The Complete Herbal


"The Common White Saxifrage: It is very effectual to cleanse the reins and bladder, and to dissolve the stone engendered in them... The distilled water of the whole herb, root and flowers, is most familiar to be taken. It provokes also women's courses, and frees and cleanses the stomach and lungs from thick and tough phlegm that trouble them. There are not many better medicines to break the stone than this." (Culpeper's Complete Herbal)

One of the foremost figures in herbal medicine was Nicholas Culpeper. His works, although dismissed by certain medical historians (e.g. Garrison), have come to prominence in the latter half of the twentieth century as people look for alternative solutions to their ailments that cannot be solved by advancements in science.

His history is a strange one. Born to a noble family but having lost his father, Culpeper studied at Cambridge University but left after the woman he intended to elope with was killed by lightning. Subsequently he travelled to London where he was apprenticed to a master apothecary. The influence of his teacher was apparent in his interest in medical botany that would be the driving force behind his famous publication, the Herbal (1652, originally titled The English Physitian). He joined the Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War.

Culpeper was a radical, though by no means the quack that his contemporaries made him out to be. In fact, he had angered his fellow physicians by condemning their greed, unwillingness to adapt to new knowledge, and 'toxic' remedies along with their practice of blood-letting. The Society of Apothecaries were similarly incensed by the fact that he suggested cheap herbal remedies as opposed to their expensive concoctions. Nonetheless, Culpeper was taken in by astrology and has consequently been ridiculed over the years as a star-gazer.

His work in the field of herbal medicine has been hugely influential, and the Herbal is used to this day as a result. Beyond this, he also wrote once of the first texts on gynaecology and obstetrics and translated numerous texts into English to the chagrin of more of his contemporaries still. His influence is demonstrated by the existence of a chain of "Culpeper" herb and spice shops in the United Kingdom, India and beyond, and by the continued popularity of his remedies.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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