Arum The Trickster Healer

Open the pages of any ancient herbal and there you will find the Arum. Its unique appearance marking its place in the parchment with its virtues described and laid out before us. But how different today. Leaf through any recent book on herbs and you will look in vain for any trace or mention of Arum. It has gone. It has become absent from our modern day world of herbal medicine with its tame plants and safe remedies. Banished from the books and erased from history in a seeming effort to hide this plant’s powers from common knowledge. Perhaps this is prudent; after all, this is not a plant for children to play with…

The story of Arum’s disappearance from medical herbalism is that of the archetypal fall from grace of one whose powers are so strong they become their very downfall. Arum presents the paradox of the trickster; useful to humanity but also dangerous. A powerful herbal medicine to those who know how to invoke it correctly, a deadly and painful poison to those who don’t. To dare to seek Arum’s herbal gifts transports us into the realm of the hero quest. The prize available only to those able to dodge the traps and dangers Arum presents to us. Today this quest has been judged too dangerous and largely forgotten. Yet the tale of Arum is a tale of a reversal in fortunes from well-known centre stage to forgotten periphery and of a transformation from powerful benefactor to dangerous villain. An archetypal tale indeed. This change in how Arum is perceived is all the more remarkable given its inclusion in the very earliest of herbal manuscripts and its continual presence in such works for the ensuing two thousand years. Yet when it came, its slide into medical obscurity was rapid and complete. Today it is regarded as a plant of such poisonous qualities that it is not even to be touched, let alone taken internally. A level of aversion we project onto very few plants indeed. How did it come to this?

Herbal Bleach for the Body

Arum’s medicinal properties can be summed up in two words; caustic and astringent. Arum is a powerfully purgative plant with a markedly acidic affect on the body. It warms and heats, dissolves blockages, clears growths and obstructions, and removes unwanted and excess matter from our bodies. Consider it a botanical bleach and you will have a fairly accurate picture of the coruscating affect it has on our bodies. In view of this, it is unsurprising that although it has a long history of medical use, Arum has always presented something of a dilemma to a user of herbs, being at the same time genuinely useful as well as genuinely dangerous. Its powerful qualities are reflected in the main uses to which it has been put; as an abortifant, as a purgative, and as a burner away of growths, tumours and stagnations. This isn’t a plant for minor ailments; it’s a plant to call on when you absolutely positively have to clear away every last unwanted growth, blockage and stagnation occurring in the body.

One plant to induce and end a birth

From most points of view, pregnancy is one of the most important ‘growths’ the body can produce. For obvious reasons, herbs to ‘move stagnations and growths’ are avoided by herbalists when treating anyone who is pregnant. Arum is very effective at ‘getting things moving’ and it is clear from even the very earliest of written records that Arum was well known as an effective abortifant. Dioscorides provides a very straightforward recipe with which to bring to an end an unwanted pregnancy. Simply mix 30 seeds into a posca, which is a mix of sour wine or vinegar along with a variety of assorted medicinal herbs, and drink. Whilst this sounds like a fairly unpleasant potion to our modern tastes, at the time of Dioscorides a posca was a popular draught, particularly as a safer alternative to drinking water. The acidity of the wine or vinegar helped to kill any bacteria and the herbs helped to cover up the, no doubt unpleasant, taste. How many times a day this should be taken Dioscorides does not say but Arum being Arum, it is likely that just one dose will bring about the desired result.

What brings about abortion also provides an effective inducer and so, making use of the same properties for related purposes, Arum has also been widely recommended to aid in birth delivery, both of people and (other) animals; to expel the afterbirth and also to bring on stagnated menses. Such a collection of related uses indicate the strength of the purgative and astringent qualities of Arum when taken internally.

...more in the book....

Note: Arum is a very tricky plant to use internally and it is NOT recommended that you do so unless you have expert level knowledge of what you are doing. Arum poisoning is sometimes fatal and even if not, is extremely painful.