Traditional medicine

 

 

For thousands of years, Man has been experimenting with utilization of plants and animals in treatment of diseases and other ailments. On this page, a number of species, which have been – or still are – utilized as traditional medicine, are presented, divided into three categories: plants, fungi, and animals, each of these arranged alphabetically according to scientific names (sometimes the family name).

This page is not intended as a manual, and I take no responsibility whatsoever for any incorrect information given here. However, I should be happy to be informed about any such errors. You can use this email address: respectnature108@gmail.com

 

 

Main sources
Brøndegaard, V.J. 1955. Ukrudt hos os, men – Om indianernes plantekendskab m.m. Farmaceuten, no. 18, pp. 131-134. (’Weeds with us, but – About plant knowledge etc. among American Indians’ – in Danish)
Brøndegaard, V.J. 1978-80. Folk og flora. Dansk etnobotanik, Vol. 1-4. Rosenkilde og Bagger. (’People and Plants. Danish Ethnobotany’ – in Danish)
Changkija, S. 1999. Folk Medicinal Plants of the Nagas in India. Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 58, pp. 205-230
Chevallier, A. 2010. Herbal Remedies. Metro Books
Duke, J.A. 1997. The Green Pharmacy. St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Grieve, M. 1931. A Modern Herbal. Jonathan Cape, in: www.botanical.com
Kruger, A. 1998. The Pocket Guide to Herbs. Parkgate Books
Kunwar, R.M., K.P. Shrestha & R.W. Bussmann 2010. Traditional herbal medicine in Far-west Nepal: a pharmacological appraisal. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine
Manandhar, N.P. 2002. Plants and People of Nepal. Timber Press
Materia Medica. Eastland Press, 1993. (Chinese herbal medicine)
Paulli, S. 1648. Flora Danica. Unabridged edition published by Rosenkilde & Bagger 1971. (In Danish)
Starý, F. 1991. The Natural Guide to Medicinal Herbs and Plants. Dorset Press

 

 

Draping a snake around his neck – to attract people's attention – a wandering tradesman is trying to sell traditional medicine. – Badulla, Sri Lanka, November 26, 1974 Med en slange om halsen – for at øge folks opmærksomhed – prøver denne omvandrende handelsmand at sælge forskellige former for traditionel medicin. – Badulla, Sri Lanka, 26. november 1974
To attract people’s attention, this wandering tradesman has draped a snake around his neck, while trying to sell traditional medicine. – Badulla, Sri Lanka. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Sydasien 1980
This man is cutting up bark to make traditional medicine, Langtang National Park, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Tibet 2004
Traditional medicine for sale at a market, Gyantse, Tibet. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Sydasien 1982-83
Sydasien 1982-83
Street vendors, selling traditional medicine, Kathmandu, Nepal. Some of the ingredients are displayed, such as heads of hornbills and ibises, scorpions, and dried lizards. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

PLANTS

 

 

Abelmoschus manihot Aibika
Other scientific names: Hibiscus manihot.
Other English names: Sunset muskmallow, sunset hibiscus, sweet hibiscus, palmate-leaved hibiscus.
Family: Mallow family (Malvaceae).
Distribution: Indigenous to India, China, and Southeast Asia. Cultivated elsewhere.
Medicinal usage: In Nepal, juice from the root is applied to sprains, whereas a paste of the bark is applied to wounds. Juice of the flowers is used as a remedy for bronchitis and tooth ache. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is widely used to treat kidney problems.
Other usage: Cultivated as an ornamental, and as a source of food. The leaves are eaten in several Pacific Islands. In Japan and Korea, paper is made from the plant.
Note: Aibika is a near relative of okra, or ladies’ fingers (Abelmoschus esculentus), which has edible fruits.

 

 

Abelmoschus-01
Aibika is common in the lower valleys of Nepal, here photographed in the Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Abrus precatorius Crab’s eye
Other English names: Cock’s eyes, bead vine, jumbie bead, rosary pea, prayer bead, paternoster pea, love pea, precatory bean, coral bead, red-bead vine, country liquorice, Indian liquorice, Jamaica wild liquorice.
Family: Pea family (Fabaceae).
Distribution: Possibly a native of India. At an early stage, it was introduced to many other countries, and today it has a pan-tropical and -subtropical distribution.
Medicinal usage: Crab’s eye has antibacterial properties. In Nepal, it has numerous uses as folk medicine. A paste of the root is applied to boils, and also applied to treat headache, sore throat, and rheumatism. A paste of the leaves is applied for boils, swellings, rheumatism, caries, asthma, and loss of skin pigment. Juice of the leaves is taken for cough and fever, and as a blood purifier. Chewing fresh leaves relieves cough and hoarseness. Seeds are antiperiodic, diaphoretic, emetic, expectorant, and purgative. They are used for nausea, eye diseases, itching, and loss of skin pigment. A paste of the seeds is used for sciatica, fever, headache, malaria, paralysis, skin diseases, and bad nerves. In Ayurvedic medicine, it is said that the plant promotes hair growth, and oil from the seeds is believed to be an aphrodisiac.
Notes: The seeds are very poisonous – ingestion of a few may be fatal. The usage of this species by criminals is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Fruiting crab's eye (Abrus precatorius), Dehra Dun, Uttarakhand, India Frøstand af Abrus precatorius, Dehra Dun, Uttarakhand, Indien
The seeds of crab’s eye are used medicinally for a large number of ailments, but as they are extremely poisonous, they should never be eaten. – Dehra Dun, Uttarakhand, northern India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Acer caesium Blue-grey maple
Other scientific names: Acer molle.
Other English names: Indian maple.
Family: Soapberry family (Sapindaceae).
Distribution: From Afghanistan across the Himalaya to western China.
Medicinal usage: In Nepal, juice of the bark is applied to swellings of muscles, and also to boils and pimples.
Other usage: The wood is used for furniture, cups, bowls, rifle stocks, etc. The leaves are used for wrapping fruit, making it more durable.
Notes: The name blue-grey maple refers to the colour of the foliage. Over-exploitation of the timber for commercial and local use has caused the species to decline, especially in Pakistan. (Source: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, iucnredlist.org)

 

 

Nordindien 1982
Leaves of blue-grey maple, Kilanmarg, Kashmir, India. The common name was given in allusion to its blue-grey foliage. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Achillea millefolium Yarrow
Other English names: Yarroway, knight’s milfoil, soldier’s woundwort, thousand-weed, bloodwort, staunchweed, nosebleed, old man’s pepper, carpenter’s weed, devil’s nettle, devil’s plaything, bad man’s plaything.
Family: Composites (Asteraceae).
Distribution: Temperate Eurasia. Naturalized in North America.
Medicinal usage: Yarrow was formerly much esteemed as a vulnerary, and its old names knight’s milfoil and soldier’s woundwort testify to this. English herbalist John Gerard (c. 1545-1612) informs us that, during the Trojan War, the Greek hero Achilles used yarrow to stop bleeding on wounded soldiers – hence the name Achillea, applied to the genus by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus, or Carl von Linné (1707-1778). The Highlanders still make an ointment from it, which they apply to wounds.

Another popular name of yarrow is nosebleed, from its ability to staunch bleeding of the nose. Herbalist John Parkinson (1567-1650) tells us that “if it be put into the nose, assuredly it will stay the bleeding of it.” [‘To stay’ is an old expression for ‘to stop’.]

Herbalist Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) speaks of yarrow as a profitable herb in cramps, and Parkinson recommends a decoction to be drunk warm for ague (malaria).

Among the Micmac people of north-eastern North America, the stalk was chewed or stewed to induce sweating to break fevers and colds. They also pounded the stalks into a pulp to be applied to wounds, insect and snake bites, sprains, and swelling. Among other American tribes, boils, inflamed eyes, and cracked skin on your hands were bathed in a decoction of this plant. This decoction was drunk against fever, colic, and dyspepsia, and it was considered to be blood cleansing and diuretic. Leaves were stuck into the ears in case of toothache, and boiled leaves were wrapped around arthritic limbs. A decoction of the flowers was used internally for stomach pain, and liver and kidney problems, externally against itching. The root was chewed for colds.

Today, yarrow is utilized to relieve menstrual cramps, for colic and infections, and as a diuretic. It stimulates sweating and reduces fever. In the Orkneys, milfoil tea is drunk to dispel melancholy.

Note: Other usage of this plant, and its role in folklore, are described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Yarrow, northern Zealand, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Aconitum Monkshood
Other English names: Aconite, wolf’s bane, helmet flower.
Family: Buttercup family (Ranunculaceae).
Distribution: Aconitum napellus is distributed in south-western Britain, central and eastern Europe, the Iberian Peninsula, and the Balkans. In the Himalaya, c. 33 species of monkshood are found, many of these utilized in local medicine.
Medicinal usage: In Europe, a drug from European monkshood (A. napellus) was formerly used to relieve pain from neuralgia and sciatica, but the usage was stopped after a number of deaths, caused by the drug.

In Nepal, juice of the root of Aconitum gammiei is used to treat stomach ache. A paste from the root of A. ferox is applied for neuralgia, leprosy, cholera, and rheumatism. It is also regarded as a diuretic and diaphoretic. In western Nepal, the tuber of A. spicatum is used as an antipyretic and analgesic, and also for sore throat, tonsillitis, and gastritis. In north-eastern India, A. palmatum is utilized by the Naga people. The root is crushed, soaked overnight, and drunk to relieve diarrhoea, dysentery, and rheumatism.

Note: Other usage of aconites, and their role in folklore, is dealt with on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Frankrig-Spanien 2007
European monkshood, Cirque de Troumouse, French Pyrenees. In Middle Age Europe, witches reputedly used an extract from this species during their ‘flying’ ceremonies. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nepal 2009-1
Aconitum gammiei is one among c. 33 species of monkshood in the Himalaya. This one was photographed in the Upper Langtang Valley, central Nepal. In the background a species of bistort (Polygonum). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Ageratum conyzoides Goat-weed
Other scientific names: Ageratum obtusifolium.
Other English names: Billygoat weed, chickweed, whiteweed, bastard agrimony, appa grass.
Ageratum houstonianum Mexican blueweed
Other English names: Flossflower, bluemink, pussy foot, Mexican paintbrush.
Family: Composites (Asteraceae).
Distribution: Native to Central and South America. Both species have become naturalized worldwide in tropical and subtropical areas.
Medicinal usage: The juice of both species is widely used to treat cuts, wounds, and burns, and for its antibacterial properties. In Nepal, goat-weed is often used in traditional medicine. A paste of the root, mixed with bark of Schima wallichii, is applied to set dislocated bones. A paste of the leaves is applied to remove thorns from the feet, to boils, and, mixed with several other plants, to snakebites. Crushed leaves are rubbed into the hair to expel lice. A paste of the flowers is used to treat rheumatism, and juice from them is applied to scabies. Juice of the flowers, mixed with tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) and boiled for 10 minutes, is taken for colds and cough. In Brazil, an infusion of goat-weed is employed to treat colic, colds, fever, diarrhoea, rheumatism, and spasms. In Africa, both species are used to treat fever, rheumatism, headache, pneumonia, and colic.
Other usage: Goat-weed is used as an insecticide and nematicide. In India, an extract of Mexican blueweed has been employed to kill mosquito larvae.
Notes: Ingestion of these plants is quite risky, as it may harm your liver. Both species are also toxic to grazing animals, causing liver lesions.

Both species are regarded as invasive weeds in numerous countries around the world.

In Vietnamese, goat-weed is called cứt lợn (‘pig faeces’), because it often grows in dirty areas.

Ageratum species have evolved an ingenious method of protecting themselves from insects. They produce a compound, which interferes with the function of the organ responsible for the secretion of juvenile hormones. This chemical will trigger the next moulting cycle to prematurely develop adult structures and can render most insects sterile if ingested in large enough quantities. (Source: wiki.medicinalplants-uses.com)

 

 

Nepal 2009-2
Goat-weed has become naturalized in numerous tropical and subtropical areas. These were photographed in the Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2012a
Like goat-weed, Mexican blueweed has become naturalized innumerable places. It is very common in Taiwan, where this picture was taken. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Agrimonia eupatoria Common agrimony
Other English names: Church steeples, cocklebur, sticklewort.
Family: Rose family (Rosaceae).
Distribution: Most of Europe, western Asia, and North Africa.
Medicinal usage: Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.) calls agrimony an “herb of princely authority,” whereas Greek physician, pharmacologist, and botanist Pedanius Dioscorides (died 90 A.D.), who was the author of De Materia Medica (five volumes dealing with herbal medicine), states that it is not only “a remedy for those that have bad livers,” but also “for such as are bitten by serpents.”

English herbalist John Gerard (c. 1545-1612) says: “A decoction of the leaves is good for them that have naughty livers,” whereas another herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654), recommends it, in addition to the uses above, for gout, “either used outwardly in an oil or ointment, or inwardly, in an electuary or syrup, or concreted juice.” He praises its use externally, stating how sores may be cured “by bathing and fomenting them with a decoction of this plant,” and that it heals “all inward wounds, bruises, hurts and other distempers.” He continues: “The decoction of the herb, made with wine and drunk, is good against the biting and stinging of serpents . . . it also helpeth the colic, cleanseth the breath and relieves the cough. A draught of the decoction taken warm before the fit first relieves and in time removes the tertian and quartian ague” [malaria]. And furthermore: “Agrimony draweth forth thorns, splinters of wood, or any such thing in the flesh. It helpeth to strengthen members that are out of joint.”

In his compendium The Vegetable System, English botanist John Hill (c. 1714-1775) recommends “an infusion of 6 oz. of the crown of the root in a quart of boiling water, sweetened with honey and half a pint drank three times a day,” for jaundice.

Agrimony is tonic, diuretic, and astringent (thus good for diarrhoea), and is still regarded as a very useful agent in skin eruptions, pimples, and diseases of the blood. A strong decoction of the root and leaves, sweetened with honey or sugar, has been taken successfully to cure scrofulous sores and ulcers. It has also been used for gallstones.

A near relative, hairy agrimony (A. pilosa), is utilized in Nepal for a number of ailments, including diarrhoea, dysentery, haemorrhoids, and tuberculosis. A paste of the plant is applied to the head to relieve headache, and also used for snakebites. Ash from the plant is a remedy to treat wounds. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is used to cure bloody stool or urine, and to curb profuse menstruation.

Note: Read about other usage of agrimony, and about its role in folklore, on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Common agrimony (Agrimonia eupatorium), Djursland, Jutland, Denmark Almindelig agermåne (Agrimonia eupatorium), Djursland, Jylland
Flowering common agrimony, Djursland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Agropyron repens and Agropyrum repens, see Elytrigia repens.

 

 

 

Alchemilla Lady’s mantle
Other English names: Lion’s foot, bear’s foot, nine hooks.
Family: Rose family (Rosaceae).
Distribution: Numerous closely related species are found across Eurasia and in North America.
Medicinal usage: A traditional astringent herb, formerly considered one of the best herbs for wounds. English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) says: “Lady’s mantle is very proper for inflamed wounds and to stay bleeding, vomitings, fluxes of all sorts, bruises by falls and ruptures. [‘to stay’ is an old expression for ‘to stop’] It is one of the most singular wound herbs and therefore highly prized and praised, used in all wounds inward and outward, to drink a decoction thereof and wash the wounds therewith, or dip tents therein and put them into the wounds, which wonderfully drieth up all humidity of the sores and abateth all inflammations thereof. It quickly healeth green wounds, not suffering any corruption to remain behind and cureth old sores, though fistulous and hollow.”

In former days, in Sweden, a tincture of the leaves was given for spasmodic or convulsive diseases. An old authority states that if placed under the pillow at night, the herb will promote quiet sleep.

In modern herbal treatment, it is employed to curb profuse menstruation.

Other usage: Formerly used to dye yarn olive-green or yellow. In Denmark, around 1800, it was eaten as a vegetable or in salads.
Notes: The generic name Alchemilla is derived from the Arabic alkemelych (‘alchemy’), given to the plant in allusion to its reputation as a magical herb. The name lady’s mantle stems from the shape of the leaves, resembling the scalloped edges of a lady’s mantle. The leaf shape also resembles the imprint of a lion’s paw. The local name nine hooks refers to the margin of the leaf, which has mostly nine lobes, with finely toothed margins.

 

 

Fyn 2010-17
Cultivated lady’s mantle, Funen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Allium sativum Garlic
Family: Onion family (Alliaceae).
Distribution: Native area unknown, possibly the Mediterranean or Asia Minor. Cultivated almost worldwide.
Medicinal usage: Garlic was in high esteem among the Ancient Egyptians, and in Europe, during World War I, it was widely used to prevent wounds from turning septic. Today, it is highly valued for its antifungal, antiseptic and antibacterial properties, used for a huge number of ailments, including heart trouble, high or low blood pressure, high level of cholesterol, hardening of arteries, enlarged prostate, fever, headache, stomach ache, gout, joint pain, haemorrhoids, and menstrual disorders. Garlic is excellent for respiratory infections, such as colds, cough, asthma, and bronchitis, and it is highly probable that it acts as a preventive for many types of cancer.
Note: Other usage of this plant, and its role in folklore, is dealt with on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Sydindien 2008
Garlic for sale at a market, Valparai, West Ghats, Tamil Nadu, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Althaea officinalis Common marshmallow
Other English names: Sweet weed.
Family: Mallow family (Malvaceae).
Distribution: Native from the Baltic Sea southwards to south-eastern Europe, and thence eastwards across southern Siberia. Naturalized in other parts of Europe and in eastern United States.
Medicinal usage: Since Ancient Egypt, an extract of the root has been used for cough. In Ancient Arabia, a poultice made from marshmallow was used for inflammation, and in Ancient Greece it was used for stings, wounds and ulcers. Traditionally, in Denmark, it was utilized for a number of ailments, such as boils, dysentery, bladder stones, epilepsy, tuberculosis, tooth ache, colic, kidney pain, haemorrhoids, stomach ache, and whooping cough.

In today’s herbal medicine, common marshmallow is used for treatment of cough, colds, flu, bronchitis, diabetes, skin problems, ulcers and urinary tract inflammation. All parts of the plant are rich in mucilage, which heals soreness and inflammation.

Other usage: In Ancient Egypt, the sap was extracted and mixed with nuts and honey, or the soft, spongy pith was boiled in sugar syrup and dried to produce a soft, chewy sweet. In the old days, in England and the United States, stem and root, which contains some sugar, were used in sweets, called marshmallows. Today’s marshmallows, however, have nothing to do with the plant. They are a mixture of whipped sugar, water and gelatine, which is then moulded into small cylindrical pieces and coated with corn starch.
Note: The specific name officinalis indicates the medicinal properties of this plant.

 

 

LFM 1987-2016
The island of Lolland is one of the few places in Denmark, where common marshmallow is fairly common. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Anethum graveolens Dill
Other scientific names: Anethum sowa, Peucedanum graveolens.
Other English names: Meeting house seed.
Family: Umbellifers (Apiaceae).
Distribution: Probably a native of the Mediterranean. Cultivated in large parts of the world and often escaped.
Medicinal usage: The medical properties of dill were already known in Ancient Greece and Rome, and it is also mentioned in the Bible. English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) writes: ”Mercury has the dominion of this plant, and therefore to be sure it strengthens the brain. (…) It stays the hiccough, being boiled in wine, and but smelled unto, being tied in a cloth. The seed is of more use than the leaves, and more effectual to digest raw and vicious humours, and is used in medicines that serve to expel wind, and the pains proceeding therefrom.” [‘To stay’ is an old expression for ‘to stop’.]

In today’s herbal medicine, dill is considered antibacterial, an antioxidant, and a powerful remedy for menstrual flow. The fruits, as well as an oil derived from them, possess stimulant, aromatic, carminative, and stomachic properties. It is utilized for lowering cholesterol levels, and for colic, excessive gas, bad breath, heartburn, menstrual cramps, depression, and epilepsy. In Chinese traditional medicine, it is said to benefit the spleen, kidney, and stomach.

Note: Other usage of dill, and its role in folklore, is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Tyrkiet 2018c
Dill is probably a native of the Mediterranean. In this picture, it grows among boulders along the sea front in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Angelica archangelica Garden angelica
Other scientific names: Archangelica officinalis.
Other English names: Root of the Holy Ghost.
Family: Umbellifers (Apiaceae).
Distribution: Northern Eurasia and Greenland. Cultivated in large parts of Europe.
Medicinal usage: In the Middle Ages, dried roots were considered to be an important remedy against plague. In his Paradise in Sole, from 1629, herbalist John Parkinson (1567-1650) puts angelica in the forefront of all medicinal plants.

The root stalks, leaves and fruit possess carminative, stimulant, diaphoretic, stomachic, tonic, and expectorant properties, and today angelica is regarded as a valuable remedy for various heart problems, heartburn, colds, coughs, fever, pleurisy, rheumatism, psoriasis, and urinary diseases. It contains an essential oil with antiseptic properties.

A near relative, Chinese angelica (A. sinensis) – in Chinese 當歸 (‘female ginseng’) – is much utilized in Chinese traditional medicine, mainly for treatment of menstrual disorders and other ailments, including liver problems, hair loss, sciatica, and shingles.

Note: Read about other usage of angelica, and its role in folklore, on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Vorsø 2000-2020
Coastal form of garden angelica, ssp. litoralis, Horsens Fjord, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Aphanochilus polystachya, see Elsholtzia fruticosa.

 

 

 

Archangelica officinalis, see Angelica archangelica.

 

 

 

Arctium lappa Great burdock
Other scientific names: Arctium majus.
Other English names: Fox’s clote, thorny bur, clot-bur, beggar’s buttons, cockle buttons, love leaves, happy major, herrif.
Family: Composites (Asteraceae).
Distribution: Native to Temperate Eurasia. Naturalized in North America.
Medicinal usage: English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) says: “The burdock leaves are cooling and moderately drying, wherby good for old ulcers and sores. (…) The leaves applied to the places troubled with the shrinking in the sinews or arteries give much ease: a juice of the leaves or rather the roots themselves given to drink with old wine, doth wonderfully help the biting of any serpents – the root beaten with a little salt and laid on the place suddenly easeth the pain thereof, and helpeth those that are bit by a mad dog. (…) The seed being drunk in wine 40 days together doth wonderfully help the sciatica: the leaves bruised with the white of an egg and applied to any place burnt with fire, taketh out the fire, gives sudden ease and heals it up afterwards. (…) The root may be preserved with sugar for consumption, stone and the lax. The seed is much commended to break the stone, and is often used with other seeds and things for that purpose.”

Traditionally, in many countries, farmers have applied bruised leaves as a remedy for hysteria. Among American natives, a decoction of the root of a near relative, the lesser burdock (Arctium minus), was drunk for whooping cough and arthritis. It was considered to be sweat-inducing and blood cleansing, and also a diuretic.

In modern herbal medicine, root and seeds are used for boils, scurvy, psoriasis, rheumatism, and arthritis. The leaves are applied externally as a poultice for tumours, gouty swellings, bruises, ulcers, and inflammation, and an infusion of the leaves is used for indigestion. Burdock is also utilized for seborrhea, which causes dandruff, and it is regarded as one of the best blood purifiers. Research indicates that it may inhibit attack of HIV virus. – In Nepal, the root is utilized as a diuretic and diaphoretic, and juice of the plant is applied to boils.

Note: Other usage of burdock, and its role in folklore, is dealt with on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

When flowering, great burdock is much visited by butterflies, in this case a small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae), Horsens Fjord, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Arisaema tortuosum
Other scientific names: Arisaema curvatum, A. helleborifolium.
Arisaema utile
English names (for the entire genus): Jack-in-the-pulpit, snake plant.
Family: Arum family (Araceae).
Distribution: Montane areas of Central Asia, A. tortuosum from Pakistan across the Himalaya to south-western China, A. utile from Afghanistan east to Bhutan.
Medicinal usage: In Nepal, the powdered corm of A. tortuosum is applied to snake bites. Juice of the corm is applied to wounds of livestock to kill fly larvae. Seeds are fed to sheep with colic.
Other usage: Fresh corms of Arisaema tortuosum are used as an insecticide. Corm and ripe fruits of various Arisaema species of the Himalaya are edible when boiled. Leaves of A. utile are eaten as a potherb, or fermented to make so-called gundruk, which is eaten in winter, when fresh vegetables are scarce in the mountains. Read more about this production on the page Plants – Plant hunting in the Himalaya: Among Annapurna giants.

