Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Cannabis cures coughs

This week we finished translating John Ray’s entry for Cannabis sativa in Catalogus plantarum Angliae (1670, pp. 52–53).  Many thanks to Dr Chris Preston for providing and introducing this text, and for editing the translation.

C.  Cannabis sativa C.B.  mas & fœmina J.B.  sativa mas & fœmina Park.  1, seu mas & 2, seu fœmina Ger. emac.  Hemp the male and Female, or Winter and Summer Hemp.  It is sown in fields.

Woodcut of John Ray, 1693
N. 1.  The seed, if consumed rather copiously, inhibits conception. Boiled with milk, it relieves a cough. The emulsion of its seed is beneficial for jaundice, but it fills the head with vapours and it causes delirium if it is eaten excessively.

2.  The juice of the plant, dropped in, is said to cure earaches produced by obstruction.  This juice is also certain bane to cut-open innards and the sources of rotten wounds.  Meanwhile, besides what we have gathered about Cannabis, look in the Cambridge Catalogue*, lest we should be compelled to repeat the same things here. 

3. The medics claim all too confidently that the seed of the plant suppresses conception, when rather it is an aphrodisiac. The Persians certainly roast not only the seed of cannabis for this purpose, and eat it mixed with salt, for a second course, but are also accustomed to eat the herb when it is not fully ripe, the leaves dried in the shade and ground into powder then made with honey into little balls the size of a pigeon’s egg, as Olearius reports. This observation I owe to Master Lister.

* Ray’s Catalogus plantarum circa Cantabigiam nascentium (1660) includes four notes on Cannabis dealing with the difference between the male and female plants, the use of Cannabis as bird food (“small birds …. are so fattened by it that it either kills them or takes away their eagerness to sing”) and a reference to a group of eminent people killed by drinking water polluted by hemp-retting which had made its way “thorough hidden windings and subterranean passages” into a “limpid fountain”.

Adam Olearius, by Jürgen Ovens
Adam Ölschläger (1599–1671), who latinised his surname to Olearius, was a scholar in the service of Frederick III, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp. He was appointed Secretary to ambassadors sent by the Duke to Moscow and Isfahan, Persia, between 1633 and 1639. His account of his travels, first published in German, was translated into English as The voyages and travels of the ambassadors sent by Frederick, Duke of Holstein, to the Great Duke of Muscovy, and the King of Persia (London, 1662). Olearius (p. 320) describes how the Persians “use all imaginable inventions to stir themselves up to lust” including “the seed and leaves of Hemp, to revive languishing Nature … To prepare this Drugg, they gather the leaves before they come to Seed, dry them in the shade, beat them to powder, which they mix with Honey, and make pills thereof, about the bigness of a Pidgeons Egg. They take two or three of them at a time, to fortifie Nature. As to the Seed, they fry it, put a little salt thereto, and eat it by way of Desert.”

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