Purple Potions

gentia4     Thomas de Grey’s 1684 “The Compleat Horse-man” includes a number of applications for gentians, including as a partial treatment for what sounds like heaves. He gives many possible treatments, ranging from vinegar soaked eggs to the “excrements of a sucking child” – yes, that means baby poop. Attached to all is the sound advice that the horse’s hay and “meat” (i.e., dinner) be wet. Other uses of gentian, he claimed, were the treatment of glanders and as a “purgative.”
    The variety in Grey’s work barely touches the wild array of uses to which gentians have been put, from treatment of thrush in humans and horses, to chicken feed preservative, to use as a histological stain to study bacteria, to treating WWI soldiers for venereal disease. Most barns probably have at least one gentian compound laying around, in the form of either Blu Kote or Thrush Buster. I’ll leave the glanders treatments to the vet, though, especially since mis-applied gentian can cause tattooing.

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