like that of aak).
Nicholas Culpeper had this to say of the little plant: -
“It flowers in June. The root is used, and of that the bark only.
Virtues. It is a strong cathartic, working violently by vomit and stool, but is very offensive to the stomach and bowels by reason of its sharp corrosive quality, and therefore ought to be used with caution.”
What he didn’t know was that this plant may be very useful in curing lesions caused by skin cancer.
25th January 2011, the BBC reporter, Michelle Roberts in the article “Common weed petty spurge 'could treat' skin cancer” reports a trial that was then in the stage II phase. Thirty-six patients with non-melanoma skin cancer with a total of 48 lesions between them were treated with petty spurge extracts. After one month, 41 of the 48 lesions had disappeared and did not show evidence for their existence in medical examinations. It was a small study and ongoing as patients had to be monitored in case the cancer re-occurred. However it seems that this common little weed may have far more uses than could have been imagined in Culpeper’s day.
It is thought that the active principle in the fight against skin cancer is Ingenol-3-angelate, which activates the protein, Kinase C, which is believed to be effective in treating cancer, particularly leukaemia. (There has been a study carried out on lab mice which suggests this.)
Clearly more research is needed to discover exactly what the mechanism is that causes the plant to eradicate cancerous lesions on the skin.
The candlenut tree is known by many other names, including the Indian walnut tree, the varnish tree and candleberry. In Hawaiian it is known as kukui. It is a member of the Euphorbiaceae or spurge family of plants, and so is related to petty spurge, Sun spurge and so on, as well as to French and Dog’s Mercury, poinsettia, the castor bean tree, yucca and Croton tiglium (the jamalgota producer).
It is native to the
and is sometimes used in agroforestry to protect avocado trees, mango trees and others from inclement weather. It can grow to heights of 66 feet, although is usually a little smaller. It is also native to the Indian subcontinent, Myanmar and parts of South East Asia. It was introduced to the Pacific Islands Caribbean islands, the US, the Virgin Islands and Sri Lanka, among other countries. It is useful as a windbreak and can be pruned so that it forms a living hedge.
The Hawaiian name for this plant means lighting and this is what the oil from the candlenut has traditionally been used for. It seems that no part of this tree goes to waste, as the husks are used to produce a black dye used in tattooing, or used for decorative items, for example filled with home-made candles. The shell contains seeds which are fleshy to leathery in texture, and it feels a little like a walnut shell. The husks and seeds are woven into traditional leis (garlands) in
Hawaii and the flowers and leaves may also be included in these. It is the official state tree of Hawaii.
The name of the genus, Aleurites means “flowery” in Greek and this is a reference to the young leaves and flower buds, which look as though they have a fine dusting of flour over them. The flowers usually bloom in spring, although in some places they bloom at any time of year.
The oil can be used like linseed oil (from flax seeds) and is used to oil surfboards in
Hawaii. This oil was useful when the early people of that island used the latex from the breadfruit tree to trap birds, so that they could pluck feathers from them to make their ceremonial cloaks. After they had taken the feathers they needed, they would remove the sticky gum from the birds’ feet with oil from the candlenut tree and release them.
All parts of the tree are toxic, but the bark, seed, leaves and flowers are all used in traditional systems of medicines in areas where the tree grows. The raw seeds are toxic and have a purgative effect, but the seeds may be roasted and powdered to use as a condiment mixed with salt, seaweed, and chilli peppers. This is called “inamona” in Hawaiian.
The shells and seeds are also used to make jewellery, and may be varnished or unpolished. The oil is used in the cosmetics industry and can also be used as fuel in diesel engines after chemical modification. It is also used as a base for paint and varnish. The trunks of the trees are made into canoes, which are short-lived as the wood is not very durable. Another use for the wood is to make fishing net floats. After the oil has been extracted from the seeds, the leftover seed cake is used as animal fodder.
The oil from the candlenut is an irritant and is used on the scalp to promote hair growth. The pulped seed kernels are used in poultices to relieve headaches, fevers, swollen joints and sores and ulcers on the skin. In Java the bark decoction is given for dysentery, while the hot leaves are used for headaches and gonorrhoea for which purposes they are applied topically to the body.
The leaves and bark have been found to have antiviral and antibacterial properties, while the methanol extract of the leaves has hypolipidemic effects. The leaves have pain-killing properties believed to be due to their flavonoids content.
The nuts from the tree may be used in cooking as a substitute for macadamia nuts, but should not be eaten raw as they contain saponins and other toxic substances.
Breadfruit is thought to have originated in
New Guinea, and scientists have been able to trace human migration between the , by studying the breadfruit trees. They now grow throughout the Pacific, except that they do not grow on Pacific Islands New Zealand’s islands or on Easter Island. They are grown throughout South East Asia and are cultivated in many parts of the world. Breadfruit has been a staple crop in these islands for over 3,000 years.
