Flag (common)

Our English water Flags are true whigs of the old school, and get

their generic name because hanging out their banners respectively of

dark blue and yellow.

Each is also called Iris, as resembling the rainbow in beauty of

colour. The land Flag (Iris versicolor) is well known as growing

in swamps and moist meadows, with sword-shaped leaves, and large

purple heads of flowers, bearing petals chiefly dark blu
, and veined

with green, yellow, or white. The water Flag (Iris pseudacorus) is

similar of growth, and equally well known by its brilliant heads of

yellow flowers, with blade-like leaves, being found in wet places

and water courses. The root of the Blue Flag, Dragon Flower, or

Dagger Flower, contains chemically an oleo-resin, which is

purgative to the liver in material doses, and specially alleviative

against bilious sickness when taken of much reduced strength by reason

of its acting as a similar. The official dose of this iridin is

from one to three grains. A liability to the formation of gall stones

may be remedied by giving one grain of the oleoresin (iridin) every

night for twelve nights.

A medicinal tincture (H.) is made which holds this Iris in solution;

and if three or four drops are taken immediately, with a spoonful of

water, and the same dose is repeated in half-an-hour if still

necessary, an attack of bilious vomiting, with sick headache, and a

[200] film before the eyes, will be prevented, or cut short. The

remedy is, under such circumstances, a trustworthy substitute for

calomel, or blue pill. Orris powder, which is so popular in the

nursery, and for the toilet table with ladies, on account of its fresh

violet scent, is made from the root of this Iris, being named from

the genitive ireos.

Louis VII. of France chose this Blue Flag as his heraldic emblem,

and hence its name, fleur de lys, has been subsequently borne on

the arms of France. The flower was said to have been figured on a

shield sent down from heaven to King Louis at Clovis, when

fighting against the Saracens. Fleur de Louis has become corrupted

to fleur de lys, or fleur de lis.

The Purple Flag was formerly dedicated to the Virgin Mary. A

certain knight more devout than learned could never remember

more than two words of the Latin prayer addressed to the Holy

Mother; these were Ave Maria, which the good old man repeated

day and night until he died. Then a plant of the blue Iris sprang up

over his grave, displaying on every flower in golden letters these

words, Ave Maria. When the monks opened the tomb they found

the root of the plant resting on the lips of the holy knight whose

body lay buried below.

The Yellow Flag, or Water Flag, is called in the north, Seggs. Its

flowers afford a beautiful yellow dye; and, its seeds, when roasted,

can be used instead of coffee. The juice of the root is very acrid

when sniffed up the nostrils, and causes a copious flow of water

therefrom, thus giving marked relief for obstinate congestive

headache of a dull, passive sort. The root is very astringent, and will

check diarrhoea by its infusion; also it is of service for making ink.

In the [201] south of England the plant is named Levers. It

contains much tannin.

The Stinking Flag, or Gladdon, or Roast Beef, because having

the odour of this viand, is another British species of Flag, abundant

in southern England, where it grows in woods and, shady places. Its

leaves, when bruised, emit a strong smell like that of carrion, which

is very loathsome. The plant bears the appellations, Iris

foetidissima, Spatual foetida, and Spurgewort, having long,

narrow leaves, which stink when rubbed. Country folk in Somersetshire

purge themselves to good purpose with a decoction made from

the root. The term glad, or smooth, refers to the surface

of the leaves, or to their sword-like shape, from gladiolus

(a small sword), and the plant bears flowers of a dull, livid purple,

smaller than those of the other flags.

Lastly, there is the Sweet Flag (Acorus calamus), though this is

not an Iris, but belongs botanically to the family of Arums. It

grows on the edges of lakes and streams allover Europe, as a highly

aromatic, reedy plant, with an erect flowering stem of yellowish

green colour. Its name comes from the Greek, koree, or pupil of

the eye, because of its being used in ailments of that organ.

Calamus was the Roman term for a reed; and formerly this sweet

Flag, by reason of its pleasant odour like that of violets, was freely

strewn on the floor of a cathedral at times of church festivals, and in

many private houses instead of rushes. The root is a powerful cordial

against flatulence, and passive indigestion, with headache. It contains

a volatile oil, and a bitter principle, acorin; so that a fluid

extract is made by the chemists, of which from thirty to forty drops

may be given as a dose, with a [202] tablespoonful, of water, every

half-hour for several consecutive times. The candied root is much

employed for like uses in Turkey and India. It is sold as a favourite

medicine in every Indian Bazaar; and Ainslie says it is reckoned so

valuable in the bowel complaints of children, that there is a penalty

incurred by every druggist who will not open his door in the middle

of the night to sell it if demanded.

The root stocks are brought to this country from Germany, being

used by mastication to cleat the urine when it is thick and loaded

with dyspeptic products; also for flavouring beer, and scenting


Their ash contains potash, soda, zinc, phosphoric Acid, silica, and

peroxide of iron. In the Times April 24th, 1856, Dr. Graves wrote

commending for the soldiers when landing at Galipoli, and notable

to obtain costly quinine, the Sweet Flag--acorus calamas--as their

sheet anchor against ague and allied maladies arising from marsh

miasmata. The infusion of the root should be given, or the

powdered root in doses of from ten to sixty grains. (See RUSHES.)