 

 

Everest 2010
The flower of Arisaema tortuosum is rather bizarre, its spadix elongated into a long, dark, velvety tip, pointing upwards. – Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Annapurna 2007
Drying leaves of Arisaema utile, later used to make gundruk (fermented leaves), used as winter food. - Tadapani, Annapurna, Nepal Blade af Arisaema utile ligger til tørre. Senere anvendes de til at lave gundruk (gærede blade), der anvendes som vinterføde. - Tadapani, Annapurna, Nepal
In the Annapurna area, central Nepal, Arisaema utile is much utilized to make gundruk. The leaves are fermented and afterwards stored in airtight containers for food in winter, when fresh vegetables are scarce in the mountains. In the lower picture, the leaves are spread out on a roof top to dry in the sun. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nordindien 1982
The spathe of some Arisaema species, notably A. nepenthoides, resembles a cobra with its hood spread out, whereas the bright red fruit cluster, clustered along the base of the spadix, resembles a maize cob, giving rise to the Nepalese folk name sarpa ko makai (’snake maize’). – This picture was taken in Uttarakhand, northern India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Arnica montana Arnica
Other English names: Mountain tobacco, leopard’s bane.
Family: Composites (Asteraceae).
Distribution: Temperate Eurasia. Naturalized in North America.
Medicinal usage: In his illustrated herbal Neuwe Kreuterbuch (1588), German physician and botanist Jacobus Theodorus (Jakob Dietrich, 1525-1590) – better known under the name Tabernaemontanus and often called ’the father of German botany’ – describes arnica’s later so common usage to treat bleeding: ”In Sachsen, common people use arnica, when they fall down from a high place, or are otherwise hurt during work. You take a handful [of flowers], boil them in beer and drink this concoction in the morning, whereupon you cover yourself to sweat. Where you were hurt feels great pain for two or three hours, but then you are cured.”

In Denmark, arnica was much utilized in the 1700s. In an herbal book, it is said that it has dissolving and neurotonic properties, and another source mentions that a decoction of the plant, drunk with beer, can be used for headache, pressure on the chest, and pains in arms and legs. Arnica flower tea was used as a laxative.

In another herbal from the 1700s, it is said that the flower, laid on an aching tooth, would cause ‘the worms’ to fall out. Danish herbalist Laust Glavind (died 1891) recommended a decoction of arnica and linseed in beer for insanity. As late as in the 1920s, herbal tea with arnica was drunk by women in northern Jutland to treat sterility.

To prevent hair loss, the scalp was bathed in beer, boiled with arnica root, and the label on an Austrian remedy for growth of hair, Quinar, states the following: “Substances are extracted from the flowers, which in an effective way will make your hair bouffant, luxuriant, and beautiful. For centuries, these substances have been known as life-giving for hair growth. Dissolved in alcohol, with added quinine, they form the most important ingredients in Quinar.”

In modern herbal medicine, arnica is regarded as a stimulant and diuretic, chiefly used for low fever and paralysis. It is excellent for shock. Arnica oil is a good remedy for bruises and sprains, but it should not be applied to open wounds. It is also used for insect bites, arthritis, muscle and cartilage pain, chapped lips, and acne.

Other usage: The leaves were formerly utilized as a substitute for tobacco – hence the name mountain tobacco. Today, an extract of the plant is used for flavouring beverages, frozen dairy desserts, candy, baked goods, gelatin, and puddings, and also as an ingredient in hair tonics and anti-dandruff remedies. The oil is used in perfumes and cosmetics.
Notes: An old German folk name of arnica is Wohlverleih (‘endowed with good’). However, as this plant is very poisonous, it should not be used internally. The common name leopard’s bane refers to its great toxicity.

 

 

In European Middle Age folk medicine, arnica (Arnica montana) was considered a powerful healer. An old German name for the plant is Wohlverleih, probably derived from Wohl für Leid (’good against disease’). In fact, the plant is very poisonous and should be used with great care in herbal medicine. - Funen, Denmark Guldblomme (Arnica montana) blev i Middelalderen anset for at være en vigtig medicinplante. Et gammelt dansk navn for planten er Volverlej, sandsynligvis af det tyske Wohl für Leid ('god mod sygdomme'). Faktisk er planten meget giftig og bør kun anvendes med stor forsigtighed som urtemedicin. - Rødme Svinehaver, Fyn
Arnica, Funen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Artemisia absinthium Common wormwood
Other English names: Absinthe wormwood, green ginger.
Artemisia maritima Sea wormwood
Other English names: Old Woman.
Family: Composites (Asteraceae).
Distribution: Common wormwood is probably native to the Mediterranean and western and central Asia, and it was cultivated in other areas of Europe as early as the Middle Ages. It was introduced by early settlers to North America, where it is now widely naturalized. Sea wormwood is native to most of Europe, east to Central Asia, growing on saline soils.
Medicinal usage: Common wormwood held a high reputation among herbalists in Ancient Greece and Rome. According to them, it would counteract the effects of poisoning by hemlock (see Conium maculatum on this page), toadstools, and the biting of the sea dragon. – During the Middle Ages, in the Nordic countries, wormwood was used for all sorts of ailments and diseases. In 1546, Danish herbalist Henrik Smid notes: ”Where is the person who can explain all the virtues of wormwood?”

In his compendium The Vegetable System, English botanist John Hill (c. 1714-1775) says: “The leaves have been commonly used, but the flowery tops are the right part. These, made into a light infusion, strengthen digestion, correct acidities, and supply the place of gall, where, as in many constitutions, that is deficient. (…) In the morning, the clear liquor with two spoonfuls of wine should be taken at three draughts, an hour and a half distance from one another. Whoever will do this regularly for a week, will have no sickness after meals, will feel none of that fulness so frequent from indigestion, and wind will be no more troublesome; if afterwards, he will take but a fourth part of this each day, the benefit will be lasting.’

In modern herbal medicine, common wormwood is used as a tonic, stomachic, febrifuge, and as an anthelmintic. It is also a good remedy for indigestion, debility, and gall bladder infection. As a nervine tonic, it is particularly helpful against epilepsy and for flatulence.

About sea wormwood, English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) says: “Boiling water poured upon it produces an excellent stomachic infusion, but the best way is taking it in a tincture made with brandy. Hysteric complaints have been completely cured by the constant use of this tincture. In the scurvy and in the hypochondriacal disorders of studious, sedentary men, few things have a greater effect: for these it is best in strong infusion. The whole blood and all the juices of the body are effected by taking this herb.”

Dr. Hill (see above) states: This is a very noble bitter. Its peculiar province is to give an appetite, as that of the common wormwood is to assist digestion. The flowery tops and the young shoots possess the virtue, the older leaves and the stalk should be thrown away as useless. (…) The apothecaries put three times as much sugar as of the ingredient in their conserves; but the virtue is lost in the sweetness, those will not keep so well that have less sugar, but ’tis easy to make them fresh as they are wanted.”

Numerous closely related Asian species are also utilized medicinally. Among certain American tribes, tea made from leaves and flowerheads of mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) was taken as a stomachic, to calm the nerves, and to reduce fever. It was also drunk in case of menstrual problems, and to expel intestinal worms.

Note: Other usage of wormwood, and its role in folklore, is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Skandinavien 2001-14
Skandinavien 2001-14
Common wormwood, naturalized on a beach in southern Öland, Sweden. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Vorsø 2000-15
Sea wormwood is common on European littoral meadows, here at Horsens Fjord, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Vorsø 2000-15
Sea wormwood is easily identified by its whitish foliage. – Horsens Fjord, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Asclepias curassavica Scarlet milkweed
Other English names: Blood-flower, silkweed, milky cottonbush, red-cotton, redhead, bastard ipecacuanha, wild ipecacuanha.
Family: Dogbane family (Apocynaceae).
Distribution: Native of the West Indies. Cultivated and naturalized worldwide in tropical and subtropical areas.
Medicinal usage: Formerly, Native Americans used milkweed as a contraceptive and for snakebites. – In the West Indies, the juice is used as an anthelmintic and emetic, the root as a purgative. In Nepal, juice of the leaves is utilized to expel intestinal worms, and is also applied to boils. The latex is applied to warts. Elsewhere it is used as a febrifuge and expectorant, and to treat skin parasites, constipation, venereal diseases, kidney stones, and asthma.
Note: The peculiar pollination of this genus is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Sydindien 2008
Scarlet milkweed, Anshi National Park, Karnataka, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Asclepias gigantea, see Calotropis gigantea.

 

 

 

Azadirachta indica Neem tree
Other scientific names: Melia azadirachta.
Other English names: Indian lilac, margosa.
Family: Mahogany family (Meliaceae).
Distribution: Native to the Indian Subcontinent and islands off southern Iran. Widely cultivated elsewhere in the tropics.
Medicinal usage: Neem has been used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine for over 2000 years. Juice of the bark is used for fever, cough, and urinary disorders. A paste of the bark is applied to swelling or bleeding from the gums. Oil from the seeds is used to improve the liver function, detoxify the blood, and to balance blood sugar levels, and is also applied to burns. A paste of the seeds is used for leprosy. Neem is also used for skin diseases, as a vermifuge, to fight bacterial, viral, and fungal attacks, and as a contraceptive and sedative. Twigs, called datun, are utilized as a kind of toothbrush, as they are chewed and rubbed against the gums. The juice possesses bacteria-killing properties and thus reduces plaque.
Other usage: Widely planted as a wind-breaker and fodder tree. The wood is insect repellent and much used for construction and furniture. In India, dried leaves are placed in cupboards to keep insects away, and boiled leaves can drive harmful birds, such as sparrows, away from crops. Powdered seeds are used as an insecticide. Tender shoots and flowers are eaten as a vegetable, and also pickled. Oil is used as an ingredient in soap, shampoo, creams, and toothpaste. In rural areas, it is used to grease cart wheels. Neem cake is used as fertilizer, the resin to produce gum arabic. The bark contains tannin. Flowers are an excellent source of honey.
Notes: The neem tree is sacred to Hindus and is utilized in several festivals.

It is regarded as invasive in parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Australia.

 

 

Indien 2003
Flowering branch of neem tree, south of Mysore, Karnataka, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Varanasi 2008
This woman in Varanasi, India, is selling neem twigs, called datun, which are used as a kind of toothbrush. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Begonia picta
Other scientific names: Begonia erosa, B. rex, B. echinata.
Family: Begonia family (Begoniaceae).
Distribution: Montane areas from Pakistan across the Himalaya to south-western China.
Medicinal usage: In Nepal, the plant juice is used for headache. Crushed leaves are applied to sore nipples. Juice of the root is applied to inflamed eyes, and also drunk to treat peptic ulcers. Among the Naga people of north-eastern India, a paste of the leaves is applied to treat stomatitis and bristles on the tongue. The juice is used for diarrhoea and dysentery. In Nepal, the plant is fed to barren animals to help them conceive.
Other usage: Cultivated as an ornamental. Leaves are edible, raw or cooked. In Nepal, leaf-stalks and stem are pickled, and the juice is applied to dyed clothes to make colours permanent. Naga people use the root stalk to make a red dye, by mixing its juice with crushed leaves of a species of balsam (Impatiens).

 

 

Nepal 2009-1
Begonia picta, Sundarijal, Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Berberis aristata Indian barberry
Other scientific names: Berberis chitria, B. coriaria.
Other English names: Tree turmeric.
Family: Barberry family (Berberidaceae).
Distribution: Himalaya, Sri Lanka.
Medicinal usage: In Nepal, an extract from stem and roots is used for inflamed eyes, jaundice, malaria, and diarrhoea. The root bark has antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties, and is useful as an antioxidant. In India, the plant is used for heart, liver, and gastric trouble, skin diseases, trachoma, diarrhoea, and malaria. It is also reported to be a mild laxative. Among the Naga people of north-eastern India, the bark is crushed, soaked in water and drunk as a tonic, antiperiodic, alterative, and antipyretic, and to treat uterus problems and jaundice. – Several other barberry species in the Himalaya are utilized medicinally.
Other usage: The berries are edible, raw or pickled. Root and berries are used for making an alcoholic drink. The bark contains tannin. Root and bark yield a yellow dye. In Nepal, the spiny branches are used as fences. Naga people tie barberry spines together in a bamboo clip, called azialangba, using them as needles for tattooing.

 

 

Annapurna 2007
Flowering Indian barberry, Kali Gandaki Valley, Annapurna, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nepal 2009-1
The berries of Indian barberry are red at first, turning purplish-blue or bluish-black when ripe. – Sing Gompa, Langtang National Park, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Berberis vulgaris Common barberry
Family: Barberry family (Berberidaceae).
Distribution: Native to central and western Asia. Naturalized in most of Europe and in the United States.
Medicinal usage: In Ancient Egypt, the bark was used against infections – a usage which is still employed today. The plant was brought to Europe by the Moors, and during the Middle Ages it was used as a tonic, an antiseptic, and a laxative. Berries are astringent, and a drink, made from crushed fruits, is taken for sore throat. Among American natives, a decoction of the root was drunk in case of cough or stomach trouble, and a decoction of the bark was used to bathe wounds.
Other usage: Formerly, the berries were an important source of vitamin C, and jam was made from them. The bark yields a yellow dye. Today, barberry is cultivated as an ornamental.
Notes: The species is an alternative host for stem rust (Puccinia graminis), which affects crops like wheat and barley, in humid and warm summers often causing huge losses. In the early twentieth century, the United States government carried out an eradication campaign, which largely eliminated common barberry, and by the early 1980s, stem rust was not a big problem. In 1999, however, a more potent type of stem rust was discovered in Africa, so planting of barberry, which is a popular ornamental, is discouraged in the U.S.

 

 

Bornholm 2016
Flowering branch of common barberry, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

LFM 1987-2020
Formerly, barberries were an important source of vitamin C. – Møn, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Bergenia ciliata Hairy bergenia
Other scientific names: Bergenia ligulata, Saxifraga ciliata.
Other English names: Fringe-leaved bergenia, winter begonia.
Family: Saxifrage family (Saxifragaceae).
Distribution: Montane areas from Afghanistan across the Himalaya to south-eastern Tibet.
Medicinal usage: Generally regarded as anti-inflammatory and antidiabetic and may also be good for treatment of cancer. In Nepal, juice of the plant is taken for urinary disorders, and juice of the rhizome is used for cough, colds, haemorrhoids, asthma, and urinary disorders. A paste of the rhizome is used for fever, colic, diarrhoea, and backache, and is also applied to boils. Juice of the leaves is dripped into the ears in case of earache. The Gurung tribe of Nepal drink a decoction of the rhizome for gout, and to improve digestion.
Other usage: Cultivated as an ornamental. In Nepal, boiled flowers are pickled, and tannin is obtained from the root.

 

 

Uttarakhand 2008
Hairy bergenia, growing on a rocky slope, Dharkot, Uttarakhand, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Betonica officinalis, see Stachys officinalis.

 

 

 

Bombax ceiba Silk-cotton tree
Other scientific names: Bombax malabaricum, Salmalia malabarica.
Other English names: Indian kapok tree, simal.
Family: Mallow family (Malvaceae).
Distribution: Native to Tropical Asia, southern China, and northern Australia. Cultivated elsewhere.
Medicinal usage: In Nepal, juice of the plant is used for headache and wounds, juice of the bark for cough, indigestion, and stomach ache. A decoction of the bark is used for fever. The young roots are used for cholera, tuberculosis, cough, urinary trouble, dysentery, and impotence. Root and gum are used for diarrhoea, dysentery, tuberculosis, influenza, wounds, and heavy menstrual bleeding. Juice of the root is used for gonorrhoea and difficulty of urinating. Powdered seeds are given for amoebic dysentery. In traditional Ayurvedic medicine, silk-cotton tree is used for asthma, diarrhoea, vaginal discharge, anaemia, seminal disorders, wounds, and skin problems.
Other usage: Cultivated as an ornamental. In several Asian countries, the flower-buds are eaten as a vegetable, or pickled. In Thailand and China, the flowers are used for soup and tea. The young root and ripe seeds are eaten roasted. The root, rich in starch, is also eaten raw. An oil is obtained from the seeds. Seed hairs are stuffed in pillows and quilts. The wood is used for boats and planks, and rope is made from the bark fibres.

 

 

Nepal 2008
Flowering silk-cotton tree, Melamchi Pul, Helambu, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Sydindien 2008
Close-up of a silk-cotton tree flower, Annamalai National Park, West Ghats, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Borago officinalis Borage
Other English names: Burrage, herb of gladness, starflower.
Family: Forget-me-not family (Boraginaceae).
Distribution: Native to the Mediterranean area, but widely cultivated and naturalized in other parts of Europe, and in the Americas.
Medicinal usage: Greek physician, pharmacologist, and botanist Pedanius Dioscorides (died 90 A.D.), who was the author of De Materia Medica (five volumes dealing with herbal medicine), and Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.) both claim that borage was the Nepenthe, mentioned in Homer, which would “cause forgetfulness”, when mixed with wine – i.e. acting as an anti-depressant.

In his Herball, English herbalist John Gerard (c. 1545-1612) writes: “Pliny calls it Euphrosinum, because it maketh a man merry and joyfull: which thing also the old verse concerning borage doth testifie: ‘Ego borago, gaudia semper ago.’ (’I, borage, bring alwaies courage.’) Those of our time do use the flowers in sallads to exhilerate and make the mind glad. There be also many things made of these used everywhere for the comfort of the heart, for the driving away of sorrow and increasing the joy of the minde. The leaves and floures of borage put into wine make men and women glad and merry and drive away all sadnesse, dulnesse and melancholy, as Dioscorides and Pliny affirme. Syrup made of the floures of borage comforteth the heart, purgeth melancholy and quieteth the phrenticke and lunaticke person. The leaves eaten raw ingender good bloud, especially in those that have been lately sicke.”

Another English herbalist, Francis Bacon (1561-1626), says that it ”hath an excellent spirit to repress the fuliginous vapour of dusky melancholie.” Herbalist John Parkinson (1567-1650) commends it “to expel pensiveness and melanchollie,” whereas herbalist Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) finds the plant useful for ”putrid and pestilential fever, the venom of serpents, jaundice, consumption, sore throat, and rheumatism.” – English gardener and vegetarian John Evelyn (1620-1706) writes: “Sprigs of borage are of known virtue to revive the hypochrondriac and cheer the hard student.”

Not long ago, borage was used for various disorders, including asthma, bronchitis, colic, cramps, diarrhoea, and also as a diuretic and blood-purifier. Today, it is used as an anti-inflammatory, whereas seed oil, when applied over several months, is a good remedy for various skin conditions, such as eczema. A decoction of the plant, rubbed on the hands, is utilized to treat Raynaud’s disease (‘white fingers’).

Other usage: The leaves, which have a cucumber-like smell and taste, are eaten as a vegetable, and also used in soups. In Liguria, northern Italy, borage is often an ingredient in ravioli. Leaves and flowers are excellent in salads. An essential oil is extracted from the seeds.
Notes: The generic name Borago is possibly from the Latin borra, meaning ‘short wool’ or ‘rough hair’, or from the Arabic ʾabū min al-ʿaraq, meaning ‘father of sweat’, which, like the specific name officinalis, refers to the medicinal properties of this species.

 

 

Sydspanien 2005
Borage is native to the Mediterranean area. This picture is from Andalusia, Spain. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Jylland 2000-05
Close-up of a borage flower, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Butea monosperma Flame-of-the-forest
Other scientific names: Butea frondosa, Erythrina monosperma, Plaso monosperma.
Other English names: Bastard teak, parrot tree.
Family: Pea family (Fabaceae).
Distribution: Tropical Asia.
Medicinal usage: In India, the so-called Bengal kino, extracted from tannin-rich vesicles in the bark, is used for diarrhoea and wounds. In Nepal, juice of the bark is used for fever, whereas the powdered seeds are utilized for inflammations, and to expel intestinal worms.
Other usage: Cultivated as an ornamental. Flowers are brought as an offering to Hindu gods. The gum, in Hindi called kamarkas, is used in certain food dishes. It is also used for tanning and dyeing. Rope, paper, and sandals are made from fibres of root and inner bark. The leaves are utilized as fodder, and to make plates and umbrellas. The flowers yield a yellow dye, the roots a red dye. An oil is obtained from the seeds. The soft wood is used for utensils and fuel.
Notes: In Sanskrit scripts, flame-of-the-forest flowers are regarded as a symbol of the arrival of spring, and their colour as the colour of love. In Gita Govinda, 12th century poet Jayadeva compares the flowers to the red nails of Kamadeva, the Hindu god of love, with which he wounds the hearts of lovers.

 

 

Sydindien 2008
Flame-of-the-forest, Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, Tamil Nadu, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Sydindien 2008
In Sanskrit scripts, the flame-of-the-forest flower is regarded as a symbol of the arrival of spring, and its colour as the colour of love. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Calotropis gigantea Giant milkweed
Other scientific names: Asclepias gigantea.
Other English names: Giant swallow-wort, crown flower.
Family: Dogbane family (Apocynaceae).
Distribution: Tropical Asia and China.
Medicinal usage: In Nepal, juice of bark and root are taken for diarrhoea and dysentery. Heated leaves can relieve muscular pain. Dried leaves are smoked, the smoke blown out through the nose to relieve sinusitis. Juice of the leaves is taken for fever, and juice of young buds is dripped into the ear for earache. Powdered flowers are used for cough, colds, and asthma. The milky juice, and also a paste of the root, is applied to wounds, sprains, boils, and pimples. In Ayurvedic medicine, the root bark is regarded as a febrifuge, anthelmintic, depurative, expectorant, and laxative. The powdered root is used for asthma, bronchitis, and dyspepsia, the leaves for treatment of paralysis, painful joints, swellings, and fever. The latex is used as a purgative and an emetic.
Other usage: In India, the plant is used as an insecticide and fungicide. Bark fibres are utilized for ropes, carpets, fishing nets, and sewing thread. A fermented mixture of giant milkweed and salt is employed to remove the hair from goat skins for production of nari leather.

The flowers are widely used as decoration. It is told that Hawaiian Queen Liliuokalani (1838-1917) wore them as a symbol of royalty, strung into leis (garlands).

Giant milkweed is a close relative of the Sodom apple (Calotropis procera), whose fruit was first described by Roman historian Titus Flavius Josephus, born Yosef ben Matityahu (c. 37-100 A.D.), who found it growing near the city of Sodom: “which fruits have a color as if they were fit to be eaten, but if you pluck them with your hands, they dissolve into smoke and ashes.” (W. Whiston, 1737. The War of the Jews, Book IV, Chapter 8, Sec. 4). Titus is referring to the fact that the ripe fruit easily dissolves, releasing hundreds of downy seeds, which are scattered to the four winds.

These seed hairs are often stuffed into pillows.

 

 

Sydindien 1997-98
Giant milkweed, Long Wheeler Island, Maipura River Delta, Odisha (Orissa), India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Camellia sinensis Tea
Other scientific names: Thea sinensis.
Family: Tea family (Theaceae).
Distribution: Probably a native of south-western China. Today widely cultivated in the Tropics and Subtropics.
Medicinal usage: Leaves of green tea are anti-inflammatory and a powerful anti-oxidant, inhibiting cancer and tumour formation and blood clots. Leaves also lower the cholesterol level in the blood, and they may be efficient in treatment of diabetes. In modern herbal medicine, tea (especially green tea) is used for numerous ailments, among these arthritis, diarrhoea, herpes, haemorrhoids, liver problems, sunburn, wounds, gall stones, and excessive gas. Green tea contains fluoride, which reduces tooth decay. Studies indicate that it may have positive effects on weight loss. The calming effect of tea drinking reduces stress and anxiety. In traditional Chinese medicine, tea, combined with other herbs, is used to treat diarrhoea and dysentery.
Note: Other usage of the tea plant is dealt with on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Taiwan 2003-05
Tea flower, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Cannabis sativa Hemp
Other scientific names: Cannabis indica.
Family: Hemp family (Cannabaceae).
Distribution: Native area unknown, possibly China or the Himalaya. Cultivated almost worldwide and naturalized in many places.
Medicinal usage: Hemp has been utilized in traditional Asian medicine for thousands of years, mainly as a sedative, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory, and to reduce nausea and vomiting. In Nepal, juice of the leaves is used for diarrhoea and dysentery, and a paste of the leaves is applied to wounds. Powdered seeds can expel intestinal worms. The Naga people of north-eastern India drink a decoction of the plant for stomach pain and malaria.
Note: Other usage of hemp, and its role in folklore, is dealt with on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Himachal 2009
Flowering male plant of hemp, Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Capsella bursa-pastoris Shepherd’s purse
Other English names: Shepherd’s bag, shepherd’s scrip, shepherd’s sprout, lady’s purse, witches’ pouches, rattle pouches, case-weed, pick-pocket, pick-purse, blindweed, pepper-and-salt, poor man’s pharmacettie, mother’s heart, clappedepouch.
Family: Mustard family (Brassicaceae).
Distribution: Native of West Asia and Europe, naturalized almost worldwide in temperate and subtropical areas.
Medicinal usage: English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) says that shepherd’s purse helps bleeding from wounds, both inward or outward, and continues: “If bound to the wrists, or the soles of the feet, it helps the jaundice. The herb made into poultices, helps inflammation and St. Anthony’s fire. The juice dropped into ears, heals the pains, noise and matterings thereof. A good ointment may be made of it for all wounds, especially wounds in the head.” 

Today, St. Anthony’s fire is called ergotism, a very painful burning sensation in the limbs, caused by alkaloids from the ergot fungus (Claviceps purpurea), which grows on cereal ears, especially rye and barley. In the Middle Ages, this disease often caused gangrene in the limbs, besides brain damage.

