Thursday, February 19, 2015

Lewesgraut - Herb of Life

One day a Landlaafer1 arrived at a farmhouse seeking food. The farmer, who was crippled by an old injury2 from a disease, invited the wanderer in and offered him food and drink. The farmer sat with the wanderer, and the two talked as if they were old friends.

When the wanderer finished his meal, he said, "You have been kind to me. In return for your hospitality, I will bring you a plant that will bring you strength." He left the farmhouse and returned later holding the plant.

"This is the Herb of Life.3  Use it to restore your health."
Pedicularis canadensis

The wanderer nodded to the farmer and departed.

1 "Land walker," wanderer, hobo. Also called “Rumlaafer.” The English cognate of "Laafer" is "loafer."

2 "Gribbelschwer" is a debilitating injury to the body resulting from a disease.

3 Lewesgraut, commonly known as Lousewort in English. See discussion below.

Several versions of this tale exist, though the overarching theme of health given in exchange for hospitality runs through all of them.

From the Urglaawe perspective, we are looking at a tale of a visit by the god Wudan, who appears in some tales (explicitly or implicitly) as a wanderer seeking and rewarding hospitality and right action. His simple request for food was exceeded by the farmer's friendly engagement. Thus, Wudan's reward for the hospitality was the restoration of health.

The actual herb used is less clear because multiple names are used in the Deitsch various tales:

Widderkumm (Come Again) = Lousewort (Pedicularis canadensis) or Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)

Lewesgraut (Life Herb) = Lousewort (Pedicularis canadensis) or Wood Betony (Stachys officinalis)

The names are complicated further by the English name "Wood Betony" being used for multiple plants, including both Stachys officinalis and Pedicularis canadensis, which are only very distant relatives within the Order Lamiales.

All of these herbs have medicinal value, but the most likely candidate in the context of this story seems to be Pedicularis canadensis, or Canadian Lousewort. Because this plant has parasitic qualities in its relations to other plants, it, at one time, had a unsubstantiated reputation for causing louse infestations in cattle.

Quite to the contrary, Canadian Lousewort has medicinal uses ranging from an aphrodisiac to an anti-tumor to a pot herb to a blood tonic and as a skeletal muscle relaxant... And a bath in a strong decoction can indeed kill lice and scabies.

Thus, we associate the medicinal plants in the Pedicularis family with Wudan as the Herb of Life or Lewesgraut.
Get to know this herb!

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