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Not much unlike the willow, for the use that is made of it in wicker-work, is the vitex,1 which also resembles it in the leaves and general appearance, though the smell of it is more agreeable. The Greeks call it "lygos," or "agnos,"2 from the fact that the matrons of Athens, during the Thesmophoria,3 a period when the strictest chastity is observed, are in the habit of strewing their beds with the leaves of this tree.

There are two species of vitex: the larger4 one, like the willow, attains the full proportions of a tree; while the other,5 which is smaller, is branchy, with a paler, downy leaf. The first kind, generally known as the "white" vitex, bears a white blossom mixed with purple, whereas the black one has a flower that is entirely purple. Both of these trees grow on level spots of a marshy nature.

The seed of these trees, taken in drink, has a sort of vinous flavour, and has the reputation of being a febrifuge. It is said also to act as a sudorific, if the body is rubbed with it mixed with oil, and to have the effect of dispelling extreme lassitude: it acts too as a diuretic6 and emmenagogue. The produce of both trees is trying to the head, like wine, and indeed the odour of them is very similar. They have the effect also of removing flatulence in the lower regions of the body, act astringently upon the bowels, and are remarkably useful for dropsy and affections of the spleen. They promote the secretion of the milk, and neutralize the venom of serpents, when of a cold nature more particularly. The smaller kind, however, is the more efficacious of the two for injuries inflicted by serpents, the seed being taken in doses of one drachma, in wine or oxycrate, or else the more tender leaves in doses of two drachmæ.

From both trees also a liniment is prepared for the bites of spiders, but it is quite sufficient to rub the wounds with the leaves; and if a fumigation is made from them, or if they are spread beneath the bed, they will repel the attacks of all venomous creatures. They act also as an antaphrodisiac, and it is by this tendency in particular that they neutralize the venom of the phalangium, the bite of which has an exciting effect upon the generative organs. The blossoms and young shoots, mixed with oil of roses, allay head-aches arising from inebriation. A decoction of the seed used as a fomentation cures head-ache, however intense it may be; and employed as a fumigation or as a pessary, the seeds acts as a detergent upon the uterus. Taken in drink with honey and penny-royal, it has a laxative effect; pounded and used with barley-meal, it quickly brings abscesses and hard tumours to a head, and has an emollient effect.

The seed, in combination with saltpetre and vinegar, removes lichens and freckles; mixed with honey, it heals ulcers and eruptions of the mouth; applied with butter and vine-leaves, it reduces swellings of the testes; used with water, as a lini- ment, it cures chaps of the rectum; and employed with salt, nitre, and wax, it is good for sprains. The seed and leaves are used as ingredients also in emollient plasters for diseases of the sinews, and for gout; and a decoction of the seed in oil is employed as a fomentation for the head in cases of phrenitis and lethargy. Persons7 who carry a sprig of this plant in the hand, or stuck in the girdle, will be proof, it is said, against chafing between the thighs.

1 The Vitex agnus castus of Linnæus, the tree of chastity.

2 The "chaste" tree. It is no longer used in medicine; the fruit has somewhat the flavour of spice, Fée says, and taken internally it would have the converse of an antaphrodisiac effect. The other parts of it are quite inert.

3 An Attic festival celebrated yearly in honour of Demeter, which lasted four or five days. It was also celebrated in other parts of Greece.

4 The Vitex agnus castus of Lamarck, variety β, Elatior.

5 The Vitex agaus castus of Linnæus, the type.

6 It may possibly, Fée says, have this effect, but the other properties here attributed to it are wholly imaginary.

7 Travelling on horseback, probably. A similar superstition is mentioned as to the poplar, in c. 32 of this Book.

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