Asarabacca appears like an evergreen, keeping its leaves all the Winter, but putting forth new ones in the time of Spring. It has many heads rising from the roots, from whence come many smooth leaves, every one upon his foot stalks, which are rounder and bigger than Violet leaves, thicker also, and of a dark green shining colour on the upper side, and of a pale yellow green underneath, little or nothing dented about the edges, from among which rise small, round, hollow, brown green husks, upon short stalks, about an inch long, divided at the brims into five divisions, very like the cups or heads of the Henbane seed, but that they are smaller; and these be all the flower it carries, which are somewhat sweet, being smelled to, and where in, when they are ripe, is contained small cornered rough seeds, very like the kernels or stones of grapes, or raisins. The roots are small and whitish, spreading divers ways in the ground, increasing into divers heads; but not running or creeping under the ground as some other creeping herbs do. They are somewhat sweet in smell, resembling Nardus, but more when they are dry than green; and of a sharp and not unpleasant taste.
It grows frequently in gardens.
They keep their leaves green all Winter; but shoot forth new in the Spring, and with them come forth those heads or flowers which give ripe seed about Mid-summer, or somewhat after.
Government and virtues.
It is a plant under the dominion of Mars, and therefore inimical to nature. This herb being drank, not only provokes vomiting, but purges downwards, and by urine also, purges both choler and phlegm: If you add to it some spikenard, with the whey of goat’s milk, or honeyed water, it is made more strong, but it purges phlegm more manifestly than choler, and therefore does much help pains in the hips, and other parts; being boiled in whey, it wonderfully helps the obstructions of the liver and spleen, and therefore profitable for the dropsy and jaundice; being steeped in wine and drank, it helps those continual agues that come by the plenty of stubborn humours; an oil made there of by setting in the sun, with some laudanum added to it, provokes sweating (the ridge of the back being anointed therewith), and thereby drives away the shaking fits of the ague. It will not abide any long boiling, for it loseth its chief strength thereby; nor much beating, for the finer powder provokes vomits and urine, and the coarser purgeth downwards.
The common use here of is, to take the juice of five or seven leaves in a little drink to cause vomiting; the roots have also the same virtue, though they do not operate so forcibly; they are very effectual against the biting of serpents, and therefore are put as an ingredient both into Mithridite and Venice treacle. The leaves and roots being boiled in lye, and the head often washed there with while it is warm, comforts the head and brain that is ill affected by taking cold, and helps the memory.
I shall desire ignorant people to forbear the use of the leaves; the roots purge more gently, and may prove beneficial to such as have cancers, or old putrefied ulcers, or fistulas upon their bodies, to take a dram of them in powder in a quarter of a pint of white wine in the morning. The truth is, I fancy purging and vomiting medicines as little as any man breathing doth, for they weaken nature, nor shall ever advise them to be used, unless upon urgent necessity. If a physician be nature’s servant, it is his duty to strengthen his mistress as much as he can, and weaken her as little as may be.