Herb Relationships

Those readers who delight to delve among pedigrees, genealogies and

family connections, may perhaps be a little disappointed to learn that,

in spite of the odorous nature of the herbs, there are none whose

history reveals a skeleton in the closet. They are all harmless. Now and

then, to be sure, there occur records of a seemingly compromising

nature, such as the effects attributed to the eating or even the

handling of
elery; but such accounts, harrowing as they may appear, are

insufficient to warrant a bar sinister. Indeed, not only is the mass of

evidence in favor of the defendant, but it casts a reflection upon the

credibility of the plaintiff, who may usually be shown to have indulged

immoderately, to have been frightened by hallucinations or even to have

arraigned the innocent for his own guilt. Certain it is that there is

not one of the sweet herbs mentioned in this volumes that has not long

enjoyed a more or less honored place in the cuisine of all the

continents, and this in spite of the occasional tootings of some

would-be detractor.

Like those classes of society that cannot move with "the four hundred,"

the herbs are very exclusive, more exclusive indeed, than their

superiors, the other vegetables. Very few members have they admitted

that do not belong to two approved families, and such unrelated ones as

do reach the charmed circles must first prove their worthiness and then

hold their places by intrinsic merit.

These two coteries are known as the Labiatae and the Umbelliferae, the

former including the sages, mints and their connections; the latter the

parsleys and their relatives. With the exception of tarragon, which

belongs to the Compositae, parsley and a few of its relatives which have

deserted their own ranks, all the important leaf herbs belong to the

Labiatae; and without a notable exception all the herbs whose seeds are

used for flavoring belong to the Umbelliferae. Fennel-flower, which

belongs to the natural order Ranunculaceae, or crowfoot family, is a

candidate for admission to the seed sodality; costmary and southernwood

of the Compositae seek membership with the leaf faction; rue of the

Rutaceae and tansy of the Compositae, in spite of suspension for their

boldness and ill-breeding, occasionally force their way back into the

domain of the leaf herbs. Marigold, a composite, forms a clique by

itself, the most exclusive club of all. It has admitted no members! And

there seem to be no candidates.

The important members of the Labiatae are:

Sage (Salvia officinalis, Linn.).

Savory (Satureia hortensis, Linn.).

Savory, winter (Satureia montana, Linn.).

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris, Linn.).

Marjoram (Origanum Marjoram; O. Onites, Linn.; and

M. vulgare, Linn.).

Balm (Melissa officinalis, Linn.).

Basil (Ocimum Basilicum, Linn., and O. minimum, Linn.).

Spearmint (Mentha spicata, Linn., or M. viridis, Linn.).

Peppermint (Mentha Piperita, Linn.).

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis, Linn.).

Clary (Salvia Sclarea, Linn.).

Pennyroyal (Mentha Pulegium, Linn.).

Horehound (Marrubium vulgare, Linn.).

Hyssop (Hyssopus vulgaris, Linn.).

Catnip (Nepeta Cataria, Linn.).

Lavender (Lavandula vera, D. C.; L. spica, D. C.).

These plants, which are mostly natives of mild climates of the old

world, are characterized by having square stems; opposite, simple leaves

and branches; and more or less two-lipped flowers which appear in the

axils of the leaves, occasionally alone, but usually several together,

forming little whorls, which often compose loose or compact spikes or

racemes. Each fertile blossom is followed by four little seedlike fruits

in the bottom of the calyx, which remains attached to the plant. The

foliage is generally plentifully dotted with minute glands that contain

a volatile oil, upon which depends the aroma and piquancy peculiar to

the individual species.

The leading species of the Umbelliferae are:

Parsley (Carum Petroselinum, Benth. and Hook.).

Dill (Anethum graveolens, Linn.).

Fennel (Foeniculum officinale, Linn.).

Angelica (Archangelica officinalis, Hoofm.).

Anise (Pimpinella anisum, Linn.).

Caraway (Carum Carui, Linn.).

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum, Linn.).

