I’m sure that I would be correct in thinking that you’ve just taken a brief glance at a rather dull photograph? Not so from the Herbalist’s perspective. At this time of year my walks are often amongst an abundance of medicine growing up around my ankles and, understandably, I get quite excited. This snap, taken at 7am this morning, contains five medicinal plants four of which are extensively used in herbal practice
The large leaves jutting forwards in the middle and right of the picture are burdock leaves (Arctium lappa). This will grow into an elegant, arching plant more than a metre high by late summer and it will be covered in ‘beggar’s buttons,’ the lovely hooked balls of seeds that children enjoy throwing onto one another, their Velcro-like covering firmly attaches itself; the downside is that they get thoroughly entangled in dog’s coats too. Arctium is one of our best alteratives. These are herbs that are used to cleanse, burdock was called ‘’One of the best blood cleansers in nature,’’ by American herbalist Dr. Christopher. The root of the plant (in tincture form) is used in small amounts in prescriptions along with a lymphatic herb so that the detoxifying process is completed without side-effects.
That brings me on neatly to the next herb in the photograph, another favourite for throwing and sticking to clothes, and worn in garlands by hedge-poking dogs! Galium aperine, growing up throughout the photograph, with whorls of thin ovate leaves. A large member of the bedstraw family it romps through hedgerows the country over. Galium has many common names, too numerous to mention them all. I grew up calling it ‘goosegrass’ or ‘sticky willie’ in Warwickshire while further north it is called ‘eriff’ or ‘heyriff’ from it’s Anglo-Saxon name meaning ‘tax-gatherer,’ gained from its habit of plucking at the coats of passing sheep. Galium doesn’t have much of a flavour, unlike many herbs, this is no bad thing. I use it extensively in my private practice for its lymphatic properties, to encourage lymph flow in situations from sore throats to those who have had multiple lymph nodes removed during surgical procedures, it works very effectively. If you have a robust juicer and need a tonic now is the time to get out and get juicing it!
The white flowering plant in the photograph is Lamium album, one of my personal favourites in terms of looks and because of its lengthy flowering period, it bears a strong resemblance to a stinging nettle and the two often grow together. This is a white deadnettle, also known as ‘archangel’. The flowers are nothing like those of a stinging nettle. Archangel’s flowers grow in whorls around the stem and are of a typical labiate construction. Not widely used these days by herbal practitioners I dispense it for vaginal thrush and skin disorders. John Gerard, writing in 1597 said that the flowers were eaten baked with sugar and were, ‘said to make the vital spirits more fresh and lively.’
I will leave the two other plants for the next post, in the meantime you can figure out what they are.
If you would like to have an appointment with Lizzie Foulon or would like to discuss this article further, please contact the clinic on 01865 558561