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Home Plant Lore Toadflax


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SEPTEMBER 2011: TOADFLAX (Linaria Vulgaris)

Toadflax Description and Habitat:: The genus Linaria to which Toadflax belongs contains 125 species native to the Northern Hemisphere and South America, seven of which are found in England. The Toadflax grows wild in most parts of Europe, on dry banks, by the wayside, in meadows by hedge sides, and upon the borders of fields. It is common throughout England and Wales, though less frequent in Ireland. In Scotland, it is found, as a rule, only in the southern counties. It is especially abundant in sandy and gravel soil and in chalk and limestone districts.

From a perennial and creeping root, the Toadflax sends up several erect, slender stems, generally between 1 and 2 feet long which bear numerous very long and narrow leaves. Both stems and leaves are of a pale bluish tint of green. The stems terminate in dense spikes of yellow flowers, similar in shape to the Antirrhinum, but with a long spur and with the lower lip orange. The Toadflax flowers throughout the summer, from late June to October.

ToadflaxThe mouth of the flower is completely closed and never opens until a bee forces its entrance. The only visitors are the large bees - the humble-bee, honey-bee, and several wild bees - which are able to open the flower, and whose tongues are long enough to reach the nectar, which is so placed in the spur that only long-lipped insects can reach it. When the bee alights on the orange lip it falls a little, disclosing the interior of the flower, which forms a little cave, on the floor of which are two ridges of orange hairs forming a track between them which leads to the mouth of the long, hollow spur. Nectar trickles down along a groove to this spur. The bee pushes into the flower and sucks the nectar while its back is being coated by pollen from the stamens which run along the roof. It is reckoned that a humble-bee can easily take the nectar from ten flowers in a minute, each time transferring pollen from a previous flower and thus effecting cross-fertilization.

Common Names: Fluellin. Pattens and Clogs. Flaxweed. Ramsted. Snapdragon. Churnstaff. Dragon-bushes. Brideweed. Toad. Yellow Rod. Larkspur Lion's Mouth. Devils' Ribbon. Eggs and Collops. Devil's Head. Pedlar's Basket. Gallwort. Rabbits. Doggies. Calves' Snout. Eggs and Bacon. Butter and Eggs, Buttered Haycocks. Monkey Flower. Bunny Mouths. Pigs Chops. Impudent Lawyer.

The name Toadflax originated in the resemblance of the flower to little toads, there also being a resemblance between the mouth of the flower and the wide mouth of a toad. Coles says that the plant was called Toadflax, 'because Toads will sometimes shelter themselves amongst the branches of it.'

The general resemblance of the plant in early summer to a Flax plant, accounts for the latter part of its name, and also for another of its country names, 'Flaxweed.' The Latin name, 'Linaria', from 'linum' (flax), was given it by Linnaeus, from this likeness to a flax plant before flowering. The mixture of light yellow and orange in the flowers has gained for it the provincial names of 'Butter and Eggs,' 'Eggs and Bacon,' etc.

The leaves of the Toadflax contain an acrid, rather disagreeable juice, which makes them distasteful to cattle who leave them untouched. Among the many old local names given to this plant is 'Gallwort,' due to this bitterness, although one old writer states that it received the name because an infusion of the leaves was used 'against the flowing of the gall in cattell.' .

Part Used Medicinally: For medicinal purposes, Toadflax is generally gathered in the wild condition, but it can be cultivated with ease, though it prefers a dry soil. No manure is needed. Seeds may be sown in spring. All the culture needed is to thin out the seedlings and keep them free of weeds. Propagation may also be carried out by division of roots in the autumn. The whole herb is gathered just when coming into flower and employed either fresh or dried.

When fresh, Toadflax has a peculiar, heavy, disagreeable odour, which is in largely dissipated by drying. It has a bitter and slightly acrid taste.

Constituents: Toadflax abounds in an acrid oil, reputed to be poisonous, but no harm from it has ever been recorded. Little or nothing is known of its toxic principle, but its use in medicine was well known to the ancients.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Toadflax has powerful qualities as a purgative and diuretic (remove urine) and it is used for jaundice and liver and skin diseases. It was at one time widely used by herbalists for dropsy (fluid retention in limbs caused by kidney malfunction from long-term heart disease) and for removing obstructions of the liver. Its effectiveness is said to be improved if combined with a little Peruvian bark or solution of quinine and a little cinnamon. Gerard informs us that 'the decoction openeth the stopping of the liver and spleen, and is singular good against the jaundice which is of long continuance,' and further states that 'a decoction of Toadflax taketh away the yellownesse and deformitie of the skinne, being washed and bathed therewith.'

The fresh plant is sometimes applied as a poultice to haemorrhoids and an ointment of the flowers has been employed for the same purpose and also locally in diseases of the skin. A cooling ointment is made from the fresh plant - the whole herb is chopped and boiled in lard till crisp, then strained. The result is a fine green ointment, a good application for piles, sores, ulcers and skin eruptions.

The juice of the herb, or the distilled water, has been considered a good remedy for inflammation of the eyes, and for cleansing ulcerous sores.

In Gloucestershire, it was combined with yarrow as a poultice to staunch bleeding, ease pain and induce sleep. As the skin of a toad is covered with warts, it was thought that Toadflax would remove warts from humans.

The flowers have been employed in Germany as a yellow dye. Boiled in milk, the plant is said to yield an excellent fly poison, and it is an old country custom in parts of Sweden to infuse Toadflax flowers in milk, and stand the infusion about where flies are troublesome.

Additional Comments and Folklore: In folklore Toadflax was considered a herb of Pluto who was the God of riches from the earth and God of the Underworld. Toadflax was also associated with protection from witchcraft and useful for breaking hexes. According to Scottish superstition, walking around toadflax 3 times will unbind any spell, while the English believed that 3 toadflax seeds strung on linen thread would ward off evil. In the 17th Century, many people wore Toadflax on the soles of their feet to ward off fevers.

There have been associations with the Virgin Mary, and it has sometimes been given such names as Mary’s Flax, Virgin’s Flax, Madonna’s Herb and Lady’s Slipper. It appears in the list of flower remedies as helpful in fostering independence and dealing with loneliness.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 August 2011 10:26  


#2 Malcolm 2011-09-07 07:57
My pleasure. Toadflax always seems to me to be the essence of Summer. Which after yesterday's weather seems to be a memory of the past! Until next year!
#1 Life, Love and Unity 2011-09-06 16:25
Thank you for this :)



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