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Botanical: Tamus communis (LINN.
Family: N.O. Dioscoreaceae
Black Bryony belongs to a family of twining and climbing plants which generally spring from large tubers, some of which are cultivated for food, as the Yam, which forms an important article of food in many tropical countries. Great Britain only furnishes one species of this tribe, Tamus communis, which, from its powerful, acrid and cathartic qualities, ranks as a dangerous irritant poison.
It is a very common plant in woods and hedges, with weak stems twining round anything within reach, and thus ascending or creeping among the trees and bushes to a considerable distance.
---Description---The leaves are heart-shaped pointed, smooth and generally shining as if they had been varnished. Late in autumn they turn dark purple or bright yellow, making a very showy appearance. In winter, the stems die down, though the root is perennial.
The flowers are small, greenish-white, in loose bunches and of two kinds, barren and fertile on different plants, the latter being succeeded by berries of a red colour when ripe.
The large, fleshy root is black on the outside and exceedingly acrid, and, although an old cathartic medicine, is a most dangerous remedy when taken internally. It is like that of the yam, thick and tuberous and abounding in starch, but too acrid to be used as food in any manner.
The young shoots are said to be good eating when dressed like Asparagus- the Moors eat them boiled with oil and salt, after they have been first soaked in hot water.
- Gerard says of this plant:
- 'The wild black Briony resembleth the white Briony vine, but has not clasping tendrils and is easier to be losed. The root is black without and of a pale yellow colour within, like Box. It differs from white Briony only in that the root is of a yellow box colour on the inside, and the fruit or berries are black when they come to ripeness.'
As to the colour of the berries, Gerard is at fault: they are bright red. Other writers have also made the same mistake. The root is nearly cylindrical, 1 to 1 1/2 inch in diameter, 3 to 4 inches long or more, and black.
---Medicinal Action and Uses---Rubifacient, diuretic. The expressed juice of the fresh root, mixed with a little white wine, has been used as a remedy for gravel, being a powerful diuretic, but it is not given internally now, and is not included in the British Pharmacopoeia. Death in most painful form is the result of an overdose, while the effect of a small quantity, varying not with the age only, but according to the idiosyncrasies of the patient, leaves little room for determining the limit between safety and destruction. The expressed juice of the root, with honey, has also been used as a remedy for asthmatic complaints, but other remedies that are safer should be preferred.
The berries act as an emetic, and children should be cautioned against eating them.
As an external irritant, Black Bryony has, however, been used with advantage, and it was formerly much employed. The scraped pulp was applied as a stimulating plaster, and in gout, rheumatism and paralysis has been found serviceable in many instances.
A tincture made from the root proves a most useful application to unbroken chilblains, and also the fruits, steeped in gin, are used for the same remedy.
Black Bryony is a popular remedy for removing discoloration caused by bruises and black eyes, etc. The fresh root is scraped to a pulp and applied in the form of a poultice.
For sores, old writers recommend it being made into an ointment with 'hog's grease or wax, or other convenient ointment.'
The generic name Tamus is given to the plant from the belief that it is the same as that referred to in the works of Pliny under the name of Uva Taminia.
The Greeks use the young suckers like Asparagus, which they much resemble.
T. cretica is a native of Greece and the Greek Archipelago.
---Preparation---Tincture, 1 to 5 drops.
Common Name Index
Bear in mind "A Modern Herbal" was written with the conventional wisdom of the early 1900's. This should be taken into account as some of the information may now be considered inaccurate, or not in accordance with modern medicine.
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