Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Plants as abortifacients – 2

Gabrielle Hatfield, in her Hatfield’s Herbal (2007) mentions many of the plants already included in our earlier note on this subject – juniper, pennyroyal, raspberry, tansy and yew – and adds four new ones to our list:  caper spurge (Euphorbia lathyris), fairy flax (Linum catharticum) fir clubmoss (Huperizia, formerly Lycopodium, selago) and lesser meadow-rue (Thalictrum minus).

Caper spurge.  Hatfield cites Charles F. Millspaugh’s American Medicinal Plants (1892): ‘the laity in England are said to use one capsule to cause catharsis, and the women several to produce abortion’.

Fairy flax.  Hatfield cites Mary Beith’s  Healing Threads:  Traditional Medicines of the Highlands & Islands (1995) where she mentions that James Robertson, who toured the West Highlands and some of the islands in 1768, noted that ‘The women are frequently troubled with a suppression of the menses [late menstruation] to remedy which they use an infusion of Thalictrum minus and Linum catharticum.’  Beith observes that both of these species, together with fir clubmoss ‘have been used at some time as abortifacients’.

Fir clubmoss.  Here again Hatfield cites Beith who obtained her information from Robertson:  ‘Lycopodium selago is said to be such a strong purge that it will bring on an abortion.’

Lesser meadow-rue.  Again taken from Beith; see fairy flax above.

Image:  fir cubmoss, W.H. Fitch & W.G. Smith, Illustrations of the British Flora, ed.5 (1949).