Elspeth’s Herbal Part Two


A continuance of things that might have been in Elspeth’s Herbal…with a bit of history and legend for added flavor.

HERBALS – History, Legends and Use


BAY – LAUREL Laurus nobilis, of the plant family Lauraceae, is also known as sweet bay, bay tree, true laurel, Grecian laurel, laurel tree, or simply laurel. It is an aromatic evergreen tree or large shrub with green, glossy leaves. It grows in temperate to tropic conditions.

HISTORY Laurus nobilis figures prominently in classical Greek, Roman, and Biblical culture. A wreath of laurel was presented to the victor at the Pythian Games, in honor of Apollo, who was also the god of poets. The words baccalaureate and poet laureate are derived from the laurel.  The term is still used to indicate victory and honor. Biblically, the laurel is depicted as emblem of prosperity and fame. For Christians, it is the symbol of the resurrection of Christ.


Legend says that when the god Apollo was pursing the nymph Daphne, she called upon her father, “Help me, Peneus! Open the earth to enclose me, or change my form, which has brought me into this danger!” Suddenly, her skin turned into bark, her hair became leaves, and her arms were transformed into branches. She stopped running as her feet became rooted to the ground.

Was Apollo the first tree hugger?

Apollo embraced the branches, but even the branches shrank away from his touch. Since Apollo could no longer take her as his wife, he vowed to tend her as his tree, and promised that her leaves would decorate the heads of leaders as crowns, and that her leaves would be depicted on weapons. He used his powers of eternal youth and immortality to render her ever green. Since then, the leaves of the Bay laurel tree have never known decay. Apollo took Daphne’s eternal chastity and crafted a wreath from her laurel branches, turning her symbol of purity into a cultural symbol for him and other poets and musicians. Thus, the tree became sacred, creating the ultimate symbol of honor.

The Romans believed that if you stood under a laurel tree you would be shielded from infection by the plague and from lightning. During the Middle Ages, laurel was still believed to do both, and offered protection from witches. Hung over doorways, it prevents poltergeists and evil spirits from entering.

USES – Called a “virtuous” tree because of its many uses, “They serve both for pleasure and profit, both for ornament and use, both for honest civil uses and for physic, both for the sick and the sound, the living and the dead.” It is antiseptic, antibiotic, and analgesic.

Medieval housewives used laurel for insecticides, medicine and cooking. When using the leaf in cooking, always remove it from food before serving.  I use two leaves in bean soup made with garlic and ham.  Add a sliced tomato salad, hot cornbread and apple pie for dessert and you have a meal that is healthy, filling and remarkably soothing on a cold winter eve.

Bay oil, pressed from the berries and leaves, can be made into salves and liniments for rheumatism, convulsions, cramps, aches and pains, earache, numbness, bruises, sprains, and skin problems.

It is used to treat poisonous insect bites, snake bites, wasp stings, pox, fever, chronic coughs, asthma, and worms.

Decoctions of bay are helpful in expelling afterbirth and during childbirth. This herb should not be used during pregnancy.

The leaves are used to drive away fleas and lice.  Adding leaves to flour and cereals prevents bugs and moths.


An Easy and Effective Sachet

1 cup mint leaves

6 Bay leaves

¼ cup of whole cloves

Pack in small bags and use in drawers to repel vermin.



HISTORY – The history of tea is a book.  Tea spread across multiple cultures over thousands of years. It probably originated in China during the Shang dynasty as a medicinal drink and was mentioned in the 10th century BC.

Legends – A rather gruesome legend dates to the Tang Dynasty. In the legend, Bodhidharma, the founder of Chan Buddhism, accidentally fell asleep after meditating in front of a wall for nine years. He woke up in such disgust at his weakness that he cut off his own eyelids. They fell to the ground and took root, growing into tea bushes. One does not wish to consider what life would be like without eyelids to protect and moisturize the eye.

USES – Alone, various teas have different benefits like those of Red Clover and Lavender. Tea, with the addition of other herbs, is used to reduce nausea, prevent or treat motion sickness, warm the body of someone suffering from chills, induce sweating to break a fever, and soothe a sore throat.   The addition of honey adds another level of treatment.

Make tea in the usual manner and add the herbs of choice.



The bean is a seed that is eaten as a vegetable and that comes from any one of many kinds of annual, twining plant. The color of the seeds, or beans, depends on the variety.

