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Scabious, Devil's Bit

Botanical: Scabiosa succisa (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Compositae

---Synonyms---Ofbit. Premorse Scabious.
---Part Used---Herb.


The Devil's Bit Scabious is almost as common a plant as the preceding species, but is more often to be found in open meadows and on heaths than in the hedgerow and the cornfield.
---Description---It is a slender, little-branched plant, with a hairy stem, few leaves, which are oblong and not cut into, and almost globular heads of deep purplish-blue flowers. It is to be found in bloom from July to October. The florets composing the head are all very much the same size, the outer ones being scarcely larger than the inner. The stamens of each floret, as in the other species of Scabious are a very conspicuous feature, the anthers being large and borne upon filaments or threads that are almost as long again as the corolla. The root is, when fully grown, nearly the thickness of a finger, and ends in so abrupt a way as almost to suggest that it had been bitten off, a peculiarity that has given it a place in legends. In the first year of the plant's existence the root is like a diminutive carrot or radish in shape; it then becomes woody and dies away, the upper part excepted; as it decays and falls away, the gnawed or broken look results. The portion left throws out numerous lateral roots, which compensate for the portion that has perished. The plant derives its common name from this peculiarity in the form of the root. Gerard tells us:
'The greater part of the root seemeth to be bitten away; old fantastick charmers report that the divel did bite it for envie, because it is an herbe that hath so many good vertues and it is so beneficial to mankinde.
The legend referred to by Gerard tells how the devil found it in Paradise, but envying the good it might do to the human race, bit away a part of the root to destroy the plant, in spite of which it still flourishes, but with a stumped root. The legend seems to have been very widely spread, for the plant bears this name, not only in England but also on the Continent.

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---Medicinal Action and Uses---This plant is still used for its diaphoretic, demulcent and febrifuge properties, the whole herb being collected in September and dried.

It makes a useful tea for coughs, fevers and internal inflammation. The remedy is generally given in combination with others, the infusion being given in wineglassful doses at frequent intervals. It purifies the blood, taken inwardly, and used as a wash externally is a good remedy for cutaneous eruptions. The juice made into an ointment is effectual for the same purpose. The warm decoction has also been used as a wash to free the head from scurf, sores and dandruff.

Culpepper assigned it many uses, saying that the root boiled in wine and drunk was very powerful against the plague and all pestilential diseases, and fevers and poison and bites of venomous creatures, and that 'it helpeth also all that are inwardly bruised or outwardly by falls or blows, dissolving the clotted blood,' the herb or root bruised and outwardly applied, taking away black and blue marks on the skin. He considered 'the decoction of the herb very effectual as a gargle for swollen throat and tonsils, and that the root powdered and taken in drink expels worms.' The juice or distilled water of the herb was deemed a good remedy for green wounds or old sores, cleansing the body inwardly and freeing the skin from sores, scurf, pimples, freckles, etc. The dried root used also to be given in powder, its power of promoting sweat making it beneficial in fevers.

The SHEEP'S (or SHEEP'S-BIT) SCABIOUS (Jasione montana) is not a true Scabious, though at first sight its appearance is similar. It may be distinguished from a Scabious by its united anthers, and it differs from a Compound Flower (Compositae, to which the Scabious belongs) in having a two-celled capsule. It is a member of the Campanulaceae, and is the only British species. The whole plant, when bruised, has a strong and disagreeable smell.

See:
CORNFLOWER
KNAPWEED, BLACK
KNAPWEED, GREATER
TEAZLE THISTLE

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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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