Every Wednesday, I hope to find a new ‘weed’ to investigate. My only criterion will be that I will not have deliberately planted the subject of our inquiry. Who knows what we will find…..
Dear Readers, I wonder if there was ever a plant quite as ramshackle-looking as Hemp Agrimony when it’s past its prime. The flower heads looks as if they are in need of a good comb, and when the seeds come the overall effect is of a gigantic thistle with bedhead. But if we look at the photograph above, we can see a hoverfly who is in no way put off by the general air of untidiness. For, of all the flowers that has self-seeded around my pond, Hemp Agrimony is among the most popular.
Like many plants whose blossom is made up of numerous small flowers, Hemp Agrimony’s nectar can be easily accessed by the more non-specialised pollinators, such as flies and hoverflies. And the multiplicity of blooms means that there is a lot of food in one place. Honeybees also have a great fondness for the plant, and when it’s sunny the bees drift drowsily over the dirty-pink flowers, which Richard Mabey compared to ‘whipped strawberry mousse’ in his book Flora Britannica.
Hemp Agrimony is a member of the Asteraceae, or Daisy family. You might expect that it has some psychotropic properties, what with it having the species name cannabinum, but this simply refers to the shape of the leaves. This doesn’t stop the occasional perfectly innocent Hemp Agrimony seedling being impounded of course, because botanical knowledge is not necessarily the first thing that they teach at Police Academy. Richard Mabey mentions that young Horse Chestnut trees have been taken into custody because their leaves also have a strange resemblance to the true Cannabis plant, at least if you’ve never seen one of the latter.
Hemp Agrimony is a native plant in the UK, and like so many plants that have been here for a while, it has some interesting folklore. One alternative name for the plant is ‘Holy Rope’ – the leaves of Hemp, which this plant resembles, were used to make rope, and it was believed that such a rope was used to bind Christ before his crucifixion. A more day-to-day belief was that if bread was placed on a bed of Hemp Agrimony leaves, it wouldn’t go mouldy. The plant has also been used medicinally, especially in the Netherlands where it was for jaundice, as a blood-purifier and as a cure for scurvy. It is said to be toxic, however, and it has been noticed that the iron-stomached goat is the only creature that will eat it.
Hemp Agrimony likes damp, shady places, and so is very at home beside the pond in my north-facing garden. It’s a perennial too, so all it needs is some cutting back to stop it becoming too much of an eyesore. I put the hollow stems beside the shed, where they will hopefully be used by hibernating insects. And next year, without any bother at all, it will be back as a late summer feast for pollinators. I am very happy to live with its wayward habit and general shagginess when the reward is such an abundance of insects and other invertebrates.
Resources this week include: Flora Britannica by Richard Mabey
The Plant Lives website
The A Modern Herbal website