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Botanical: Salicornia herbacea (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Chenopodiaceae
Many species of the genera Salsola, Suaeda and Salicornia belonging to Chenopodiaceae are rich in soda and were formerly much employed in making both soap and glass, hence the name Glasswort. Large quantities of the ashes of these plants were formerly imported from southern Europe and northern Africa under the name of Barilla, the chief sources being Salsola Kali (Linn.) and Salsola Soda (Linn.), the Spanish Salsola sativa (Loft) and S. tragus (Linn.). On the introduction of Le Blanc's process of obtaining soda from common salt, the importance of Barilla as an article of commerce ceased.
Our native plant, the Jointed Glasswort (Salicornia herbacea, Linn.), was, as its name implies, also regarded as of value in the manufacture of glass.
---Description---It is a low-growing, annual herb, common in salt marshes and on muddy seashores all round the British Islands and was much used for this purpose. It has no leaves, but is formed of cylindrical, jointed branches of a light green colour, smooth, very succulent and full of a salt, bitterish juice, its minute flowers produced in threes in little pits in the axils of the branches.
The whole plant is greedily devoured by cattle for its saltish taste. Steeped in malted vinegar, the tender shoots make a good pickle and were often used as a substitute for Samphire in those parts of the coast where the latter did not abound, on which account the plant is also called Marsh Samphire. Sir Thomas More, enumerating the useful native plants that would improve 'many a poor knave's pottage' if he were skilled in their properties, says that 'Glasswort might afford him a pickle for his mouthful of salt meat.'
There are references in the Bible to the uses of Glasswort for soap and for glass.
- Parkinson relates a theory in connexion with Glasswort in his days:
- 'If the soap that is made of the lye of the ashes be spread upon a piece of thicke coarse brown paper cut into the forme of their shooe sole that are casually taken speechless and bound to the soles of their feete, it will bring again the speech and that within a little time after the applying thereof if there be any hope of being restored while they live: this hath been tried to be effectuall upon diverse persons.'
Botanical: Salsola Kali (LINN.)
The Prickly Glasswort (Salsola Kali, Linn.) has a thick, round, brittle stem, with few, rigid leaves of a bluish-green colour and small, yellow flowers.
Family: N.O. Chenopodiaceae
---Medicinal Action and Uses---The juice of the fresh plant was said to be an excellent diuretic, the twisted seed-vessels having the same virtue and being given in infusion.
The whole plant was likewise burnt for its fixed salt used in making glass.
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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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