HISTORY – Beans are intricately woven into the fabric of human history. The first ‘permanent cultures’ evolved when hunter-gatherers and nomadic people began tilling the earth and developing systems of agriculture. Beans were among the first cultivated crops

LEGENDS – On 3 days of the year, the Roman head of the household went through a ritual ceremony of spitting beans out of his mouth to rid his home of evil spirits, saying “Deliver me from evil, protect me and mine from death, oh ye beans!” This custom carried over to the Middle Ages, where spitting a mouthful of beans in a witch’s face was considered to negate her powers. Perhaps beans were thought to be a potent deterrent against evil because as a seed they have stored within them the positive life force of all living and growing things. During Setubal, a winter festival in Japan, red beans are scattered around the house to send devils outside and good luck inside.

The most influential beliefs of ancient times go back to Greek philosophy and Pythagoras.  According to Aristotle in his work On the Pythagoreans, Pythagoras counseled abstinence from beans because “they are like the genitals, or the gates of Hades, unjointed….”

Some believe that at the beginning of creation, when the earth was new, the bean arose. The evidence for this is that if one chews a bean to a pulp and exposes it to the sun for a certain time, it will emit the odor of human seed. If a planted bean is dug up after a few days, it looks like a womb. Examine it closely, and you will see what looks like a baby’s head growing within it.

Smiles…Try it….

Around the first century, B.C. it was felt that beans are “the materials which contain the largest portion of that animated matter which our souls are made of.”  They believed that the buried dead released their souls in the form of gases or winds that got absorbed into fava beans. When you ate these beans, these spiritual soul winds were released and then ascended into Heaven.  It was an excellent excuse for flatulence.

USE – Beans are extremely high in antioxidants. Bean pods are effective in lowering blood sugar levels and can be used for mild cases of diabetes. Bean pod tea is useful for dropsy, sciatica, chronic rheumatism, and kidney and bladder problems. Used externally, bean meal promotes healing of ulcers and sores.

Bean Poultice

Stir one tablespoon of water into two tablespoons of bean meal to make a paste. Spread on rence cloth and cover with a thinner piece of rep cloth.  Place on affected part.  Renew if necessary



Beeswax is a natural wax produced in the bee hive of honey bees of the genus Apis. It is mainly esters of fatty acids and various long chain alcohols and is a solid concrete substance extracted from honey combs after the honey is removed, by heating and pressing.

HISTORY – Beeswax has been used for thousands of years and has been found in Egyptian tombs. It was mentioned in 32 prescriptions, given in a papyrus, compiled in Egypt about 1550 BC. Between 23 ADS to 79 AD, there lived a health care provider by the name of Pilyn, who had claimed that the ingestion of a concoction using beeswax could cure dysentery completely.  You might try it on your warriors returning from the Vosk with the same complaint.

Beeswax was a valued medicinal ingredient in ancient China. It was praised for its beneficial influence on blood and energy systems, the overall balance of the body, beauty enhancement and anti-aging properties. Combined with other ingredients it was applied on the skin for treating wounds. Ge Hong (about 284-364, Jin dynasty) and Sun Simiao (581-682) recommended” beeswax therapy,” a heat treatment of skin areas with cloths impregnated with molten beeswax. This may well be the precursor of todays “Beeswax Bandage.”

LEGENDS – The most famous is the legend of Icarus, the son of Daedalus. The ancient Greek legend of the Athenian, the architect Daedalus (Dedalos), is remembered because he and his son Icarus tried to escape from the island of Crete by making themselves wings of bird feathers, which they fastened to their bodies with beeswax. Flying too high, Icarus made the Sun god angry, and the wax which held his wings to his body melted. He plunged into the Aegean Sea and drowned. His father flew at a lower height and made it safely to Athens, where he built a temple to honor Apollo.

USE – Beeswax was among the first plastics to be used, with other natural polymers such as horn and tortoiseshell. It has been found in ancient Egyptian tombs, wrecked Viking ships and Roman ruins, and was an ancient form of dental tooth filling.

Small amounts of beeswax have food and flavoring applications and are edible in the sense of having similar toxicity to indigestible plant waxes but have little food value.

Beeswax contains natural moisturizers and locks in moisture and helps keep the skin firm and plump. It can be mixed with honey and olive oil or other essential oils, to produce lotions and balms that serve as natural treatments for eczema, psoriasis, minor burns or other skin damage.

