Dear Readers, it is always such a delight when a new plant pops up alongside the pond. I have been watching this one for some weeks, so when it came into flower I was, for a moment, a little confused. Clearly it’s a deadnettle, but I thought it might be hedge woundwort (Stachys sylvatica). The pale pink flowers are a giveaway though, plus the leaves on the upper stem are stalkless. In addition, the leaves of hedge woundwort give off a rather unpleasant smell when crushed, whereas those of marsh woundwort are much less scented. Finally, as the name suggests, marsh woundwort likes damp places, and so here it is, nestled amongst the meadowsweet and the hemp agrimony.
Marsh woundwort is native to the UK and to most of Europe and Asia, and has been introduced to North America. Like all of the woundworts, it has a long history of use medicinally – in her ‘Modern Herbal‘, Mrs Grieve tells the following story:
This plant had formerly a great reputation as a vulnerary, being strongly recommended by Gerard in his Herbal. He tells us that once being in Kent, visiting a patient, 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.” ‘
Afterwards, however, Gerard himself used the plant to cure many ‘grievous wounds’, including some that were considered life-threatening. Mrs Grieve says that the plant, when harvested in July, just as it comes into flower, can be used to relieve gout, cramps, pains in the joints and vertigo. The fresh juice can be made into a syrup and used to alleviate haemorrhage and dysentery. In a more recent record, Monica Wilde, a forager and herbalist, records how marsh woundwort tea, and a poultice soaked in the liquid, helped to alleviate the symptoms from a very nasty insect bite. Very interesting stuff.
Marsh woundwort is also said to be edible – the roots, according to Mrs Grieve ‘are tuberous and can attain a considerable size’. When boiled, they are said to form ‘a wholesome and nutritious food, rather agreeable in flavour’. The roots were also dried, powdered, and added to bread and soup in the winter months when there was not much in the way of greens to eat. The shoots can also be eaten and are said to taste pleasant in spite of their disagreeable smell.
In Shetland, marsh woundwort, along with several other plants, was known as grice mooriks, with ‘grice’ meaning ‘pig’ and ‘moorik’ meaning ‘edible root’. So clearly it wasn’t just humans who found the roots palatable.
Like all deadnettle species, the flowers of marsh woundwort are popular with bumblebees. The caterpillars of the rather spectacular speckled yellow moth (Pseudopanthera macularia) can also be found feeding on woundworts of all kinds, and what a fine moth it is!
And finally, a poem. This is so atmospheric – set during the English Civil War, you can almost hear the hammering as the church is stripped of its angels and decoration, smell the smoke. See what you think.
Photo One by Ben Sale from UK, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons