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, how could you not love a plant with a name like ‘Hedge Woundwort’? It sounds like a character from a Tolkien novel. In fact, it is a member of the Deadnettle family, a native plant, and is described in my plant books as ‘common’. Well, common it might be, but I have never noticed it before this week, which just goes to show that I should pay more attention. Who knows what I might find?
The whole plant looks as if it’s in a state of full alert, from the stemmed leaves to the gaping, dragon-mouth flowers. There is something rather martial about it, compared to the softer look of, say, white deadnettle. The flowers remind me a little of tiny gargoyles, sticking out from a church tower.
As you might expect from its name, hedge woundwort has a fine reputation as a medicinal herb, especially in the treatment of bruises and lacerations. Its other common name was ‘Allheal’ as a result. The herbalist Nicholas Culpeper said that it was ‘inferior to none’ as a treatment for injuries, and in the seventeenth century John Gerard held the plant in very high esteem, and used it extensively. The Modern Herbal website tells us that in the nineteenth century the author of the Universal Herbal, a Mr Green, thought that if the leaves were rubbed to give off their rather foetid smell, this could act as a stimulant, rather like smelling salts.
We also learn from Mr Green that toads like to shelter under the leaves of the hedge woundwort, and that, although sheep and goats will eat the plants, hogs and horses refuse them. I have looked in vain for a photo of a toad sheltering under any kind of leaf, but here is a toad which could possibly be looking for something to shelter under. The photographer, Patrick Connolly (full credit below) tells us that this is a toad that has visited his garden for many years. I have not a single toad in my garden, so my jealousy knows no bounds.
I was rather intrigued by the genus name ‘Stachys’. This apparently comes from the Greek for ‘ear of grain’, and refers to the way that the flowers often grow in spikes, as can be seen in the closely related garden plant, Stachys byzantina. This plant, with its very hairy leaves, is a favourite with the European wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum), who scrapes off the ‘fluff’ and carries it away beneath her bodies to build her nest. It’s almost worth growing some to see if these insect harvesters turn up.
But, I digress, as usual. I have been trying to discover if Hedge Woundwort has any culinary uses, but it appears that the plant, while safe to feed to tortoises has limited culinary appeal. On Herbs 2000 it is suggested that the tuberous roots have been eaten, and have a ‘pleasant, nutty taste’. However although the shoots are said to have a ‘pleasing flavour’, they also ‘smell disgusting’. I think I will be leaving this one to the more intrepid foragers amongst you, and good luck!
Photo Two: By Jean-Pol GRANDMONT – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21409910
Photo Three: By Bruce Marlin – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=662209
All other photos copyright Vivienne Palmer. Free to use, but please attribute and include a link to the blog. Thank you!