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Its name is derived from L. fumus, smoke, because of the smoky odour of some species. Another explanation is the old belief that, besides seed, the plant could also have come into existence from vapour or smoke that has come out of the ground. Historically the plant was burned and it was believed that the smoke was a purifying agent. Ancient exorcists thought that the smoke had the power to expel evil spirits. Magicians and witches believed that they became invisible when they stood in the smoke. In Germany, it was thrown in the fire to prevent thunderstorms.
"Physicians and writers from Dioscorides to Chaucer, and from the fourteenth century to Cullen and to modern times value its purifying power. French and German physicians still prefer it to most other medicines as a purifier of the blood; while sometimes the dried leaves are smoked in the manner of tobacco, for disorders of the head. A decoction makes a curative lotion for milk-crust on the scalp of an infant." [Grieve]
Medicinal Action and Uses---A weak tonic, slightly diaphoretic, diuretic, and aperient; valuable in all visceral obstructions, particularly those of the liver, in scorbutic affections, and in troublesome eruptive diseases, even those of the leprous order. A decoction makes a curative lotion for milk-crust on the scalp of an infant. Physicians and writers from Dioscorides to Chaucer, and from the fourteenth century to Cullen and to modern times value its purifying power. The Japanese make a tonic from it. Cows and sheep eat it, and the latter are said to derive great benefit from it. The leaves, in decoction or extract, may be used in almost any doses. The inspissated juice has also been employed, also a syrup, powder, cataplasm, distilled water, and several tinctures.
French and German physicians still preferit to most other medicines as a purifier of the blood; while sometimes the dried leaves are smoked in the manner of tobacco, for disorders of the head. Dr. Cullen, among its good effects in cutaneous disorders, mentions the following:
'There is a disorder of the skin, which, though not attended with any alarming symptoms of danger to the life of the patient, is thought to place the empire of beauty in great jeopardy; the complaint is frequently brought on by neglecting to use a parasol, and may be known by sandy spots, vulgarly known as freckles, scattered over the face. Now, be it known to all whom it may concern, that the infusion of the leaves of the abovedescribed plant is said to be an excellent specific for removing these freckles and clearing the skin; and ought, we think, to be chiefly employed by those who have previously removed those moral blemishes which deform the mind, or degrade the dignity of a reasonable and an immortal being.'
---Dosage---Of Fumarine, 1/3 or 1/4 of a grain is moderately excitant; 3 grains are first irritant, then sedative. Of the expressed juice, 2 fluid ounces or more, twice a day. Of fluid extract, 1/2 to 1 drachm.
For dyspepsia, 2 oz. of the flowers and tops may be macerated in 3 pints of Madeira wine, and taken twice a day in doses of 2 to 4 fluid ounces.
Fluid extract 1/2 to 1 drachm.
---Old Recipes and Prescriptions---
The Liquid Juice four or five spoonfuls in themorning, fasting, with a glass of white Port wine. It purges a little downwards, but more especially if mixed with an infusion of Senna in wine. It purifies the blood from salt, choleric, or viscous humours, and strengthens all the Viscera, not leaving any evil quality behind it.
The Essence has all the virtues of the former, but is more efficacious. A safe remedy also against adult choler and melancholy or obstructions which are the cause of choleric and putrid fevers, jaundice, Strangury of Urine through Gravel, Sand, or Viscous Matter, all of which it expels in abundance.
Dose 5 or 6 spoonfuls in white wine or clarified whey.
The Syrup Whether made of the juice or greenherb, has all the virtue, but is weaker in operation, and therefore ought to be given mixed with the Syrup of Damask Roses or Peach Blossoms, or Tincture of Senna. Very effectual against Jaundice, Dropsy, and Gout, and is a most singular thing against hypochondriack melancholy in any person whatsoever.
The Decoction in Water or Wine Weaker than the above, and 6 to 8 oz. may be given in the morning, fasting.
The Power of the Dried Herb. A drachm, with half a drachm of Powder of Esula Root, and given in 5 or 6 spoonsful of the essence of juice, causes vomiting and cleanses the stomach and bowels, effectual against Dropsy, Scurvy, Jaundice, Gout and Rheumatism, but because it stirs up much wind, should be corrected with a few drops of oil of Anise or Fennel Seed, or with the Powder of the same.
The Collurium. 3 ounces of Juice or Essence of Fumitory, mixed with one ounce each of distilled Water of Fumitory, and honey. An excellent thing against sores, inflamed, running and watery Eyes. Also a healing Gargle. Drops in the Eyes clear the sight and take away redness. If the Juice be mixed with equal parts of Juice of Sharp-pointed Docks and Wine Vinegar, and a contaminated Skin be washed therewith, it cures it of Scabs, Itch, Wheals, Pimples, Scurf, etc.
The Distilled Water has the virtues of the Juice, but is much weaker, and may be used as a Vehicle for any of the other Preparations. Taken with good Venice Treacle, it is good against Plague, driving forth the Malignity by sweat.
The Spirituous Tincture is good against Plague, Fevers, Colic, and Griping of the Guts, whether in Young or Old.
Dose, 2 to 3 drachms in Canary or other fit vehicle.
The Acid Tincture is an excellent Antiscorbutick, good against Vapors and Tumors which cause fiery Eruptions. Causes a good Appetite and a strong Digestion. To be given in all the patient drinks, so many drops as may give the Liquor a grateful or pleasant acidity, and to be continued for some time.
The Saline Tincture cures Scabs, Pimples, Leprosy, etc., by bathing or well washing the parts affected therewith, as hot as can be endured, and continuing for some considerable time.
The Powder of the Seed. Stronger than the Powder of the Herb, prevalent against the Dropsy, being given daily with 10 to 12 grains of Scammony. A drachm of the simple powder, morning and night, especially in an infusion of Senna, may do wonders in Melancholy.