Geoffrey Soma - Herbalist 'Notes From Beyond The Veil' Sept 06
Notes From Beyond the Veil
Every month Herbal Haven asks the shade of a well-known herbalist to briefly drift back from those Elysian fields to discuss herbs of particular interest at this time of Year. This month we welcome back Dr John Dee, who was born in 1527. Arch magician, brilliant mathematician, graduate of Cambridge University, visionary of the British Empire (a term he invented), philosopher to Queen Elizabeth I whose coronation date he determined astrologically, and renowned scholar (he translated Euclid’s works). Refused permission by Queen Mary to start a National Library he went ahead and built his own private library with over 4,000 books. At the time an astonishing number of manuscripts, for which scholars and academics traveled from all over the known world to view. An extremely devout Christian, he went on to angel conjuring with his shifty partner, the criminal Kelley, seeing horrific visions that were written down using an hermetic alphabet, known as Enochian, which was given him by the angels who eventually drove him to commit, in his eyes a blasphemy for which he would be damned for all time, i.e. wifeswapping. His reluctant wife, who loathed Kelley, found it even more repulsive when the incident led to her becoming pregnant. An alchemist who was paid to change base metal into gold and was apparently successful, his practices inspired the infamous Golden Dawn group, of whom Crowley was a member. Shakespeare modeled Prospero from the Tempest on him, and also used him as the template for King Lear. Marlowe wrote of him as Faustus. You have to marvel at the sheer front of a man who could sell the Voynich Manuscript (the most mysterious book ever whose cipher has yet to be deciphered) to the Holy Roman Emperor for a bag load of gold – what need had he for gold if he could make it himself? Though not strictly a herbalist and not even really a doctor (he left before completing his doctorate) he was a true Renaissance man who dabbled in all crafts, including the use of herbs, and besides he’s the kind of guy who fits right in at Herbal Haven, home to the mad, deranged and brilliantly inspired who seek only the betterment of all wo/mankind. That and bag-loads of gold, though folding stuff will do nicely thank you.
So, I’m back from the dead. Bloody typical, I told them this would happen but nobody listened. Oh they were all over me when I cursed the Spanish Armada and secured our victory but then the mob destroyed my beloved home and library after those interfering clerics had whipped up an hysteria about devil-worshipping magicians. Well, I’d call them prurient superstitious fools only I’m the one who wasted my life talking to bloody angels and ruining my marriage to Jane. Took me three goes to find a good, proper woman, and then what do I do? Throw her to that demented fool, Kelley. And what did I get in return? His wife was a moose who could only please a man by her absence, and Jane up the bloody duff. Well, I ask you. Obviously Kelley made the whole thing up but did I see it at the time? The way he used to eye up my Jane when he thought I wasn’t looking you’d have thought I would twig, but there’s no use crying over spilt gold. Ha ha, gold; that was a good one! Made a proper fortune out of that I did. Lost it all of course playing with the angels, I hated them at the time, but I did get some smashing books out of it. A bit weird, mind. It’s all in the British Library now but I think it’s ready for a paperback release. Makes the Da Vinci Code and the Book of Revelations look like A.A. Milne! Anyway, my three herbs today are:
Comfrey: (Symphytum officinalis) also called knitbone, has been known for thousands of years, and as the great Iriah herbalist K’Eogh wrote just a couple of hundred years after I’d bought the farm, “heals all inward wounds and ruptures”. An excellent herbe for the treatment of stomach ulcers, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and ulcerative colitis it is probably most famously also known for it’s wound healing and particularly it’s repairing of damaged bones. Nowadays the clever dicks know that it’s the Allantoin in the roots and leaves that causes rapid cell proliferation in damaged tissue, but we just knew it healed all manner of sprains, bruises, fractures and broken bones. Interesting though, wish I’d had all this micro-constituent know-how back in the day. Wouldn’t have made any difference in how we used it of course, but interesting none the less though it can cause confusions. I mean, nowadays there’s all this panic about other constituents, the pyrrolizidine alkaloids which on their own cause liver damage. But that’s why you use the whole plant. Never known anyone to have any problems after eating the stuff myself, but you never know. Anyway it’s only the roots that are a problem, or so they say. But used externally as a poultice for strains, bruises and broken bones it’s perfectly safe.