American indigenous people drank an extract of shepherd’s purse to cure dysentery and diarrhoea. In Europe, a decoction of fresh plants was also employed for chronic diarrhoea, and dysentery, blood in the urine, haemorrhoids, and to stop nose-bleeding. During World War II, the Germans used an extract of Capsella to stop bleeding on soldiers.

Dried shepherd’s purse yields a tea which herbalists use for stopping internal bleeding of stomach, lungs, uterus, and kidneys. Its diuretic properties cause it to be much used in kidney disorders and dropsy. Externally, it can treat skin problems. It is also used for rheumatism.

A decoction of fresh shepherd’s purse has been employed for blood in the urine, haemorrhoids, chronic diarrhoea, and dysentery, and to stop nose-bleeding. It is also used for rheumatism. During World War II, the Germans used an extract of Capsella to stop bleeding on soldiers. Dried, it yields a tea which herbalists use for stopping internal bleeding of stomach, lungs, uterus, and kidneys. Its diuretic properties cause it to be much used in kidney disorders and dropsy. Externally, it can treat skin problems.

Note: Other usage of shepherd’s purse, and its role in folklore, is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Shepherd’s-purse is not particular, when it comes to the choice of habitat. This one grows in a crack along a sidewalk in a town in Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Capsicum cultivars
English names: Green pepper, red pepper, chili, cayenne pepper, jalapeño, tabasco pepper, African pepper, piri-piri.
Family: Nightshade family (Solanaceae).
Distribution: Originally, Capsicum species were native to Central America and northern South America. Today, numerous varieties are cultivated in most of the world.
Medicinal usage: English botanist John Lindley (1799-1865) described Capsicum annuum in his Flora Medica, from 1838, thus: “It is employed in medicine, in combination with Cinchona in intermittent and lethargic affections, and also in atonic gout, dyspepsia accompanied by flatulence, tympanitis, paralysis, etc. Its most valuable application appears however to be in cynanche maligna (acute diphtheria) and scarlatina maligna (malignant scarlet fever), used either as a gargle or administered internally.”

The fruits are very rich in several vitamins, besides potassium, iron, magnesium, and manganese. They have antiseptic and stimulant properties, and powdered fruit is taken for indigestion and stomach disorders, and also for other ailments, including fever, headache, herpes, arthritis, Raynaud’s disease (‘white fingers’), psoriasis, and shingles. Juice of the fruit is applied to the skin to increase blood circulation, and a liniment is applied to sprains and painful joints. Cayenne pepper is used as an aphrodisiac.

Other usage: Capsicum species have been utilized as food in Central America since at least 7500 B.C. Green or red fruits are eaten fresh, fried, or pickled, or as a vegetable in dishes. Dried or pounded fruits are a very popular spice. The leaves are edible, widely used in Asian cuisines.
Note: The name chili is derived from chilli, the old Nahuatl name of the plant, whereas the name cayenne pepper stems from Cayenne, or French Guiana, from where this type was first introduced to Europe.

 

 

Bali 2015
Field of chili plants, Lake Batur, Bali, Indonesia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Indien 2003
Mewar people, drying chili fruits in the Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Bangkok 2005-07
Various types of chilies for sale, Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nepal 2009-2
Close-up of chili fruits, Kathmandu, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Guizhou 2009
The Guizhou Province, China, is famous for its many varieties of prepared chilies. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Cardiospermum halicacabum Balloon vine
Other English names: Heart pea, love-in-a-puff.
Family: Soapberry family (Sapindaceae).
Distribution: Native to tropical and subtropical Africa & Asia. Naturalized in other parts of the world.
Medicinal usage: In Ayurvedic medicine, balloon vine is used for treatment of arthritis, inflammation, constipation, and abdominal pain. A decoction of the leaves is used for dandruff. In Nepal, juice of the plant is utilized for numerous ailments, including fever, muscular swellings, sprains, dropsy, gonorrhoea, haemorrhoids, rheumatism, and asthma. A decoction of the leaves is taken for diarrhoea and dysentery. The root is used as an emetic, laxative, demulcent, stomachic, and rubefacient. Seeds are used for fever and rheumatism.
Other usage: Chepangs, a Nepalese tribe, eat the tender parts as a vegetable.
Notes: The generic name Cardiospermum, as well as the English names heart pea and love-in-a-puff, refer to the small, round seeds, which are black with a white, heart-shaped figure on them. The name balloon vine of course refers to the inflated fruits.

In New Zealand, the species is regarded as an invasive.

 

 

Myanmar 2007
In this picture from Bagan, Myanmar, a balloon vine has enveloped a tree-like spurge, Euphorbia antiquorum. A Buddhist pagoda is seen in the background. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2012a
Close-up of balloon vine fruits and flower, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Castanopsis indica Indian chinkapin
Other scientific names: Castanopsis macrostachya, C. subacuminata, Castanea indica.
Other English names: Indian chestnut.
Family: Beech family (Fagaceae).
Distribution: Native to the Himalaya, western China, and Southeast Asia.
Medicinal usage: In Nepal, juice of the bark is taken for indigestion, juice of young leaves for stomach disorder. The resin, pounded into a paste with water, is used for diarrhoea.
Other usage: Cotyledons and nuts are edible. Leaves are wrapped around tobacco and smoked like a cigar. The foliage is lopped for fodder. The wood is hard and termite-resistant. It is utilized for roof-shingles, furniture and other items, and as fuel.
Note: The spiny fruits may be a health hazard. Once, when I was walking in a forest above Pokhara, Nepal, a bunch of fruits fell from a tall Indian chinkapin tree onto my arm and got stuck in the skin. Luckily, the fruit spines are not barbed, but, nevertheless, it took some force to remove them from my arm!

 

 

Nepal 2009-2
Flowering Indian chinkapin, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nepal 2009-2
The spiny chinkapin fruits may be a health hazard (see note above). – Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Cedrus deodara Himalayan cedar
Other English names: Deodar.
Family: Pine family (Pinaceae).
Distribution: Native to Afghanistan, south-western Tibet, and western Himalaya, eastwards to western Nepal.
Medicinal usage: In Ayurvedic medicine, deodar is used for numerous ailments, including colds, flu, fever, neurological disorders, arthritis, headache, asthma, liver problems, intestinal worms, skin ailments, and infected wounds. In Nepal, the wood is boiled, until it becomes a sticky mass, which is utilized for fever, rheumatism, haemorrhoids, and lung problems. It is also applied to the forehead to relieve headache. Resin from the wood is used for wounds, skin diseases, and injured joints. The seed oil is also used for skin problems.
Other usage: Deodar is cultivated as an ornamental. It is worshipped as a sacred tree by Hindus and is often planted around temples. An essential oil is extracted from the wood and burned as incense, as is also the case with the seed oil and resin. The oil is also used as massage oil, and for soap and cosmetics. The crude oil is used as floor polish. The wood is valuable, as it is resistant to termites and fungi. For this reason, buildings made from deodar wood are often used for storage of grain and meat. The wood is also used to make furniture, carts, boats, etc.
Notes: Deodar is the national tree of Pakistan.

The specific name deodara is from Sanskrit deva (god) and dāru (tree), thus ‘tree of the gods’.

The photographs below are all from Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India.

 

 

Nordindien 1997
Himalayan cedar can grow to 80 m tall. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Himachal 2009
Cones of Himalayan cedar are upright. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Fragmented cone, and pollen, of Himalayan Cedar, Cedrus deodara, Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India. Fragmenteret kogle og pollen af Himalaya-Ceder, Cedrus deodara, Manali, Himachal Pradesh, Indien
A fallen, disintegrated deodar female cone, and male cones with pollen. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Lahaul-Ladakh 2014
These dogs have found a peaceful resting place beneath deodar trees near the Hadimba Temple in Manali. You may read about this important Hindu temple on the page Religion: Hinduism. The long relationship between the dog and Man is related on the page Animals: Animals as servants of Man. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Celosia argentea Silvery cockscomb
Other scientific names: Celosia margaritacea, C. cristata.
Other English names: Feathery amaranth, quail grass.
Family: Amaranth family (Amaranthaceae).
Distribution: Native area unknown, but today found in most tropical and subtropical areas of the world.
Medicinal usage: Flowers and seeds have antibacterial properties. They are utilized in treatment of bloody stool, haemorrhoids, bleeding from uterus, leucorrhoea, fever, dysentery, jaundice, and diarrhoea. Seeds are also used for various eye diseases. Powdered seeds are regarded as an aphrodisiac. The root is used for colic, gonorrhea, and eczema. A poultice of the stem and leaves are applied to wounds, inflamed areas, and skin problems. In Sri Lanka, the leaves are used for inflammations, fever, and itching, the seeds for fever and mouth ulcers. In China, flowers and seeds are used for gastroenteritis and leucorrhoea. This species is a very effective remedy against the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis, which causes infection of the genitals. It is also used as an antidote for snake poison.
Other usage: Some varieties are cultivated as ornamentals, including crested cockscomb (var. cristata). In several Asian and African countries, tender parts are eaten as a vegetable. The plant is also used for fodder, and in soap. In several African countries, it is utilized to help control growth of the parasitic witchweed (Striga), which is a pest in cereal crops.
Note: Silvery cockscomb is regarded as an invasive in numerous countries, including India, Japan, Ecuador (Galapagos Islands), Fiji, Micronesia, Taiwan, and United States.

 

 

Taiwan 2008
Taiwan 2013
In Taiwan, where these pictures were taken, silvery cockscomb is regarded as an invasive. In the lower picture, plants with silvery inflorescences are swaying in the wind, demonstrating how the species got two of its common names, silvery cockscomb and feathery amaranth. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Chamomilla recutita, see Matricaria chamomilla.

 

 

 

Chelidonium majus Greater celandine
Other English names: Tetterwort, nipplewort, swallow-wort.
Family: Poppy family (Papaveraceae).
Distribution: Native to southern Europe and parts of Asia. Naturalized in northern Europe and North America.
Medicinal usage: It is mentioned by Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.) as a drug plant, and it was also used during the Middle Ages. In the fourteenth century, a drink made with celandine was supposed to be good for the blood. English herbalist John Gerard (c. 1545-1612) says: “the juice of the herbe is good to sharpen the sight, for it cleanseth and consumeth away slimie things that cleave about the ball of the eye and hinder the sight and especially being boiled with honey in a brasen vessell, as Dioscorides teacheth.” (Greek physician, pharmacologist, and botanist Pedanius Dioscorides (died 90 A.D.), was the author of De Materia Medica (five volumes dealing with herbal medicine).

Greater celandine has also been used for jaundice, and in Russia it is said to have proved effective in cases of cancer. Among American tribals, a decoction of it was used as a sedative.

In modern herbal medicine, it is regarded as one of the best remedies for gall and kidney stones, and also as an effective diuretic and a powerful purgative. The juice is a good remedy for skin problems like eczema and warts. As the juice is caustic, it should not get into contact with healthy skin. A decoction of the plant, mixed with potassium chloride, is applied to corns, and is also used as a hair rinse to fight dandruff.

Note: Other usage of greater celandine, and its role in folklore, is dealt with on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Bornholm 2008
This picture of greater celandine is from the island of Bornholm, Denmark, where this species is a very common escape. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Chrysanthemum parthenium, see Tanacetum parthenium.

 

 

 

Cichorium intybus Chicory
Other English names: Wild succory, blue sailors, ragged sailors, blue daisy, blue dandelion, blue weed, coffee weed, cornflower, hendibeh, horseweed, bachelor’s buttons, wild endive.
Family: Composites (Asteraceae).
Distribution: Native to Europe, North Africa and W Asia. Cultivated and naturalized in North America, Australia, China and elsewhere.
Medicinal usage: Chicory was cultivated in Ancient Egypt and was utilized medicinally from at least the 1st Century A.D. The Egyptians, as well as the Greeks and the Romans, considered the bitter leaves to be blood cleansing, and to invigorate the nerves. Other old herbalists recommended the leaves, when bruised, as a good poultice for swellings, inflammations and inflamed eyes, and that “when boiled in broth for those that have hot, weak and feeble stomachs doe strengthen the same.”

English poet and farmer Thomas Tusser (1524-1580) considered chicory a useful remedy for ague (malaria), and herbalist John Parkinson (1567-1650) found it to be a “fine, cleansing, jovial plant.” – In the 16th and 17th Centuries, followers of the Doctrine of Signatures took it for granted that the milky juice of the plant would be a good remedy for sore breasts of nursing mothers, whereas its bright blue flowerheads symbolized blue eyes and would thus be an effective remedy for inflammation of the eyes.

Today, herbalists recommend chicory as a stomachic and diuretic, and as a blood purifier. It also stimulates the heart and liver. The root is widely used to expel intestinal worms and other parasites.

Note: Read about other usage of chicory, and its role in folklore, on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Jylland 2006-12
Close-up of chicory flowerheads, Djursland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Citrus species
Family: Citrus family (Rutaceae).
Distribution: The origin of most species is thought to be the Indian Subcontinent and the Far East. Today, many species are cultivated in tropical and subtropical countries around the world.
Medicinal usage: All Citrus species are an excellent source of various vitamins, especially vitamin C. In the days of Vasco da Gama (1460s – 1524) and Ferdinand Magellan (c. 1480-1521), up to 80% of the sailors on board sailing ships died of scurvy, by Sir Richard Hawkins (1562-1622) called “the plague of the Sea, and the Spoyle of Mariners.” As a preventive, captains began to bring ample provisions of vinegar, mustard, malt, and sauerkraut, which were a quite effective means to prevent outbreaks of the dreaded disease. Later, British ships were required by law to bring lemons (C. limon) or limes (C. aurantiifolia), which are even more effective against scurvy, on their journeys.

In today’s herbal medicine, leaves, flowers, fruits, and seeds of various Citrus species are used for various ailments, including colds, fever, cough, asthma, tonsillitis, and stomach disorders. Lemon peel helps relieve varicose veins. The fruit of cedrat (C. medica) is used for dysentery, juice of the rind of bitter orange (C. aurantium var. amara) for stomach problems. Dried peel of unripe fruits of ‘Buddha’s Hand’ citron (C. medica var. sarkodactylis) is taken as a tonic. An essential oil from bergamot orange (C. bergamia) is recommended for treatment of shingles. In former times, lemon juice was used as a remedy for sunburn. In southern Italy, juice of bergamot orange was utilized for malaria.

Note: Other usage of Citrus species is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

USA 2000-01
Plantation of mandarins (Citrus reticulata), Orlando, Florida, United States. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2012a
Street vendor, cutting processed and dried pomelo (Citrus maxima) into small squares, to be used as traditional medicine, Anping, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Clerodendrum infortunatum Hill glorybower
Other scientific names: Clerodendrum viscosum, C. calycinum, C. castaneaefolium, Volkameria infortunata.
Other English names: Turk’s turban.
Family: Mint family (Lamiaceae).
Distribution: Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia.
Medicinal usage: In traditional Ayurvedic medicine, root and bark are used for respiratory problems, fever, cough, and asthma. The root is also used as a laxative, and to kill fly larvae in wounds. A paste of root and leaves is used for skin diseases. Juice of the leaves is used for diarrhoea, liver disorders, wounds, fever, ulcers, and swellings, and also to expel intestinal worms, and rid livestock of lice. In India, it is used for snake bites and scorpion stings. In traditional Thai medicine, leaves and root are used as a diuretic, and to treat internal infections and kidney problems. In Nepal, the juice is dripped into the eyes of cattle to treat conjunctivitis. – Several other Clerodendrum species are utilized medicinally in Asia.
Other usage: In Nepal, the leaves are used as a potherb.
Note: The specific name infortunatum was given by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus, or Carl von Linné (1707-1778), allegedly because he found the leaves of this plant rather ugly.

 

 

Nepal 1998
Hill glorybower, Chitwan National Park, southern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Coix lacryma-jobi Job’s tears
Other English names: Christ’s tears, David’s tears, Saint Mary’s tears, tear grass, Chinese pearl barley.
Family: Grass family (Poaceae).
Distribution: Native of Southeast Asia. Cultivated elsewhere in the tropics and subtropics, and often naturalized.
Medicinal usage: The boiled root can expel intestinal worms, and the pounded seeds are used for urinary problems. In traditional Chinese medicine, Job’s tears are taken for diarrhoea, rheumatism, and bronchitis, as a febrifuge, and to promote urination.
Note: Other usage of Job’s tears, and its role in folklore, is dealt with on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Taiwan 2012a
Job’s tears, naturalized in a dried-out riverbed, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Colebrookea oppositifolia Woolly mint
Other scientific names: Colebrookea ternifolia, Elsholtzia oppositifolia.
Other English names: Squirrel’s tail.
Family: Mint family (Lamiaceae).
Distribution: Foothills of mountains from Pakistan across the Himalaya, east to south-western China, and south to Southeast Asia.
Medicinal usage: In Nepal, juice of the root is given for epilepsy, bloody cough, and peptic ulcer. Boiled in water, the root is also drunk to expel intestinal worms. A paste of the root is applied for body pain and sprains. Juice of the bark is used for fever and indigestion. The hairy leaves are applied to wounds to stop bleeding. Juice of the leaves is applied to wounds as an antiseptic, taken for fever and headache, and also to expel worms. It is dripped into the eyes of cattle with conjunctivitis. A paste of the leaves is used for dysentery. Juice of the flower buds is used for gastric problems and sinusitis. Elsewhere, woolly mint is used for skin problems, such as ringworm.
Other usage: Foliage used for fodder, dried branches as fuel. The flowers are brought as an offering to Hindu temples.

 

 

Nepal 2008
Woolly mint, Melamchi Pul, Helambu, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Conium maculatum Poison hemlock
Other English names: Poison parsley, spotted hemlock, kex, devil’s bread, devil’s porridge.
Family: Umbellifers (Apiaceae).
Distribution: Native of the Mediterranean and western Asia. Naturalized in other parts of Europe, in the Americas, and in New Zealand.
Medicinal usage: Poison hemlock is sedative and antispasmodic, paralyzing the centres of motion. For this reason, it was recommended as an antidote to poisoning from strychnine and similar poisons. It was also prescribed for tetanus, hydrophobia, teething in children, epilepsy from dentition, cramps, etc. When inhaled, it was said to relieve cough associated with bronchitis and asthma, and also whooping-cough.

Greek physician, pharmacologist, and botanist Pedanius Dioscorides (died 90 A.D.), who was the author of De Materia Medica (five volumes dealing with herbal medicine), recommended this herb for external treatment of herpes. In the Middle Ages, hemlock was applied to cancerous tumours, and, mixed with betony and fennel seed, it was thought to cure rabies.

Note: Other usage of poison hemlock, and its role in folklore, is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Tyrkiet 2018c
Poison hemlock, growing among boulders along the sea front, Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Coriandrum sativum Coriander
Other English names: Cilantro, Chinese parsley.
Family: Umbellifers (Apiaceae).
Distribution: Probably a native of the Mediterranean and western Asia. Cultivated in most temperate and subtropical regions and occasionally naturalized.
Medicinal usage: Coriander has been utilized medicinally for at least 3000 years. Since the Middle Ages, it was used as a digestive and for stomach trouble, including flatulence. Other ailments traditionally treated with coriander include skin inflammation, diarrhoea, high cholesterol levels, mouth ulcers, anemia, and diabetes. Alcohol, containing coriander, is rubbed on rheumatic joints and muscles.
Note: Read about other usage of coriander, and about its role in folklore, on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Cultivated coriander (Coriandrum sativum), Zealand, Denmark. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Crataegus laevigata Midland hawthorn
Other scientific names: Crataegus oxyacantha.
Other English names: English hawthorn, mayflower, mayblossom, whitethorn, ladies’ meat, bread-and-cheese tree.
Crataegus monogyna Common hawthorn
Other English names: Single-seeded hawthorn, mayflower, mayblossom, whitethorn, ladies’ meat, bread-and-cheese tree.
Family: Rose family (Rosaceae).
Distribution: Both species are native to Europe, western Asia, and North Africa. Introduced and naturalized elsewhere, including North America.
Medicinal usage: From old times, flowers and fruits have been used for fever, heart trouble, and high blood pressure. In the 1800s, an Irish physician, Dr. Green, became famous for his secret remedy for heart disease. After his death, it turned out that his tincture was based on hawthorn fruits.

Today, hawthorn is recommended as a cardiac, diuretic, astringent, and tonic. It is a useful diuretic in dropsy and kidney troubles, and also a good remedy for poor blood circulation. Research has shown that hawthorn berries can lower the blood pressure by dilating hardened and clogged arteries. Flowers and berries are also used for sore throat.

Note: Other usage of hawthorn, and their role in folklore, is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Bornholm 2016a
Flowering midland hawthorn in evening light, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Lolland-Falster-Møn 1970-86
Fruiting common hawthorn, Møn, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Cytisus scoparius Common broom
Other scientific names: Sarothamnus scoparius.
Other English names: Scotch broom, besom.
Family: Pea family (Fabaceae).
Distribution: Europe and northern Asia. Naturalized in North America.
Medicinal usage: Formerly, green parts of the plant were used for heart trouble, and also as a diuretic and cathartic. The flowers were used for gout, whereas ashes of broom were used to treat dropsy. Henry VIII would take a drink, made from broom flowers, against surfeit. – English herbalist John Gerard (c. 1545-1612) says: “The decoction of the twigs and tops of broom doth cleanse and open the liver, milt and kidnies”, whereas Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) considered a decoction of broom to be good for dropsy, jaundice, ague (malaria), gout, sciatica, and various pains of the hips and joints.

Today, broom is taken as a heart tonic.

Note: Read about other usage of broom, and about its role in folklore, on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Bornholm 2008
Flowers and young pods of common broom, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Dactylorhiza hatagirea Himalayan marsh orchid
Other scientific names: Orchis graggeriana, O. latifolia var. indica.
Family: Orchid family (Orchidaceae).
Distribution: The Himalaya, from Pakistan to south-eastern Tibet.
Medicinal usage: In Nepal, the root is used for soothing the mucous membranes, reducing mucus in lungs, stopping bleeding of wounds, and as a remedy for stomach disorders. In Ayurvedic medicine, juice from the root is used as a tonic, and for treating inflammation of gum and teeth. It is also highly valued as an aphrodisiac. Traditionally, it has been used for treating bone fractures.
Other usage: The root is highly nutritious. Tender parts are eaten as a vegetable.
Note: The species is protected by law, but is nevertheless severely threatened due to over-collecting. In Nepal, in 2015, the price of the dried root was about 100 US Dollars per kilogram.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Himalayan marsh orchid, Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Daphne bholua Himalayan paper plant
Other scientific names: Daphne cannabina var. bholua.
Other English names: Nepalese paper plant.
Family: Daphne family (Thymelaeaceae).
Distribution: The Himalaya, from Uttarakhand to south-western China. Also found in Bangladesh.
Medicinal usage: In Nepal, juice of the root is used for fever and intestinal problems, and a decoction of the bark is also used for fever. Powdered seeds are taken for stomach ache, and also to expel intestinal worms.
Other usage: Paper and rope is made from the bark. In Nepal, leaves and bark are used as fish poison.
Note: This species comes in two distinct varieties. The lowland form is evergreen, whereas the high-altitude form, var. glacialis, is deciduous.

 

 

Nepal 1998
Evergreen variety of Himalayan paper plant, Hanga Tham, Ilam, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Himalayan Paper Plant, Daphne bholua, Banthanti, Annapurna, Nepal
The high-altitude form of Himalayan paper plant, var. glacialis, flowers in early spring, before the leaves unfold. – Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Datura stramonium Common thorn-apple
Other English names: Jimsonweed, Jamestown weed, mad apple, devil’s apple, hell’s bells, devil’s trumpet, devil’s weed, stinkweed, devil’s snare.
Family: Nightshade family (Solanaceae).
Distribution: Native of America, probably Mexico. Naturalized in most temperate and subtropical areas of the world.
Medicinal usage: In his book Great Herball, from 1597, English herbalist John Gerard (c. 1545-1612) writes that “the juice of thornapple, boiled with hog’s grease, cureth all inflammations whatsoever, all manner of burnings and scaldings, as well of fire, water, boiling lead, gunpowder, as that which comes by lightning and that in very short time, as myself have found in daily practice, to my great credit and profit.”

The Zuni, or Shiwi, as they called themselves, of New Mexico once used thorn-apple as an analgesic, to render a patient unconscious, while a broken bone was set. In traditional Chinese medicine, it was used as an anaesthesia during surgery. – In Ayurvedic medicine, smoke from burning dried leaves is inhaled to treat asthma. – Other uses include a paste of leaves and seeds, applied to wounds and boils; pounded leaves, mixed with water, applied to the head in case of headache; juice of the flowers taken for ear ache; and, in Nepal, smoke from frying seeds, inhaled to treat tooth ache. Thorn-apple can also reduce tremors in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

Note: Read an amusing account of the usage of thorn-apple as a hallucinogen on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Nepal 2000
Flower and fruit of common thorn-apple, Kali Gandaki Valley, Annapurna, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Digitalis purpurea Foxglove
Other English names: Folk’s glove, fairies’ glove, fairy caps, fairy thimbles, gloves of Our Lady, Virgin’s glove, witches’ gloves, bloody fingers, dead men’s bells.
Family: Plantain family (Plantaginaceae).
Distribution: Native of Europe. Naturalized in Asia and North America.
Medicinal usage: Foxglove was employed by the old herbalists for various medical purposes, most of them entirely different from the valuable properties, utilized by today’s physicians. In his Cruydeboeck (herb book), Flemish physician and botanist Rembert Dodoens (1517-1585) prescribes foxglove boiled in wine as an expectorant, and it seems to have been in frequent use in cases, in which today’s herbalists would consider it highly dangerous.

