Every Wednesday, I hope to find a new ‘weed’ to investigate. My only criterion will be that I will not have deliberately planted the subject of our inquiry. Who knows what we will find…..
It was a very short walk to find the Wednesday Weed this week – I noticed this plant one hundred metres from my front door. It’s called Sun Spurge, and I recognised it from when I was a little girl, and used to break the stems so that I could squeeze out the latex-like sap. What a little horror I was! The sap can cause dermatitis, or even temporary blindness if you get it in your eye, but there was something about the thick white liquid that made me respectful of it, even as a child. Children seem to have a better instinct for what is safe and what is dangerous in the natural world than we sometimes give them credit for.
Euphorbias are an interesting family, with many cultivated species – their flowers are often green, and so they have an alien, exotic appearance. Sun Spurge is an annual plant of poor, disturbed soil, and once I’d noticed this one, I saw little versions of the plant all the way along the road, but only on the south side – it seems to have a strong preference for hot, dry conditions, hence its common name.
Back to the sap. Many people swear that it will cure warts, but it has been used for other, more private reasons. In Plants Britannica, Richard Mabey mentions that Manx fisherman applied the sap as an aphrodisiac, and that its name in Wiltshire was ‘Saturday Night’s Pepper’. My mind is fairly boggled at how this property of the plant was discovered, and the extent to which this playing around with toxic substances must have led to disaster. There must have been some unfortunate accidents, as Mabey mentions that sour milk could be used as a cure in the event of overuse.
All I can say is, don’t try this at home.