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The genus Ranunculus forms a very numerous tribe of plants, and was known to the ancient physicians. Hippocrates used two species. According to Paulus Aegineta, there were four varieties described in ancient medicine, which Sprengel is of opinion were the R. asiaticus, R. lanuginosa, R. muricatus, and R. aquatilis. Dioscorides employed them as external applications for the removal of leprous nails, psora, steotomatous and other tumours; as a formation to chilblains, and as an application to remove toothache. Galen, Paulus Aegineta, and the Arabian physicians all recommend them as powerful escharotics.
A curious practice formerly prevailed in several countries of Europe of applying the Ranunculus to the wrists or fingers for the cure of intermittent fevers. This is mentioned by Van Swieten, Tissot, and some others. In hemicrania it was applied to the head, and in this case did not produce a discharge nor break the skin, but occasioned tumefaction of the hairy scalp. It was also employed in local spasmodic complaints and in fixed pains; and Crowfoot is known to be one of the ingredients in Plunket's epithem for cancer." Dr. Withering states that the juice of the Ranunculus flammula is an instantaneous emetic, "as if nature had furnished an antidote to poisons from among poisons of its own tribe; and it is to be preferred to almost any other vomit in promoting the instantaneous expulsion of deleterious substances from the stomach.
MEDICINAL ACTION AND USES
Like most of the Crowfoots, the Bulbous Buttercup possesses the property of inflaming and blistering the skin, particularly the roots, which are said to raise blisters with less pain and greater safety than Spanish Fly, and have been applied for that purpose, especially to the joints, in gout. The juice, if applied to the nostrils, provokes sneezing and cures certain cases of headache. The leaves have been used to produce blisters on the wrists in rheumatism, and when infused in boiling water, as a poultice, at the pit of the stomach.
A tincture made with spirits of wine will cure shingles very expeditiously, it is stated, both the outbreak of the small pimples and the accompanying sharp pains between the ribs, 6 to 8 drops being given three or four times daily. For sciatica, the tincture has been employed with good effect.
The roots on being kept lose their stimulating quality, and are even eatable when boiled. Pigs are remarkably fond of them, and will go long distances to get them.
The herb is too acrid to be eaten alone by cattle, but possibly mixed with grasses it may act as a stimulus.
It is recorded that two obstinate cases of nursing soremouth have been cured with an infusion made by adding 2 drachms of the recent root, cut into small pieces, to 1 pint of hot water, when cold, a tablespoonful was given three or four times a day, and the mouth was frequently washed with a much stronger infusion.
Its action as a counter-irritant is both uncertain and violent, and may cause obstinate ulcers. The beggars of Europe sometimes use it to keep open sores for the purpose of exciting sympathy.