Saturday, 25 April 2009

Down in the woods...

Deep in the ancient woodland at Ashdown Park is one of the rarest plants in the country. Herb Paris is not closely related to any other British wildflower and grows in damp spots in limestone soil in old undisturbed woodland areas. Old folklore names for this plant are One Berry (yes, because it has only the one fruit!) and True Love, probably because it can be used as an aphrodisiac!

In olden times Herb Paris was much esteemed and used in medicine, the type of plant that Brother Cadfael would definitely have wanted in his herbarium. It is poisonous, producing nausea, vomiting, vertigo, delirium convulsions, profuse sweating and dry throat and proving fatal to children and, interestingly, poultry (which would swallow it when pecking about free range), according to the ancient herbal books. But in small doses it has been found of benefit in bronchitis, spasmodic coughs and rheumatism. It relieves cramp, colic, and palpitation of the heart and the juice of the berries cures inflammation of the eyes. A cooling ointment is made from the seeds and the juice of the leaves for green wounds and for outward application for tumours and inflammations. The powdered root boiled in wine is given for colic. One or 2 scruples can act as an emetic, and it was even prescribed for madness, so as you can see it is a very versatile medicinal herb. Another use it was originally put to was as an antidote against arsenic poisoning. These days it is still used in homeopathy.

At Ashdown Herb Paris nestles amongst the dog mercury, wood anemones and late primroses, another beautiful reason to go down to the woods today and proof that parts of the hunting chase are very ancient woodland indeed.

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