Barberry & Broom
Barberry & Broom
Berberis, commonly known as barberry, is a genus of deciduous and evergreen shrubs from 1–5 m (3.3–16.4 ft) tall, found throughout temperate and subtropical regions of the world (apart from Australia). Early names for the strikingly handsome but distinctly prickly Barberry bush were berbarya and barboranne, which may derive from the Latin barbaris. It was formerly much planted for its bright orange-red fruits or berries, which contain malic acid, and can either be eaten raw, used to make jam or jelly, or candied. Many bushes may be survivors from mediaeval monasteries or nunneries. It is still planted as an ornamental shrub. It is a problem in agriculture since it is a host to a fungus causing black stem rust in wheat (the fungus alternates its life cycle between Barberry and wheat). The 'Doctrine of Signatures' (1) claims that as it has yellow bark, the Barberry could cure the 'yellow disease', from the so-called Jaundice Tree. The Barberry was considered a tonic, purgative and antiseptic, and was used for jaundice, liver complaints, general debility and biliousness. It is a pleasant acid drink made from the berries, said to be good for diarrhoea and fevers.
All the brooms and their relatives (including Laburnum and Ulex) grow in Europe, north Africa and southwest Asia. The bright yellow flowers of Broom are a familiar sight It grows all over the British Isles on heath, wasteland and sandy soils. It shuns chalk. Its leaves somewhat reduced as it adapted to dry and windy habitats. The name Broom (from the Old English brōm) is common, found in place names like Bromley and Brompton. It was also the
- a spray of which was the badge of Henry II, the Plantagenet. Nicholas Culpeper (2) records that it was 'generally used by all good housewives almost throughout the land to sweep their houses with'. Although it was used by witches, it could also be used against them. The plant contains poisonous alkaloids but accidental poisoning is unlikely: 25 pounds of broom would be needed to kill a horse. Cystine, sparteine and scoparin occur in broom-tops. These were once described as a panacea for all female ailments, and for liver and kidney infections, still in use as a diuretic. There are illustrious precedents for this practice, since Gerard (3) records that Henry VIII 'was wont to drinke the distilled water of Broome flours against surfets (i.e. over-eating) and diseases thereof arising.'
(1) The doctrine of signatures, dating from the time of Dioscorides and Galen, states that herbs resembling various parts of the body can be used by herbalists to treat ailments of those body parts.
(2) Culpeper, Nicholas (1616-1654), botanist, herbalist, physician, and astrologer, A Physical Directory, or a Translation of the London Directory (1649) – translation of the Pharmacopoeia Londonesis of the Royal College of Physicians.); 1649;
(3) Gerard, John (c 1545-1612) botanist and herbalist, Great Herball, or, Generall Historie of Plantes, 1597;