English herbalist John Gerard (c. 1545-1612) recommends it to people “who have fallen from high places,” and herbalist John Parkinson (1567-1650) speaks highly of the bruised herb and its juice, applied as an ointment to scrofulous swellings, and the leaves for cleaning old sores and ulcers. Herbalist Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) says of it: “a gentle, cleansing nature and withal very friendly to nature. The herb is familiarly and frequently used by the Italians to heal any fresh or green wound, the leaves being but bruised and bound thereon, and the juice thereof is also used in old sores, to cleanse, dry and heal them. It has been found by experience to be available for the King’s Evil, the herb bruised and applied, or an ointment made with the juice thereof, and so used. (…) I am confident that an ointment of it is one of the best remedies for a scabby head that is.” [Today, King’s Evil is known as scrofula, formerly believed to be curable by the royal touch.]

In former days, foxglove was also used for treatment of internal haemorrhage, inflammation, delirium tremens, epilepsy, and acute mania. In England, foxglove tea was traditionally taken for dropsy (fluid retention).

In 1785, English botanist, geologist, chemist, and physician William Withering (1741-1799) found that an extract of foxglove leaves would strengthen the heartbeat, and also speed up discharge of excess fluid in the body. In modern medicine, foxglove is still an important heart stimulant.

Note: Other usage of foxglove, and its role in folklore, is dealt with on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Everest 2010
Close-up of foxglove flowers with raindrops, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. In the old days, it was told, fairies lived in the flowers, the dark markings on the inside being their fingerprints. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Dioscorea deltoidea Nepalese yam
Other scientific names: Dioscorea nepalensis, Tamus nepalensis.
Family: Yam family (Dioscoreaceae).
Distribution: Montane areas from Afghanistan across the Himalaya, east to south-western China and south to Southeast Asia.
Medicinal usage: In Nepal, juice of the tuber is used for constipation, and to expel roundworms. Bulbs from the upper part of the stem are boiled and the liquid drunk for gastric problems. Juice of the bulbs are used for dysentery. Elsewhere, the tuber is used for various diseases, including asthma and arthritis, and also as a contraceptive.

In America, a related species, D. villosa, is used for diverticulitis, i.e. abdominal cramps and inflammation, and also for postmenopausal vaginal dryness.

Other usage: The tuber is edible after boiling. The fresh tuber is used as fish poison. It is squeezed and mixed with water to wash clothes, and this soap is also used as a body wash to kill lice.
Notes: The genus is named after Greek physician, pharmacologist, and botanist Pedanius Dioscorides (died 90 A.D.), who was the author of De Materia Medica (five volumes dealing with herbal medicine).

Nepalese yam is threatened by excessive collecting.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Fruiting Nepalese yam, climbing on a species of fig tree (Ficus), Manali, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Dissotis Pink lady (name of the entire genus)
Family: Melastoma family (Melastomataceae).
Distribution: Tropical Africa.
Medicinal usage: In the Bangweulu Swamps of northern Zambia, a species of Dissotis is used in the treatment of venereal diseases. Elsewhere, the leaves of Dissotis rotundifolia are used to expel intestinal worms.
Other usage: Several Dissotis species are cultivated as ornamentals.

 

 

Zambia 1993
In the Bangweulu Swamps of northern Zambia, this Dissotis species is used in the treatment of venereal diseases. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Drynaria propinqua Basket fern (name of the entire genus)
Family: Polypody family (Polypodiaceae).
Distribution: From the Himalaya east to China, and thence south to Southeast Asia.
Medicinal usage: In Nepal, a paste made from the rhizome of this epiphytic fern is applied to treat backache, headache, sprains, and dislocated bones. In traditional Chinese medicine, it has been utilized for various ailments, including deafness, tooth ache, diarrhoea, involuntary urination, bone fractures, and hair loss.

 

 

Nepal 1994-95
Withering leaves of Drynaria propinqua, illuminated by the sun, Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Dryopteris filix-mas Common male fern
Family: Woodfern family (Dryopteridaceae).
Distribution: Throughout northern temperate areas.
Medicinal usage: As far back as the time of Greek scholar Theophrastos (c. 371 – c. 287 B.C.), and physician, pharmacologist, and botanist Pedanius Dioscorides (died 90 A.D.), who was the author of De Materia Medica (five volumes dealing with herbal medicine), it was known that the rhizome of common male fern would expel intestinal worms. English herbalist John Gerard (c. 1545-1612) writes: The roots of the male fern, being taken in the weight of half an ounce, driveth forth long flat worms, as Dioscorides writeth, being drunke in mede or honied water, and more effectually if it be given with two scruples, or two third parts of a dram of scammonie, or of black hellebore: they that will use it, must first eat garlicke.”

In 1855, in Bibliothèque Universelle de Genève, XXX, p. 205, Swiss apothecary M. Peschier states that by digesting buds of common male fern in sulphuric ether, and using this tincture against tapeworms, they were killed with constant success. The pounded rhizome has the same effect. Due to the toxicity of this drug, it is only used nowadays, when alternative drugs are inadequate. A decoction of the rhizome has also been used to treat certain fungal infections.

Other usage: Various forms are cultivated as ornamentals.
Note: As the drug is very poisonous, it should only be used if prescribed by a physician.

 

 

Vorsø 1988-99
An unusually lush growth of common male fern on former arable land, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Vorsø 1988-99
Young leaves of common male fern unfolding, popularly called ‘fiddleheads’. – Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Elsholtzia fruticosa Late-summer mint (name of the entire genus)
Other scientific names: Elsholtzia polystachya, Aphanochilus polystachya, Perilla fruticosa.
Family: Mint family (Lamiaceae).
Distribution: From Pakistan across the Himalaya to Myanmar and western China.
Medicinal usage: In Nepal, juice of the root is used for headache. Several other Elsholtzia species are used medicinally in the Himalaya for various ailments, including cough, colds, wounds, and scabies.
Other usage: Oil from the seeds is edible. In Nepal, powdered seeds are used as a flavouring agent in food, and a powder made from the plant is burned as incense.
Note: The genus was named in honour of Prussian naturalist Johann Sigismund Elsholtz (1623-1688).

 

 

Kryddermynte, Elsholtzia fruticosa, Timang (2400 m), Annapurna, Nepal
Elsholtzia fruticosa, Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Elsholtzia oppositifolia, see Colebrookea oppositifolia.

 

 

 

Elytrigia repens Couch grass
Other scientific names: Elymus repens, Agropyrum repens, Agropyron repens.
Other English names: Twitch, quick grass, dog’s grass, quack grass, scutch grass, witch grass.
Family: Grass family (Poaceae).
Distribution: Native of Arctic and Temperate Eurasia. Naturalized in many areas, including North America, where it has become invasive.
Medicinal usage: Greek physician, pharmacologist, and botanist Pedanius Dioscorides (died 90 A.D.), who was the author of De Materia Medica (five volumes dealing with herbal medicine), asserts that a decoction of the rhizomes is a useful remedy as a diuretic and for bladder stones. English herbalist John Gerard (c. 1545-1612) writes: “Although that couch-grasse be an unwelcome guest to fields and gardens, yet his physicke virtues do recompense those hurts; for it openeth the stoppings of the liver and reins without any manifest heat.”

Formerly, a decoction of the rhizomes was taken to purify the blood in spring. In Denmark, the juice from fresh rhizomes was utilized for constipation of the liver and spleen, and a decoction of them was used for fever and gall problems. Locally, a decoction was taken daily to prevent ague (malaria), rheumatic fever, intestinal worms, and scrofula.

In former days, it was believed that the leaves would cure sick dogs. English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) says: ”If you know it [couch grass] not by this description, watch the dogs when they are sick and they will quickly lead you to it.”

Today, couch grass rhizomes are crushed and taken with water as a diuretic, and also for bladder infection, bronchitis, laryngitis, kidney stones, and prostrate problems, including benign tumours.

Note: Other usage of couch grass, and its role in folklore, is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Vorsø 1988-99
Couch grass in evening sun, growing in its natural habitat, a sandy beach. – Horsens Fjord, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Ephedra gerardiana Gerard’s joint-pine
Other scientific names: Ephedra wallichii.
Other English names: Gerard’s jointfir.
Ephedra intermedia Persian joint-pine
Other scientific names: Ephedra glauca, E. tibetica, E. persica, E. ferganensis.
Other English names: Persian jointfir, Tibetan joint-pine, Tibetan jointfir.
Family: Joint-pine family (Ephedraceae).
Distribution: Gerard’s joint-pine is native to Central Asia, from Tajikistan across Tibet and the Himalaya to Bhutan, whereas Persian joint-pine is found in the Middle East and Central Asia.
Medicinal usage: As Ayurvedic medicine, tea from Gerard’s joint-pine is drunk for colds, cough, bronchitis, asthma, and arthritis. In Nepal, the crushed plant, mixed with water, is used for skin problems. Juice of the plant is said to stimulate the heart. It is used for respiratory infections, asthma, and hay fever, and is also given to children to control bedwetting.

In traditional Chinese medicine, Persian joint-pine – and also E. sinica and E. equisetina – are called 麻黄 (ma huang), meaning ’yellow hemp’. Their leaves are used for treatment of a large number of ailments, including fever, cardiovascular problems, nervous disorder, pulmonary diseases, and diarrhoea. They also have anti-viral properties. The root is used to reduce sweating due to weakness of the body. In Tibet, Persian joint-pine is used for liver diseases.

Other usage: Excavations in the Karakum Desert in Turkmenistan suggest that Persian joint-pine, or another member of the genus, may have been a component of the Zoroastrian ritual drink haoma, which is identical to the Vedic drink soma. Drinking haoma ‘gives insight’ and makes you ‘wise’. – Joint-pine stems are used for fodder, and dry plants are collected for fuel. Goats are fond of eating the green stems.
Notes: Joint-pine species are toxic and should be used with caution.

Gerard’s joint-pine was named by Danish botanist and surgeon Nathaniel Wallich (1786-1854) in honour of English herbalist John Gerard (c. 1545-1612).

 

 

Nepal 1987
Flowering Gerard’s joint-pine, photographed in Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nepal 2009
Joint-pine fruits are cones with a naked ovule, containing one or two seeds, enclosed by swollen, fleshy, berry-like, red or orange bracts. – Gerard’s joint-pine, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Ladakh 2009
Fruiting Persian joint-pine, Gayk, Ladakh, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Equisetum arvense Field horsetail
Other English names: Common horsetail, pewterwort.
Family: Horsetail family (Equisetaceae).
Distribution: Northern Temperate and Arctic Zones. Naturalized in New Zealand.
Medicinal usage: English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) says: “It is very powerful to stop bleeding, either inward or outward, the juice or the decoction being drunk, or the juice, decoction or distilled water applied outwardly. (…) It solders together the tops of green wounds and cures all ruptures in children. The decoction taken in wine helps stone and strangury; the distilled water drunk two or three times a day eases and strengthens the intestines and is effectual in a cough that comes by distillation from the head. The juice or distilled water used as a warm fomentation is of service in inflammations and breakings-out in the skin.”

In traditional Austrian medicine, field horsetail has been taken as tea, or externally for rheumatism and gout, and for disorders of the skin, kidneys, and urinary tract. It has also been used for tuberculosis and kidney stones.

In today’s herbal medicine, it is known as an excellent antioxidant, and for its anti-inflammatory, coagulant, demulcent, diuretic, and astringent properties. Its silica content may prevent tendinitis and osteoporosis. It is also regarded as beneficial to ligaments and painful lower back muscles, and it is possible that it will prevent hair loss.

In Nepal, the stem juice of a near relative, Equisetum diffusum, is used for gonorrhoea, juice of the root for urinary problems, sprains, fractures, burns, and scabies.

In America, another relative, scouring rush (E. hyemale), was utilized for dropsy, and for kidney and prostate problems. Women with irregular menstruation drank a decoction of this plant, together with willow leaves. Juice of the root was added to human milk, and this mixture was applied to inflamed eyes. drak et udtræk af denne plante samt pileblade. Saften af roden blev dryppet i kvindemælk, og betændte øjne blev badet med denne væske. Top shoots of young plants were eaten to cure diarrhoea, and the ashes of burned plants were applied to burns. Potawatomi tribals maintained that tea made from this species was the best remedy for lumbago.

Note: Read about other usage of horsetail species, and their role in folklore, on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Fyn 2005-09
Fertile spring shoots of field horsetail with sporangia, Funen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Equisetum arvense_002_resize
Sterile summer shoots of field horsetail with dew drops, Funen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Erythrina monosperma, see Butea monosperma.

 

 

 

Eschscholzia californica California poppy
Other English names: Golden poppy, California sunlight, cup of gold.
Family: Poppy family (Papaveraceae).
Distribution: Native of western United States and Mexico. Widely cultivated, and has become naturalized in several countries, including Chile.
Medicinal usage: California poppy leaves were used medicinally by Native Americans. In modern herbal medicine, it regarded as a mild sedative and relaxant, suitable for children. It improves sleep quality and can prevent nightmares. It is also taken for hyper-activity, headache, migraine, depression, and nerve pain.
Other usage: Numerous varieties are cultivated as ornamentals. The seeds are used in cooking. Formerly, its pollen was used cosmetically by Native Americans.
Notes: The plant was named Eschscholzia californica in 1820 by German botanist Adelbert von Chamisso, in honour of his friend, German physician Johann Friedrich Eschscholtz, who was his colleague on the Kotzebue scientific expedition to the Pacific 1815-1818, aboard the Russian brig Rurik.

In 1903, the species became the official state flower of California.

 

 

USA 1992
California poppy is often found in large growths, here on a slope near Oakhurst, California, United States. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Californien 2013
California poppy, Montaña de Oro State Park, California, United States. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Eucalyptus Gum tree
Other English names: Fever tree.
Family: Myrtle family (Myrtaceae).
Distribution: Extensively cultivated in most tropical and subtropical countries. Almost all species are native to Australia.
Medicinal usage: Essential oils are extracted from the leaves, used in treatment of colds, sore throat, cough, flu, fever, breathlessness, sinusitis, allergies, viral infections, bronchitis, tuberculosis, and stomach problems. The oil is added to throat lozenges, called ‘eucalyptus bonbons’, which are good against bad breath. The oil is also used by the Aborigines of Australia to treat wounds, and research has shown that it is indeed a very effective wound healer.
Note: Other usage of eucalyptus species is dealt with on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Sydlige Afrika 1993
Several eucalyptus species are cultivated as ornamentals, including this one in Citrusdal, South Africa, which displays a profusion of gorgeous flowers. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Euphorbia royleana Royle’s spurge
Other scientific names: Euphorbia pentagona.
Other English names: Sullu spurge.
Family: Spurge family (Euphorbiaceae).
Distribution: From Pakistan across the Himalaya, east to the Guangxi Province of western China, and Taiwan.
Medicinal usage: In Nepal, the boiled pith is used for stomach and gastric problems, and a paste of the leaves is applied to wounds. Juice of the leaves is used for fever, and also dripped into the ears to remove pus. The latex is applied to boils and pimples, and also used for sprains, cough, and asthma, and to expel intestinal worms. It is applied to fungi between the toes, caused by walking barefoot in water during the rainy season. In Ayurvedic medicine, it is used to treat leukaemia.
Note: Other usage of Royle’s spurge, and its role in folklore, is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Uttarakhand 2008
Uttarakhand 2008
Royle’s spurge, growing on a dry, rocky outcrop, Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand, India. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Euphrasia Eyebright
Family: Broomrape family (Orobanchaceae).
Distribution: Mainly in Northern Temperate and Arctic Zones, but also in the Southern Temperate Zone.
Medicinal usage: The usage of this plant for eye problems goes back to medieval Europe. Followers of the Doctrine of Signatures claimed that the Great God had made all plants, so that humans would recognize the usage of them. To them, the red streaks on the petals of eyebright resembled bloodshot eyes, and for this reason, this plant would be an effective remedy for eye diseases. Matthaeus Sylvaticus (1285-1342), a physician of Mantua, recommended it for disorders of the eyes, whereas Jervis Markham (1568?-1637), in his Countrie Farm (1616), advises people to “drinke everie morning a small draught of eyebright wine.” In the 18th Century, eyebright tea was drunk, and in Queen Elizabeth’s time a drink called ‘eyebright ale’ was produced.

English herbalist John Gerard (c. 1545-1612) says that powdered eyebright, mixed with mace, “comforteth the memorie,” whereas another herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654), recommends the following recipe for “an excellent water to clear the sight: Take of fennel, eyebright, roses, celandine, vervain, and rue, of each a handful, the liver of a goat chopt small, infuse them well in eyebright water, then distil them in an alembic, and you shall have a water will clear the sight beyond comparison.”

For once, the followers of the Doctrine of Signatures hit the nail on the head, as the plant is still recommended for conjunctivitis (‘red eyes’), infection of the eyelid, and discharge from the eyes. It is also used for indigestion, and for inflammation of the trachea. The dried herb is an ingredient in British Herbal Tobacco, which smoked is useful for chronic bronchial colds.

In Nepal, Himalayan eyebright (E. himalayica) is utilized to curb profuse menstruation, and juice of the root is applied to boils.

Notes: The generic name Euphrasia is Greek, derived from Euphrosyne (’gladness’), the name of one of the three graces who was distinguished for her joy and mirth, probably given to the plant because of its properties as a medical herb.

A popular French name for the plant is casse-lunettes, which loosely translates as ‘throw away your glasses’.

 

 

Fanø 2001-12
Most eyebright species are very similar, being notoriously difficult to distinguish. This species was observed on the island of Fanø, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Himachal 2009
Himalayan eyebright (Euphrasia himalayica), Rohtang La, Himachal Pradesh, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Ficus religiosa Pipal
Other English names: Sacred fig tree, Bodhi tree.
Family: Fig family (Moraceae).
Distribution: Native to the Indian Subcontinent, south-western China, and Southeast Asia. Widely planted elsewhere.
Medicinal usage: In traditional Ayurvedic medicine, pipal is used for about 50 types of disorders, the bark for dysentery, diarrhoea, diabetes, nervous disorders, heavy menstrual bleeding, bone fractures, earache, glandular diseases, gonorrhoea, scabies, skin diseases, and also as a laxative; oil from the root bark for skin diseases and rheumatism; leaves for constipation; latex for warts; powdered fruit for asthma; seeds as a laxative; young shoots as a purgative.

In Nepal, the bark is used to prevent bleeding from wounds, and also for gonorrhoea, diarrhoea, dysentery, paralysis, scabies, and snakebites. The latex is used for toothache and sore gums. Juice of young leaves is dripped into aching ears. A paste of the leaves is used for skin diseases, the fruit as a laxative.

Numerous other Ficus species are utilized medicinally.

Note: Read about the great importance of this species in Buddhism on the page Plants: Pipal and banyan – two sacred fig trees.

 

 

Nepal 2008
Pipal readily grows on buildings, as shown in this photograph from Kathmandu, Nepal, where its roots have caused a small Hindu temple to crack, and will destroy it completely over the years. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Fragaria vesca Woodland strawberry
Other English names: European strawberry, Alpine strawberry, wild strawberry, hedge strawberry.
Fragaria nubicola Himalayan strawberry
Other English names: Indian strawberry.
Family: Rose family (Rosaceae).
Distribution: Woodland strawberry is distributed in temperate areas of Eurasia, east to Lake Baikal, and in temperate North America. It is naturalized in Chile. Himalayan strawberry is found in montane areas, from Pakistan across the Himalaya to south-western China.
Medicinal usage: Strawberries are excellent antioxidants, with a vitamin C content of about 50 milligrams per 100 grams. Both leaves and fruits of woodland strawberry were used early in herbal medicine. The fruit was considered invaluable for fever, and it was also recommended for stone. Danish herbalist Henrik Smid (c. 1495-1563) claims that lepers with “a red face and warm blood” can live for a long time, if they drink strawberry water on a daily basis, whereas English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) declares that strawberry is “singularly good for the healing of many ills.” Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus, or Carl von Linné (1707-1778), discovered that the berries were an effective cure for gout, and in Denmark, a poultice of the leaves were used for the same ailment.

In former times, American natives would chew strawberry leaves and then apply them to burns. Tea, made from the plant was taken against diarrhoea.

Even today, root and leaves are used for diarrhoea, and also for treating menopause problems and menstrual cramps. Tea, made from the leaves, checks dysentery.

In Nepal, juice of the root of Himalayan strawberry is taken for fever, whereas juice of the plant is used for inflammation of nerves and lungs, and to curb profuse menstruation. Unripe fruits are chewed to cure blemishes on the tongue. A paste of the fruit is applied to skin diseases and wounds.

Note: Other usage of strawberry, and its role in folklore, is dealt with on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Sjælland 1969-2005
Fruits of woodland strawberry are tiny, but very tasty, as opposed to many of the cultivated varieties, which often have a watery taste. – Zealand, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Everest 2010
Himalayan strawberry is the most common among four strawberry species, growing in the Himalaya. This picture is from the Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Fruiting Himalayan strawberry, Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nepal 2009-1
Another Himalayan species, Fragaria daltoniana, is easily identified by its oblong fruits, which are up to 2.5 cm long. – Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Fumaria officinalis Common fumitory
Other English names: Earth smoke.
Family: Poppy family (Papaveraceae).
Distribution: Native of Europe, western Asia, and North Africa. Naturalized in North America, Australia, New Zealand, and other places.
Medicinal usage: Traditionally, fumitory has been used to treat skin problems, such as eczema and psoriasis, and also for liver ailments, as a laxative, and as a diuretic. New research has shown that it may indeed be effective against psoriasis, and in Germany it is approved for treatment of pain in the gallbladder.

In Turkey, closely related species are used as blood purifiers and for allergy. In Nepal, F. indica is used as a diuretic, and to expel intestinal worms. Its juice is applied to wounds.

Note: Other usage of fumitory, and its role in folklore, is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Fyn 2005-09
Common fumitory, growing as a weed in a vegetable garden, Denmark. A black bindweed (Fallopia convolvulus) is winding up its stem. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Galium verum Yellow bedstraw
Other English names: Our Lady’s bedstraw, maid’s hair, cheese rennet.
Family: Bedstraw family (Rubiaceae).
Distribution: Native to Temperate Eurasia. Naturalized in North America, New Zealand, and other places.
Medicinal usage: In former times, yellow bedstraw was thought to be an efficient healer of epilepsy, hysteria, and arthritis, and it was utilized as a diuretic. English herbalist John Gerard (c. 1545-1612) writes: “An ointment is prepared which is good for anointing the weary traveller.” Another herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) recommends a decoction of yellow bedstraw to stop nose-bleed and internal bleeding. In Denmark, in the 1600s, it was believed that scabies and scab could be cured with this herb.

Today, yellow bedstraw is a popular remedy for urinary problems, and for bladder and gall stones. In France, it is still being used for treatment of epilepsy.

Note: Read about other usage of yellow bedstraw, and about its role in folklore, on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Jylland 2000-05
Yellow bedstraw can grow to a height of c. 1.2 m. This picture shows a lush specimen from Mols, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Gentiana lutea Great yellow gentian
Family: Gentian family (Gentianaceae).
Distribution: Montane areas of central, southern, and eastern Europe. Cultivated in eastern Europe.
Medicinal usage: The Ancient Egyptians used gentian medicinally as early as 1200 B.C., and the Greeks recommended the root for stomach and liver problems, and also for infections. In the Middle Ages, it was used for infections and as an antidote for various poisons.

The root contains one of the most bitter-tasting substances known. A few drops of gentian tincture will stimulate the function of liver and pancreas, and also increase the appetite. Herbalists also recommend it for dyspepsia and flatulence.

A near relative, Gentiana officinalis, of China, is used for a number of ailments, including malfunction of the thyroid gland, ulcers, earache, and heartburn. In Nepal, several gentian species are utilized for various ailments, including cough, colds, and fever. A paste of the root of Gentianopsis paludosa is applied to wounds, and also to the forehead in case of headache.

Other usage: In certain parts of Europe, the fermented root of great yellow gentian is distilled, the product added to aperitifs and liqueurs.
Notes: The name gentian derives from King Gentius, who ruled in Ancient Illyria 181-168 B.C. Allegedly, he discovered the medicinal value of the great yellow gentian.

Many other gentian species are presented on the pages Plants – Mountain plants: Himalayan flora and Flora of the Alps.