Beeswax can be used in endless combinations with other herbs to create specialized salves and treatments.

A “Beeswax Bandage” is a very thick salve that is applied to wounds to stop bleeding.  It may contain various ingredients to prevent infection and help cure as well.  Think beeswax and garlic, cloves, and lavender, for instance.  Nice combination.

Melted beeswax was also used to seal extremities after amputations.



CARROT – Daucus Carota – Carrot plant. The cultivated root of the Daucus Carota, usually orange in colour. It has a crisp texture when fresh. The most commonly eaten part of a carrot is the taproot, although the greens are sometimes eaten as well.   A tablespoon or so of the chopped fresh ferny tops a is a nice addition to salads or potato soup.

HISTORY – The history of the carrot can be traced back more than 5000 years. One of the first pieces of written evidence about carrots comes from Theophrastus (371-287bc) – the father of botany. His two surviving botanical works, “Enquiry into Plants” and “On the Causes of Plants,” were an important influence on medieval science. Theophrastus states, in the ninth book of his “History of Plants,” that carrots grow in Arcadia, but that the best are found in Sparta.”

The ancient Greeks and the Romans were familiar with carrots. Carrots were not often eaten as food by the Greeks but used for medicinal purposes. The Romans used them for both. They were cultivated in Europe by the 13th century (1200s), with many doctors prescribing carrots for medicinal purposes for ailments as varied as syphilis and animal bites!

LEGENDS – The Early Roman, Mithridates VI, King of Pontius (120bc-63bc). was in constant fear of poisoning. The king is said to have taken a potion each day, that contained the seeds of the Cretan carrot, to render his body safe against danger from poison.

Pliny the Elder suggested that the carrot was used as a love potion, guaranteed to be effective, and Galen proclaimed that it actually “procures lust.”  You might invite your beloved to dine on a carrot soufflé and a glass of carrot wine to help a lagging libido.

And yes…you can make wine with carrots…smiles.

n ancient times the carrot ornament was popular in Germany as a traditional gift for new brides.  The carrot was believed to bring the bride luck in the kitchen when she would cook meals for her family, and when she was entertaining company.

An Old English superstition is that the small purple flower in the center of the Wild Carrot (Queen Anne’s Lace) was of benefit in curing epilepsy.  Wild Queen Anne’s Lace is the direct ancestor of the carrot, and in the Spring, the whole plant is edible.  The head is often battered and fried.  The seeds have a slightly pepper and coriander taste and are were used to flavor soups and stews by our ancestors.

USE – Ingesting too many carrots can cause a harmless condition known as Carotnemia, or yellowing of the skin. Queen Anne ’s Lace (the Wild Carrot) can be toxic to some. The leaves can cause contact dermatitis so to be cautious when handling them.

Carrots are stimulant, diuretic, carminative, ophthalmic and anthelmintic. They cleanse the intestines and purify the blood.  Carrots contain Falcarinol, which has been shown effective against cancer.

They are effective on skin problems including broken veins/capillaries, creeping impetigo, wrinkles, sun damage and burns. The carrot may be scraped and applied as a poultice and is a useful application to phagedaenic (quickly growing, tissue destroying) ulcers, and to cancers and putrid sores.

The seeds have a light aromatic smell and warm acrid taste are esteemed as a diuretic. They may be used as infusions or fermented in alcohol which gives it an agreeable flavor.”

An infusion of carrot seeds (1 teaspoon per cup of boiling water) is believed to be diuretic and to stimulate the appetite, reduce colic, aid fluid retention and help alleviate menstrual cramps. The dried flowers are also used as a tea as a remedy for dropsy. One belief is that boiled in wine and taken, the seeds help conception.

But another source says the seeds, made into a tea, have been used for centuries as a contraceptive. There is some recent study evidence that the latter is true.

Applied with honey, the crushed leaves cleanse running sores or ulcers.  You may also make a useful poultice by chopping the root, warming it, and applying it to the affected part.

Gerard and Culpeper were famous herbalists of yesterday, and both recommend the carrot for numerous ills. Culpeper says that the carrot is influenced by Mercury, the god of wind, and that a tea made from the dried leaves should dispel wind from the bowels and relieves dropsy, kidney stones, and women’s complaints. Perhaps putting carrots in bean soup would be a good idea?



