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Agrimony

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OCTOBER 2011: AGRIMONY (Agrimonia Eupatoria)

Agrimony Description and Habitat:: Agrimony is a native British perennial found abundantly throughout England on hedge-banks and the sides of fields, in dry thickets and on all waste places. Growing up to 60cm (2 feet) tall, its reddish creeping rootstock produces a hairy erect stem which bears long spikes of bright yellow flowers 5-8mm across. The leaves are numerous and toothed in outline, those near the ground are often 7 or 8 inches long, while the upper ones are generally only about 3 inches in length. The leaves are resinous beneath and hairy along the veins while the fruits are enclosed within a tough capsule with a circle of hooked spines.

One of our most graceful small herbs, Agrimony blooms from June to early September. The whole plant is deep green and covered with soft hairs, and has a slightly aromatic scent; even the small root is sweet scented, especially in spring. The spikes of flowers emit a most refreshing and spicy odour similar to that of apricots. The leaves and flowers when dry retain most of their fragrant odour.

Common Names: Common agrimony, church steeples, cockeburr, cocklebur, stickwort, sticklewort, Burr marigold, Philanthropos.

The name Agrimony is from ‘Argemone’, a word given by the Greeks to plants which were healing to the eyes, the name Eupatoria refers to Mithridates Eupator, a Greek King of Pontus who was a renowned concoctor of herbal remedies.

The long flower-spikes of Agrimony have caused the name of 'Church Steeples' to be given the plant in some parts of the country. It also bears the title of 'Cockeburr,' 'Sticklewort' or 'Stickwort,' because its seed-vessels cling by the hooked ends of their stiff hairs to any person or animal coming into contact with the plant. Gerard informs us that it was at one time called Philanthropos due to its beneficial properties, while others say that the name arose from the circumstance of the seeds clinging to the garments of passers-by, as if wanting to accompany them. In Somerset it is called ‘Lemonade’ where lemons, oranges, ginger and sugar are added to the flowers to make a cold cure.

Parts used Medicinally: Aerial parts gathered and dried when the plant is flowering.

Therapeutics and Pharmacology: Agrimony has an old reputation as a popular, domestic medicinal herb, being well known to all country-folk. Pliny referred to it as a 'herb of princely authoritie'.

The Anglo-Saxons, who called it Garclive, taught that it would heal wounds, snake bites and warts while Native Americans used it to treat fevers. Culpepper in 1652 also recommended “The decoction of the herb, made with wine and drunk, is good against the biting and stinging of serpents” and that it 'draweth forth thorns, splinters of wood, or any such thing in the flesh and helpeth to strengthen members that are out of joint.' In the time of Chaucer, when we find its name appearing in the form of Egrimoyne, it was used with Mugwort and Vinegar for 'a bad back' and 'alle woundes'. Some old writers recommended it to be taken with a mixture of pounded frogs and human blood, as a remedy for all internal haemorrhages. During the 15th century it was the prime ingredient of 'arquebusade water', a battlefield remedy for gunshot wounds and it is still used today in France for sprains and bruises.

Used as a digestive tonic, it is of particular benefit in the treatment of irritation and infection of the digestive tract in children. Also of use in peptic ulceration and for controlling colitis, it regulates the liver and gallbladder function and in Germany has been used to treat jaundice, complaints of the liver and gallstones. It is also used for gallbladder disease, rheumatism, gout and for wounds and cuts. It can be used as a mouthwash or gargle for inflamed gums and sore throats and as an eye-wash for conjunctivitis. A poultice can be used in the external treatment of varicose veins.

It has anti-bacterial and anti-parasitic actions and is used for tapeworm, dysentery and malaria. In traditional Chinese medicine, Agrimony is a major herb for stopping bleeding and is used to treat profuse menstruation, internal bleeding and tuberculosis. Chinese research indicates that Agrimony can increase blood coagulation by 50%.

Caution: As the herb is astringent, it should not be taken if constipated.

Additional Comments: Owing to the presence of tannin, its use has been recommended in dressing leather. The whole plant yields a yellow dye. When gathered in September, the colour given is pale while later in the year the dye is of a darker hue and will dye wool to a deep yellow.

Sheep and goats will eat this plant, but cattle, horses and swine leave it untouched.

Agrimony was once much sought after as a substitute or addition to tea, adding a peculiar delicacy and aroma to its flavour. In some country districts, its dried leaves are brewed into what is called 'a spring drink' or 'diet drink' and in France it is used as a herbal tea.

The magic power of Agrimony is mentioned in an old English medical manuscript:

'If it be leyd under mann's heed,
He shal sleepyn as he were deed;
He shal never drede ne wakyn
Till fro under his heed it be takyn.'

One of the 57 herbs in the Anglo Saxon ‘Holy Salve’ to ward off goblins and evil, Agrimony was considered to be a potent cure for ‘elf-shot’. As late as 1716, a person was tried for witchcraft in Scotland for using Agrimony to this purpose. Elf shot was considered to be a major threat by Anglo Saxons and was given the longest chapter in the 10th Century “Leech Book of Bald”. When a person or animal was struck down suddenly and without obvious explanation, it would be attributed to elf-shot and the modern term ‘Stroke’ is a shortened form of ‘elf stroke’. Only a ‘cunning woman’ or man could diagnose and cure an elf-shot victim and Agrimony was one of the main cures.

 

 

Last Updated on Monday, 17 October 2011 13:01  

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