Scrophula, King's evil / 1996

Subject: Scrophula
From: Christopher Hedley
Date: Mon, 25 Nov 1996 01:53:02 GMT

re The Kings Evil

this is generally taken to be TB of the lymph nodes, although traditional diagnosis was a lot less precise than modern and the term probably included any chronic discharging abcess, especially those on the neck.
Lymph node TB secondary to GI TB was quite commonly caught from infected milk.

The specific herb was Figwort, schrophularia nodosa, and sometimes Pilewort, Raunculus ficaria. Figs were discharging abcesses.
Both herbs were used locally on any nasty looking abcess.

Figwort was also called Rose noble since it replaced the touch of the king which was another popular cure for the ailment. Kings had to earn their living in those days! Popular tradition has it that Charles the second declined the messy business. He was also said to have been tortured to death by his doctors, who were overfond of the use of mercury and bloodletting.

Culpeper, who was a republican, cured his own daughter with a poultice of pilewort, drawing out a quater of a pint of corruption, without any scar.

Samual Johnson was touched by Queen Anne for scrophula.

Herbs used internally included Marigold and Liquorice.

The style of Indian Doctor is very much that of 17th cent European herbals, with a number of local plants added. We could probably track down the European herbal which the author drew on. I myself am fond of the style and it seems to be very much tried and tested remedys.

Christopher Hedley


Subject: a bit more scrofula
From: Christopher Hedley
Date: Sat, 30 Nov 1996 17:49:27 GMT

More on Blood Cleansing

I can't find out when this term gained popularity.
It must have been sometime in the last century.

Dr Coffin writing in 1843 uses the category anti-scorbutic in which he includes Burdock, Aristolacia, Saraparilla, Water Dock and Cubebs.

In his chapter on Scrofula and Scurvey he tells us that ...
scrofula consists of hard, indolent tumours of the glands generally about the neck, behind the ears and under the chin. After some time they come forward in the form of ulcers from which is generally discharged a white matter. Scrofula prevails in cold, humid atmospheres and weakened constitutions. It can be caused by impure air, idolent and dirty habits, putrid meats or indigestible foods also small pox, measles, scarlet fever, venereal tant and vaccination with impure matter.

Doctor Coffin trained in America and was instrumental in setting up the UK National Association- which became the National Institute.

Most of the older herbals only mention local treatment for indolent ulcers.
However that would not have been all that the practitioners did. They would have looked for systemic disease... humoral inbalance or whatever. In chronic conditions, and in debilitated patients, it would be absolutely necessary to prepare the patient first.
Herbals are, of course, mainly just lists of properties of herbs and we have to read medical texts to get some glimpse of treatment strategies.

Culpeper, 17th cent, says...
If you see either a disease of fullness or corrupted humours you must empty the body of these- viz fullness by bleeding and corrupt humours by purging, before you use a cleansing medicine to either.
A cleansing medicine, in this context, is one used locally to cut away tumours, abcesses etc.
Culpeper was the last major writer to follow the Galenic school. As far as I can see he makes no mention of blood cleansing as a specific strategy. Although he will, for example, talk of purging excess humours from the body. Discussions of melancholy imply cleansing it from the blood.

The Grete Herbal, mentions one systemic treatment under Hemlock...

For dry kernels in the neck, after that you have used diuretic herbs, make a plaster...

The book notes that Hemlock should not be used internally.

Other recomended plasters were...
White Bryony, Aristolacia and Smerwort. Smerwort is, presumably, a base. The OE smear means fat or grease.
Wild Arum root.
The fat from the head and tail of a grey serpent with Black Hellebore and the roots of Capers. This one was also taken internally.

All these are cutting or cleansing medicines, in the Galenic sense.

Of interest... The Grete Herbal also recomends Hemlock Plasters for maids, to stop their breasts growing. Anoint the juice often.

Christopher Hedley