Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Devil's Bit Scabious / Djævelsbid

Succisa pratensis

Devil's bit is common in Denmark, it grows especially in poor and sandy acidophilus with low pH, where it does well among grasses and other perennials and bushes. It is also found in bog-meadows and pastures, in moist heaths and calcareous fens. It is well suited  as a garden perennial for a "wild garden look"  - and is a valuable bee-plant since it is blooming from June into October. . 
It is the main foodplant of the Marsh Fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia), a priority species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UKBAP). The butterfly lays its eggs in large batches and the caterpillars live as a group inside a conspicuous silken web. As both plant and invertebrates are rare, their survival relies on careful management of sites containing these species.

It is distributed throughout the British Isles, western and central Europe, extending eastwards into central Asia. It is absent from eastern Asia and North America.

The bluish or purple flowers are gathered in semicircular heads. The fruits are winged nuts which are spread by the wind. The root of the plant is a short, vertical or a little angled rootstock. Its unlobed leaves distinguish it from  Field Scabious  - and it is distinguished from Greater Knapweed by opposite pairs of leaves contrary to Geater Knapweed's alternate pairs.

The legend about its name is told in various tales. The short black root was in folk tales bitten off by the devil, angry at the plant's ability to cure these ailments, in anger against the Virgin Mary, or as part of some 'devilish plot'. The plant is easy to pull up, if you want to see the off-bitten root.Gerard tells us: "'The greater part of the root seemeth to be bitten away; old fantastick charmers report that the divel did bite it for envie, because it is an herbe that hath so many good vertues and it is so beneficial to mankinde". The legend referred to by Gerard tells how the devil found it in Paradise, but envying the good it might do to the human race, bit away a part of the root to destroy the plant, in spite of which it still flourishes, but with a stumped root. The legend seems to have been very widely spread, for the plant bears this name, not only in England but also on the Continent.

Folk Medicine

Devil's bit Scabious is an old medicinal herb, known since the 4th century. The plant is still used for its diaphoretic, demulcent and febrifuge properties, the whole herb being collected in September and dried. It makes a useful tea for coughs, fevers and internal inflammation. The remedy is generally given in combination with others, the infusion being given in wineglassful doses at frequent intervals.
Species of scabious were used to treat Scabies, and other afflictions of the skin including sores caused by the Bubonic plague.The word scabies comes from the Latin word for "scratch" (scabere).
The root was used against boils, coughs and eye-inflammations The crushed root was used as a cover on shingles. A wine decoction from root and flowers and destilled water was used against diseases.like breast abscesses, cough, and inward diseases. A decoction from the plant against clotted blood and plague.

Culpepper assigned it many uses, saying that the root boiled in wine and drunk was very powerful against the plague and all pestilential diseases, and fevers and poison and bites of venomous creatures, and that "it helpeth also all that are inwardly bruised or outwardly by falls or blows, dissolving the clotted blood,"' the herb or root bruised and outwardly applied, taking away black and blue marks on the skin. He considered "'the decoction of the herb very effectual as a gargle for swollen throat and tonsils, and that the root powdered and taken in drink expels worms."

The root was written into the Pharmacopoeia in 1772.

A horse with worm was given decoction from the root. The plant is astringent and the vet used it for cleansing and healing wounds in the horse's hoof. A special cure was to hang the root around the horse's neck in order to heal keratitis = eye infection

The root was part of a brandy-extraction for humans and livestock, who were being depraved by witchcraft. It was also used in other magic means against witchcraft in cattle, accidents during butter churning, for sick pigs etc. The root was given to horses if there was witchcraft in the stable.

Together with other roots like asafoetida, coral stone and a magic formula it was put under the bed sheets against a broken marriage promise, caused by evil people.

Decoction of the fresh herb dyes wool and yarn green, from the dried herb yellow. The root gives a yellow dye;  the leaves dye green, and they dye black with ferrous sulphate.

At the Faroe islands Devil's bit is used for dyeing green.

photo Tustrup, Djursland, August 2015: grethe bachmann
 Source: Brøndegaard, folk og flora, bd. 4 and Djævelsbid,wikipedia.

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