 

 

Alperne 2017
Great yellow gentian is very common in the canton of Valais, Switzerland. This picture is from Col de la Croix. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Alperne 1968-2001
Close-up of great yellow gentian flowers, Säntis, Sankt Gallen, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Girardinia diversifolia Nilgiri nettle
Other scientific names: Girardinia heterophylla, G. palmata, G. armata.
Other English names: Himalayan nettle.
Family: Nettle family (Urticaceae).
Distribution: Widespread in Africa, on Madagascar, and from Yemen eastwards across the Himalaya to Taiwan, and south to South India and Indonesia.
Medicinal usage: In Ayurvedic medicine, Nilgiri nettle is used as a diuretic and laxative, to treat headache, arthritis, rheumatism and allergy, and to expel intestinal parasites. In Nepal, the boiled root is given for gastric problems, juice of the root for constipation and to treat boils. Juice of leaves is used for fever, headache, and painful joints. Ash from the plant is applied to eczema and ringworms. In Rwanda, the species is used as an antidote for snakebites.
Other usage: Tender parts are eaten as a vegetable. Seeds are roasted and pickled. Cultivated in India for its stem fibres, supplying excellent bast, from which cloth, bags, rope, fishing nets etc. are weaved. The plant yields a blue dye. In north-eastern India, the seeds are used as fish poison.
Note: Do not touch this plant, as it has a powerful sting.

 

 

Nepal 2009-1
Nilgiri nettle, Helambu, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Hibiscus manihot, see Abelmoschus manihot.

 

 

 

Hibiscus sabdariffa Roselle
Other English names: Rosella, Jamaica sorrel, Indian sorrel, Guinea sorrel, Queensland jelly plant, jelly okra, Florida cranberry.
Family: Mallow family (Malvaceae).
Distribution: Some authorities claim that roselle is a native of West Africa, others maintain that it stems from India or Southeast Asia. Today, it is cultivated worldwide in tropical and subtropical areas, the largest producers being China and Thailand.
Medicinal usage: Traditionally, roselle has been used as a diuretic and as a mild laxative. In Brazil, the root is used as a stomachic, and also as an emollient. The Naga people of north-eastern India drink an extract of the root for constipation and stomach ache, and as an emollient and carminative. The red calyx contains antocyanins, and research indicates that these substances can prevent rheumatism, diabetes, and colon cancer. Antocyanins are excellent anti-oxidants, which can subdue infections. The seeds are also a good source of anti-oxidants.
Other usage: In Senegal and other African countries, and in various Asian countries, the green leaves are eaten as a spicy vegetable. In Nepal, the calyx is eaten raw or pickled. From the calyx, jam and a red drink, called karkade, are produced. In Europe and North America, the calyx is used for food colouring. Bast is produced from the stem fibres.
Notes: The name roselle is from the French, a diminutive of rose, referring to the red calyx, which, with a bit of imagination, resembles a small rose.

The pictures below are all from Taiwan, where this species is commonly cultivated.

 

 

The bright red calyx of roselle contains antocyanins. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2013
Taiwan 2013
Freshly picked (top) and dried roselle fruits. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Houttuynia cordata Heart-leaved fishwort
Other scientific names: Houttuynia foetida, Polypara cordata, P. cochinchinensis.
Other English names: Heartleaf, fish mint, chameleon plant, lizard-tail, bishop’s weed.
Family: Lizard-tail family (Saururaceae).
Distribution: Himalaya, southern Tibet, China, Korea, Japan, Southeast Asia, Indonesia.
Medicinal usage: In traditional Chinese medicine – where it is called 魚腥草 (‘fishy-smelling herb’) – heart-leaved fishwort is used due to its antibacterial and antiviral effects, mainly for various respiratory diseases, including bronchitis and pneumonia, and also for herpes simplex and urinary tract infections. As a paste, it is applied to various skin problems. In Japan, a decoction of the dried leaves is drunk to detoxify the body and to kill harmful bacteria. In Nepal, juice of the root is used for indigestion and skin ailments, and it is dripped into the eyes in case of eye problems. Juice of the plant is applied to wounds of domestic animals to rid them of maggots and to accelerate healing. Elsewhere, it is used for diabetes, and as a diuretic.
Other usage: Cultivated as an ornamental. Tender parts and root are cooked in soups or as a vegetable, and the leaves are pickled.
Notes: In Australia and the United States, the species has become invasive in some places.

The names fishwort and fish mint refer to the fishy odour of some forms of this plant.

 

 

Nepal 2013
Heart-leaved fishwort, Taplejung, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Humulus lupulus Hop
Family: Hemp family (Cannabaceae).
Distribution: Native of Europe and western Asia. Widely cultivated elsewhere, naturalized in North America.
Medicinal usage: The bitter resins of the inflorescence have a soothing effect on the nervous system, and are thus taken for stress, anxiety, insomnia, and nervous indigestion, and also as a sedative. Hop juice will clean the blood and is a very effective remedy for calculus problems. Traditionally, hop flowers have been used for leprosy, tuberculosis, and dysentery. Tea, made from the flowers was taken for cramps, swellings, and hardness of the uterus.

Among American tribals, hop tea was taken as a stimulant, and the vapours were inhaled to cure insomnia.

Note: Other usage of hop, and its role in folklore, is dealt with on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Fyn 2010-17
In June, when the growth of hop is at its peak, the stem may grow up to 17 cm a day. This one is climbing up the stem of a hollyhock (Alcea rosea) on the island of Funen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Hyoscyamus niger Black henbane
Other English names: Stinking nightshade, hog’s bean, Jupiter’s bean.
Family: Nightshade family (Solanaceae).
Distribution: Native of the Mediterranean and West Asia. Naturalized in almost all parts of Europe and parts of North and South America.
Medicinal usage: Greek physician, pharmacologist, and botanist Pedanius Dioscorides (died 90 A.D.), who was the author of De Materia Medica (five volumes dealing with herbal medicine), used henbane for pains and to procure sleep. Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.) declared it to be “of the nature of wine and therefore offensive to the understanding.”

English herbalist John Gerard (c. 1545-1612) says: “Leaves, seeds and juice, when taken internally, cause an unquiet sleep, like unto the sleep of drunkenness, which continueth long and is deadly to the patient. To wash the feet in a decoction of henbane, as also the smelling of the flowers, causeth sleep.” Another herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654), says: “The leaves of henbane do cool all hot inflammations in the eyes. (…) It also assuages the pain of the gout, the sciatica, and other pains in the joints which arise from a hot cause. And applied with vinegar to the forehead and temples, helps the headache and want of sleep in hot fevers. (…) The oil of the seed is helpful for deafness, noise and worms in the ears, being dropped therein; the juice of the herb or root doth the same. The decoction of the herb or seed, or both, kills lice in man or beast. The fume of the dried herb stalks and seeds, burned, quickly heals swellings, chilblains or kibes in the hands or feet, by holding them in the fume thereof. The remedy to help those that have taken henbane is to drink goat’s milk, honeyed water, or pine kernels, with sweet wine; or, in the absence of these, fennel seed, nettle seed, the seed of cresses, mustard or radish; as also onions or garlic taken in wine, do all help to free them from danger and restore them to their due temper again. Take notice, that this herb must never be taken inwardly; outwardly, an oil, ointment, or plaister of it is most admirable for the gout. (…) To stop toothache, it is applied to the aching side.”

Formerly, henbane was widely used in folk medicine for the production of sedatives, and also to make magic and love potions. Necklaces were made from the root, worn by children as charms to prevent fits and to cause easy teething. In Denmark, people with toothache (popularly called ‘worms in your teeth’) would inhale the vapours from boiling henbane seeds. These vapours would undoubtedly ease the pain, but the effect might just as well have been psychological, because after the treatment, the patient could see the killed ’worms’, lying between the henbane seeds in the bowl, in which they had been heated. The explanation is that the heating would burst the seed coat, exposing the white, curved germs – not unlike fly larvae. – Smoke from the burning plant was utilized for skin diseases.

The plant contains the toxic alkaloids hyoscyamine and scopolamine, which are extracted from the dried leaves. Today, this extract is used for various mental disorders and also for seasickness, anaesthesizing the organs of the inner ear. It is also used as a mild diuretic.

Note: Other usage of henbane, and its role in folklore, is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Bornholm 1977-96
Black henbane, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Hypericum perforatum Common St. John’s wort
Other English names: Perforate St. John’s wort.
Family: St. John’s wort family (Hypericaceae).
Distribution: Native of Europe, North Africa, and western Asia. Naturalized in East Asia, North and South America, and Australia. Regarded as an invasive in several countries.
Medicinal usage: During the Middle Ages, common St. John’s wort was in high esteem as a wound-healer, including burns and frostbite. It was also used for epilepsy, ague (malaria), intestinal worms, apoplexy, cholera, and, according to Danish physician and herbalist Simon Paulli (1603-1680), for an ailment he calls chlorosis, which young girls get, “when their wedding is approaching, and they are at the mercy of their husbands.” In this situation, they often behave, as if they are ”plagued by being possessed by the Devil.”

Formerly, this species was also utilized for treatment of lung disease and diarrhoea in cows, and tetanus in horses. – In today’s herbal medicine, it is used for burns, insect bites, wounds, scabies, and infections, and as a stomachic and sedative. New research has shown that it is very effective for depression, for herpes simplex, and probably also for HIV and Parkinson’s disease. Furthermore, it contains chemicals which stimulate liver detoxification.

Note: Other usage of St. John’s wort, and its role in folklore, is dealt with on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Jylland 2006-12
Common St. John’s wort, Jutland, Denmark. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Inula helenium Elecampane
Other English names: Scabwort, elfwort.
Family: Composites (Asteraceae).
Distribution: Native to southern Europe, and western and central Asia. Formerly, it was widely cultivated as a medicinal plant, and it has become naturalized in northern Europe and parts of North America.
Medicinal usage: Elecampane has been used medicinally for at least 2000 years, first mentioned in Codex Constantinopolitanus in 512 A.D.

English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) writes: “The fresh roots of Elecampane preserved with sugar, or made into a syrup or conserve, are very effectual to warm a cold windy stomach, or the pricking therein, and stitches in the sides caused by the spleen; and to help the cough, shortness of breath, and wheezing in the lungs. The dried root made into powder, and mixed with sugar, and taken, serveth to the same purpose; and is also profitable for those who have their urine stopped, or the stopping of women’s courses, the pains of the mother, and of the stone in the reins, kidnies, or bladder (…) The root boiled well in vinegar, beaten afterwards, and made into an ointment with hog’s suet, or oil of trotters, is an excellent remedy for scabs or itch in young and old; the places also bathed or washed with the decoction, doth the same (…)”

Elecampane was also used for tuberculosis.

Even today, many herbalists consider this herb an effective remedy for lung problems, such as congested phlegm, bronchitis and emphysema (swollen alveoles). It has a beneficial effect on digestion. It is also used to expel intestinal worms and other parasites.

The very similar Inula racemosa of Central Asia is widely used as an expectorant.

Note: Read more about elecampane and its role in folklore on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Vorsø 2000-15
Elecampane, naturalized at Horsens Fjord, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Jasminum officinale White jasmine
Other English names: Summer jasmine, poet’s jasmine, true jasmine, star jasmine, night-blooming jasmine, jessamine.
Family: Olive family (Oleaceae).
Distribution: Probably indigenous from Caucasus, eastwards through the Himalaya to south-western China. Naturalized in southern Europe, North Africa, Florida, the West Indies, and elsewhere.
Medicinal usage: Over the years, this species has been used as an aphrodisiac, a sedative, an antiseptic, antidepressant, antispasmodic, and analgesic. In Ayurvedic medicine, it is utilized for fever and conjunctivitis, and to improve immunity. In traditional Chinese medicine, tea made from the flowers is used for various ailments, including wounds, heat stroke, fever, and urinary infection. This tea can also relieve stress and anxiety. A poultice of the flowers is used for headache and stroke.
Other usage: Due to its wonderful fragrance, white jasmine has been widely cultivated as an ornamental for thousands of years. It is mentioned as a garden plant in London by naturalist and physician William Turner (1509-1568), in his Names of Herbes (1548). From time immemorial, an essential oil from the plant has been used in the perfume industry, and as medicine.
Notes: This species is the national flower of Pakistan.

The generic name Jasminum, as well as the common name in most languages, is derived from the ancient Persian name of these plants, yasmin. The specific name officinale indicates the medicinal properties of the plant.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Himachal Pradesh 2007
White jasmine, Tirthan Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India. In the lower picture, a villager has decorated his woven hat with flowers of this species. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Juniperus communis Common juniper
Family: Cypress family (Cupressaceae).
Distribution: Common juniper is the most widespread conifer in the world, found in the northern subarctic and temperate zones, south to North Africa, northern Iran, the Himalaya, Japan, and Arizona.
Medicinal usage: Traditionally, a decoction of the berries was used as an antiseptic, and oil from the cones is still today used externally for arthritis and rheumatism. Galls on the needles, caused by larvae of a species of gall gnat, Oligotrophus juniperinus, were taken for whooping cough.

Formerly, certain Native American tribes used the fruits as a contraceptive. Others drank a decoction made from tips of young branches as a blood cleanser, and the seeds were eaten to cure lumbago.

Research has shown that certain substances in the berries are an effective diuretic and analgesic, they can lower the blood pressure, and they are an efficient remedy for gout and digestive disorders. Inhalation of steam from boiling berries relieves catarrh and congestion.

Note: Other usage of common juniper, and its role in folklore, is dealt with on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Lolland-Falster-Møn 1987-2010
The berry-like cones of common juniper emit an aromatic fragrance, containing up to 40% glucose and 2% essential oil. In this photograph from Denmark, rain drops cling to the bloom, the wax-like layer, which covers the surface of the cones. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Lawsonia inermis Henna tree
Other scientific names: Lawsonia alba.
Other English names: Hina, mignonette tree, Egyptian privet.
Family: Loosestrife family (Lythraceae).
Distribution: Probably native to north-eastern Africa, Arabia, and Iran, but widely cultivated, especially in India and Pakistan.
Medicinal usage: According to Greek physician, pharmacologist, and botanist Pedanius Dioscorides (died 90 A.D.), who was the author of De Materia Medica (five volumes dealing with herbal medicine), chewing henna leaves is good for mouth ulcers, because of their content of tannin, and he also recommends applying a poultice of the leaves to skin inflammations and boils.

Henna is famous for its anti-cancerous and anti-inflammatory properties, and it is commonly used in Unani and Ayurvedic medicines. The plant is used for fever, dandruff, heat stroke, leucodermia, and leprosy in early stages; bark and root for liver enlargement and jaundice; flowers for headache; a paste of the leaves for sunburn, prickly heat, rashes, bruises, burns, boils, skin diseases such as eczema and ringworm, haemorrhoids, sore throat, inflammatory swellings, leprosy, and rheumatic joint pain; seeds for dysentery; seeds and leaves for vaginal discharge and excessive menstruation; and oil from the seeds for arthritis, scabies, and hair loss.

Note: Other usage of henna is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Sydindien 2000-01
In Pakistan, India, North Africa, and the Middle East, henna is widely used for adorning skin and fingernails. This picture shows the decorated hand of a girl, Andhra Pradesh, South India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Leonurus cardiaca Common motherwort
Other English names: Throw-wort, lion’s ear, lion’s tail.
Family: Mint family (Lamiaceae).
Distribution: Probably a native of Central Asia and south-eastern Europe, but widely cultivated in most parts of the world, and naturalized in many places.
Medicinal usage: Motherwort has a long history as a medical herb. Since the Middle Ages, it was used in Europe for heart palpitations and high blood pressure.

English herbalist John Gerard (c. 1545-1612) writes: “Divers commend it against infirmities of the heart. Moreover, the same is commended for green wounds; it is also a remedy against certain diseases in cattell, as the cough and murreine, and for that cause divers husbandmen oftentimes much desire it.” – Another herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) says: There is no better herb to drive melancholy vapours from the heart, to strengthen it and make the mind cheerful, blithe and merry. May be kept in a syrup, or conserve, therefore the Latins call it cardiaca…. It cleanseth the chest of cold phlegm, oppressing it and killeth worms in the belly. It is of good use to warm and dry up the cold humours, to digest and disperse them that are settled in the veins, joints and sinews of the body and to help cramps and convulsions.”

In China, in the old days, motherwort was used to prevent pregnancy and to regulate menstruation, and in Europe, midwives used it for various female disorders, including uterine infection – hence the name motherwort. Same usage was found among American natives of the Delaware area.

In his delightful book All about Weeds, American botanist Edwin Spencer (1881-1964) writes: “Here’s sumpin’ you art to know,” said an old midwife to a young bride, as the two of them stood looking at a tall mint, growing by the garden fence. “This is motherwort.”

Today, motherwort is valued as a diaphoretic, antispasmodic, tonic, and nervine. As a tonic, it is taken for palpitations and irregular heartbeat, and for fever, nervousness, and delirium. It is also used to ease stomach gas.

In Nepal, the juice is utilized as a diaphoretic and stomachic. Pounded leaves are applied to fungi between the toes, caused by walking barefoot in water during the rainy season.

Note: The generic name Leonurus is a Latinized form of the Greek words leon (’lion’) and oura (’tail’), thus ‘lion’s tail’ – which is also one of its popular English names. It is not clear, why Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus, or Carl von Linné (1707-1778), named it thus.

 

 

Jylland 1977-90
Cultivated common motherwort, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Leonurus sibiricus Siberian motherwort
Other English names: Honeywort.
Family: Mint family (Lamiaceae).
Distribution: Native to China, Mongolia, and Siberia. Naturalized in the Americas and elsewhere.
Medicinal usage: This herb has been used for centuries in Asia for gynaecological problems, as a diuretic, and for its relaxing and soothing effect. It invigorates the blood circulation, reduces swellings, and is also used for eye problems and high blood pressure.
Other usage: In Central and South America, this plant is utilized as a mild intoxicant, nicknamed marihuanilla (’little marihuana’).
Note: The literal translation of the Chinese name of this plant, 细叶益母草, is ‘benefit-the-mother-herb’, referring to its use for gynaecological problems. However, it must not be taken during pregnancy, as it may cause miscarriage.

 

 

Taiwan 2016
White-flowered form of Siberian motherwort, var. albiflora, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Leucaena leucocephala White leadtree
Other English names: River tamarind, white popinac.
Family: Pea family (Fabaceae).
Distribution: Native to southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize, but now naturalized throughout the tropics and parts of the subtropics.
Medicinal usage: In traditional Chinese medicine, the root and seeds are used for skin problems and arthritis.
Notes: The specific name is from the Greek leuko (‘white’) and kephalos (‘head’), referring to the dense, round inflorescense.

White leadtree is considered an invasive in numerous countries, see elsewhere on this website, Nature: Invasive species.

 

 

Taiwan 2008
Flowers of white leadtree are much visited by bees. – Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2014d
Seed pods of white leadtree, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Lygodium japonicum Japanese climbing fern
Other English names: Vine-like fern.
Family: Schizaeaceae.
Distribution: Native to eastern Asia, from India east to Japan, south through Southeast Asia to New Guinea. Introduced to the United States, South Africa, and Australia.
Medicinal usage: Stem, leaves, and root are much used in Chinese herbal medicine, chiefly as an invigorator of the blood circulation, but also as an anti-inflammatory in swellings and wounds, for shingles, tuberculosis, and toothache, and as a diuretic.
Note: In the south-eastern states of North America, the species has become an invasive, and today it is considered an unwanted plant.

 

 

Taiwan 2017b
Taiwan 2017b
Japanese climbing fern is very common in Taiwan, mostly found on eroded slopes at lower altitudes, here in the Bagua Shan Mountains. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Lysimachia nummularia Moneywort
Other English names: Twopenny grass, string-of-souvereigns, creeping loosestrife, creeping Jenny, creeping Charlie, wandering tailor, serpentaria.
Family: Primrose family (Primulaceae).
Distribution: Native all over Europe, east to the Ural Mountains, growing in open, humid areas. Naturalized in eastern United States, where it is regarded as an invasive in several states.
Medicinal usage: For hundreds of years, fresh leaves of moneywort were being used to staunch blood and heal wounds, and the species was also utilized to treat gout.

English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654): Moneywort is singularly good to stay all fluxes (…) bleeding inwardly or outwardly, and weak stomachs given to casting. It is very good for the ulcers or excoriations of the lungs.[‘to stay’ is an old expression for ‘to stop’]

He further says that it is good for treatment of whooping-cough, ”being boyled with wine or honey (…) it prevaileth against that violent cough in children, commonly called the chinne-cough, but it should be chine-cough for it doth make as it were the very chine-bone to shake.”

Other usage: Roman historian Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.) says that loosestrife, added to the hair, imparts a blond tint to it.
Notes: The generic name Lysimachia is derived from the Greek lysimakhos, of lysis (’release from’) and makhe (’strife’), thus meaning ‘to end a strife’ – which also explains the English name loosestrife. In Ancient Greece and Rome, a popular belief was that loosestrife was an effective remedy to calm down furious persons. Pliny the Elder says that if two bullocks start a fight and don’t want to be under the same yoke, you calm them down by placing loosestrife on the yoke.

The specific name nummularia, as well as a number of popular names, including twopenny grass and string-of-souvereigns were given in allusion to the round leaves of this species. Other names, including creeping loosestrife, Creeping Jenny, and Creeping Charlie, refer to its creeping stems. The name serpentaria refers to an old superstition that wounded snakes would lie on top of moneywort to heal their wounds.

 

 

Moneywort is easily identified by its creeping stems, round leaves, and rather large, yellow flowers. This picture is from Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Matricaria chamomilla German chamomile
Other scientific names: Matricaria recutita, Chamomilla recutita.
Other English names: Wild chamomile, scented mayweed.
Family: Composites (Asteraceae).
Distribution: Native of south-eastern Europe and western Asia. Cultivated in large parts of Europe, and in North America, and Australia, often becoming naturalized.
Medicinal usage: Today, flowerheads of German chamomile are collected and dried to be used as tea, which is a very efficient remedy for colds, sore throat, mouth ulcers, stomach ache, and colic. It is used for many other problems, such as allergies, diverticulitis (abdominal pain), fungal infections, insomnia, and heartburn, and also as a diuretic and a diaphoretic. Chamomile soothes inflammation, cramps, and menstrual pain. Externally, it is used for skin problems, including eczema, and for ulcers and burns, and a tincture is used to keep biting insects at bay.

In former days, it was used for many other diseases, such as bladder stones, flatulence, chest pain, tooth ache, bite of a mad dog, ‘heated brain’ (migraine?), bad nerves, etc.

Note: Other usage of chamomile, and its role in folklore, is dealt with on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

German chamomile is very common in the Greek island of Crete, where this picture was taken. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Melia azadirachta, see Azadirachta indica.

 

 

 

Nasturtium officinale Watercress
Other scientific names: Nasturtium nasturtium-aquaticum, Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum, Sisymbrium nasturtium-aquaticum.
Other English names: Brown cress, brooklime, scurvy-grass.
Family: Mustard family (Brassicaceae).
Distribution: Native to Temperate Eurasia and North Africa, but widely cultivated and often naturalized.
Medicinal usage: This species, and its near relative, narrow-fruited watercress (N. microphyllum), are very rich in vitamin C and were formerly much utilized to prevent outbreaks of the feared disease scurvy (see Citrus). They were also used for tuberculosis, paralysis, epilepsy, and constipation.

Greek physician Hippocrates of Kos (c. 460-370 B.C.) considered watercress a digestive stimulant, and also prescribed it for cough. English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) states that a lotion, made from bruised leaves or juice will free the face from blotches, spots, and blemishes. In Denmark, in the 1600s, fresh leaves were added to wine, and this decoction was utilized to rinse the teeth, ”removing filthiness, and resetting loose teeth.” Leaves, boiled in wine, were taken for painful urination.

In modern herbal medicine, Nasturtium species are regarded as important antioxidants, lowering the risk of cancer. They act as a diuretic, and also benefit the liver function. They are also used for colds, bronchitis, catarrh, gingivitis, and shingles. Taken in large quantities, watercress acts as a purgative.

Other usage: Widely used in salads and as a vegetable. It is much valued in cold countries, as it is an evergreen and can be harvested most of the year. In Ancient Rome, the plant was cultivated in irrigated ponds, a practice, which today takes place in numerous countries around the world. Seeds are ground and used as mustard.
Note: The name scurvy-grass refers to its usage as a remedy to prevent scurvy, whereas the specific name officinale indicates the medicinal properties of the plant.

 

 

Nepal 2008
Watercress, growing in a small stream in the Modi Khola Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Annapurna 2007
Woman with wild foods, collected in the forest: watercress and young ferns. – Chitre, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Nelumbo nucifera Sacred lotus
Other English names: Indian lotus, bean-of-India, Egyptian bean.
Family: Nelumbonaceae.
Distribution: From Iran through the Indian Subcontinent, east to southern China, Taiwan, and Japan, through Southeast Asia, Malaysia, and Indonesia to New Guinea and northern Australia.
Medicinal usage: The rhizome, leaves, and seeds are widely used in traditional Indian and Oriental medicine for treatment of numerous ailments. Leaves are used against vomiting of blood, nose-bleeding, and blood in the urine, flowers are used for diarrhea, cholera, fever, and intense thirst, and rhizomes have diuretic, anti-diabetic, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Note: The great role of the sacred lotus in Hinduism and Buddhism is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Cambodia 2009
Flower, fruit, and leaf of sacred lotus, near Siem Reap, Cambodia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Neopicrorhiza kurroa, see Picrorhiza kurroa.

