The spice box is such a constant source of ready domestic comforts of a medicinal sort in every household that the more important, and best known of its contents may well receive some consideration when treating of Herbal Simples; though it will, of course, be understood these spices are of foreign growth, and not indigenous products.
Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Ginger, and Cloves, claim particular notice in this respect.
"Sinament, Ginger, Nutmeg, and Cloves, And that gave me my jolly red nose." "Beaumont and Fletcher".
Cinnamon possesses positive medicinal as well as aromatic virtues. What we employ as this spice consists of the inner bark of shoots from the stocks of a Ceylon tree, first cultivated here in 1768.
Such bark chemically contains cinnamic acid, tannin, a resin, and sugar, so that its continued use will induce constipation. The aromatic and stimulating effects of Cinnamon have been long known. It was freely given in England during the epidemic scourges of the early and middle centuries, nearly every monastery keeping a store of the cordial for ready use. The monks administered it in fever, dysentery, and contagious diseases. And recent discovery in the laboratory of M.
Pasteur, the noted French bacteriologist, has shown that Cinnamon possesses the power of absolutely destroying all disease germs. Our ancestors, it would appear, had hit upon a valuable preservative against microbes, when they infused Cinnamon with other spices in their mulled drinks. Mr. Chamberland says, "no disease germ can long resist the antiseptic powder of essence of Cinnamon, which is as effective to destroy microbes as corrosive sublimate."
By its warming astringency, it exercises cordial properties which are most useful in arresting passive diarrhea, and in relieving flatulent indigestion.
Its volatile oil is procured from the bark, and likewise a tincture, as well as an aromatic water of Cinnamon. For a sick qualmish stomach either preparation is an excellent remedy, as the virtue of the bark rests in this essential volatile oil. When obtained from the fruit it is extremely fragrant, of thick consistence, and sometimes made into candles at Ceylon, for the sole use of the king. The doses are of the powdered bark from ten to twenty grains; of the oil from
one to five drops; of the tincture from half to one teaspoonful, and of the distilled water from one to two tablespoonfuls. Our Queen is known to be partial to the use of Cinnamon. Keats, the poet, wrote of "lucent syrups tinct. with Cinnamon." And Saint Francis of Sales says in his "Devout Life": "With respect to the labor of teaching, it refreshes and revives the heart by the sweetness it brings to those who are engaged in it, as the Cinnamon does in "Arabia Felix" to them
who are laden with it." In toxic quantities of an injurious amount, Cinnamon bark has produced hemorrhage from the bowels, and nose bleeding. Therefore small doses of the diluted tincture are well calculated to obviate these symptoms when presenting themselves through illness.
The bark was formerly thought to stimulate the functions of the womb, and of late it has come again into medical use for this purpose. To check fluxes from that organ a teaspoonful of the bruised bark should be infused in half a pint of boiling water, and a tablespoonful given frequently when cool. Lozenges made  with the essential oil are also medicinally available for the speedy relief of sickness, and as highly useful against influenza. It is well known that persons
who live in Cinnamon districts have an immunity from malaria.
Ginger (Zingiberis radix) is the root-stock of a plant grown in the East and West Indies, and is scraped before importation. Its odor is due to an essential oil, and its pungent hot taste to a resin. It was known in Queen Elizabeth's reign, having been introduced by the Dutch about 1566. "Grene Gynger of almondes" is mentioned in the Paston Letters, 1444. "When condited," says Gerard, "it provoketh venerie."
This Green Ginger, which consists of the young shoots of the rhizome, when boiled in syrup makes an excellent preserve. Officially from the dried and scraped rhizome are prepared a tincture, and a syrup. If a piece of the root is chewed it causes a considerable flow of saliva, and an application of powdered Ginger, made with water into paste, against the skin will produce intense tingling and heat. To which end it may be spread on paper and applied to the forehead as a
means for relieving a headache from passive fulness. In India, Europeans who suffer from languid indigestion drink an infusion of Ginger as a substitute for tea. For gouty dyspepsia the root may be powdered in a mortar: and a heaped teaspoonful of it should be then infused in boiling milk; to be taken when sufficiently cool, for supper or at breakfast.
The dose of the powder is from ten to twenty grains; of the tincture from a third of a teaspoonful to a teaspoonful, in water hot or cold; of the syrup from one to two teaspoonfuls in water. Either preparation is of service to correct diarrhea, and to relieve weakly chronic bronchitis. Also as admirably corrective of chronic constipation through general intestinal sluggishness, a vespertine slice of good, old-fashioned Gingerbread made with brown treacle and grated
ginger may be eaten with zest, and reliance. There is a street in Hull called "The land of Ginger."
The habitat of the tree from which our Nutmeg comes is the Molucca Islands, and the part of the nut which constitutes the Spice is the kernel. This is called generically Nux moschata, or Mugget (French Musqu?) a diminutive of musk, from its aromatic odor, and properties. The Nutmeg is oval, or nearly round, of a brown wrinkled aspect, with an aromatic smell, and a bitter fragrant taste. Officinally the tree is named Myristica officinalis, and the oil distilled
from the Nutmeg in Britain is much superior to foreign oil.
Ordinarily as a condiment of a warming character the Nutmeg is employed to correct cold indigestible food, or as a cordial addition to negus: and medicinally for languid digestion, with giddiness and flatulence, causing oppressed breathing. Its activity depends on the volatile oil, contained in the proportion of six per cent. in the nut. This when given at all largely is
essentially narcotic. Four Nutmegs have been known to completely paralyze all nervous sensibility, and
have produced a sort of wakeful unconsciousness for three entire days, with loss of memory afterwards, and with more or less paralysis until after eight days.
