11 responses to “Lycopus europaeus”

  1. Marilyn Brown

    The Romani must have had sound, practical reasons for dying their skin black. I wonder what ?

    1. Pat Collins

      From the origins I give below, I think it was criminals who were trying to look like Romany folk in order to escape the legal consequences of their crimes, not Romanies themselves.. A sort of poor man’s cosmetic surgery.

  2. Pat Collins

    This is one I have looked up before having seen it mentioned in herbals.

    The reason you might find a first-hand account difficult to source is that I am sure all the references date back to Rembert Dodoens’ statement in his “A Nievve Herball;…” translated from Dutch (Brabant? Mechels?) via French by Henry Lyte Esq. in 1578. The now more famous John Gerard used a lot of this work as the basis for his herbal. It is the fourth among the group of horehounds, pages 255 to 258. He lists names in various languages, all translating as marsh, water or white
    horehound, then:
    “…: in Brabant [now split between Belgium and the Netherlands] water Andoren, and of some Egyptenaers cruyt, that is to say, the Egyptians herbe, bycause of the Rogues and runnegates which call themselves Egyptians, do colour themselves blacke with this herbe.”

    He also says water horehound is not used in medicine. This English translation is here:

    They also have the original from 1563 in Dutch, if you want to dig deeper, I am hopeless at Dutch and German. Mostly the same, there appears to be the extra name “Heydes-cruyt” or “Heydens-cruydt”, like the more pejorative modern Dutch “Heiden”. It looks like “lan(d)tlooper” is the same as modern Dutch “landloper” a tramp or hobo.
    The 1644 edition has been expanded massively and the entry here is longer but possibly no more informative. Deceptive dispute-cherry or dispute-cress doesn’t seem quite the right fit for “bedriegelijcke waerleggkers”, possibly deceitful jail-dodgers? Any (old) Dutch or Flemish readers reading this?

    Though it was repeated in many variations especially in the 18th and 19th centuries they all seem to have left off the Netherlands/Belgian origin of the name. The reputation of Romany folk seems to have improved by 1840, Anne Pratt saying ‘we seldom hear of them now as “rogues and runnegates”‘. A re-statement in a book from 1854 was also popularised by being mentioned in the OED:
    Spencer Thomson “Wanderings among Wild Flowers” (ed. 4) iii. 297 The lycopus, or gipsy-wort, is said to derive its English name from being employed by the wandering tribe to stain their skins of a dark colour.
    The original book can be found here:

  3. Meg

    Thanks for all your research, I loved reading this!

  4. Helen Krayenhoff

    I grew some plants last year as an addition to my natural dye garden. I had no luck getting any color out of the leaves or stems with water (cold, hot, soak etc). Maybe the pigment needs to be extracted in oil or some other medium than water. i was intrigued but ultimately disappointed.

  5. Nette

    What is the relationship between lycopus – in the mint family – and lycopenes, found in tomatoes?

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