 

 

 

Olea europaea Olive tree
Family: Olive family (Oleaceae).
Distribution: Native around the Mediterranean Sea. Widely cultivated in other subtropical areas.
Medicinal usage: Since biblical times, olive oil has been used to soften and beautify the skin, and it is also a good remedy against dry hair. When taken daily, it may protect against heart disease, and it may also lower the cholesterol level in the blood. New research has shown that it may prevent stroke, breast and colon cancer, arthritis, gout, and migraine. Warm oil, dripped into the ear, can relieve earache. The oil is also used as a laxative. An infusion of the leaves is taken for infections, colds, fever, flu, meningitis, herpes, shingles, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and diarrhoea. It is also applied to wounds and psoriasis.
Note: Other usage of the olive tree, and its role in folklore, is dealt with on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Europa 1972-2005
Olive trees can live for more than 2000 years. This ancient, gnarled tree was photographed on the Lassithi Plain, Crete. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Orchis, see Dactylorhiza.

 

 

 

Panax Ginseng
Family: Ivy family (Araliaceae).
Distribution: The genus Panax comprises 12 species, American ginseng (P. quinquefolius), which is found in eastern North America, and 11 species in eastern Asia (China, Korea, eastern Siberia, the Himalaya, and Vietnam).
Medicinal usage: For medical usage, the most popular species are Chinese ginseng (P. ginseng) and American ginseng. The first use of ginseng in Chinese medicine dates back to the famous classic herbal book 神農本草經 (Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing), which was written c. 200 A.D., its origin being attributed to the famous emperor and herbalist Shen Nong, who ruled about 2750 B.C. In this book, it is said: “Ginseng is a tonic to the five viscera, quieting the animal spirits, stabilizing the soul, preventing fear, expelling the vicious energies, brightening the eye, improving vision (…) and prolonging life.”

Today, ginseng is mainly taken for its restorative qualities, improving a poor immune system, increasing physical endurance, and treating chronic infection, diabetes, headache from exhaustion, depression, and, taken with Ginkgo biloba, dementia. It is also widely regarded as an excellent aphrodisiac, being a good remedy for erectile dysfunction, again taken with Ginkgo.

American ginseng was used by several Native American tribes for various ailments, including headache, ear ache, fever, stomach problems, and female infertility, and also as an aphrodisiac. Creeks used it for lung problems, the Chippewa people to prolong the life of a dying person.

Naga people of north-eastern India dry and grind roots of Himalayan ginseng (P. pseudoginseng), taking the powder orally to treat heart problems, diabetes, cancer, tuberculosis, and ulcers, and also as an aphrodisiac.

Other usage: Naga people eat the leaves of Himalayan ginseng as a vegetable. – Among several Native American tribes, American ginseng was regarded as a magic herb. Creeks would carry the root to ward off evil spirits.
Notes: Today, Chinese ginseng and American ginseng are both extremely rare in the wild, having been seriously over-harvested. American ginseng may even be extinct in the wild state. Both species, however, are widely cultivated, and, therefore, not at risk of becoming extinct.

The name ginseng is a corruption of the Chinese word 人參 (ren shen), meaning ‘man-root’, in allusion to the root, which resembles a human torso with two legs (see photo).

 

 

USA 2000-01
Ginseng root, probably from American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), sold as Chinese medicine, price US$ 110 per pound. – Chinatown, Flushing, Long Island, United States. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Rolwaling 2004
Fruiting Himalayan ginseng (Panax pseudoginseng), Rolwaling Valley, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Perilla fruticosa, see Elsholtzia fruticosa.

 

 

 

Petasites hybridus Common butterbur
Other scientific names: Tussilago hybrida.
Other English names: Lagwort, umbrella plant, bog rhubarb, flapperdock, blatterdock, capdockin, bogshorns, butterdock, plague flower.
Family: Composites (Asteraceae).
Distribution: Native to southern Europe and western Asia. Naturalized in northern Europe and North America.
Medicinal usage: For more than 2000 years, butterbur has been used to treat a variety of ailments, including fever, cough, lung diseases, spasms, and pains. A former name of this plant was plague flower, as it was believed to be one of the few helpful remedies for the dreaded disease. In his book A niewe Herball, from 1578, English botanist and antiquary Henry Lyte (1529?-1607) calls it “a soveraigne medicine against the plague,” and English herbalist John Gerard (c. 1545-1612) writes: “The roots dried and beaten to powder and drunke in wine is a soveraigne medicine against the plague and pestilent fevers, because it provoketh sweat and driveth from the heart all venim and evill heate; it killeth worms. The powder of the roots cureth all naughty filthy ulcers, if it be strewed therein.”

Herbalist Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) says: “It is a great strengthener of the heart and cheerer of the vital spirits. (…) if the powder thereof be taken in wine, it also resisteth the force of any other poison. (…) The decoction of the root in wine is singularly good for those that wheeze much or are shortwinded. (…) The powder of the root taketh away all spots and blemishes of the skin.”

Butterbur was also regarded as anti-allergenic and anti-inflammatory. Fresh leaves were applied to burns. The juice, mixed with pigeon dung, was used against sunburn and freckles.

Today, butterbur extract is used to prevent migraine and to treat allergic rhinitis (inflammation of the inside of the nose).

Note: Read about other usage of common butterbur, and about its role in folklore, on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Fyn 1967-2004
In northern Europe, female plants of common butterbur are very rare, and almost all populations are clones of male plants. – This picture is from Funen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Peucedanum graveolens, see Anethum graveolens.

 

 

 

Picrorhiza kurroa Black hellebore
Other scientific names: Neopicrorhiza kurroa.
Family: Plantain family (Plantaginaceae).
Distribution: Western Himalaya, from Pakistan to Uttarakhand.
Medicinal usage: For thousands of years, the rhizome has been used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine for digestive problems, jaundice, fever, allergy, asthma, skin problems, dysentery, and diarrhoea.
Notes: By the 1990s, the species had been harvested to near-extinction. In 1997, it was banned from international trade and is today a protected species. However, illegal collecting still takes place.

The generic name Picrorhiza is from the Greek picros (‘bitter’) and rhiza (‘root’). The specific name kurroa is derived from karu, the Punjabi name of the plant, which also means bitter.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Black hellebore can be identified by its long stamens, which are several times longer than the corolla. This plant was photographed in Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Pinus roxburghii Chir pine
Other scientific names: Pinus longifolia.
Other English names: Long-leaved pine.
Pinus wallichiana Blue pine
Other scientific names: Pinus excelsa, P. nepalensis.
Family: Pine family (Pinaceae).
Distribution: Both species are found in montane areas from Afghanistan across the Himalaya to south-eastern Tibet, blue pine also in south-western China.
Medicinal usage: In Ayurvedic medicine, the leaves of chir pine are used as a diuretic, the oil for rheumatic ailments, the resin for inflammations and various skin problems. In Nepal, the resin of chir pine is used for gastric problems, and also applied to cuts and wounds. The Tamang people of Nepal make tea from the resin of chir pine and drink it for cough and chest problems. A similar tea of blue pine is used for wounds.
Other usage: The seeds are roasted and eaten. In Nepal, honey dew from aphids living on the needles is eaten as candy. The wood is used for timber and furniture, and also to make charcoal. It yields turpentine. Paper, soap, cosmetics, paint, varnish, rubber, polish, and bangles are made from the resin. Tannin from the bark is used for dyeing.

Among the Tamang people of Nepal, blue pine is used for worship in temples.

 

 

Bark of Long-leaved Pine, Pinus roxburghii, Dubichour, Helambu, Nepal. Bark af Langnålet Fyr, Pinus roxburghii, Dubichour, Helambu, Nepal
The bark of chir pine is thick and deeply fissured. – Helambu, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Tapping resin from the trunk of a chir pine, Sairopa, Himachal Pradesh, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nepal 2009a
Forest of blue pine, growing on a steep, rocky slope in the Marsyangdi Valley, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Large cone of Blue Pine, Pinus wallichiana, between Bharku and Brabal, Langtang National Park, Nepal. Stor kogle af Tårefyr, Pinus wallichiana, mellem Bharku og Brabal, Langtang Nationalpark, Nepal
The cones of blue pine are much longer than those of chir pine, to 25 cm, while its needles are much shorter. – Langtang National Park, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Plaso monosperma, see Butea monosperma.

 

 

 

Podophyllum, see Sinopodophyllum.

 

 

 

Polypara, see Houttuynia cordata.

 

 

 

Portulaca oleracea Common purslane
Family: Purslane family (Portulacaceae).
Distribution: Today almost cosmopolitan. Possibly native to the Middle East or India, but introduced by Man elsewhere at an early stage, and present in North America in pre-Columbian times.
Medicinal usage: In Ancient Rome, the healing properties of purslane were so highly esteemed that naturalist Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.) advised wearing the plant as an amulet to expel all evil. Today, purslane is recommended for treatment of abnormal uterine bleeding. It is antibacterial and antiscorbutic, and is regarded as a diuretic and a febrifuge. A poultice of the leaves is applied to burns, skin diseases, and insect stings. Juice of the leaves is used for earaches. The seeds are utilized as a vermifuge.
Other usage: In Europe, eaten as a vegetable since Antiquity, and also by native Americans in pre-Columbian times. Young leaves are excellent in salads. Seeds are ground into a powder and mixed with cereals in bread, pancakes etc. Ash of the burned plant is used as a substitute for salt.
Note: Greek scholar Theophrastos (c. 371 – c. 287 B.C.) mentions this plant, which he calls andrakhne, stating that it must be sown in April.

 

 

Tyrkiet 2018e
Common purslane, growing among flagstones, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Primula veris Cowslip
Other English names: Key flower, Herb Peter, Our Lady’s keys, palsy wort.
Family: Primrose family (Primulaceae).
Distribution: Temperate Eurasia.
Medicinal usage: Cowslip has been used medicinally for hundreds of years, among others by the Celtic druids. It was utilized as a treatment for rheumatism, paralysis, spasms, and cramps, hence its popular name palsy wort. An oil, extracted from the flowers, was used to treat bruises.

Today, it is recommended for treating hyper-activity and sleeplessness, especially in children. Dried flowers and leaves are used for tea, a fine remedy for restlessness and insomnia. Flowers and root are used as a diaphoretic and diuretic, and as an expectorant for treating bronchitis, laryngitis, fever, cough, and flu.

Notes: Other usage of cowslip, and its role in folklore, is dealt with on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

Many other primrose species are presented on the page Plants: Primroses.

 

 

Vorsø 1988-99
Cowslip in morning light, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Prunella vulgaris Common self-heal
Other English names: Heal-all, woundwort, carpenter’s herb.
Family: Mint family (Lamiaceae).
Distribution: Probably a native of Temperate Eurasia and North Africa, but widely naturalized, especially in North America, where it is found from Newfoundland south to Florida, and across the continent.
Medicinal usage: English herbalist John Gerard (c. 1545-1612) writes: “There is not a better wound herbe in the world than that of Self-Heale (…) for this very herbe, without the mixture of any other ingredient (…) will be brought into the form of a salve, which will heal any green wounde, even in the first intention, after a very wonderful manner. The decoction of Prunell, made with wine and water, doth join together and make whole and sound all wounds, both inward and outward.” – Another herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654), says: “Self-Heal whereby when you are hurt, you may heal yourself. It is an especial herb for inward or outward wounds.”

English botanist William Coles (1626–1662), also called William Cole, writes in Adam in Eden, or Nature’s Paradise. The History of Plants, Herbs, Flowers (1657): “(…) Brunella, from Brunellen, which is a name given unto it by the Germans, because it cureth that inflammation of the mouth which they call ‘die Breuen’.” (Cole was mistaken, as the German name of the plant is Braunelle, and the inflammation, which is not in the mouth, but in the throat, is called Bräune).

Among American natives, persons with fever were bathed in a decoction of self-heal. This decoction was also drunk to sharpen your vision.

Today, self-heal is still used for wounds and quinsy.

Notes: The generic name, formerly spelt Brunella, is from the German name of the plant, Braunelle, referring to the usage of the plant against quinsy (in German Bräune).

In his delightful book All about Weeds, American botanist Edwin Spencer (1881-1964) writes: “It is a strange plant in that one seldom finds it in abundance anywhere, and yet it is found everywhere. A man, who had spent seven years in Japan, and who had lived on nearly every island in the archipelago, said that he never failed to find this little plant wherever he went, and that although he had been in many nations of the world he had never entered one, where Prunella was not present to greet him – not many plants, but always enough to attract his attention.”

 

 

Alperne 2016
In former days, common self-heal was a very common field weed, but today you only occasionally come across large growths, such as this one in the Bluntau Valley, Salzburg, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Jylland 2013-15
Close-up of common self-heal, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Prunus amygdalus Almond tree
Other scientific names: Prunus dulcis.
Family: Rose family (Rosaceae).
Distribution: Native to Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkestan. Widely cultivated around the Mediterranean, in Central Asia, California, and elsewhere.
Medicinal usage: Almond is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. It reduces the risk of cancer, dementia, and Alzheimer, lowers cholesterol levels in the blood, and is an aid in weight loss. It is used for chapped lips, and also as a mild laxative. Formerly, it was taken as an aphrodisiac.
Note: Other usage of the almond tree, and its role in folklore, is dealt with on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Tunesien 1987
Flowering almond tree, Mezzouna, Tunisia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Prunus avium Wild cherry
Other English names: Morello.
Prunus cerasus Sour cherry
Family: Rose family (Rosaceae).
Distribution: The native area of wild cherry was probably from France across Europe to Caucasus, whereas that of sour cherry probably was the Near East. Both species are now cultivated in numerous countries around the world.
Medicinal usage: A traditional advice says that cherries are a good remedy for gout, and, in fact, a modern Norwegian experiment has shown that cherries do indeed speed up excretion of uric acid. The level of uric acid in the blood of ten healthy women fell about a fifth after ingestion of cherries. The dark red colour of sour cherries and red morellos stems from antocyanins, and research indicates that these substances can prevent rheumatism, diabetes, and colon cancer. Antocyanins are also good anti-oxidants, which can subdue infections.
Note: Other usage of cherries, and their role in folklore, is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Fyn 2
Fruits, called morellos, of a cultivated form of wild cherry. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Pueraria montana ssp. lobata Kudzu
Other English names: Japanese arrowroot.
Family: Pea family (Fabaceae).
Distribution: Native to southern China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, the Philippines, New Guinea, and the Pacific. Introduced elsewhere.
Medicinal usage: Kudzu, in Chinese gé gēn, is widely used in traditional medicine for numerous ailments, including measles, headache, dizziness, tinnitus, dysentery, diarrhoea, colds, fever, and stiff back and neck. Root, flowers, and leaves are excellent antioxidants. In Japan, an herbal drink is made from the powdered root.
Other usage: Kudzu has been used for erosion control, especially in the United States. In Brazil and other places, it is utilized as a soil improver due to the nitrogen-fixing bacteria in its root. It is also used for grazing, especially by goats. The root contains starch and has been used for food in East Asia for hundreds of years. A fine, grapefruit-tasting jelly is made from the flowers. The stems fibers are used for making baskets, clothes, and paper. In southern U.S., kudzu is utilized to make compost, soap, and lotions.
Notes: The species is regarded as a serious invasive in the United States and New Zealand, and in the latter country it has been declared an ‘unwanted organism’.

 

 

Taiwan 2014d
Taiwan 2015
Kudzu, photographed in Taiwan, where it is a native. The lower picture shows its furry seed pods. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Punica granatum Pomegranate
Family: Loosestrife family (Lythraceae).
Distribution: Probably native to Iran, eastwards to western Himalaya, but is widely cultivated, and has become naturalized around the Mediterranean and in the Middle East.
Medicinal usage: Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.) recommended pomegranate root bark to expel tapeworms – an efficient, but nauseating method. Juice and rind are anti-inflammatory, having a high content of anti-oxidants. Pomegranate is probably an efficient remedy against breast, colon, and prostate cancer. The leaves, which have antibacterial properties, are applied to wounds. In Ayurvedic medicine, the bitter rind is used to treat dysentery, and in the West for diarrhoea.
Note: The great role of pomegranate in Christian and Greek mythology is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Flowering pomegranate, western Turkey. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Pyrethrum parthenium, see Tanacetum parthenium.

 

 

 

Pyrus aucuparia, see Sorbus aucuparia.

 

 

 

Quercus robur Common oak
Other English names: English oak, pedunculate oak.
Quercus petraea Sessile oak
Other English names: Cornish oak, durmast oak.
Family: Beech family (Fagaceae).
Distribution: Common oak and sessile oak are both native to most of Europe, and further east through Turkey to the Caucasus and northern Iran.
Medicinal usage: In former days, a decoction of the astringent oak bark and leaves was utilized for treating countless ailments, including diarrhoea, frostbite, haemorrhoids, rashes, epilepsy, coughing blood, poisoning, hair loss, volvulus, tuberculosis, and throat infections, to mention but a few. A poultice of fresh leaves was applied to wounds.
Notes: Other usage of oak trees, and their role in folklore, is dealt with on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry, whereas pictures of other species may be seen at Plants: Ancient and huge trees.

 

 

Old and twisted common oak, Bornholm, Denmark. Wild cherry (Prunus avium), common male fern (Dryopteris filix-mas), and common honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) are also seen. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Jylland 2016
Ancient sessile oak, Lake Almind, Silkeborg, Denmark. This species can be told from the common oak by its darker, shiny, less indented leaves. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Ricinus communis Castor oil plant
Other English names: Castor bean, Palm of Christ.
Family: Spurge family (Euphorbiaceae).
Distribution: Castor oil plant is probably indigenous to the Middle East and north-eastern Africa. It has been widely cultivated elsewhere for thousands of years. Today, it is a widespread weed in almost all tropical and subtropical areas.
Medicinal usage: Research has shown that this species possesses anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antipyretic, anti-asthmatic, and antihistamine properties. In Nepal, the plant is utilized for numerous ailments. Juice of the root is used for skin problems, diarrhoea and dysentery, and as a purgative. Powder from the dried root is used for jaundice and nervous disorders. A paste of the bark is applied to cuts and wounds. A poultice of the leaves is applied to treat boils and rheumatism, and also to the forehead to relieve fever and headache. A paste of the flowers is applied to infected wounds. Oil from the seeds is used for haemorrhoids, liver problems, rheumatism, diarrhoea, gout, and skin diseases, such as ringworm. Cotyledons are given to infants to expel intestinal worms, and a paste of them is used for scabies and gout. In the Nepal lowland, women eat one cotyledon per day as a contraceptive.

The Naga people of north-eastern India apply leaves to the forehead to relieve headache, and a paste of the leaves is applied as a poultice on boils and pimples. As an antidote, seeds are roasted and eaten, and as a purgative they are mixed with seed husks of Rhus simialata.

In former days, the seed oil was used as a powerful laxative.

Note: Other usage of this plant, and its role in folklore, is dealt with on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Taiwan 2012a
Castor oil plant with a young red leaf and an inflorescence with red female flowers above and white male flowers below, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Rorippa, see Nasturtium.

 

 

 

Ruta graveolens Rue
Other English names: Herb of Grace, Herb of Repentance.
Family: Citrus family (Rutaceae).
Distribution: Probably native to the Balkans and Ukraine. It was cultivated in other parts of Europe as early as the 10th Century, today almost worldwide.
Medicinal usage: Rue was much used by the Ancients. Greek physician Hippocrates of Kos (c. 460-370 B.C.) recommended it, and it was a major ingredient of an antidote to poison, used by Mithridates VI of Pontus (134-63 B.C.). Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.) stated that rue made the eye sight sharp and clear, especially when the vision had become dim through over-exertion of the eyes, and painters of his time would devour a great quantity of it. In the Middle Ages, monks who were copying manuscripts in dim light would also use it.

Tacuinum Sanitatis, a medieval handbook on wellness, which was based on the تقويم الصحة (Taqwīm as‑siḥḥah, or ‘Maintenance of Health’), an Arab medical treatise, written by a Christian physician, Ibn Buṭlān (died 1068), states that rue has the following properties: “Its nature is warm and dry in the third degree. Its optimum is when grown near a fig tree. Its medical usage is that it sharpens the eyesight and dissipates flatulence. Its dangers are that it augments the sperm and dampens the desire for coitus. This can be neutralized by consuming foods that multiply the sperm.” [The expression “grown near a fig tree” alludes to the fact that rue prefers to grow in slightly shady places.]

In Denmark, in the 1400s, leaves of rue and laurel were crushed and mixed with earthworms and vinegar, and this ointment was applied to the forehead to treat headache. In the 1500s, a mixture of crushed rue and dog shit was applied to bubos (plague boils). In 1625, Pietro Piperno, a Neapolitan physician, recommended rue for epilepsy and vertigo, and if you were suffering from the former, you should wear this herb around your neck. English herbalist John Gerard (c. 1545-1612) writes: If a man be anointed with the juice of rue, the poison of wolf’s bane, mushrooms, or todestooles, the biting of serpents, stinging of scorpions, spiders, bees, hornets and wasps will not hurt him.”

Another English herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654), recommends an ointment of rue for sciatica and pains in the joints, and the juice for “the shaking fits of agues [malaria], to take a draught before the fit comes.” He also says that ”the juice thereof warmed in a pomegranate shell or rind, and dropped into the ears, helps the pains of them. The juice of it and fennel, with a little honey, and the gall of a cock put thereunto, helps the dimness of the eyesight.”

In Denmark, in the early 1800s, a mixture of rue and honey was applied to the umbilicus to expel intestinal worms.

In today’s herbal medicine, rue is considered to be stimulating and antispasmodic, and is often employed, in form of a warm infusion, as an efficient remedy for menstrual flow. It is also used for headache connected with over-exertion, rheumatism, sprains, gall bladder problems, hysteria, cough, colic, and flatulence. Externally, an ointment of bruised leaves will ease the severe pain of sciatica. A strong decoction of the plant, when applied to the chest, is useful for chronic bronchitis.

Formerly, the leaves were used by farmers to treat croup in poultry, and also various cattle diseases.

Note: The great role of rue in folklore is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Jylland 2000-05
Cultivated rue, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Salmalia malabarica, see Bombax ceiba.

 

 

 

Sambucus nigra Common elder
Other English names: Black elder, pipe tree, bore tree.
Family: Moschatel family (Adoxaceae).
Distribution: Native to Europe and North Africa, east to Caucasus. Naturalized in North America.
Medicinal usage: Elder is highly esteemed for its medicinal properties. English herbalist John Evelyn (1620-1706) writes in praise of it: “If the medicinal properties of its leaves, bark and berries were fully known, I cannot tell what our countryman could ail for which he might not fetch a remedy from every hedge, either for sickness, or wounds.” Flowers and fruits are taken as tea or soup against sore throat, colds, flu, and fever, and as a diuretic. They are also an effective remedy for allergy and hay-fever.

In former days, the green bark of young branches was used for skin problems, and also as a laxative. Elderflower-water was used as a skin tonic.

Supposedly, sheep with foot-rot will be cured, when they eat bark and young foliage of elder.

Note: Other usage of elder, and its role in folklore, is dealt with on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Sjælland 2012-15
Closeup of an inflorescence of common elder, Zealand, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Vorsø 1988-99
Fruits of common elder, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Saponaria officinalis Soapwort
Other English names: Latherwort, bouncing bet, sweet Betty, wild sweet William, fuller’s herb, hedge pink, Boston pink, lady-at-the-gate, mock-gilliflower.
Family: Carnation family (Caryophyllaceae).
Distribution: The native area of soapwort is probably the Middle East, but it has been commonly cultivated in Europe and North America for hundreds of years, now being widely naturalized, especially along roads and railways.
Medicinal usage: Formerly, soapwort was widely used in folk medicine, as a tonic, a diaphoretic, and a laxative, for rheumatism, and for jaundice and other visceral problems. A decoction was applied to itchy skin, and to induce sneezing. It was also used for venereal diseases, when mercury had failed. Around 1900, on the island of Lolland, Denmark, a decoction of soapwort root was utilized to treat burns. Among American natives, a poultice containing soapwort was applied over a painful spleen.

Today, it is used for respiratory problems, such as bronchitis and laryngitis.

In his excellent book The Green Pharmacy, American botanist and herbalist James A. Duke (1929-2017) recommends the juice of soapwort as the best remedy, if you have been into contact with certain plants, which contain the toxic urushiol, including Toxicodendron species such as poison oak, poison ivy, and poison sumac, and also in parts of the mango tree (Mangifera indica). Simply smear the soapwort juice over the affected area. A picture of poison oak (T. diversilobum) is shown on the page Nature: Autumn.

Notes: Other usage of soapwort, and its role in folklore, is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Sjælland 2006-11
Soapwort, southern Zealand, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Sarothamnus scoparius, see Cytisus scoparius.

 

 

 

Saxifraga ciliata, see Bergenia ciliata.

