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It derives its name from the legend that its medicinal virtues were revealed by the god Mercury. The Greeks called it Mercury's Grass. The French call it La Mercuriale, the Italians, Mercorella. The name Dog's Mercury or Dog's Cole, was probably given it because of its inferiority from an edible point of view, either to the Annual, or Garden Mercury, or to a plant known to the older herbalists as English Mercury, which was sometimes eaten in this country and some parts of the Continent as a substitute for that vegetable. The prefix 'Dog' was often given to wild-flowers that were lacking in scent or other properties of allied species - as, for instance, Dog Violet, Dog Rose, etc.
That Dog's Mercury has been eaten in mistake for Good King Henry, with unfortunate results, we know from the report of Ray, one of the earliest of English naturalists, who relates that when boiled and eaten with fried bacon in error for this English spinach, it produced sickness, drowsiness and twitching. In another instance, when it was collected and boiled in soup by some vagrants, all partaking of it exhibited the ordinary symptoms of narcotic and irritant poisoning, two children dying on the following day.
The fact that some old books recommend Dog's Mercury as a good potherb arose probably from confusing it with the less harmful annual species, called by Gerard the French or Garden Mercury.
History---We find it spoken of in the old herbals as possessing wonderful powers, but it has been abandoned as a dangerous remedy for internal use. Culpepper speaks strongly of the 'rank poisonous' qualities of Dog's Mercury.