Cochlearia officinalis. N.O. Cruciferae.
Synonym ► Known in some parts as Spoonwort. Habitat ► Grows freely along the sea shore.
Features ► The smooth, shiny stem is angular and much branched, with ovate leaves which become sessile upwards; further roundish, kidney-shaped, stalked leaves grow from the roots. Clusters of white, cruciform flowers bloom in May. The taste is pungent and cress-like.
Scurvygrass is a powerful antiscorbutic, but, as scurvy, like other “deficiency” diseases, is now prevented and cured by purely dietetic methods, the herb is but rarely used. It is, however, given a place here both for its historic interest and for the striking way in which it exemplifies the curative potency of non-poisonous herbs.
The Medical Research Council, in its publication Vitamins ► A Survey of
Present Knowledge, says ►
“Scurvygrass (Cochlearia officinalis) . . . figures largely in old records of scurvy cures among mariners. Thus Bachstron in 1734 tells the following story ► ‘A sailor in the Greenland ships was so over-run and disabled with scurvy that his companions put him into a boat and sent him on shore, leaving him there to perish without the least expectation of recovery. The poor wretch had quite lost the use of his limbs ; he could only crawl about the ground. This he found covered with a plant which he, continually grazing like a beast of the field, plucked up with his teeth. In a short time he was by this means perfectly recovered, and upon his returning home it was found to be the herb scurvy grass.’ (Rendering given by Lind [1757, p.
When a well-authenticated case such as this is quoted by such a body as the Medical Research Council it should not be difficult to believe that other agents used in the herbal practice may be equally effective in illnesses not at present included in the official list of “deficiency diseases.”