 

 

 

Serenoa repens Saw palmetto
Family: Palm family (Arecaceae).
Distribution: Atlantic coast of North America, from Texas through Florida to South Carolina.
Medicinal usage: Saw palmetto fruits have expectorant and soothing properties, and traditionally they have been taken for sore throat, cough, colds, bronchitis, and asthma. Research indicates that they are a good remedy for impotence. The fruits have also been used for migraine headache, chronic pelvic pain, bladder problems, and prostate cancer, but new research has not confirmed that the species is effective in treating any of these medical conditions. It may, however, be effective for treatment of benign enlargement of the prostate.

Formerly, the fruit was used by the Seminoles and the Bahamians to treat fish poisoning. It was also taken as an aphrodisiac.

Other usage: In pre-Columbian North America, saw palmetto fibres were widely traded. The leaves are still used for thatching by several indigenous peoples. The fruit is edible and nutritious and was collected for food by several native tribes.
Notes: Saw palmetto is extremely slow-growing, and some plants in Florida may be 500-700 years old.

The generic name Serenoa honours Sereno Watson (1826-1892), who joined the Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel as botanist. From 1867 to 1872, this survey conducted field work in western United States. Later he became curator of the Gray Herbarium at Harvard University.

The name saw palmetto refers to the numerous sharp spines on the leaf-stalk.

 

 

Pine forest with Saw Palmetto, Serenoa repens, Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia, USA. Fyrreskov med Saw Palmetto, Serenoa repens, Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia, USA
USA 2000-01
Saw palmetto, Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia, United States. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Sinapis alba White mustard
Family: Mustard family (Brassicaceae).
Distribution: Native of the Mediterranean and West Asia. It has been introduced to numerous other countries, in many places become naturalized.
Medicinal usage: In his book Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets, English gardener and vegetarian John Evelyn (1620-1706) writes: ”When in the leaf, mustard, especially in young seedling plants, is of incomparable effect to quicken and revive the spirits, strengthening the memory, expelling heaviness, (…) besides being an approved antiscorbutic.”

Today, white mustard is regarded as an emetic and a diuretic. It is also used for treatment of arthritis, rheumatism, and sciatica, for hypothyroidism, and for Raynaud’s disease (‘white fingers’). A paste of the seeds is applied to the skin to increase blood circulation.

Other usage: Cultivated as an oil plant. A mild mustard is produced from the seeds, more pungent mustards coming from the seeds of black mustard (Brassica nigra). Young leaves can be used as salad (compare Evelyn above).
Note: Another species of mustard, the leaf mustard (Brassica juncea), is presented elsewhere on this website, see: In praise of the colour yellow.

 

 

Lolland-Falster-Møn 1970-86
Siliques of white mustard, cultivated in Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Bornholm 2008b
Old-fashioned method of producing mustard, by rolling a heavy stone ball over the seeds, Melstedgård Agricultural Museum, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Sinopodophyllum hexandrum Asian may-apple
Other scientific names: Sinopodophyllum emodi, Podophyllum hexandrum, P. emodi.
Other English names: Himalayan may-apple, Indian may-apple, Chinese mandrake.
Family: Barberry family (Berberidaceae).
Distribution: Afghanistan, the Himalaya, Tibet, and western China.
Medicinal usage: This species, especially root and fruit, is anti-inflammatory and purgative, and it promotes the discharge of bile. The root is also used for rheumatism. The plant contains podophyllin, which interferes with cell division, thus being able to prevent growth of cancer cells. It has been used with success in treatment of ovarian cancer.
Other usage: Cultivated as an ornamental. The fruit is edible when fully ripe, but toxic when unripe.
Notes: This species is extremely poisonous. Over-exploitation for medicinal purposes has endangered the plant. It is now protected, but illegal collecting is still taking place.

The generic name Sinopodophyllum is derived from the Latin sino (Chinese), and the Greek poús (foot) and phýllo (leaf), thus ‘Chinese foot-leaf’, referring to the large and broad leaves. The English name may-apple refers to the early flowering of a related American species, Podophyllum peltatum.

 

 

Nepal 2002
Nepal 2009
Asian may-apple, its leaves still not fully unfolded, photographed in early June (top); and with fruits, in September (bottom). Both pictures are from Langshisa, Langtang National Park, Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Sisymbrium, see Nasturtium.

 

 

 

Solanum nigrum Black nightshade
Other English names: Garden nightshade, garden huckleberry, hound’s berry, petty morel, duscle, wonder berry.
Family: Nightshade family (Solanaceae).
Distribution: Native of central and southern Europe. Naturalized in most parts of the world.
Medicinal usage: In traditional European folk medicine, black nightshade was used for inflammation, gout, swelled testicles, and ulcers. In former times, Arabs would apply crushed leaves to reduce pain and inflammation. Today, it is used as a diuretic, and for fever, colds, and cough.

In Nepal, black nightshade is used as a laxative, febrifuge, stimulant, and tonic, and for headache, painful joints, enlargement of the liver, haemorrhoids, dysentery, fever, and wounds, and the ripe fruit is used for diarrhoea, eye problems, and rabies. Juice of the leaves is used for dysentery, and it also makes a good mouth wash for ulcers.

Among the Naga people of north-eastern India, an extract of the plant is used to relieve muscular pain, and a paste from it is applied to the skin to relieve stings from nettles and bees. Leaves and fruits are used for malaria, high blood pressure, and bladder infection.

In the Himalaya, black nightshade is regarded as an aphrodisiac.

In Chinese medicine, it is used for fever, inflammation and cancer, and also as a diuretic.

In North America, crushed leaves are applied to sunburns, and in the Amazon, a related species is used for all kinds of burns.

Other usage: Some subspecies of black nightshade contain a toxic alkaloid, solanin, but the content varies tremendously between the subspecies, and non-toxic forms are eaten as a vegetable in several Asian countries. In former times, non-toxic forms were also eaten as spinach around the Mediterranean. Ripe berries are eaten raw in several African and Asian countries.

 

 

Taiwan 2010
Black nightshade, Rueilli, Taiwan. The red flowers in the background are a species of balsam, Impatiens walleriana. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Sorbus aucuparia Rowan
Other English names: Mountain ash.
Family: Rose family (Rosaceae).
Distribution: Native to Europe and West Asia.
Medicinal usage: As the content of vitamin C in rowan fruits is high, they were formerly taken to prevent scurvy. They were also utilized for other ailments, including diarrhoea, arthritis, and dysentery, and the bark was used for malaria. In modern herbal medicine, they are used for sore throat and laryngitis, and, due to their astringent properties, as a remedy for haemorrhoids and strangury. A decoction of the bark is given for diarrhoea and leucorrhoea (vaginal discharge).
Note: Other usage of rowan, and its role in folklore, is dealt with on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Free-standing rowan trees produce a profusion of fruits. – Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Stachys officinalis Purple betony
Other scientific names: Stachys betonica, Betonica officinalis.
Other English names: Wood betony, bishop’s wort.
Family: Mint family (Lamiaceae).
Distribution: Indigenous to Eurasia and North Africa, but widely cultivated elsewhere.
Medicinal usage: Betony was held in high esteem by the Greeks as well as the Romans. Greek-Roman botanist Antonius Musa (64-14 B.C.), chief physician to Emperor Augustus, maintained that it was a certain cure for no less than 47 diseases. An old Italian proverb says: “Sell your coat and buy betony,” whereas a Spanish proverb says: “He has as many virtues as betony.”

English herbalist John Gerard (c. 1545-1612) tells us that it preserveth the lives and bodies of men from the danger of epidemical diseases. It helpeth those that loathe and cannot digest their food.” He proceeds to say that the herb cures jaundice, palsy, convulsions, gout, dropsy, and head troubles, and that ”the powder mixed with honey is no less available for all sorts of colds or cough, wheezing, of shortness of breath and consumption,” and “the decoction made with mead and pennyroyal is good for putrid agues” [malaria].

Taken with wine it is good as a vermifuge, ”and also removes obstructions of the spleen and liver (…) gargled in the mouth easeth the toothache (…) It is a cure for the bites of mad dogs (…) A dram of the powder taken with a little honey in some vinegar is good for refreshing those that are wearied by travel. It stayeth bleeding at the nose and mouth, and helpeth those that spit blood, and is good for those that have a rupture and are bruised. The green herb bruised, or the juice, applied to any inward hurt, or outward wound in body or head will quickly heal and close it up. It will draw forth any broken bone or splinter, thorn or other thing gotten into the flesh, also healeth old sores or ulcers and boils.” [‘Stayeth’ is an old expression for ‘to stop’.]

In modern herbal medicine, an infusion is recommended for anxiety, headache, dizziness, and nerve pain.

Note: Other usage of betony, and its role in folklore, is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Alperne 2017a
Large growth of purple betony, Col de la Madelaine, French Alps. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Stachys palustris Marsh woundwort
Other English names: Clown’s woundwort, all-heal, marsh hedge-nettle.
Family: Mint family (Lamiaceae).
Distribution: Native to temperate Eurasia. Naturalized in North America.
Medicinal usage: Since the Middle Ages, this plant had a great reputation as a vulnerary, testified by two of its old folk names, all-heal and woundwort.

English herbalist John Gerard (c. 1545-1612) strongly recommended it in his Great Herball, saying that in Kent he accidentally heard of a countryman who had cut himself severely with a scythe, and had bound a quantity of this herb, bruised with grease and ”laid upon in manner of a poultice” over the wound, which healed in a week, though it would ”have required forty daies with balsam itself.”

Gerard continues: ”I saw the wound and offered to heal the same for charietie, which he refused, saying I could not heal it so well as himself – a clownish answer, I confesse, without any thanks for my good-will: whereupon I have named it ’clown’s woundwort’.” Later, Gerard ”cured many grievous wounds, and some mortale, with the same herbe.”

Formerly, American natives also employed marsh woundwort as a poultice on wounds, and the herb was eaten to reduce mucus when coughing. It was also an ingredient in a medicine used for venereal diseases.

In modern herbal medicine, woundwort is employed for its antiseptic and antispasmodic properties, relieving gout, cramp and pains in the joints and vertigo. Fresh juice of the leaves is made into a syrup and taken internally to stop haemorrhages, dysentery, etc.

Other usage: Cultivated as an ornamental. The roots are edible and nutritious. In former times, they were used in bread.

 

 

Vorsø 2000-15
Marsh woundwort, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Stellera chamaejasme
Other scientific names: Stellera bodinieri, Wikstroemia chamaejasme.
Family: Daphne family (Thymelaeaceae).
Distribution: Central Asia.
Medicinal usage: In Nepal, a decoction of the root is applied to aching joints, a decoction of the bark to sprains. In traditional Chinese medicine, the root is used for treatment of tumours, and to destroy internal parasites, expel water retention, and clear phlegm. It is also a traditional remedy for treatment of asthma and skin problems.
Other usage: Paper and twine are made from the root.
Note: The specific name chamaejasme is from the Greek, chamai, meaning ‘low’, or ‘near the ground’, and jasme (‘jasmine’), in allusion to its jasmine-like flowers.

 

 

Annapurna 2007
Stellera chamaejasme, Muktinath, Mustang, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Symphytum officinale Common comfrey
Other English names: Boneset, knitbone, knitback, bruisewort, blackwort, ass ear, slippery-root.
Family: Forget-me-not family (Boraginaceae).
Distribution: Native to parts of Temperate Eurasia. It has become naturalized in North America, Japan, and Australia.
Medicinal usage: The healing properties of comfrey have been known for hundreds of years. English herbalist John Gerard (c. 1545-1612) writes: A salve, concocted from the fresh herb, will certainly tend to promote the healing of bruised and broken parts.” Another herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654), says: Comfrey restrains spitting of blood. The root boiled in water or wine and the decoction drank, heals inward hurts, bruises, wounds and ulcers of the lungs, and causes the phlegm that oppresses him to be casily spit forth…. A syrup made there of is very effectual in (…) outward wounds or sores in the fleshy or sinewy parts of the body, and to abate the fits of agues [malaria] and to allay the sharpness of humours. A decoction of the leaves is good for those purposes, but not so effectual as the roots. The roots being outwardly applied cure fresh wounds or cuts immediately, being bruised and laid thereto; and is specially good for ruptures and broken bones, so powerful to consolidate and knit together that if they be boiled with dissevered pieces of flesh in a pot, it will join them together again.”

Today, an ointment of comfrey root is used as a very effective remedy for bruises, sprains, and minor fractions, stimulating tissue repair. It is also used for haemorrhoids, varicose veins and ulcers, and for heartburn and dandruff. – In some parts of Ireland, comfrey is eaten as a cure for defective circulation and poverty of blood.

Other usage: In England, comfrey roots, together with chichory and dandelion roots, were formerly used to make substitute coffee.
Notes: Comfrey ointment should not be applied to open wounds, only along the margins.

The generic name Symphytum is from the Greek symphyo (’to make grow together’) and phyton (’plant’), like its common names comfrey (from the French conserve), boneset, knitbone, knitback, and bruisewort, referring to its bone- and bruise-healing properties. The specific name officinale also refers to its medicinal properties.

 

 

Europa 1972-2005
Common comfrey, West-Friesland, Holland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Tamus nepalensis, see Dioscorea deltoidea.

 

 

 

Tanacetum parthenium Feverfew
Other scientific names: Chrysanthemum parthenium, Pyrethrum parthenium.
Other English names: Featherfew, featherfoil, flirtwort, bachelor’s button, bride’s button.
Family: Composites (Asteraceae).
Distribution: A native of south-eastern Europe, Turkey, and the Caucasus. Widely cultivated, has become naturalized in most of Europe, North America, Chile, and elsewhere.
Medicinal usage: Greek physician, pharmacologist, and botanist Pedanius Dioscorides (died 90 A.D.), who was the author of De Materia Medica (five volumes dealing with herbal medicine), wrote that feverfew is anti-inflammatory. In Ancient Rome, it was used for uterus problems – and also for foetus expulsion!

Since the Middle Ages, this plant has been used for many ailments, including migraine headaches, fever, uterus problems, tooth ache, hysteria, nervousness, depression, dropsy, arthritis, constipation and other digestive disorders, and as a carminative.

Today, it is mostly used for migraine headache, but also for allergies and irregular menstruation. Taken with sugar or honey, it is supposedly good for coughs and difficulty of breathing.

Certain American indigenous tribes made a tea from leaves and top shoots of a near relative, tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), drinking it as a stimulant. A decoction of the same species was utilized as an emetic, to clean wounds, to regulate menstruation, to cure bloody diarrhea, and finally to promote sweating.

Note: Other usage of feverfew, and its role in folklore, is dealt with on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Fyn 2005-09
Cultivated feverfew, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Taraxacum officinale Dandelion
Other scientific names: Taraxacum vulgare, T. densleonis.
Other English names: Lion’s tooth, cankerwort, milk-witch, Irish daisy, monks-head, priest’s-crown, blowball, puff-ball, face-clock, pee-a-bed, wet-a-bed, swine’s snout, and many others.
Family: Composites (Asteraceae).
Distribution: Native of the Northern Hemisphere. Naturalized elsewhere.
Medicinal usage: Dandelion was first mentioned as a medicinal herb by Arabian physicians in the 10th or 11th Century, who called it a sort of wild endive (see Cichorium intybus elsewhere on this page), under the name of tharakhchakon, which was corrupted to Taraxacum.

In today’s herbal medicine, the fresh leaves are used as a diuretic, for kidney and liver disorders, for dyspepsia, and as a mild laxative. Research indicates that dandelion may prevent osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease, and it is effective in treatment of bronchitis and pneumonia. A strong decoction is used for stone and gravel.

Among the Tamang people of Nepal, a decoction of the leaves is drunk to cure body ache. Elsewhere in Nepal, juice of the root is given for stomach disorders.

Among Kiowa tribals in the United States, a decoction of the flowers was taken by women with a cramped menstruation, whereas Tewa tribals would mix mashed leaves with water and tie this mixture around broken bones. From the root, a slightly purgative drink was made, which was also taken for cough and chest pains, and to increase milk production in women.

A near relative, Mongolian dandelion (Taraxacum mongolicum), is utilized in Chinese herbal medicine for a number of ailments, such as tonsillitis, jaundice, urinary dysfunction, red and swollen eyes, and sores, especially breast and intestinal boils. It also promotes lactation.

Note: Read about other usage of dandelion, and its role in folklore, on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Sjælland 1969-2005
Dandelion often grows in cities, here in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Thea sinensis, see Camellia sinensis.

 

 

 

Tilia × europaea Common linden
Other English names: Common lime.
Family: Mallow family (Malvaceae).
Distribution: Common linden, a natural hybrid between small-leaved linden (Tilia cordata) and large-leaved linden (T. platyphyllos), is widely cultivated, but has become naturalized at scattered localities across Europe.
Medicinal usage: Traditionally, tea made from linden flowers, and oil from the wood, were taken to treat numerous ailments, including headache, colds, cough, fever, infections, epilepsy, stomach trouble, gravel, high blood pressure, and as a diuretic, and as a sedative in cases of anxiety and insomnia. The bark was used for infections and burns.
Note: Other usage of linden trees, and their role in folklore, is dealt with on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Sjælland 2006-11
Autumn foliage of linden species is of a warm yellow colour. This picture shows an avenue of common linden, Zealand, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Trillium erectum Purple trillium
Other English names: Red trillium, birthroot, bethroot, squawroot, wake-robin, stinking Benjamin.
Family: Melanthiaceae.
Distribution: Eastern North America, from Quebec south to North Carolina.
Medicinal usage: In the Appalachian Mountains, native tribes used the dried root to treat post-partum haemorrhage and excessive menstrual flow. Some tribes also considered the root an effective aphrodisiac. The boiled root can be used to treat dysentery and diarrhoea. – Other species of this genus are used for respiratory problems, such as cough, bronchitis, and asthma, and for fever.
Other usage: Cultivated as an ornamental. – Some witches regard purple trillium as a magic herb.
Notes: The generic name Trillium was given by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus, or Carl von Linné (1707-1778), in allusion to the tripartite leaves of the genus. The names squawroot and birthroot, and a corruption of the latter, bethroot, refer to the usage of the root for post-partum haemorrhage and excessive menstrual flow. (The word squaw is of Algonquian origin, meaning ‘woman’.)

The name wake-robin was given in allusion to the early flowering of this species, at about the time, when the first American robins (Turdus migratorius) would return from their southern wintering areas. The name stinking Benjamin refers to the unpleasant smell of the plant, a bit like rotting meat.

 

 

USA 2002-10
Purple trillium, Shu Swamp, Long Island, United States. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Tussilago farfara Colt’s-foot
Other English names: Coughwort, horse-hoof, ass’s foot, bull’s foot.
Family: Composites (Asteraceae).
Distribution: Native of Temperate Eurasia and North Africa. Naturalized in North and South America.
Medicinal usage: Greek physician, pharmacologist, and botanist Pedanius Dioscorides (died 90 A.D.), who was the author of De Materia Medica (five volumes dealing with herbal medicine), and Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.) both recommend inhaling smoke from burning colt’s-foot leaves for cough. Pliny further recommends that the smoke is drawn into the mouth through a reed and swallowed, sipping a little wine between each inhalation. To derive the full benefit from it, it had to be burnt on cypress charcoal.

Still today, herbal tea, made from the dried leaves, is regarded as an excellent remedy against coughs, catarrh, wheeziness, asthma, and chronic bronchitis, but as the species contains poisonous alkaloids, it should not be taken during pregnancy and while breast-feeding. Today, however, certain cultivated varieties are non-toxic.

Note: Other usage of colt’s foot, and its role in folklore, is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

LFM 1987-2020
This picture shows colt’s foot, growing in a natural habitat of this species, a clayey spring at the foot of a chalk cliff, Møns Klint, Denmark. Otherwise, it is a very common weed in water-logged, clayey fields. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Tussilago hybrida, see Petasites hybridus.

 

 

 

Urtica dioica Common nettle
Other English names: Stinging nettle.
Family: Nettle family (Urticaceae).
Distribution: Native area unknown, probably Eurasia. Today found in most parts of the world.
Medicinal usage: The old herbalists recommended nettle for a number of diseases, including jaundice, tuberculosis, ague (malaria), dysentery, frostbite, stone and gravel, rheumatism, and gout. Seeds, taken inwardly, would be helpful for stings or bites of venomous creatures and mad dogs, and as an antidote to poisoning by hemlock (see Conium maculatum elsewhere on this page), henbane (see Hyoscyamus niger), and nightshade (see Solanum nigrum).

People suffering from arthritis would utilize the curious practice of urtication – thrashing the affected limbs with fresh nettles, which, according to one wise woman in Denmark, would “awaken the nerve ends.”

For stimulating hair growth, the old herbalists recommended combing the hair daily with nettle juice.

New research has shown that nettle root is an efficient remedy for enlarged prostate. Nettle leaves are diuretic, blood-cleansing, anti-inflammatory, and anti-allergenic. They are used for a huge number of ailments, such as nasal and respiratory problems (including asthma, bronchitis, and even tuberculosis), for bladder infections, gingivitis, sciatica, laryngitis, and hives.

Persons, suffering from multiple sclerosis, may relieve the pain by flailing themselves with fresh nettles. Due to their high content of iron and vitamin C, the leaves are a good remedy for anaemia. Nettle tea is considered to be helpful against rheumatism, arthritis, and gout.

Among the Tamang people of Nepal, a paste of the root and leaves is taken orally for bone fracture. Elsewhere in Nepal, a decoction of the root is taken for asthma, cough and colds. A paste of the root is applied to dog bites. Juice of the root, or a paste of the fruits, is applied to dislocated bones. Juice of the stem is taken for fever, and a decoction of the leaves to treat jaundice and menstrual disorders.

If you are stung by a nettle, the juice of dock (Rumex), applied to the affected area, will afford instant relief. An old rhyme says:

 

Nettle in, dock out.
Dock rub nettle out!

 

Nettle sting may also be cured by rubbing the part with leaves of rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis), mint (Mentha), or sage (Salvia officinalis).
Note: Other usage of nettle, and its role in folklore, is dealt with on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Vorsø 2000-15
Common nettle, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Valeriana jatamansii Jatamansi valerian
Other scientific names: Valeriana wallichii, V. spica, V. villosa.
Family: Valerian family (Valerianaceae).
Distribution: Montane areas, from Afghanistan across the Himalaya to western China.
Medicinal usage: In traditional Indian medicine, this species is used for fever, blood and liver ailments, eye diseases, hysteria, hypochondria, and nervous disorder. A paste of the root is applied to wounds, and also to the forehead to relieve headache. In Nepal, a paste of the plant is applied to boils. The root is used for hysteria, insomnia, rheumatism, cholera, nausea, and pimples.

In the West, a related species, Valeriana officinalis, is used for treating various ailments, including heart trouble, high blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, and hives.

Other usage: The root and rhizome contain an essential oil, used as incense.
Notes: The specific name jatamansii is a compound word, consisting of two parts. Jata refers to a hairstyle with matted and entwined hair, sometimes rolled up on the crown of the head, as it is worn by the Hindu god Shiva, and by Hindu ascetics, sadhus. The part mansi means ‘meat’, referring to the fibrousness of the root of a related species, the spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi), which is likened to the ‘strings’ of meat. Spikenard was a sacred plant in Ancient India.

Jatamansi valerian is threatened due to excessive collecting.

 

 

Uttarakhand 2008
Jatamansi valerian, Dharkot, Uttarakhand, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Verbascum thapsus Great mullein
Other English names: Bullock’s lungwort, clown’s lungwort, torches, Our Lady’s candle, Our Lady’s flannel, Adam’s flannel, velvet dock, blanket herb, velvet plant, rag paper, beggar’s blanket, cuddy’s lungs, duffle, feltwort, fluffweed, hare’s beard, old man’s flannel, wild ice-leaf, candlewick plant, Aaron’s rod, golden rod, Jupiter’s staff, Jacob’s staff, Peter’s staff, shepherd’s staff, shepherd’s clubs, beggar’s stalk, hag’s taper.
Family: Figwort family (Scrophulariaceae).
Distribution: Native of Temperate Eurasia. Naturalized in North America.
Medicinal usage: Formerly, mullein was used for numerous ailments, including cough, colds, tuberculosis, diarrhoea, constipation, ague (malaria), haemorrhoids, dysentery, colic, catarrh, hernia, and tooth ache. Crushed leaves in vinegar was applied to burns.

In his book Adam in Eden, or Nature’s Paradise. The History of Plants, Herbs, Flowers (1657), English botanist William Coles (1626-1662), also called William Cole, says that: “Husbandmen of Kent do give it their cattle against the cough of the lungs, and I, therefore, mention it because cattle are also in some sort to be provided for in their diseases.”

Certain American tribes soaked the leaves in water and applied them to artritic limbs, and also on the throat for diphtheria. A warm decoction made from the root was drunk against pains, and as a mild laxative. People of the Potawatomi tribe inhaled the smoke from dried leaves against asthma, and the smoke was also blown on an unconscious person.

Today, mullein juice, made from boiled flowers, is used for a number of respiratory problems, such as bronchitis, asthma, laryngitis, flu, cough, and colds. Its astringent properties make it useful for bleeding of the lungs and bowels, and for diarrhoea. A poultice of the leaves is used for haemorrhoids. Mullein oil is anti-inflammatory.