They get their name because of their starchiness and the fact that when they have been roasted they smell like freshly baked bread, and taste like it too, or perhaps like potatoes. Like bread they are served with butter and salt and pepper on some islands. Even the genus name describes the fruit well - artos means bread in ancient Greek and carpus fruit, while altilis means fat; so the botanical name describes the fruit of the tree, fat breadfruit.
The breadfruit is a close relation of the Jackfruit, and is a member of the Moraceae family of plants, making it more distantly related to mulberries, shahtoot mulberries, the European and Punjabi fig, the tropical fig, peepal and banyan trees, and the Toothbrush or Sandpaper tree, among others.
There are varieties of breadfruit which have seeds, and some which are seedless. Some can be eaten raw, and some need to be roasted or boiled twice, and the water discarded, as they can have purgative effects.
They can be eaten roasted or boiled as a vegetable, usually if they are under-ripe, like plantains, or used mashed, as a dessert, flavoured with cinnamon, rose water and nutmeg, sherry or brandy, with sugar and two beaten eggs. They can also be roasted and stuffed with meat or coconut, so are very versatile.
palm sugar (toddy) until they are crisp and brown.
The roasted seeds taste like a cross between peanuts and chestnuts, and are packed full of minerals and amino acids, plus vitamin C and the B-complex vitamins B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin) and B3 (niacin). These can be eaten raw or roasted and ground to a flour for baking.
The breadfruit itself is very nutritious, and if used as food would help the world food shortage. It was introduced into the
Caribbean in the late 1700s and was used to feed slaves on the colonial sugar plantations. Today it is regarded as food for the poor and not generally eaten in the Caribbean. It is packed with carbohydrates and a good source of dietary fibre, containing the minerals, calcium, potassium, magnesium, with small amounts of BI, B2 and B3 vitamins and larger amounts of vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid. The fruit also contains 16 amino acids. The yellow fleshed variety is a good source of provitamin A in the form of carotenoids.
The trees can be propagated by air layering or suckers. This explains, in a way, the Hawaiian legend about the god Ku, who buried himself in the earth, so that the breadfruit tree sprouted from him, thus saving his village from famine. Villagers were exhorted to plant the shoots or suckers that sprang up around the tree, so that they would never go hungry.
Early Hawaiians used the latex from the tree to catch birds. The birds got their feet stuck in the latex and the islanders plucked their feathers for ceremonial cloaks, and then cleaned the sticky latex from the birds’ feet using oil from the candlenut (Aleurites moluccana) or sugar cane juice and then set them free.
The latex is now diluted and used as a remedy for diarrhoea. It is also used to treat skin infections, and may be bandaged onto the spine to relieve sciatica.
The leaves are used for animal feed and as a tisane or decoction to lower blood pressure and help with asthma, while the leaf juice is used as ear-drops for earache. The powdered, roasted leaves are used as a remedy for an enlarged spleen, and the ashes of burned leaves are put on skin infections. Toasted flowers (which begin creamy yellow and then turn brown), are rubbed on gums around a sore tooth for pain relief. The leaves and latex have anti-fungal properties.
The tree is used on some islands in the construction of houses, for boats and the wood is light, so prized for surfboards. The inner bark of the tree is used to make rope and cloth, and the latex is used for glue and to caulk boats. The trees are fast-growing and begin to produce breadfruit when they are between 3 and five years old. They can then go on to produce fruit for decades. They can grow up to 26 metres high- that’s approximately 85 feet tall, and the large leaves can be 30 centimetres long, and split like a Swiss Cheese plant. The fruit itself is interesting as it is a syncarp, meaning that it is composed of multiple fruit from many flowers, which have stuck together to form a single fruit. The rind may be yellow-green, yellow, green or even lavender, and I believe there is also a pink one. Synonyms for this tree include Artocarpus communis and Artocarpus incisus.
The breadfruit is exported to
North America and Europe in small amounts due to the emigration of ethnic peoples, and in some quarters it is considered a gourmet food. It is canned for export as well as being sent fresh in limited quantities.
There is some history behind the introduction of the breadfruit trees into the
Caribbean. They were first noted by Captain James Cook, in the 18th century and when he returned to London, the Admiralty sent Captain Bligh to Tahiti to get some saplings and transport them to the Caribbean, His first attempt to do this in 1787 failed due to the mutiny on his ship the Bounty as his crew had succumbed to the allure of Tahiti and its women. His second attempt was more successful in 1782, and some of the suckers from the original trees are still in the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Botanic Gardens in Kingston, St. Vincent.
The breadfruit is a largely overlooked fruit which could use a makeover (like the soursop) if it is to feed more people.
