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CARDAMINE PRATENSIS.-CUCKOW FLOWER.
Class XXV. TETRADYNAMIA.—Order II. SILIQUOSA.
Gen. Char. Pods opening elastically, with revolute valves. Stigma entire. Calyx somewhat gaping.
This species of Cardamine [tmf&ft* hep* of Dioscorides,) is indigenous to Britain, common in moist meadows and pastures, producing its flowers in April and May; it thrives best in shady situations. In the colour of its blossoms it is subject to much variation, they are usually white with a slight tinge of purple.* It probably acquired its common English name of Ladies-smock, from the white appearance which its blossoms give to the meadows where it abounds, resembling linen bleaching on the grass; a practice very general formerly, when most families spun and bleached their own linen; and that of cuckow flowers, from their blowing early in the spring. Old Gerarde says of it, " It flowers when the cuckowe doth begin to sing her pleasant notes without stammering." This plant also gives name to one of our most beautiful species of butterfly, the Papilio Cardamine, or orange-tip butterfly of Linnaeus, the caterpillar of which feeds upon it.
The root is perennial, branched, and sends off many long, round fibres; the stalk rises about nine or ten inches high, upright, round, or very slightly angular, smooth, and a little branched towards the top; the radical leaves are frequently imperfect or altogether wanting; when present, spreading in a circular form, pinnated, the pinnae roundish, slightly and irregularly angular, and stand upon very short petioles; the leaves upon the stem are erect, and consist of several pair of pinnae, with an odd one; the pinnae are opposite, spear-shaped, concave, pointed, and of a bright green; the flowers terminate the stem in a corymb; the peduncles are smooth and round; the calyx a perianthium, deciduous, composed of four leaves, which are oval, obtuse, membranous at the edge, hollow, and the alternate one gibbous at the base; the corolla is cruciform, the petals are inversely ovate, white, or very pale purple, veined, slightly emarginate, claws of a yellowish colour; the filaments are six, four long and two short, bearing small, oblong, incumbent yellow anthers, and invested at their base with four nectarious glands; the germen is round, slender, about the length of the filaments; style very short; stigma globular; seed vessel a cylindrical pod of two valves, about an inch in length, which opens elastically when the seeds are ripe, and rolls back in a spiral form; the seeds are numerous, round, somewhat flat, and of a yellowish colour.
We are told by Miller, that there are four varieties of this species of cardamine, viz., the single blossom, with white and purple flowers, and the double flower of both colours. These varieties are frequently intermixed in the same meadows. The leaves of this plant are gathered by the country people and eaten as salad, and was formerly called Bitter-cress.
Sensible Qualities. This plant has the same sensible qualities as water-cress; every part of the plant is inodorous; its taste is slightly bitter and pungent. A decoction of the flower is bitter.
Medical Properties And Uses. The officinal part (the flowers,) was first brought into notice as an anti-spasmodic, on the authority of Sir George Baker, who read a paper in the year 1767, at the London College, recommending these flowers as a remedy in convulsive disorders. In this account Sir George relates five cases wherein the flowers were successfully used, viz., two of chorea sancti Viti, one of spasmodic asthma, one of hemiplegia, accompanied with convulsions on the palsied side, and a case of remarkable spasmodic affections of the lower limbs; the two first were cured in less than a month; the two second were also happily restored, but in the last case the patient had only experienced some relief from the flowers, when she was seized with a fever which proved fatal. In the Manuel Me'dicine Pratique, &c. a case of in
* This plant has occasionally been seen with double blossoms.
cubus is related by Dr. Odier, of Geneva, in which the flowers of cardamine proved efficacious after several other anti-spasmodic medicines had failed. We are told by Greeding, who exhibited it in large doses, that he experienced but one instance of its good effects out of a great number of cases. At present they are seldom used. They are said to be slightly diuretic and diaphoretic, but have otherwise little sensible operation. The leaves were formerly considered antiscorbutic. The dose of the flowers when dried and powdered, is from half a drachm to two drachms, given from two to four times in the twenty-four hours.
Off. The Flowers and Leaves.
April is full of the beauteous evidences of Spring. March has enough of them to make us grateful, but April, with her profusion of white and green, of her songs, and her bright little wings, confirms the promise. She may be said to have four charming manifestations of nature's wealth to herself,—the blossoming of the fruit trees, and leafing of the trees in general, the return of the singing birds, and the re-appearance of the butterflies. She is the elder and slenderer sister of May, dressed in more virgin apparel, and her fingers are dabbled with wet; but her colder cheek has still a bloom on it, and she prepares the country for her buxom sister with a world of good will.
"I never walk abroad at this season of the year, without feeling a sort of silent rupture in observing the gradual progress of vegetation; and fancying that every thing around me is susceptible of happiness.
"The productions of the vegetable kingdom excite in many but little interest, and they even deem them beneath the consideration of a philosophic mind. Yet the flowers of the earth can raise our thoughts to God, as effectually as the stars of heaven. He is their Creator, and surely nothing which he has made is undeserving the attention of a finite being.
"The rapid or gradual unfolding of a leaf, or flower, is scarcely less wonderful, when properly considered, than the formation of a world. 'Let there be light,' said the Eternal,'and there was light.' He commanded ' that the earth should bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed after its kind, and the fruit-tree yielding fruit; and it obeyed him.' Each was affected by the fiat of Omnipotence; and shall man, weak man! to-day crawling on the earth, to-morrow consigned to oblivion, carelessly or scornfully disregard the minor wonders of creation,—the flowers of the field! They are beautiful, and infinitely varied; they have neither voice nor sound, yet they silently proclaim the guardian care of their Creator. Who can fully comprehend the skill with which they are contrived, for the hand which made them is divine! What art can imitate their tints and delicate proportions; for though they toil not, neither do they spin, Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of them!
"The celebrated Herschel has conjectured that new worlds are continually forming, and he founds his opinion on the different aspects, and annually changing condensation of the nebulae; some of them having gradually become less extended, till nuclei were formed in the midst, and assumed the appearance of fixed stars. This overpowering idea fills the mind with silent awe; yet the progress of vegetation continually proceeds around us, without exciting sentiments of either surprise or admiration: it is on our right hand and on our left, before us and behind us; but we perceive, or rather we regard it not.
"' But wandering oft, with brute unconscious gaze,
"Virgil has elegantly given to the vernal season the epithet of blushing, as the shoots and buds of trees assume a ruddy appearance previously to throwing out their leaves. This is particularly observable in the beech. Nothing can be more striking than the effect produced by this interesting tree, when the bright blue sky, unbroken by a cloud, is seen through the waving branches, spangled with buds of various kinds; some of a light bronze colour, others clothed with silvery down, whilst here and there a light green leaf is just beginning to appear.
"The gradual formation and expanding of a leaf is one of the most beautiful processes in nature. It has been investigated with the assistance of a solar microscope, and is described by Mrs. Ibbetson, whose elaborate researches are well deserving of attention."