In Nepal, a poultice of the root is applied to muscular swellings and wounds. Mixed with local liqueur it is taken for diarrhoea. A paste of the plant is employed to treat asthma, lung problems, cough, and constipation.

Note: Read about other usage of mullein species and their role in folklore on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Lahaul-Ladakh 2014
Great mullein, Lahaul, Himachal Pradesh, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Verbena officinalis Common vervain
Other English names: Herb of grace, holy herb, enchanter’s plant.
Family: Vervain family (Verbenaceae).
Distribution: Native to central Europe and the Mediterranean. Naturalized in North America.
Medicinal usage: Vervain tea is taken for headache, migraine, nausea, urinary tract infection, and menstrual irregularities, and also for anxiety and nervous tension. It is an excellent remedy for poor appetite and has been used successfully to treat anorexia nervosa. It is also an effective diuretic, and it is said to improve liver and gall bladder functions.
Note: Other usage of vervain, and its role in folklore, is dealt with on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Frankrig-Spanien 2007
Common vervain, Roncal, Navarra, Spain. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Vernicia montana Mu oil tree
Other scientific names: Aleurites montana, A. cordata.
Family: Spurge family (Euphorbiaceae).
Distribution: India, Indochina, southern China, and Taiwan.
Medicinal usage: Despite being highly toxic, parts of the mu oil tree are used in traditional Chinese medicine as an emetic and an anti-inflammatory, and as a vermifuge. The seed oil is a strong purgative and is also used for treatment of wounds, burns, and parasitic skin diseases. It is a component of nearly all Chinese plasters. An extract from the fruit is antibacterial.
Notes: Other usage of the mu oil tree is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry, and more pictures of it are shown at Plants: When the mu oil tree is flowering.

 

 

Taiwan 2018d
In Taiwan, where this picture was taken, the mu oil tree displays a profusion of white flowers in April-May. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Veronica beccabunga Brooklime
Other English names: Water pimpernel, becky leaves, cow cress, horse cress, housewell, limpwort, water-pumpy, well-ink.
Family: Plantain family (Plantaginaceae).
Distribution: Native to Temperate Eurasia and North Africa, naturalized elsewhere.
Medicinal usage: In former days, brooklime was used for many ailments, including tuberculoses, swellings, and gout. The leaves were applied to bruises and burns. Juice from the plant was taken to prevent scurvy.

In Denmark, in the 1400s, a sick midwife was advised to eat brooklime, boiled in pig fat. Danish herbalist Henrik Smid (c. 1495-1563) says that the plant, eaten as salad, will dissolve bladder stones and expel urine, dead embryos, and ‘female impurities’.

Note: Other usage of brooklime, and its role in folklore, is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Sjælland 1969-2005
Brooklime, Zealand, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Veronica officinalis
English names: Heath speedwell, common speedwell, common gypsyweed, Paul’s betony.
Family: Plantain family (Plantaginaceae).
Distribution: Native to Europe and Asia Minor, naturalized in North America.
Medicinal usage: Formerly, this species was highly esteemed for treatment of numerous ailments, including congestion, haemorrhage, neurological disorders, infections of the throat, and heart trouble, and as a diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, and tonic. It is told that the gout of Emperor Charles V of Spain and Rome (1500-1558) was much relieved due to the use of this herb.

A decoction of heath speedwell is still taken today for cough and catarrh and is also an effective remedy for wounds and skin problems. Research has shown that it contains a glycoside, aucuboside, which is thought to be anti-inflammatory.

In former days, pregnant women among certain American natives drank a decoction of the root before setting out on a journey. The same decoction was taken as a sedative and analgesic by people with fever.

In Denmark, it seems that speedwell species were formerly used to generate abortions.

Other usage: The tea-like smell of the plant led to its use as a tea substitute in 19th-century France, where it was called Thé d’Europe.

Heath speedwell, boiled in sulfuric acid, can be used for dyeing, giving black colour.

Notes: The specific name officinalis refers to the medicinal properties of this species, whereas the name speedwell is from Old English, meaning ‘to thrive’, referring to the vigorous growth of many Veronica species. Regarding the popular name Paul’s betony, British botanist Adams observes: “It is almost incredible how much confusion and mistake has arisen about these terms. [i.e. Betonica] With respect to the Betonica of Paul of Ægina, the most probable opinion is (…) that it was either the Veronica officinalis, common male speedwell, or the V. serpyllifolia, smooth speedwell.”

Paulus Aegineta (c. 625-690), in English Paul of Aegina, was a Byzantine Greek physician, who wrote a medical encyclopedia.

 

 

Bornholm 2008
Heath speedwell, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Viola tricolor Wild pansy
Other English names: Heartsease, love-lies-bleeding, love-in-idleness, live-in-idleness, loving idol, cuddle me, Jack-jump-up-and-kiss-me, meet-me-in-the-entry, kiss-her-in-the-buttery, three-faces-under-a-hood, kit-run-in-the-fields, pink-o’-the-eye, godfathers and godmothers, stepmother, pink-eyed-John, bouncing bet, flower o’luce, bird’s eye, bullweed.
Family: Violet family (Violaceae).
Distribution: Temperate Eurasia and North Africa. Naturalized in North America.
Medicinal usage: English herbalist John Gerard (c. 1545-1612) states: “It is good, as the later physicians write, for such as are sick of ague, especially children and infants, whose convulsions and fits of the falling sickness it is thought to cure. It is commended against inflammation of the lungs and chest, and against scabs and itchings of the whole body and healeth ulcers.” [Ague is an old word for malaria, and ‘falling sickness’ is an old expression for epilepsy.]

The flowers were used for heart diseases, giving rise to the popular name heartsease, and the plant was employed as a demulcent and an expectorant.

Today, certain species of Viola, among these V. tricolor, are used for their strong anti-inflammatory and diuretic properties. They are also an excellent remedy for colds and bronchitis, and for various skin problems, such as eczema and psoriasis. The root and seeds are emetic and purgative.

Note: Other usage of wild pansy, and its role in folklore, is dealt with on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

viola-tricolor_resize
Wild pansy, Funen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Viscum album Common mistletoe
Other English names: Birdlime.
Family: Sandalwood family (Santalaceae).
Distribution: Temperate and subtropical Eurasia; North Africa.
Medicinal usage: Traditionally, mistletoe has been used for internal haemorrhage, insomnia, tinnitus, apoplexy, and epilepsy. Formerly, in Sweden, persons afflicted with epilepsy would carry a knife with a mistletoe handle to ward off fits.

Today, it is used for high blood pressure, and as a nervine, antispasmodic, and tonic. New research seems to indicate that it may benefit people with cancer. – In Nepal, a paste of the plant is used for bruises, wounds, boils, sprains, and dislocated bones. Juice of the bark is applied to muscular swellings.

Notes: Read about the great role of mistletoe in folklore on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

Other mistletoe species are presented at Plants: Parasitic plants.

 

 

Europa 1972-2005
These poplars near Le Blanc, France, are heavily infested with mistletoes. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Volkameria infortunata, see Clerodendrum infortunatum.

 

 

 

Wikstroemia chamaejasme, see Stellera chamaejasme.

 

 

 

Zingiber officinale Ginger
Family: Ginger family (Zingiberaceae).
Distribution: Probably a native of the Indian Subcontinent. It is no longer found in the wild.
Medicinal usage: In China and India, the usage of ginger as medicine goes back over 5000 years. In Ayurvedic texts, it is called “a universal great medicine”, and an old Indian proverb says that “everything good is found in ginger.” According to traditional Chinese medicine, it “restores devastated yang” and “expels cold.”

Today, ginger is probably the most popular medicinal herb in the world. Its main usage is boosting the immune system, stimulating blood circulation and the digestive system, and treating colds, cough, fever, flu, nausea, vomiting, and morning-sickness during pregnancy. However, it is useful for numerous other ailments, including indigestion, angina, depression, dizziness, sciatica, Raynaud’s disease (‘white fingers’), ulcers, arthritis, chronic fatigue, hives, dandruff, and travel sickness.

Note: Other usage of ginger, and its role in folklore, is dealt with on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.

 

 

Taiwan 2003-05
Freshly harvested rhizomes of ginger, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Ziziphus mauritiana Indian jujube
Other English names: Ber, Chinese date, Chinee apple.
Family: Buckthorn family (Rhamnaceae).
Distribution: Indian jujube is probably a native of India and Southeast Asia, but has been widely cultivated for more than 4000 years. Today it is naturalized in numerous countries, from southern Africa across the Middle East to China, and also in Australia and the Pacific Islands.
Medicinal usage: The fruit is taken for various lung ailments, cough, fever, indigestion, and gall bladder problems. The dried fruit is a mild laxative. The seeds are sedative, used for diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, and dysentery. A poultice of bark, fruits or seeds is applied to wounds and rheumatic areas. A poultice of the leaves is applied for liver problems, asthma, and fever. A decoction of the root is given for fever, to expel tapeworms, and to increase menstrual flow.
Other usage: The fruit is tasty, eaten dried, candied, pickled, and as so-called ber butter, and also taken as a beverage. It is very rich in vitamin C, second only to guava (Psidium guajava). Ripe fruits are dried in the sun, ground, and kept for out-of-season. In Ethiopia, the fruits are used as fish poison. The flowers yield honey.

The wood is hard and yields excellent timber, used as well lining, and for boats, tools, and legs for bedsteads. It is also used as firewood and makes good charcoal. In certain African countries, the thorny shrubs are made into corral fences to protect livestock. The seed oil can be utilized as excellent biodiesel.

Note: The species is invasive in northern Australia, where it has become a serious threat to the environment.

 

 

Myanmar 2007
Fruiting Indian jujube, Bagan, Myanmar. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Asien 1977-78
Boys, selling jujube berries along the road, Sibi, Baluchistan, Pakistan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Myanmar 2007
Drying jujube fruits, Myanmar. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

FUNGI

 

 

Lycoperdon perlatum Common puffball
Other English names: Warted puffball, gem-studded puffball, Devil’s snuff-box.
Calvatia gigantea Giant puffball
Other scientific names: Langermannia gigantea.
Family: Agaricaceae.
Distribution: Cosmopolitan; giant puffball, however, only in temperate regions.
Medicinal usage: Formerly, the spores, or the fungus itself, was applied to wounds as a styptic. It was sucked into the nose to stop nosebleeds, and also applied to frostbite and to raw skin on the feet. In an old Danish book, it is said: “Formerly, most soldiers knew of this treatment, when they on their long marches, in burning summer heat, had been sunburned and gotten patches of raw skin.”

Puffballs have also been utilized as painkillers, for stomach ache, and to reduce swelling, fever, and cough.

In Schleswig, northern Germany, the spores were formerly used to treat diarrhoea in calves.

Other usage: Most puffballs are edible when young, but with little taste. Common puffball is reported to have a higher content of protein than most other fungi.
Notes: The generic name Lycoperdon is from the Greek lykos (’wolf’) and perdon (‘to fart’), i.e. ‘wolf-fart’, referring to the puff of spores, emitted when you press the mature puffball.

In former days, in Denmark, it was believed that adders were living in puffballs, and that children could become blind, if the spores blew into their eyes.

 

 

Lolland-Falster-Møn 1970-86
Common puffball is also called warted puffball or gem-studded puffball, both names referring to the crystal-like projections on the surface. – Møn, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Jylland 1967-76
Giant puffball produces hundreds of thousands of spores. – Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

ANIMALS

 

 

Blattidae Cockroaches
Distribution: Almost worldwide.
Medicinal usage: In traditional Chinese medicine, cockroaches are used against a number of ailments, such as abdominal problems, stroke, and bone fractions, and also as an anti-ageing agent. An ethnic minority in the Yunnan Province used cockroaches to treat open wounds. New research has shown that these animals contain at least nine different antibacterial substances, and one substance is able to kill AIDS virus.
Other usage: For hundreds of years, cockroaches have been utilized as food in northern China. A cream, containing intestines of cockroaches and other ingredients, is applied by Chinese women to their skin to keep it young.
Note: In China, a booming industry is producing skin cream and medicine from millions of cockroaches, kept in captivity.

 

 

Many species of cockroach have adapted to a life in cities, where they are often an immense nuisance. - Bontoc, Luzon, Philippines Mange kakkerlak-arter har tilpasset sig til at leve i byer, hvor de ofte er en voldsom plage. - Bontoc, Luzon, Filippinerne
Cockroach in a bathroom, Bontoc, Luzon, Philippines. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Cervidae Deer
Distribution: Various deer species are distributed in Eurasia, north-western Africa, and the Americas. Red deer (Cervus elaphus) has been introduced to New Zealand.
Medicinal usage: In traditional Chinese medicine, deer antlers in velvet are utilized for various ailments, such as joint and bone problems, and calcium deficiency, and also as a growth tonic for children, as a remedy against old age, and as an aphrodisiac. – Deer penis is reported to have important therapeutic properties. It is sliced into small pieces, roasted, and dried in the sun. In former days, in Taiwan, women were reported to consume deer penis during pregnancy, as they believed it would make the mother and child stronger. The Ancient Mayans were also known to roast deer penis, and Greek physician Hippocrates of Kos (c. 460-370 B.C.) recommended it as an aphrodisiac.
Other usage: In their entire area of distribution, deer are hunted for their delicious meat, and the antlers are valued as trophies. Deer penis is eaten as a delicacy in certain Chinese restaurants.
Notes: In several countries, deer are kept in captivity for production of velvet antler, the largest suppliers being New Zealand with 450-500 tons annually, mostly from red deer (Cervus elaphus), and China with about 400 tons annually, mostly from sika deer (Cervus nippon).

Many deer species and subspecies are threatened due to excessive hunting, combined with habitat loss.

 

 

Deer antlers in velvet for sale as traditional Chinese medicine, Kowloon, Hong Kong Hjortegevirer i bast sælges som traditionel kinesisk medicin, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Deer antlers in velvet for sale, Kowloon, Hong Kong. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Indien 1994
Sambar deer (Cervus unicolor), grazing on succulent water plants in a lake, Ranthambhor National Park, Rajasthan, India. A grey heron (Ardea cinerea) is using its back as a lookout post. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Vorsø 1988-99
Roe buck (Capreolus capreolus), crossing a pond in Nature Reserve Vorsø, Horsens Fjord, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Californien 2011a
Female and immature mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), Point Reyes National Seashore, California. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nordindien 1982
Spotted deer stag (Axis axis) drinking at a waterhole, together with a peafowl (Pavo cristatus), Sariska National Park, Rajasthan, India. A rufous treepie (Dendrocitta vagabunda) is sitting on its back. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Tibet 1987
Poster in Lhasa, Tibet, announcing traditional Chinese medicine for sale: deer antlers, and gall bladders of bears. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Chilopoda Centipedes
Distribution: Almost worldwide.
Medicinal usage: In traditional Chinese medicine, centipedes are called ’heavenly dragons’, and medicine made from them is used for various ailments, including tetanus, seizures, headache, cancer, and snakebite. It is also employed to treat wounds and serious skin problems. This medicine, however, is very poisonous and should be used with caution.

 

 

Centipede, c. 20 cm long, in a limestone cave, Niah National Park, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia. Skolopender, ca. 20 cm lang, i en kalkstenshule, Niah National Park, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia
This centipede, c. 20 cm long, was found in a limestone cave in Niah National Park, Sarawak, Borneo. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Cicadidae Cicadas
Distribution: Almost worldwide.
Medicinal usage: In Chinese traditional medicine, cicada moults are used for treatment of a number of ailments, including fever, swollen eyes, sore throat, measles, spasms, tetanus, itching caused by rubella, and also to remove nebula.

 

 

Taiwan 2009
Cicada, clinging to a tree trunk, Sun-Moon Lake, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Taiwan 2010
Cocoon, or moult, of a cicada, still clinging to the tree, Chingshuian Recreation Area, Taiwan. These moults are widely used in Chinese folk medicine. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Gekko gecko Tokay gecko
Family: Gekkonidae.
Distribution: Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Philippines, Indonesia, Melanesia.
Medicinal usage: In Chinese medicine, tokay geckos are used for various ailments and diseases, including stroke, paralysis, arthritis, impotence, premature ejaculation, frequent urination, nocturnal urination, and emaciation. New research has shown that it has a positive effect on malignant tumours, especially in the digestive system.
Notes: Formerly, in China, a number of superstitions were related to the tokay gecko. It was believed that its urine was deadly poisonous. If a pregnant woman consumed it, she was certain to deliver a boy. As tokay geckos mate for a very long time, it was believed that consuming them would cure impotency.

Today, the species is threatened due to over-collection and habitat loss. However, in the Florida Keys, United States, where it has been introduced, it has become invasive.

 

 

Filippinerne 1984
Tokay gecko on a house wall, Mindoro, Philippines. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Kina 1987
Tokay geckos, conserved in spirits, displayed for sale in a shop in Wuzhou, Guangxi Zhuang, China. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Moschidae Musk deer
Distribution: Central Asia, Siberia, China, Himalaya.
Medicinal usage: Musk, produced from the musk gland of the male musk deer, has been utilized in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for more than 5,000 years. It is estimated that musk is currently being used in as many as 400 Chinese and Korean traditional remedies, employed in treatment of disorders of the nervous system, blood circulation, heart, and lungs. The musk is also reported to possess anti-inflammatory, antihistaminic, stimulating, and sedative properties. In India, it has been used as an aphrodisiac for thousands of years.
Other usage: The musk has been widely used in the perfume industry for thousands of years.
Notes: In 747, armies of the Chinese Tang Dynasty (618-907) and the First Tibetan Empire, ruled by Songtsan Gampo (c. 604-650), clashed on the banks of the famous Oxus River – now called Amu Darya – in what is today the Wakhan Corridor of north-eastern Afghanistan. The outcome of this battle would decide, which empire was in control of the route, leading through the Kingdom of Bolor, and over the Darkot Pass (4703 m) into the Indus Valley – an important branch on the ancient trading route of Central Asia, the Silk Road. Who controlled this pass, controlled the export of musk glands from the north-western part of the Indian Subcontinent – a commodity, which was worth 30 times its weight in silver. Incidentally, the Chinese army won the battle.

Several musk deer species are threatened due to excessive hunting of the males. According to TRAFFIC, which is monitoring international wildlife trade, and WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature), 17,000-20,000 musk deer males are killed annually, in Russia alone, to supply the illegal trade in glands. (Source: National Geographic News, 2004)

 

 

A male Himalayan musk deer (Moschus chrysogaster) enjoys his meal of old-man’s-beard lichens (Usnea), which have fallen to the forest floor. Male musk deer are hunted heavily for their musk gland, with which they mark their territory. The musk is used in traditional folk medicine, and for perfume. – Khumbu, E Nepal En han af Himalaya-moskushjort (Moschus chrysogaster) nyder sit måltid, bestående af skæglav (Usnea), som er faldet ned på skovbunden. Hannerne er genstand for intensiv jagt på grund af deres moskuskirtel, med hvilken de afmærker deres territorium. Denne moskus anvendes i traditionel medicin samt til parfume. – Khumbu, østlige Nepal
This male Himalayan musk deer (Moschus chrysogaster) is enjoying his meal of old-man’s-beard lichens (Usnea), which have fallen to the forest floor. The picture was taken in the Khumbu area, eastern Nepal, where this species is fairly common and rather confiding, as the local Sherpas, who are Buddhists, do not harm any wild animals. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Panthera tigris Tiger
Family: Cats (Felidae).
Distribution: Tropical Asia, China, Russia (Ussuriland).
Medicinal usage: For more than a thousand years, tiger parts have been utilized in traditional Chinese medicine; the claws as a sedative for insomnia; the teeth for fever; the fat for leprosy and rheumatism; the nose skin for wounds; the bones for rheumatism and arthritis, dysentery, headache, and stiffness or paralysis of lower back and legs; the eyeballs for epilepsy and malaria; the tail for skin diseases; the bile for meningitis in children; the whiskers for tooth ache; the brain for laziness and pimples; the penis for usage in love potions, and as an aphrodisiac; the faeces for boils and haemorrhoids, and to cure alcoholism.

Western medical experts tend to discount all claims of any curative power in tiger bone, and it is well known that aspirin contains similar properties and produces many of the same results as tiger prescriptions in patients. Despite this, in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, and in Chinatowns across Europe and North America, Chinese medical shops do a steady trade in ‘tiger wine’, tiger powder, tiger balm, and tiger pills. Many Asian communities believe that tiger bone, taken as powder or in ’tiger wine’, soothes rheumatic pain and cures ulcers, malaria, and burns. (Source: www.tigersincrisis.com/traditional_medicine.htm)

Notes: The tiger is critically endangered due to excessive trophy hunting in the 1900s, and widespread poaching today, combined with habitat loss. The total world population may be less than 5,000. According to TRAFFIC, which is monitoring international wildlife trade, a minimum of 1,590 tigers were seized by officials between January 2000 and April 2014, feeding the illegal wildlife trade. (Source: WWF – Worldwide Fund for Nature, 2016)

 

 

Sydasien 1980
These two tigers enjoy a cooling dip in a waterhole on a hot day in May, Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nordindien 1991
Young tiger, well camouflaged in golden grass, Ranthambhor National Park, Rajasthan, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Rhinocerotidae Rhinos
Distribution: East & South Africa, India, Southeast Asia, Indonesia.
Medicinal usage: Rhino parts have been used as ingredients in traditional Asian medicine for at least 2000 years. Virtually every part of the animal is used: the horn for reducing fever and spasms; the skin for skin diseases; the penis as an aphrodisiac; the bones to treat bone disorders; the blood “as a tonic for women who are suffering from menstrual problems.” – In China, powdered horn is regarded as an aphrodisiac. However, chemical analyses have not revealed any active ingredients to suggest that the remedy could be effective in this respect. (Source: J. Still, 2003: Use of animal products in traditional Chinese medicine. In: Complementary Therapies in Medicine). In fact, western medical experts tend to discount all claims of any curative power in rhino horn. It is well known that aspirin contains similar properties and produces many of the same results as rhino prescriptions in patients.
Other usage: Formerly, rhino horn was used for adorning dagger sheaths in Yemen – a practice which may still take place.
Notes: Asian rhino horns are more highly prized than African rhino horns, as consumers believe that their smaller size means that they are more concentrated, and therefore more potent.

All five species of rhino are critically endangered due to widespread poaching, in Asia also due to habitat loss.

 

 

Greater one-horned rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis), Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India Indisk pansernæsehorn (Rhinoceros unicornis), Kaziranga Nationalpark, Assam, Indien
Greater one-horned rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis), Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Tanzania 1989
This bull black rhino (Diceros bicornis) is sniffing a tuft of grass, into which a female has urinated, baring its lips in a posture, called flehmen. The inhaled air passes a special sensing organ, which is able to detect whether the female is in heat. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Ursidae Bears
Distribution: Europe, Asia, North and South America, Arctic.
Medicinal usage: Bear gall bladders are much utilized in Chinese traditional medicine for treatment of skin problems and severe cases of red and swollen eyes, and also for clearing the eyesight, removing toxins and parasites from the body, alleviating spasms, increasing release of bile, improving absorption of vitamin D and calcium, and reducing fever, swellings, and pain.
Other usage: Bear paw soup is considered a valuable delicacy among many Asian peoples, including Chinese, Vietnamese, and Cambodians, supposedly giving the consumer the power and virility of a bear. One bowl of bear paw soup may cost as much as 1000 US$. Bear meat is also regarded as a delicacy in these societies.
Notes: Due to illegal hunting, bears have disappeared, or become very rare, in many areas, including Europe, Southeast Asia, Korea, China, and Taiwan. Many bears are kept in captivity to supply the various markets. In South Korea, for instance, only around ten Asian black bears, or moon bears (Ursus thibetanus), live in the wild, whereas c. 1600 are kept in captivity, often under horrible conditions. These captive bears are often killed in the most cruel and horrendous ways, and that this practice is illegal does not seem to deter consumers.

As numbers dwindled in other areas, the attention of poachers, in the 1990s, shifted to western North America, which houses a large number of brown bears (Ursus arctos) and American black bears (U. americanus). Since then, numerous bears have been illegally collected here, intended for Asian societies in American cities, to be served as bear paw soup, or for production of traditional medicine.

Today, five of the eight bear species are endangered.

 

 

Kina 1987
Bear gall bladders are much utilized in Chinese traditional medicine. This picture shows Asian black bear, or moon bear (Ursus thibetanus), photographed in Chengdu Zoo, Sichuan Province, China. This species is described on the page Culture: Folk art of Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Californien 2011
Female American black bear (Ursus americanus) with a cub, Sequoia National Park, Sierra Nevada, California. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Malaysia 1984-85
This young sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) was confiscated from poachers and is now kept in captivity, until it is old enough to be released in nature. – Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Sabah, Borneo. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Tibet 1987
Poster in Lhasa, Tibet, announcing traditional Chinese medicine for sale: bear gall bladders and deer antlers. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

(Uploaded January 2016)

 

(Latest update July 2019)