This plant is native to
Mexico, although it has naturalized in Florida, Hawaii and the Caribbean, as well as other countries with hot climates. It was formerly classed as one of the figwort or Scrophulariaceae family, although it has recently been moved to the Plantaginaceae family. This makes it a relative of the white turtlehead (Chelone glabra), speedwell (Veronica officinalis), the plantains, French psyllium, foxgloves, brahmi or water hyssop (Bacopa monnieri), snapdragons, and brooklime or the water pimpernel.
This shrub grows to heights of five feet and has a similar spread. It flowers from early spring to autumn, when it starts to get frosty. It has tubular red or coral flowers which attract hummingbirds and butterflies and it looks rather like a spectacular floral fountain, cascading when in bloom. This is why it has the name Fountain plant or bush.
In south west
Nigeria the plant is used in traditional medicine to treat diabetes and leukaemia and in traditional medicine it is also said to promote hair growth. It is also used to treat malaria and inflammatory diseases.
Recently it has been the subject of a few research studies, which have generally borne out the traditional uses of the plant. However these have not been replicated outside
O. T. Kolawole and S. O. Kolawole published a research paper in 2010 which concludes “chronic use of Russelia equisetiformis could “impair normal liver function and therefore should be used with care.” (Biology and Medicine Vol2 (3) pp38-41) So this plant comes with a health warning.
O. T. Kolawole et al also published another paper in the Nigerian Journal of Physiological Sciences 2007 Vol22 (1-2) pp. 50-63, “Central nervous system depressant activity of Russelia equisetiformis” In which they state the “methanol extract possesses central nervous system depressant activities” and further research has shown that the extracts of the whole plant has anti-nociceptive effects.
The latest research “Anti-inflammatory activity of Russelia equisetiformis Schlect and Cham: identification of its active constituents” published in the Journal of Intercultural Ethnopharmacology, 2012 Vol. 1 (1) pp.25-29, by Awe Emmanuel Olorunju et al. states “lupeol isolated from extract of Russelia equisetiformis possesses anti-inflammatory activity in acute and certain aspects of chronic inflammation.”
From these studies, it would appear that this beautiful plant could be hiding some medicinal properties that we can all benefit from.
The white turtlehead is native to the eastern parts of
North America. It lives in watery places such as bogs, on the edges of streams and rivers and in moist woodland. It gets the name turtlehead because the flowers (which resemble snapdragons a little) are rather fancifully believed to look like a tortoise or turtle’s head.
Chelone (the genus name) was one of the nymphs in Greek mythology who dared to cast aspersions on the marriage of Zeus and Hera. For her impertinence she was turned into a tortoise so condemning her to eternal silence. Her name means tortoise in ancient Greek.
The Chelone genus comprises only four species and a few subspecies, and this one is known by different botanical synonyms which include: Chelone
and Chelone obliqua alba. It also has different English names, including balmony, snakehead, Turtlebloom, shellflower and others. montana
The white turtlehead’s flowers may be white, or tinged with pink or pale yellow, and these are in bloom between July and October. They can grow to heights of two to three feet, with a similar spread. If they are harvested, it is best to do this when they are blooming and dry them for later use, or use fresh.
These turtleheads were formerly in the figwort or Scrophulariaceae family but have recently been moved to the Plantaginaceae family, making them relatives of Speedwell (Veronica officinalis), the snapdragon, French psyllium (Plantago arenaria) and the plantains (Plantago minor and P. ovata) foxgloves, brahmi or water hyssop (Bacopa monnieri), brooklime or water pimpernel, and many others.
Native Americans used these turtleheads in their traditional medicine systems, using the plant as a mild laxative, like senna rather than the drastic purgative, jamalgota. It is considered a bitter herb, like white horehound, and faintly tastes like tea. A decoction of the whole herb (2 ounces of fresh herb to 1 pint of water, with the herb and water mixture being boiled down to half the quantity of liquid) and used as a drink for consumption, gall bladder problems, including gallstones, liver complaints including jaundice, for nausea and vomiting and colic. It was considered an anti-depressant and said to stimulate the appetite, which might make it a good herb to treat anorexia nervosa.
The plant was used externally in ointment to apply to piles, inflamed breasts, tumours, ulcers and other skin inflammations.
The Baltimore Checker spot butterfly uses this plant to lay its eggs on, so it is an important conservation plant.
Despite it being used traditionally for centuries very little research has been done into verifying or contradicting its value in medicine as yet.
The Greek strawberry tree is very similar to the strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo, and naturally crosses with it in the
Mediterranean and Middle East where these trees are native. In Greek it is called Αγριοκουμαριά (field koumaria), Elafokoumaria' (wild koumaria) or 'Andraklos. It is a member of the Ericaceae family so is a relation of bilberries, blueberries and cranberries. It has similar properties to the strawberry tree.
