I was delighted to find a copy of Culpepper’s ‘Complete Herbal and English Physician’ in a local charity shop the other day. Herbs are something in which I have had a long standing interest, but not much knowledge. The few things I have read seem to frequently refer to Culpepper so I am excited to become familiar with this man and his work.
To be honest, on my first flick through it seems pretty out there. There is a lot of astrology incorporated into the classification of different herbs. For example under the listing for nettles
This is also an herb Mars claims dominion over. You know Mars is hot and dry, and you know as well that winter is cold and moist; then you may know as well the reason why nettle-tops, eaten in the spring, consume the phlegmatic superfluities in the body of man, that the coldness and moistness of winter hath let behind.
The language sounds pretty archaic to our modern ear. Nicholas Culpepper was born in 1616 and died in 1654 so this is nearly 400 years old. Yet it is the fact that this book was written and published in English (as opposed to Latin) that was a radical act of a radical era. It was published during the English Civil War when no one was able to enforce the ban on publishing medical texts. According to the preface, Culpepper was opposed to the ‘mercenary tribe of pretenders to physic who now pervade the kingdom, and, like a swarm of locusts from the east, prey upon the vitals of mankind.’ It seems that compassion for the common sick man leads him to write this great treatise in a language that the common man will be able to understand.
Knowing even a very small amount of Culpepper’s reasons for writing this book inclines me to bear with some of the idiosyncrasies of his work and find that which is good and true in it. It has certainly stood the test of time. As I sit here writing, my throat is sore and my neck is ominously aching. Maybe I will have a go gargling a few nettle leaves:
the same helpeth the swelling of the almonds of the throat, the mouth and throat being garbled there with.