Call of the Bugle--another Beneficial Herb

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman.

Walking through shady woodlands the other day I came across one of the prettiest flowers to occur there the common bugle, Ajuga reptans. Although you are just as likely to encounter this plant in gardens which they enhance they are just as pretty as when in its natural woodland home. This member of the Mint family the Labiatae flowers much earlier than the true mints and does not possess the same familiar scents as they do. It is a perennial rootstock that has a creeping habit-hence the species name of reptans indicating creeping. The plant has a long tradition as herbal medicine.

Bugle fowers

Bugle in full flower.Showing the purplish coloured foliage Photograph by D.A.L.
Bugle in full flower.Showing the purplish coloured foliage Photograph by D.A.L.
The flowers grow on erect spikes.Photograph by D.A.L.
The flowers grow on erect spikes.Photograph by D.A.L.

Basic Biology of Bugle

The flower spikes of the bugle are instantly recognisable especially in their woodland home. The tapering flower stalks reach a height of between 6-9 inches {15-23cm}. Along with the creeping root stock they send out runners in the manner of strawberry plants . Along this runner there appears a pair of leaves. At the point just below these leaves roots form which anchor themselves in to the soil. The runners die of during the winter, however, the anchored roots of the previous year await to develop into individual plants as the call of spring awakens them from their slumbers. This is the plants main way of reproduction for the seeds seldom fertilise. Thus without setting a single seed the parent plant may have many offspring around them. Over time large established colonies form in this manner.

The erect flower stalk is square {again typical of the mint family}. The lower leaves on the stalk are stalked , opposite and of a blunt oblong shape. The margins are almost entire on some yet toothed on others, the higher leaves on the stem are stalkless. The leaves are often tinged with a purple or bronze colouring.

The flowers that appear in the diagnostic spikes are composed in whorls {rings} around the stem. In each whorl there are usually six individual flowers of a blue colour. The small leaves that are formed in between each whorl are tinged with purple also. I have encountered in my time a white coloured variety in this case the foliage is of a more normal green colour. The individual flowers consist of a short upper lip with the lower lip is three lobed and appears as though it is one lipped. The stamens project from the flower. After the flowers have faded they are succeeded by small blackish seeds, however, as previously mentioned most of these are infertile.

Components of Ajuga

Illustration of the common bugle -courtesy of Kurt Steuber.
Illustration of the common bugle -courtesy of Kurt Steuber.

Medicinal Virtues of the Common Bugle

The parts used for medicinal purposes-- the whole herb, gathered in May and June, predominantly used as a dried herb. Bugle is thought to be astringent and bitter.

In archaic times the plant was used by herbalist to treat a variety of afflictions. Infusions were said to have been very useful at stopping haemorrhages and the spitting of blood {T.B.}

The plant was utilised in the production of a syrup to be taken inwardly and in the form of an ointment to be applied externally.

A decoction of the leaves and flowers taken in wine was said to dissolve congealed blood and inward bruises. The plant was employed against gangrene, ulcers and fistulas. An alternative name for the plant is the Middle Comfrey and like its larger namesake {common comfrey} it was used to heal broken bones in the same manner.

Modern day uses are now considered limited to an infusion of the flowers and foliage to be applied externally in the form of a lotion to counteract the symptoms of bruising.

GARDEN-- Bugle is a fine plant for shady damp borders or among trees especially where there is a pathway meandering through the garden.However, a close eye is needed to stop its spread into parts of the garden where it is not required.

SIMILAR LOOKING PLANTS-- the herb Self Heal is superficially similar and just as common. This is also a plant much sought after by herbalist and will be the subject of a future hub. see photograph below.

Similar looking Selfheal

This beautiful photograph of the similar looking self heal is by courtesy of Lachlan Cranswick via Wikipedia file-self heal
This beautiful photograph of the similar looking self heal is by courtesy of Lachlan Cranswick via Wikipedia file-self heal

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Comments 4 comments

D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Hi Darlene. these plants are very pretty in a garden but they do tend to be invasive. Thank you for reading and for leaving your usual kind comments


Darlene Sabella profile image

Darlene Sabella 6 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

This plant is so pretty it looks like it belongs in a garden, it is truly amazing that God has put here on Earth, everything we need to eat of to heal. Thanks for a great hub...thumbs up


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

msorensson, thank you.


msorensson profile image

msorensson 6 years ago

Informational. Thanks!

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