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Scabious, FieldBotanical Name: Knautia arvensis
Family: N.O. Compositae
Synonyms: Scabiosa arvensis.
Part Used: Herb.
Description: There are several species of Scabious indigenous to these islands, of which the Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis) is the largest. It is abundant throughout Britain, flowering best, however, on chalk, and very frequent in meadows, hedgerows or amidst standing corn, where its large blossoms, of a delicate mauve, render it very conspicuous and attractive. The root is perennial, dark in colour and somewhat woody, and takes such a firm hold on the ground that it is only eradicated with difficulty. The stems are round and only slightly branched, 2 to 3 feet high, somewhat coarse with short, whitish hairs and rather bare of leaves, except at the base. The leaves vary in character in different plants and in different parts of the same plant; they grow in pairs on the stem and are hairy. The lowest leaves are stalked and very simple in character, about 5 inches long and 1 inch broad, lance-shaped, their margins cut into by large teeth. The upper ones are stalkless, their blades meeting across the main stem and cut into almost to the mid-rib, to form four or five pairs of narrow lobes, with a terminal big lobe. The flowers are all terminal and borne on long stalks. The heads are large and convex in outline, the inner florets are regularly cleft into four lobes or segments, the outer ones are larger and generally, though not always, with rays cut into very unequal segments. The florets when in bud are packed tightly, but with beautiful regularity. The fruit is rather large, somewhat four-cornered and crowned by several short, bristly hairs that radiate from its summit.
The generic name, Knautia, is derived from a Saxon botanist of the seventeenth century, Dr. Knaut. The name Scabious is supposed to be connected with the word 'scab' (a scaly sore), a word derived from the Latin scabies (a form of leprosy), for which and for other diseases of a similar character, some of these species were used as remedies.
Medicinal Action and Uses: Gerard tells us: 'The plant gendereth scabs, if the decoction thereof be drunke certain daies and the juice used in ointments.' We are told that this juice 'being drunke, procureth sweat, especially with Treacle, and atenuateth and maketh thin, freeing the heart from any infection or pestilence.' Culpepper informs us also that it is 'very effectual for coughs, shortness of breath and other diseases of the lungs,' and that the 'decoction of the herb, dry or green, made into wine and drunk for some time together,' is good for pleurisy. The green herb, bruised and applied to any carbuncle was stated by him to dissolve the same 'in three hours' space,' and the same decoction removed pains and stitches in the side. The decoction of the root was considered a cure for all sores and eruptions, the juice being made into an ointment for the same purpose. Also, 'the decoction of the herb and roots outwardly applied in any part of the body, is effectual for shrunk sinews or veins and healeth green wounds, old sores and ulcers.' The juice of Scabious, with powder of Borax and Samphire, was recommended for removing freckles, pimples and leprosy, the head being washed with the same decoction, used warm, for dandruff and scurf, etc.