For in the home: An infused oil of comfrey can be used to treat acne and boils. It also greatly reduces the severity of psoriasis. To make, chop a quantity of the chopped herb (root, stems and leaf), pour over a good quality vegetable oil (sunflower, olive etc. which hasn’t been stored in a plastic bottle) until the herb is completely covered. Use a Bain-marie or heat over a saucepan full of boiling water. Cover and gently simmer for 2-3 hours and then strain the resulting oil into a clean dark glass bottle. This oil can also be used to speed wound healing.
Do not take internally except under professional supervision
Marsh Mallow: (Althea officinalis)
Yes, that fluffy leaved gorgeous plant that we used to make the sweets out of is also a potent medicine. Full of mucilage and pectin this noble plant soothes and protects mucous membranes. Used for many intestinal problems including IBS and colitis it also helps treat cystitis. Eaten in salads the leaves are a tonic for the kidneys.
In the home:
An effective and simple drawing ointment to make splinters etc. rise to the surface of the skin so they can be easily removed is made with the Marshmallow. Simply boil up chopped dried marshmallow root in a saucepan and, when all squidgy, mix in an equal amount of powdered Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra). Apply this to the wound and cover with a waterproof dressing. This may be left for a up to a day at most, by which time the splinter or other foreign object should be easily removable with tweezers of slight use of a sharp needle. To speed the process up the dressing may be covered with a hot water bottle.
Bronze (Common) Bugle: (Ajuga reptans)
Aah now this little beauty. I used to drink a tea made of this after a heavy session in the Bearpit and Bastard with old Kit Marlowe down Southwark way. He could certainly put the stuff away and my mistake was trying to keep up. Old Kit had a bloody nerve I can tell you. He must have made a pact with the Devil himself to survive the punishment he put his body through, and then when he writes about making a pact with Old Nick he goes and bloody uses me for his model. The cheek of the man! One night I started seeing angels and I thought I’d drunk my last but the next morning with a head like nails being hammered into wood and a mouth like the insides of the bowl of my pipe, one glass of this as a tea and I was soon right as rain. Strangely enough old Mad Maude wrote in her book that Bugle is ‘one of the mildest and best narcotics in the world’ which may account for it’s effects on a hangover. Also a wound healer and mild laxative, it is also thought to help cleanse the liver, also useful after a night on that lethal sludge that Kit insists on drinking. A funny man but he was good company. I was sorry when that little incident in Deptford went down. Told him not to go, the angels specifically warned against but would he listen?
In the home:
A syrup made of this can be stored in a bottle and kept for up to a year, ready for when needed. Just take 2-3 teaspoons up to 6 times during the day or until your hangover is better. To make a syrup, place1½ oz of herbs and 1½ cups water in a saucepan bring to the boil. Cover with a lid and turning the heat down, simmer for 20 minutes. Allow the liquid to cool a little then strain into a saucepan remembering to mash the herb with a spoon or something just to get out all the ingredients. Then simmer the saucepan of herb juice without the lid until it is reduced to about 1/3 pint (about 200ml). The slower this is done the better. Then add 1 lb of honey or sugar to the pan, dissolving slowly and simmer for a few minutes more, stirring all the while. When you’ve got a syrupy consistency you’re done. Hangover cure in a bottle. Don’t overheat it though because it will turn into toffee instead.
Right well that’s my lot. Thanks for having me but I’m off back to have a few jars with some old angelic friends of mine. Well, I couldn’t stay angry with them forever. They’re actually great blokes once you get to know them properly… Byeee
We at Herbal Haven hope you've enjoyed this month's guest correspondent and we gratefully acknowledge the help of the very beautiful Dr Olivia Cliff BSc(Hons) MNIMH in transcribing the marshmallow home remedy from the Enochian text Dr Dee rather unhelpfully uttered in a moment of angel scrying during this month’s interview. Completely indecipherable to us of course, but Livvie, being herself half faery, had it translated in a matter of moments. Remember if you are unsure about usage, always consult a professional herbalist before using herbs on yourself or others. Next month: As Persephone descends once more to her dread and eldritch lord, Demeter in despair curses the now barrening earth, forcing Herbal Haven to close for the winter. But next Spring as Hades relinquishes it’s reluctant queen, if enough readers display an interest, Notes From Beyond the Veil may well return.