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Even the Bible mentions a plant under the same name in Solomon's Song ii. 1, where our Saviour graciously speaks of himself as "The Lily of the Valley." But Callcott says, that Solomon's lily was another-the jonquil (Narcissus Jonquilla). It is well known that the air of the valleys of Palestine is laden with the odors of fair lilies.
German folk-lore dedicated our plant to the goddess Ostara, and the wearer of the innocent Lily of the Valley was supposed to be lucky in matters of love. And lovely forms still wear the same emblem to this day.
Dioscorides does not mention Convallaria Majalis; yet Zwinger thought, that the plant called Ephemeron in the former's Herbal, must have been our Lily of the Valley. But neither the description of his plant nor the properties which he assigns to it, make it the same.
Prof. Ritter von Perger of the Imperial Library of Vienna, says, that at a time when the poetical contemplation was on the wane and the signature of medicine seriously engaged the attention of mother "Old School," and when quackery was dominant, the beautiful Lily of the Valley ceased to be the chosen emblem of a goddess, and became the signature of Apoplexy, because "her flowers like drops hung downward." The flowers plucked before sunrise and covered with dew, were macerated in wine (Malvasier) and the preparation was then known as the celebrated Aqua Apoplectica Hartmanni. It is also stated in Gudrio's Signatura, Tours, 1659, that all bell-shaped flowers, such as Lilies of the Valley, are in sympathy with the head, and that they remove from the blood of the brain the gall or heat-producing principle.
Dr. Krebel, in Volksmedicin verschiedener Valkerstamme Russlands, mentions that Convallaria Majalis is used for epilepsy in Russia. A quart-bottle is filled with the flowers covered with liquid, and then macerated in the sun for one week. The bottle is re-filled a second time, and both tinctures obtained are mixed. The dose is as many drops as the patient counts years, to be given in a spoonful of table-wine, mornings, fasting, and in the evening. No food is to be used for an hour before and after taking the medicine. All fat, acid, and salted
diet is to be avoided. If this procedure does not cure, then the same is to be repeated after one month.
While time is nothing to a Darwinian philosopher, it is everything to a speculator even of old and new drugs alike. In turning over the pages of some of the musty, worm-eaten vellums of my bookshelves, I was struck to observe what a cruel joke time had played our Old-School friends, the mossgrown memories of some of whom could not be freshened into any new ideas. Bourbons that they are in Medical Bigotry, intolerance and practical innovations, it would be to their credit if they availed themselves of the mnemonic properties of Convallaria Majalis. Their blissful ignorance of ancient therapeutics (no one accuses them of a knowledge of the modern) might then pass more readily into oblivion; and in a future paper I will give a few mnemonic formula of ancient date for just such fossilised dogmatics.
The entire body of liberal (?) and illiberal Old-School physicians of the State of New York, in their crusade against the United States Medical College of this city, has practically declared, that medicine is not a science; or in other words, that the act incorporating scientific colleges does not include "medical" in the strict meaning of the term. The time will come when that same school would wish to have that part of their record passed into oblivion too.
Dioscorides does not mention Convallaria Majalis, but the Galenists were better acquainted with its properties. When that bombastic Calomelist, Paracelsus, who made his debut about the time of the discovery of America, introduced chemicals to the exclusion of many well-tried vegetable medicines, the Lily of the Valley was again taken charge of and held in high esteem by the Herbalists of later centuries.
In the following works, which are before me, occur many passages peculiarly interesting just now. For instance, in the Kreuterbuch of Joannes Cuba, printed at Strasburg, 1521, it is stated, that Lilium convallium, or Lily of the Valley, is of a cold and moist nature. The flowers are better than the plant, and the roots better than the blossoms. The flowers distilled with wine, and then mixed with a few peppers and
lavender water, constitute an antidote for apoplexy. If the frontal and occipital regions of the head are rubbed with this wine, it begets sound reasoning.
In the New Krauterbuch of L. Fuchs, Basel, 1543, it is claimed that the virtues of Lilium convallium are of a mixed nature. The plant has cathartic properties. The root is astringent. The flowers and leaves, which taste bitter, are discutient. A decoction of the roots held in the mouth banishes toothache. The leaves boiled in wine and applied to the parts, helps to discuss swellings. The juice of the flowers strengthens the heart, brain and liver. But the entire plant acts much the best for the same trouble.*
It is particularly useful in syncope, dizziness and epilepsy. Herr von Bock's Krauterbuch, Strasburg, 1580, also claims that the flowers are good for syncope, apoplexy, dizziness, epilepsy, colic, poison, weak heart and memory. The distilled water of the flowers, when applied to the eyes, removes inflammation.
