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Traditional and historic uses of the substance.
The general and medical history of the species is generic they having been used indiscriminately, R . sceleratus , however, being considered the most poisonous, its juice possessing remarkable caustic power, quickly raising a blister wherever applied, and a dose of two drops sometimes exciting fatal inflammation along the whole alimentary tract.
This genus was known to the ancient physicians as Bratraxiov ( Bratrachion ). Hippocrates, Paulus Aegineta, and Dioscorides spoke of various species, the latter using them as external applications for the removal of psora, leprous nails, steotomatous and other tumors, as well as fomentations to chilblains, and in toothache. Galen, Paulus, and the physicians of Arabia, all speak highly of the plants as powerful escharotics; and the Bedouins use them as rubefacients.
Gerarde says: "There be divers sorts or kinds of these pernitious herbes comprehended under the name of Ranunculus or Crowfoote, whereof most are very dangerous to be taken into the body, and therefore they require a very exquisite moderation, with a most exact and due manner of tempering; not any of them are to be taken alone by themselves, because they are of a most violent force, and therefore have the great need of correction. The knowledge of these plants is as necessary to the physician as of other herbes, to the end they may shun the same, as Scribonius Largus saith, and not take them ignorantly, or also if necessity at any time require that they may use them, and that with some deliberation and special choice and with their proper correctives. For these dangerous simples are likewise many times of themselves beneficial and often times profitable; for some of them are not so dangerous but that they may in some sort and often times in fit and due season profit and do good. " In regard to the acrid properties of the plants, he further says: "Cunning beggars do use to stamp the leaves and lay it unto their legs and arms, which causeth such filthy ulcers as we daily see (among such wicked vagabondes), to move the people the more to pittie. "
Van Swieten, Tissot, and others mention a curious practice, formerly prevailing in several countries of Europe, of applying Ranunculus to the wrists and fingers for the cure of intermittent fevers. This practice we noted only a few days since, when called to see a child of a new - settled German family in our city; the little one's wrists were bound up in the leaves and branches of R . acris ; it was suffering with an attack of lobar pneumonia.
In former practice the plants were used, in view of external stimulation, in rheumatism (especially sciatic), hip disease, hemicrania, and in local spasmodic and fixed pains; in asthma, icterus, dysuria, and pneumonia. Withering, in speaking of R . flammula ,, says: "It 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. " (Millspaugh's Medicinal Plants)
One of the most virulent of native plants: bruised and applied to the skin, it raises a blister and creates a sore by no means easy to heal. When chewed, it inflames the tongue and produces violent effects. Even the distilled water is intensely acrimonious, and as it cools, deposits crystals which are insoluble, and have the curious property of being inflammable. Yet if the plant be boiled and the water thrown away, it is said to be not unwholesome, the peasants of Wallachia eating it thus as a vegetable. When made into a tincture, given in small diluted doses, it proves curative of stitch in the side and neuralgic pains between the ribs
Past uses – The plant was used in Egypt to treat Vitiligo.
Al-Rawi describes its use as an emmenagogue, a lactgogue and a vesicant.
In Syria, Woi describes its uses as an :- anodyne; bactericide; diuretic; for ‘flu; halitosis; a rubifacient; a vesicant.
Hartwell describes its use for removing warts and wens.
Cailleachs used it to raise blisters as a counterirritant.
Its history is long. In the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford is the Herbal of Apuleius, a manuscript from St. Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury, made about 1070 – 1100 A.D., In this, there is a drawing of the plant with its description, and its uses..
Modern use – there is no known modern use for what is a very toxic plant, although there has been a research programme into possible uses in Japan.