The Banda, or Nutmeg Islands in the Indian Ocean, are twelve in number, and the strength of the Nutmeg in its season is said to overcome birds of Paradise so that they fall helplessly intoxicated.
When taken to any excess, whether as a spice, or as a medicine, the Nutmeg and its preparations are apt to cause giddiness, oppression of the chest, stupor, and delirium. A moderate dose of the powdered Nutmeg is from five to twenty grains, but persons with a tendency to apoplexy should abstain from any free use of this spice. From two to six drops of the essential oil may be taken on sugar to relieve flatulent oppression and dyspepsia, or from half to one teaspoonful of the
spirit of Nutmeg made by mixing one part of the oil with forty parts of spirit of wine; this dose being had with one or two tablespoonfuls of hot water, sweetened if desired.
A medicinal tincture is prepared (H.) from the kernel with spirit of wine (not using the oil, nor the essence). This in small diluted doses is highly useful for drowsiness connected with flatulent indigestion, and a disposition to faintness: also for gout retrocedent to the stomach. The dose is from five to ten drops with a spoonful of water every half hour, or every hour until the symptoms are adequately relieved. Against diarrhea Nutmeg grated into warm water is very
helpful, and will prove an efficient substitute for opium in mild cases. Externally the spirit of Nutmeg is a capital application to be rubbed in for chronic rheumatism, and for paralyzed limbs. The "butter of Nutmegs," or their concrete oil, is used in making plasters of a warming, and stimulating kind. A drink that was concocted by our grandmothers was Nutmeg tea. One Nutmeg would make a pint of this tea, two or three cupfuls of which would produce a sleep of many hours'
duration. The worthy old ladies were wont to carry a silver grater and Nutmeg case suspended from the waist on their chatelaines. But in any large quantity the Nutmeg may produce sleep of such a profundity as to prove really dangerous. Two drachms of the powder have brought on a comatose sleep with some delirium.
The Nutmeg contains starch, protein, and other simple constituents, in addition to its stimulating principles. Mace is the aromatic envelope of the Nutmeg, and possesses the same qualities in a minor degree. Its infusion is a good warming medicine against chronic cough, and moist bronchial asthma in an old person. Mace is a membranaceous structure enveloping the Nutmeg, having a fleshy texture, and being of a light yellowish-brown colour. It supplies an allied essential
volatile principle, which is fragrant and cordial. If given three or four times during the twenty-four hours, in a dose of from eight to twelve grains, crushed, or powdered Mace will prove serviceable against long-continued looseness of the bowels; but this dose should not be exceeded for fear of inducing narcotism.
Cloves (from clavus, a nail), also found in the kitchen spice box, and owning certain medicinal resources of a cordial sort, which are quickly available, belong to the Myrtle family of plants, and are the unexpanded flower buds of an aromatic tree (Caryophyllus), cultivated at Penang and elsewhere. They contain a volatile oil which, like that of Chamomile, although cordial, lowers nervous sensibility, or irritability: also tannin, a gum resin, and
woody fibre. This volatile oil consists principally of "eugenin" with a camphor, "caryophyllin." The "eugenic acid," with a strong odor of cloves, is powerfully antiseptic and anti-putrescent. It reduces the sensibility of the skin: and therefore the oil with lanolin is a useful application for eczema.
Dr Burnett has lately taught (1895) that a too free use of Cloves will bring on albuminuria; and that when this disease has supervened from other
causes, the dilute tincture of Cloves, third decimal strength, will frequently do much to lessen the quantity of albumen excreted by the kidneys. From five to ten drops of this tincture should be given with water three times a day.
Used in small quantities as a spice the Clove stimulates digestion, but when taken more freely it deadens the susceptibility of the stomach, lessens the appetite, and induces constipation. An infusion of Cloves, made with half an ounce to a pint of water, and drank in doses of a small wineglassful, will relieve the nausea and coldness of flatulent indigestion. The oil put on cotton wool into the hollow of a decayed tooth is a useful means for giving ease to toothache. The
dose of the oil is from one to five drops, on sugar, or in a spoonful of milk. The odor of Cloves is aromatic, and the taste pleasantly hot, but acrid. Half a tumbler of quite hot water poured over half a dozen Cloves (which are to brew for a few minutes on the hob, and then to be taken out), will often secure a good night to a restless dyspeptic patient, if taken just before getting into bed. Or if given cold before breakfast this dose will obviate constipation. In Holland
the oil of Cloves is prescribed with cinchona bark for ague. Arthur Cecil's German medico in the Play advises his patient to "rub your pelly mit a Clove."
All-Spice (Pimento) is another common occupant of the domestic spice box. It is popular as a warming cordial, of a sweet odor, and a grateful aromatic taste; but being a native of South America, grows with us only as a stove plant. The leaves and bark are full of inflammable particles, whilst walks between Pimento trees are odorous with a delicious scent. The name All-Spice is given because the berries afford in smell and taste a combination of
Cloves, Juniper berries, Cinnamon and Pepper. The special qualities of the Pimento reside in the rind of these berries; and this tree is the Bromelia ananas, named in Brazil Nana. An extract made from the crushed berries by boiling them down to a thick liquor, is, when spread on linen, a capital stimulating plaster for neuralgic or rheumatic parts. About the physician in "les Francais" it was said admiringly "c'est lui qui a invent?a salade d'Ananas."
The essential oil, as well as the spirit and the distilled water of Pimento, are useful against flatulent indigestion and for hysterical
paroxysms. This Spice was formerly added to our syrup of buckthorn to prevent it from griping. The berries are put into curry powder, and added to mulled wines.
The Primitive Simplers presented here show the way of life in other generations, it is not suggested or recommended trying them yourself.
History of Herbs
Herbs for Beginners
Drying & Preserving Herbs
Indoor Herb Gardening
Hints & Tips
Oil and Vinegar
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