D. Rembert Dodoens' New Herbal, London, 1619, describes the Lily of the Valley under the name of Lilium convallium or May-lily, May-blossoms, etc., and he says: "They write that the water of the floures of Lily convall., distilled with good, strong wine, and drunken in the quantitie of a spoonful restoreth speech to them that are fallen into the Apoplexie, and that it is good for them that have the Paulsie, and the Gout, and it comforts the heart. The same water, as they say, doth strengthen the memorie, and restoreth it againe to his natural vigor, when through sicknesse it is diminished. Besides this, they say also, that it is good to be dropped in against the inflammation and watering of the eyes."
Theo. Zwinger, in his Theatrum Botanicum, Basel, 1696, calls this plant Lilium convallium album or L. convallium vulgo. And he says: there is also one with red flowersLilium convallium flore rubente, and another, the great MayFlower-Lilium convallium magnum and L. convallium Alpinum. The flowers contain a volatile salt, an oleo-balsamic property, and they are sharply bitter and stimulant. They
The italics are mine.-K.
strengthen the brain and nerves and constitute a good cephalicum. The roots are seldom used. Against the pains of podagra, Camerarius recommends the following: A bottle is filled with the flowers of the Lily of the Valley, well corked and then buried in an ant-hill. After remaining there one month, a thick juice, resembling oil, is found in the bottle, which is rubbed to parts affected with podagra. It is also applied to the abdomen, for intestinal colic of children. It may also be applied to eruptions of the skin.
Following in the wake of his predecessors, Zwinger recommends the distilled water of Lily-of-the-Valley-flowers not only for the ailments already mentioned, but also as a good parturient, and vermifuge for children. He also prepares a confection of the flowers, to be used against weak heart, syncope, epilepsy and other affections.
The quintessence of Lily of the Valley is made by macerating the flowers with an essence of the same prepared a year previous, and known as Spiritus Lil. convall. per fermentationem.
This latter is obtained from the flowers first fermented with the aid of leaven, and afterward distilled. Among other things, it is good for palsy and hypochondriasis, and it may be used both internally and externally. To crown all, he orders this quaintessence to be used by certain husbands as an aphrodisiac ! A few drops mixed with honey, and placed on the tongue, restores lost speech. (What a boon to gossiping society!) A few drops on cotton and placed in the ear, removes the ringing and buzzing of that organ, and cures deafness.
He also orders preparations from the flowers to be made with whiskey, wine and vinegar. A cephalic snuff, containing many ingredients, is also spoken of. Quite a good many celebrated private formulæ, used by certain counts and public unctionaries are then given, which however are too lengthy for this paper. I should advise all dealers in nostrums to get a copy of Zwinger's Herbal, because there may be "millions in it." Dr. Zwinger enjoyed a position as regular professor in the University of Basel, Switzerland.
In Thomas Pancovius' Herbarium Portatile, Berlin, 1654, it is stated that the temperature of the Lily of the Valley is of a hot and dry nature. Among other things claimed for it, it will restore the poor quality of the milk of nursing women, and is said to be a good nervine in cases of tremulousness.
Robert Lovell's Compleat Herball, printed at Oxford, 1665, confirms much of what has already been said about Lilium convallium, which he calls Lilly in the Valley.
In Weymarisches Artzney-Buch, a kind of Thuringian Practice of Medicine, published in Leipsic, 1678, the flowers of Lilium convallium, prepared with wine, form the principal ingredient in a number of formulæ, which are recommended for apoplexy, epilepsy and other diseases.
Even Theophrastus and Plinius have been accredited with the recommending of Lily of the Valley as a medicine.
But Pliny does not describe our plant at all. In the early days of printing and wood engraving, it was not an uncommon thing to have the wood-cut of a plant belonging to another than the one described in the text, appear on the pages of a book. For similar reasons, Hemerocallis, a true bulbous plant, belonging to the Liliaceae, had been described as the Lily of the Valley.
Discarding all the authorities of the next two centuries, I will now relate what the people of Germany use Lily of the Valley in domestic practice for. The dried flowers, rubbed fine like snuff, constitute a good cephalic in chronic catarrh. In action they resemble an errhine, causing sneezing. The dried flowers are nearly devoid of fragrance, resembling in this behavior the otherwise beautiful Night-blooming Cereus (C. grandiflorus), which, like the Convallaria flowers, does not impart its delicate odor to alcohol, nor retain its fragrance when dried.
Prof. Artus'" Hand Atlas of Medicinal Plants," Jena, 1876, quotes the flowers of Convallaria majalis, as an officinal drug. He says that they contain an ethereal oil. Used as a snuff, they favor secretion of mucus from the membranes of the nares, and form an ingredient of Pulvis Sternutatorius. The flowers are also employed against cramp of the bowels (colic).