The bark of this evergreen tree peels off annually and can be used as a decoction for sore throats as a gargle and the infusion can be used as a tisane for the same ailment. An infusion of the leaves may be used for a cold, and the berries themselves are said to aid digestion and improve the appetite.
This tree was described by Thomas Wright in his book, Early Travels in
Palestine, published in 1845. He has this description of what is believed to be the Greek strawberry tree.
“There was on the road a small tree bearing a fruit somewhat bigger than our cherries, and of the shape and taste of strawberries, but a little acid. It is pleasant to eat, but if a great quantity be eaten, it mounts to the head, and intoxication. It is ripe in November and December.”
It was first reported as having flowered in
England by Peter Collinson (1694-1768), an English botanist who must have seen it at Dr John Fothergill’s (1712-1780) botanical gardens and greenhouses at Upton House, in . Essex, England
The fruit of the tree may be used in pies and baking, and can also be eaten raw. Different parts of the tree have been used to treat arthritis, eczema, rheumatism and lumbago.
The fruit contains vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid, has antioxidant properties and is said to be a good source of phenolics. The fruit also contains malic acid, fructose, glucose and sucrose, the natural sugars.
Very little research has been carried out into the possible health benefits of this tree.
The European wild cherry tree is the ancestor of all the cultivated cherry trees. It is different in many ways to its American cousin, Prunus serotina, as it is smaller, the flowers are completely different and the fruit is ripe when red (and sweet). It is a member of the Rosaceae or rose family making it a relative of apricots, peaches, plums, loquats, strawberries, raspberries, apples, pears, quinces, crab apples, almonds, silverweed, cinquefoil, Alpine Lady’s Mantle, avens, water avens and a whole host of other plants.
The wild cherries have been eaten for millennia and some cherry stones have been carbon-dated to 2077BC, so our ancestors were familiar with the fruit. The tree bears flowers in early April, before the leaves have formed, and this makes it a spectacular sight. The fruit is ripe in mid-summer, in June and July and the birds love to eat it. The hawksbill is especially good at breaking open the cherry stone to get at the edible almondy kernel.
The fruit can be either sweet or sour, but never acidic and is used for making jellies, jam, preserves and wine.
A sticky resin exudes from the tree when the bark is cut and this sweet gum can be chewed like chewing gum. In traditional medicine it is given for persistent coughs, and is also believed to improve eyesight and give you a healthy flawless complexion.
Perhaps surprisingly it is the fruit stalks and bark (as well as the resin) that are used in medicine. The stalks are astringent, diuretic and used as a tonic. They have been used to treat diarrhoea, cystitis and other bladder infections, oedema, bronchial problems and anaemia. The bark only contains a small percentage (16 per cent approximately) of tannin, so is used in medicine in combination with the fruit stalks.
All cherry trees contain prunasin and amygdalen which convert to hydrocyanic acid (cyanide or prussic acid) in water. However in small doses this can stimulate the respiratory system, improve digestion and give an enhanced feeling of well-being. However in large doses it can prove fatal so is best left alone.
The fruit gives a grey-green dye, while the leaves produce a green one. The cherry tree wood is a rich red-brown which polishes well and is valued for furniture, musical instruments, carving and turnery.
In Britain there are two superstitions surrounding cherries, and the general one is that if you want to know when you will marry you count the stones on the plate in this way:-“This year, next year, sometime, never” and whatever you say when you get to the last stone tells you your fate.
Another superstition only in
Kent, is that if you visit a cherry orchard and do not rub your shoes with cherry leaves, you will die of suffocation from a cherry stone.
There is a superstition in
Switzerland which says that if the first fruit a cherry tree produces is eaten by a woman who has just had her first child, it will produce fruit in abundance throughout its life.
Ardennes region in France, children used to carry lighted torches into fruit orchards on the first Sunday of Lent and chant:-
“Bear apples, bear pears,
And cherries all black
This is known in
Britain as wassailing the fruit, but there it was only done with apple trees.
Nicholas Culpeper, the English herbalist, writing his Herball in the 17th century, had this to say of cherry trees: -
“Government and virtues. It is a tree of Venus. Cherries, as they are of different tastes, so they are of different qualities. The sweet pass through the stomach and the belly more speedily, but are of little nourishment; the tart or sour are more pleasing to an hot stomach, procure appetite to meat, and help to cut tough phlegm and gross humours; but when these are dried, they are more binding to the belly than when they are fresh, being cooling in hot diseases, and welcome to the stomach, and provoke urine. The gum of the cherry-tree, dissolved in wine, is good for a cold, cough, and hoarseness of the throat; mendeth the colour in the face, sharpeneth the eyesight, provoketh appetite, and helpeth to break and expel the stone; the black cherries bruised with the stones, and dissolved, the water thereof is much used to break the stone, and to expel gravel and wind.”