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Willowherb's Hidden Secrets

Updated on May 30, 2013
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The forgotten herb

Willowherb - of which there are a number of varieties - is today viewed as a pretty summer weed or as a garden pest. However, this beautiful pink-purple flower has much more to offer than a pretty shape and colour. In addition, far from being a pest, this is a her with extraordinary healing properties.

Willowherb has many medicinal properties that modern research is re-discovering.
Willowherb has many medicinal properties that modern research is re-discovering. | Source
The willow herb has much more to offer than just colour and beauty - it has many healing properties as well.
The willow herb has much more to offer than just colour and beauty - it has many healing properties as well. | Source

Alternative names for willowherb

There are many alternative names for willowherb, too many to name here, but two of the most common are:


  • Fireweed - due mainly to willowherb's ability to colonise areas of country side where fire has destroyed other plants.


  • Bombweed - this name came about during world war II because it often showed up first in craters left by bombs.

History of the willowherb

The willowherb also has other varieties and names such as

  • great hairy willowherb
  • great willowherb
  • rosebay willowherb - this variety tends to have white flowers


They all have interesting properties that were used centuries ago both as a food and for medical reasons. This is perhaps not that surprising when we discover that willowherb is related to another healing herb - 'evening primrose'.

The 17th century herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper, was high in his praise for the herb and listed a number of uses for the plant:

"All the species of Willow-Herb have the same virtues; they are under Saturn in Aries, and are cooling and astringent. The root carefully dried and powdered, is good against bloody fluxes, and other haemorrhages; and the fresh juice is of the same virtue."

In addition, Culpeper also recommends willowherb leaves made in to a brew for asthma and whooping cough. It's thought that the herb may have anti-spasmodic properties that would help to sooth the coughing spasms with whooping cough and asthma.

However, even before the work of Nicholas Culpeper willow herb had been used for centuries not only for its healing properties and food but was also made into a herbal tea. Willowherb tea is still made in Russia today.

Other healing properties willowherb was used for - and still used today - is for the treatment of urinary and digestive problems. It is also taken as a treatment for urinary infections.

In ointment form it can be used for many skin irritations including burns, rashes, itching and so on. In the past, instead of ointment, poultices were made up from the peeled roots for the same purpose. In Germany a poultice made from the leaves was used to treat mouth ulcers.


Superstitions

Because the willowherb has been used for many centuries there are of course a few superstitions that have grown up around it. One popular superstition was that willowherb could get rid of gnats and flies as well as repel snakes. Certainly other herbs such as lavender does repel flies and willowherb might have the same properties. However, whether or not it actually repels snakes is another matter.

In some parts of England, willowherb, along with a number of other plants, had the local name of 'mother-die' attributed to it. There are a number of superstitions that held if certain flowers were picked then this will mean a death in the family.


Alternative Beliefs.

As in the past, so today willowherb is also used in various rituals and beliefs systems - all positive! In particular, willowherb was used a a mixer for mushrooms when making magical ointments and drinks.

Acne is just one of the many conditions that is treated by willow herb.
Acne is just one of the many conditions that is treated by willow herb. | Source
Willow herb has powerful antimicrobial properties, especially against bacteria such as those that cause acne.
Willow herb has powerful antimicrobial properties, especially against bacteria such as those that cause acne. | Source

Medicinal uses for willowherb

In addition to willowherb being packed with vitamins and minerals, modern research carried out on the herb found additional, extraordinary properties.

A study published in the journal of 'Food Chemistry' reported that willowherb was the only plant from the group tested that contained the chemical myricetin. This is known to have powerful antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are known to help protect body cells against conditions such as cancer.

Other plants also known to contain myricetin are onions, walnuts and red grapes. In addition, research continues as willow herb may also contain other anti-cancer properties as well as anti-inflammatory abilities.

Tentative results have shown that willow herb may also contain chemicals that many not only help against medical conditions such as Parkinson's Disease but also Alzheimer’s. In addition the herb may also be helpful in keeping our bones healthy as well as properties that may be useful in the treatment of diabetes. However, it's early days and research continues.