HISTORY – Capsicum frutescens – Cayenne pepper is also known as Guinea spice, cow-horn pepper, aleva, bird pepper or, red pepper, is a hot chili pepper used to flavor dishes. It remains green on the plant even when mature, once picked it may or may not turn red. It is a cultivar of Capsicum annuum related to bell peppers, jalapeños, paprika and others.

The Capsicum genus is in the nightshade family (Solanaceae). The active ingredient, capsaicin, from which cayenne’s genus name, capsicum, is derived, is responsible for both cayenne’s heat as well as its medicinal function. Fruits, seeds and pollen of capsicum have been found in deposits at archaeological sites in the Tehuacan Valley of Mexico beginning about 6000 years ago.

LEGENDS – Capsicums or chile peppers are considered part of the dominion of Mars, the ancient God of War.

The ancient Incas, believing that peppers would be a disruptive influence, banned chiles at initiation and funeral ceremonies.

In the late 17th century, Fuentes y Guzman wrote that people who ate red peppers would be protected against poison. So, one must wonder if adding this pepper to carrots would be even more effective?

Chiles are considered the best deterrent against vampires and werewolves. Burning defends against attacks from them. Hot peppers have often been used in witchcraft both to excise demons as well as ill humors from individuals.

USE – According to the latest studies: “It regulates blood pressure, strengthens the pulse, feeds the heart, lowers cholesterol, thins the blood, cleans the circulatory system, heals ulcers, slows hemorrhaging, speeds healing of wounds, rebuilds damaged tissue, eases congestion, aids digestion, regulates elimination, relieves arthritis and rheumatism, prevents the spread of infection, numbs pain, and more.”

Red pepper kills cancer cells in the prostate, lungs, and pancreas. It increases metabolism by immediately influencing the venous and helps adjust blood pressure to normal levels. Cayenne cleans the arteries as well, helping to rid the body of the bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

After being labeled as a myth for years, recent research showed that cayenne pepper, a very powerful vasodilator, can stop a heart attack immediately.

“Administer one cup of cayenne tea (a teaspoon of cayenne in a cup of hot water) to the patient.”

It works faster than aspirin and has no side effects.

After overindulging in drink, a few drops of a tincture of cayenne (think Tabasco), in milk, tomato juice, or other light food, settles the stomach and brings back appetite. The tincture is used in five to ten drop doses. Somehow that reminds me of the well-known hangover cure of tabasco, tomato juice, raw egg, salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

Cayenne Liniment

Put one-half teaspoon ground cayenne into one pint of vodka (do not take internally). Let it stand for two weeks, shaking each day. Use wherever a liniment is used or needed. (Heals wounds, bruises, sprains, scalds, burns, and sunburns.


CACAO TREE (aka chocolate) –

Cacao trees: These small trees grow in the tropical regions of Gor and their beans are used to make chocolate. It grows in river basins and requires a humid climate with regular rainfall. It is an understory tree, which means it does best with a natural canopy cover.

HISTORY – The Mesoamericans have used chocolate since the Early Formative Period (1900-900 BC), as food, medicine, and currency.  The ancient native peoples valued and celebrated it, immortalizing it in oral history, stonework, and pottery.

By the 1500s, explorers knew of cacao through contacts with indigenous peoples. Columbus sent samples to King Ferdinand, although he knew only that it was used as currency.

Twenty years later, Cortez recorded its use in the court of Emperor Montezuma. Cortez described “chocolatl,” which means “warm liquid” as “the divine drink … which builds up resistance and fights fatigue”, and his countrymen, conceived the idea of sweetening the bitter drink with cane sugar.

It was not exported to the rest of Europe for almost a century. The first chocolate shop opened in London in 1657, with prices that limited its consumption to the rich.  Another twenty-five years elapsed before it was prepared as a food.

LEGENDS – Ancient Mayan myth says cacao beans were given to men by the Gods. The cacao tree’s Greek botanical name, Theobroma cacao “means “food of the gods”.

It seems the god Quetzalcóatl loved his people and gave them the gift of a very special plant. He had stolen it from the other gods, who reserved it only for themselves. He planted the small bush, picked the pods, roasted the kernels and taught the Toltec women to grind them into a fine powder. The women then mixed the powder with water from their jars and whipped it into a frothy drink which they called chocolatl.

