Rattle, Dwarf Redotanical: Pedicularis sylvatica
Family: N.O. Labiatae
Synonyms: Red Rattle Grass. Lousewort. Lesser Red Rattle.
Part Used: Herb.
The Dwarf Red Rattle (Pedicularis sylvatica) and the Yellow Rattle or Cock's Comb (Rhinanthus Crista-galli) are very closely allied to the Eyebright. As remedies they have now fallen into disuse.
There are two Red Rattles, but the commoner and medicinal one is the Dwarf or Lesser Red Rattle, frequent in moist pastures and on swampy heaths. It is quite a small plant, generally nestling rather closely to the ground, the short root-stock sending up many prostrate and spreading, leafy sterns, 3 to 10 inches long, branching a good deal at the base and rarely more than 3 or 4 inches high when in flower. The leaves are very deeply cut into numerous segments. The flowers are in terminal, loose spikes, the calyx smooth on the outside, but woolly inside at the mouth, broadly inflated and marked over with a fine network of veins, and at the top, cut into five unequal, leaf-like lobes. The lower portion of the corolla forms a tube hidden within the calyx, but then emerging projects boldly beyond it; it is labiate in form, like the Eyebright, the upper lip tall and dome-like, but compressed at the sides, the lower lip flatly expanded and cut into three very distinct lobes. Both are of a bright rose colour and the whole flower is very striking and quaint. As the seeds ripen, they may be heard rattling in their capsule within the inflated calyx, hence the popular name Red Rattle. Another name for the plant is 'Lousewort,' from a belief that sheep eating it became diseased and covered with parasites, but when sheep do suffer in this manner after eating this plant, it is really because the presence of it in a pasture indicates a very bad and unsuitable pasture, since marshy land, the best suited to its growth, is the worst from the health point of view for the sheep. The generic name, Pedicularis (from the Latin pediculus = a louse), refers also to the supposititious vermin-producing qualities of the plant.
The old herbalists considered the Red Rattle a wound herb and styptic. Culpepper tells us that:
'The Red Rattle is accounted profitable to heal fistulas and hollow ulcers and to stay the flux of humours in them as also the abundance of the courses or any other flux of blood, being boiled in port wine and drunk.'