Saturday, 12 March 2016

The Old Waldensian Medicine Chest

(No plant listed here should be used medicinally without first taking qualified advice)
The Waldensians who had been confined to the mountains by religious persecution were forced to be more self-reliant and reliant on the plants of the Cottian Alps than their Piedmontese neighbours. A recent field study found they used 85 wild and semi-domesticated folk foods, 96 medicinal plants and 45 veterinary plants, twice as many as other valley communities. No other community, apart from the Waldensians, used the fern Moonwort (Botrychium lunaria) for skin problems, or Veronica (Alpine Speedwell) for afternoon tea (Veronica allionii and V. officinalis). The use of lichens was part of Waldensian traditional cuisine: it has been revived in some local restaurants.

Moonwort was used by Waldensians to treat skin conditions
By Abalg - own product, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5012055













The Waldensians, mainly alone, used:
Iceland Moss (Cetraria islandica) in infusions, to treat coughs and as a laxative. In Iceland, it is only occasionally used to make folk medicines and in a few traditional dishes. In earlier times, it was much more widely used in breads, porridges, soups.
Arnica (Arnica Montana) which, it is claimed, helps the pain of osteoarthritis apparently.
Absinthe wormwood (Artemesia absinthum) - can be toxic in large quantities. The bitter taste was used by nurses to wean children from breast feeding. Medicinally, it has been used to stimulate appetite. An ingredient of absinthe, proverbially it is the symbol of bitterness, along with gall.
European Silver Fir (Abies Alba). The resin can be extracted as essential oil which has soothing pine qualities for perfumes and bath products. The branches (including the leaves, bark and wood) were used for production of spruce beer. The extract from the trunk it is claimed, helps to prevent thickening of the arteries.
Greater Celandine (Chilidonium Majus) The ancient Greeks used this for detoxifying. The root has been chewed to relieve toothache. John Gerard's Herball (1597) recommends it to cleanse the eyesight.

The Waldensians' use of these medicinal herbs was similar to that of the neighbouring Piedmontese:
Common Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) traditionally used externally for chillblains and wounds.
Common St John’s Wort (Hypericum Perforatum) - it is claimed that it helps some kinds of depression and speeds up the metabolism (there are adverse uses in some situations)
Lichwort (Parietara officinalise) - once used as a diuretic (one must not go near it if one has allergies).
Common Mallow (Malve sylbestris) - diuretic; leaves used for poultices.
Chamomile (Matriciaria chamomilla) - sleeping aid, anti-inflammatory, anti bacterial.
Wild Thyme (Thymus serpyllum) - the volatile essential oils in wild thyme are packed with antiseptic, antiviral, antirheumatic, antiparasitic and antifungal properties. This explains why thyme-based formulas are used as an expectorant, diuretic, fungicide and antibiotic. Must be used with care however.
Small leaved lime (Tilia cordata) encourages sweating in colds and is used as a laxative and sedative. Flowers are still sold in health shops for tea to treat a range of conditions, including palpitations.
Heart’s ease/Love in Idleness (Viola tricolor). Antimicrobial with potential ingredient to treat cancer.
Melissa I have been successfully treated by local people living in Val Pellice for a major de-stress (due to going on holiday) with what they call 'melissa' which is lemon balm.  The leaves are boiled for five minutes to make a pleasant tea. They are dried for winter use though tea from dried melissa is reportedly not quite as nice.

Further information
Old Waldensian fruits
Old Waldensian Roots and Shoots
Old Waldensian afternoon tea
Field study of old Waldensian plants and uses

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