Further research has also highlighted that willowherb may also have both anti-microbial and anti-viral properties. One particular bacteria - propionibacterium acnes - that is responsible for the common skin condition acne - has shown to be responsive to treatments by preparations of willowherb.

A word of caution, in general willowherb is not thought to be toxic to humans, however, this is by no means certain. Certainly one of the chemicals found in willow herb - epilobium - has been known to interfere with hormone cycles in the body. Therefore, if you are on birth control pills, are pregnant or taking HRT (hormone replacement therapy) then the advice is to avoid taking this herb.


The month of June is almost here and when these lovely herbs begin to show their flowers, perhaps we can all keep in mind that, rather than being a nuisance, they are a wonderful addition to Mother Nature's medicine chest.

Comments

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  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Rasma, glad that you enjoyed the hub and yes I think this lovely plant does seem to be widespread.

  • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

    Gypsy Rose Lee 

    5 years ago from Riga, Latvia

    Voted up and useful. Thanks for sharing this interesting hub. I do believe we have the Willowherb on this side of the world too. Passing this on.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Eddy, lovely to hear from you - hope your course is still going well?

    Glad you enjoyed the hub!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Nell, glad you enjoyed the hub and yes willowherb seems to be a self contained medicine chest. Many thanks as always for stopping by!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi grandmapearl, lovely to hear from you - hope things are well?

    I agree about the superstitions and herbs - where they actually come from is probably lost in the mists of time, I guess we can only put it down to the way people thought in the past and the way the viewed the world around them.

    I'm also like you I love learning knew things and to find out about this beautiful plant was a revelation. It had always been a summer favourite of mine and even more so now.

    Many thanks for the vote up!!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Tom, lovely to hear from you and glad you enjoyed the hub.

    I've always loved the willowherb flower but it was also a surprise to me to learn just how much benefits we can get from this herb.

    Many thanks for the vote and the share!!

  • Eiddwen profile image

    Eiddwen 

    5 years ago from Wales

    So interesting, useful and thank you so much for sharing seeker7.

    Eddy.

  • Nell Rose profile image

    Nell Rose 

    5 years ago from England

    What a versatile little plant, who would have thought it? as you said its been used for centuries for various things, glad to see it may help asthma too, and acne, wish I had that back in my teens! lol! great hub and voted up!

  • grandmapearl profile image

    Connie Smith 

    5 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

    Hello Seeker! I loved this article about willowherb. It definitely looks a lot like my evening primrose, except for the color. I know that primrose has all kinds of good qualities as well. I'm always glad to learn new things, especially about natural substances, and their history and superstitions. Isn't it odd how herbs seem to garner all kinds of crazy notions and superstitions?!

    This was a fun and educational read. Thank you ;) Pearl

    Voted Up+++

  • kashmir56 profile image

    Thomas Silvia 

    5 years ago from Massachusetts

    Hi Helen this was such an interesting read and very informative in the use and treatments of this willowherb, which i did not know before . Well done !

    Vote up and more !!! Sharing !

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi ladydeonne, many thanks for stopping by and glad that you found the hub interesting.

    I think we all do that - me included - especially when out walking with our dogs we admire so many of the beautiful plants but then we have no idea perhaps just how useful they are. That's also interesting about going to pick some. There was a competition in my own community a few years back and one of the categories was a wild flower display. They could use any wild plant as long as it was not rare or endangered. One of the displays that came second - personally it was my favourite - had a beautiful display of willowherb mixed in with other 'white flowers' and beautiful green leaves. So I'm sure you will have a lovely display where ever you place it in the home.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Frank - LOL!! I know what you mean 'treatment' - after researching the willowherb, think I'll just keep cultivating it instead of going to a chemist, be a lot cheaper!!!

    Glad you enjoyed the hub!

  • ladydeonne profile image

    Deonne Anderson 

    5 years ago from Florence, SC

    Very interesting and informational. I saw a variety of willow herb on last week while walking with my dogs. As I am relatively new to central VA, I am noticing a variety of plants, flowers, and birds that I am not familiar with. I thought they were just beautiful purple flowers and made a note to pick some the next time I passed the home.

  • Frank Atanacio profile image

    Frank Atanacio 

    5 years ago from Shelton

    wow what a treatment hub great job great info

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