Chervil (Scandix Cerefolium, Linn.).

Cumin or Cummin (Cuminum Cyminum, Linn.).

Lovage (Levisticum officinale, Koch.).

Samphire (Crithmum maritimum, Linn.).

Like the members of the preceding group, the species of the Umbelliferae

are principally natives of mild climates of the old world, but many of

them extend farther north into the cold parts of the continent, even

beyond the Arctic Circle in some cases. They have cylindrical, usually

hollow stems; alternate, generally compound leaves the basis of whose

stalks ensheath the branches or stems; and small flowers almost always

arranged in compound terminal umbels. The fruits are composed of two

seedlike dry carpels, each containing a single seed, and usually

separating when ripe. Each carpel bears five longitudinal prominent ribs

and several, often four, lesser intermediate ones, in the intervals

between which numerous oil ducts have their openings from the interior

of the fruit. The oil is generally found in more or less abundance also

in other parts of the plant, but is usually most plentiful in the


The members of the Compositae used as sweet herbs are, with the exception

of tarragon, comparatively unimportant, and except for having their

flowers in close heads "on a common receptacle, surrounded by an

involucre," have few conspicuous characters in common. No further space

except that required for their enumeration need here be devoted to them.

And this remark will apply also to the other two herbs mentioned further



Marigold, Pot (Calendula officinalis, Linn.). Tansy (Tanacetum

vulgaris, Linn.). Tarragon (Artemisia Dracunculus, Linn.).

Southernwood (Artemisia Abrotanum, Linn.).


Rue (Ruta graveolens, Linn.).


Borage (Borago officinalis, Linn.).


Fennel-flower (Nigella sativa, Linn.).

Before dismissing this section of the subject, it may be interesting to

glance over the list of names once more. Seven of these plants were

formerly so prominent in medicine that they were designated "official"

and nearly all the others were extensively used by physicians. At the

present day there are very few that have not passed entirely out of

official medicine and even out of domestic practice, at least so far as

their intrinsic qualities are concerned. Some, to be sure, are still

employed because of their pleasant flavors, which disguise the

disagreeable taste of other drugs. But this is a very different matter.

One of the most notable of these is fennel. What wonders could that

plant not perform 300 years ago! In Parkinson's "Theatricum Botanicum"

(1640) its "vertues" are recorded. Apart from its use as food, for

which, then, as now, it was highly esteemed, without the attachment of

any medicinal qualities as an esculent, it was considered efficacious in

cases of gout, jaundice, cramps, shortness of breath, wheezing of the

lungs; for cleansing of the blood and improving the complexion; to use

as an eye-water or to increase the flow of milk; as a remedy for serpent

bites or an antidote for poisonous herbs and mushrooms; and for people

who "are growen fat to abate their unwieldinesse and make them more

gaunt and lanke."

But let us peep into the 19th edition of the United States Dispensatory.

Can this be the same fennel which "is one of our most grateful

aromatics," and which, because of "the absence of any highly excitant

property," is recommended for mixing with unpleasant medicines? Ask any

druggist, and he will say it is used for little else nowadays than for

making a tea to give babies for wind on their stomachs. Strange, but

true it is! Similar statements if not more remarkable ones could be made

about many of the other herbs herein discussed. Many of these are spoken

of as "formerly considered specific" for such and such troubles but "now

known to be inert."

The cause is not far to seek. An imaginative and superstitious people

attached fanciful powers to these and hundreds of other plants which the

intervening centuries have been unable wholly to eradicate, for among

the more ignorant classes, especially of Europe, many of these relics of

a dark age still persist.

But let us not gloat over our superior knowledge. After a similar lapse

of time, may not our vaunted wisdom concerning the properties of plants

look as ridiculous to the delver among our musty volumes? Indeed, it

may, if we may judge by the discoveries and investigations of only the

past fifty years. During this time a surprisingly large number of plants

have been proved to be not merely innocuous instead of poisonous, as

they were reputed, but fit for human food and even of superior