USES – Organic, raw cacao is a superfood containing a variety of unique phytonutrients.   Chocolate thins the blood and performs the same anti-clotting activity as aspirin, a wonderful excuse to have chocolate every day.  It increases focus and alertness while elevating mood and has been used as both medicine and aphrodisiac.

The antioxidants in chocolate, which are the same as those found in red wine and green tea, reduce the ongoing cellular and arterial damage caused by oxidative reactions. The polyphenols in chocolate inhibit oxidation of LDL cholesterol and reduce high blood pressure which is one of the most common causes of kidney failure, and a contributor to many kinds of dementia and cognitive impairment.

Chocolate is the richest known source of a little-known substance called theobromine, a close chemical relative of caffeine.

Chocolate also contains mood elevating phenethylamine, which triggers the release of pleasurable endorphins.  Phenethylamine is released in the brain when people become infatuated or fall in love.

It increases the action of dopamine, a neurochemical associated with sexual arousal and pleasure. Dopamine in turn, triggers the release of the “cuddle hormone” oxytocin when people touch.  Now you understand why you take a box of chocolate to your sweetheart!

Another substance found in chocolate is anandamide (from the Sanskrit word “ananda,” which means peaceful bliss). A fatty substance that is naturally produced in the brain, anandamide has been isolated from chocolate. It binds to the same receptor sites in the brain as cannabinoids — the psychoactive constituents in marijuana — and produces feelings of elation and exhilaration. Chocolate also boosts brain levels of serotonin.

USES – In the 1500′s potions that contained cacao, mixed with spices, and honey, were used to treat various diseases and skin eruptions. Chocolate gives the physician a wide range of possible uses based on its properties and the needs of the patient.

Applied topically, cocoa butter smooths, moisturizes and repairs damaged skin. For the body to renew skin tissue, it must be hydrated.  Cocoa butter has the unique ability to lock moisture in at the deeper levels of skin and help prevent scars from forming.

A salve of beeswax, cocoa butter and honey would taste and smell delicious, and be very effective as well.



The most reliable histories place the discovery of coffee in Ethiopia somewhere around 500 BC. From there, after observing the stimulating effects of its berries, travelers brought it to Arabia. The word “coffee” comes from the ancient Arabic “qahwah” meaning strength. The Persians were enraptured by the invigorating effects of this new “wine of Islam” because real wine was strictly forbidden to Muslims

By 900 BC coffee was well documented. It is mentioned in the writings of the Arab physician Rhazem in the 10th century. Another source reports that the physician Sheik Omar angered his ruler and was expelled from his home town of Mokka in Yemen. Traveling through the Arabian Peninsula, he happened to boil red beans from a nearby bush. Surprised by stimulant effects of the drink he began using it as a part of care for his patients and became so famous that the once unfriendly ruler invited Omar back to his country. Because of its source, during the Renaissance coffee was called ‘that heathenish liquid’.

LEGENDS -Legend tells of an Ethiopian shepherd named Kaldi in Ethiopia in around 850 AD. He noticed that after his herd munched on some red cherries growing on a bush, the animals became very active. Kaldi shared the story with some monks who decided to try berries themselves.  They were so disappointed by the bitter flavor that they threw them in the fire. Soon, a delicious aroma was wafting around their nostrils. The curious monks used the roasted fruits to create a coffee brew, which they saw as a gift from God because it helped them to stay awake half the night.

USES – Like wine, the antioxidants in coffee help keep hearts healthier. Coffee is a diuretic and a natural insecticide. It can help reduce diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver and asthma severity. Coffee can cure headaches and constipation, and deal with LDL cholesterol. Diseases of the brain, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, are substantially less likely in regular coffee-drinkers, and it reduces the risk of stroke.

Used externally, caffeine has potent anti-inflammatory properties that make it ideal for reducing inflammation and redness in your skin.


Coffee Skin Lotion

½ cup of grated beeswax

½ cup of almond oil

½ cup of strong coffee

Melt beeswax in almond oil over very low heat, stirring until wax is melted.  Remove from heat. Add hot coffee. Stir until absorbed.  You may add a teaspoon of scented oil now if you wish.  Test consistency by dropping a tiny bit on a smooth surface. Add more oil for a softer lotion or beeswax for a firmer one.  Pour into glass containers.


Coffee and chocolate anyone?  Guilt free pleasures….





One thought on “Elspeth’s Herbal Part Two

  1. Pingback: Elspeth’s Herbal Part Two — The Convenient – Kamau kiemo

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