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Herb Robert { Wild Flora}

Updated on August 9, 2015

Herb robert flower



Herb robert,Geranium robertianum is a familiar wild herb which has been associated with herbal medicine, myths and legends for centuries. This graceful plant is a true wild geranium of the Order Geraniales and the Family of plants referred to as Geraniaceae and placed in the genus Geranium.

The garden flowers often referred to as Geraniums are in fact Pelargoniums { see my hub Pelargoniums }.

The word geranium derives from the Greek geranos, meaning a Crane, from which the English word Cranes-bill arrives. both refer to the elongated seed capsule {fruit] which bear a fanciful resemblance to the head and bill of the Crane.

Here we look at this handsome little plant and commence with a description.

Diagram of the seed being ejected


Herb robert is a free-seeding annual plant. The stems tend to fork a great deal, hence the plant spreads considerably {making it a persistent garden weed.}. From this branching habit it becomes conspicuous in the hedgerow among taller plants, not rivaling them by its height, but dispossesses them from considerable area of the ground, which the spreading habit of the plant enables it to cover.

The leaves are produced from the stem in pairs and are divided into three or five segments which are deeply cut into. When the foliage is crushed it produces a disagreeable odour, which gave rise to the country title of 'Stinking bob'

The flowers though rather small {about a centimeter wide} are sufficiently bright in colour to attract ones attention, as they peep out the hedgerow to meet the sun. The flowers are produced in pairs. The stigmas and anthers mature together, but insects are still invited to help shake the pollen on the stigmas, or even being a little from another flower.

The flowers of all crane's-bills all share the habit of turning their faces towards the sun. [see the hub Crane's-bills the true Geraniums}.

The fruits, as we have seen, have a fanciful resemblance to the head and beak of a crane, have an interesting method of seed dispersal. The ovary consists of five carpels which are arranged around a central axis growing from a receptacle and between the styles. When the seeds and carpels are fully grown, the latter becomes separated from each other. the five styles also separate from each other., though for a time they remain attached to the carpel. {now open at the inner edge}, and to the central axis.

However, by the continuing lengthening of the carpel it leads to a pealing off of the style, followed by its rapid curling from the lower end and carrying the carpel with it. The motion reverses the carpel completely, so that the contained seed is hurled out of the carpel and away. A few hairs at the bottom of the carpel opening prevent the seed from falling out at the beginning of the curling movement.

The fruit of Herb robert differs somewhat from that of other species, by the fact that the styles separate from the carpels, but a tongue-like process from the bottom of the style keeps it in place behind the carpel, and when all is perfectly ripe, the sudden curl up of the style acts like a steel spring shooting the seed out with some considerable force.

Herb robert

The delicate divided foliage and small pink flowers cheer up waste places and hedgerows
The delicate divided foliage and small pink flowers cheer up waste places and hedgerows | Source

Why the name ?

In Washington in the USA, it is classified as a noxious weed. In America it is known as Robert geranium. Neltje Blanchan in her book 'Wild Flowers worth Knowing' {1917}, refers to Herb robert as Red robin, Redshanks and Dragon's blood. She states the distribution was from Nova Scotia to Pennsylvania and west to Missouri, where it flowered from May until October. " Only when the stems are young are they green, later the plant well earns the name of Redshanks and when its leaves shows crimson stains of Dragon's blood"

The meaning of the name Herb robert has been lost in the mist of time, however, it does not seem to have stopped various suggestions being forwarded, as to who this Robert was!, or indeed why the plant was dedicated to him, but there is no satisfactory conclusion.

For example it is proposed that it was named after St. Robert a Benedictine Abbot to whom the 29 of April is dedicated, as the Herb robert is then coming into flower. Others claim it is dedicated to the Robert, Duke of Normandy for whom, the 'Ortus Sanitalis', a standard work for some hundreds of years, was written.

Herb robert, is sometimes called Herb robin, though this is probably a corruption of the more common name. In the past this species attained the names of Ragged robin, { now bestowed as the common name of another species Lychnis flos-cucli }, Robin flower and Red robin. The name could possibly be a corruption of rob-wort { a red plant}, as in the autumn the whole plant turns red { or earlier in drought conditions} and as a consequence becomes very noticeable.

Herb robert fruits


Medicinal uses prescribed by the more archaic writers

" It is certain, that if uses are not sought, they will not be found" Lady Wilkinson 1858

Pliny the Roman Philosopher described the plant as ' a singular medicine for the phythsick , and is a rare herb, being a restorative for those weakened and decaced in nature by long sicknesse' { The words singular and rare, in this context are not used as we use them today, but applying to the great value of the plant}.

Other herbalists stated that the juice of the root was a panacea for all complaints of the ears. One writer stated that the seeds mixed with Pepper and Myrrh were administered in cases of spinal or other cramps.

Those that swore by the popular belief of the Ancients -The Doctrine of Signatures-believes the plant must be used for the 'staying of blood' . The Doctrine of Signatures, stated that every plant, had in its form or colour a divine message of the affliction the plant was meant to cure.John Hill 1800's declared that in the case of this herb the dying leaves assume a beautiful sanguine hue what else can it be used for!

The plant is not only found in hedgerows, but in woods, waste ground, on old stone walls, among stones and debris of rock as well as a garden weed. According to the British Flora Medica 1838, the qualities and general uses of Herb robert, was as follows--This plant has been employed in some parts of the Continent {Europe} in the process of tanning, and a yellow dye, it is said, can be obtained from the leaves. According to Linnaeus it is eaten by horses and goats and occasionally by cows, but it is refused by sheep and swine. He also states that the bruised herb drives away bugs. It has been much used by farmers as a remedy for staying blood and the bloody flux in cattle.

The astringency of this plant was manifested by the dark colour and precipitate produced in a decoction by Sulphate of Iron. The astringent principle is taken up by both water and alcohol, and remains undiminished in the respective extracts. The odoiferous matter is separated by distillation of the water, but no essential oil has been obtained.

the book goes on to state the plants medicinal properties--this plant was formerly much celebrated for its vulnerary powers, and as an efficacious remedy in haemorrhages, alvine fuxes, and in calculous and gravelly complaints, jaundice and scrofula; and Haller asserts that it is beneficial in intermittent fevers.

Externally it has been commended in various afflictions, epilepsy, tumors, of the female breast, cancer, oedematous swellings of the foot and scald-head. The plant reduced to powder has been given in the dose of a drachm in wine, a preferable form would be an infusion or decoction which might be given in diseases where a slight astringent is indicated. Externally it has been recommended in the form of a cataplasm.

The powder is said to have arrested bleeding of the nose, when introduced into the nasal fossae, and to act as a useful detergent when sprinkled on wounds and ulcers. However, the book concluded on the subject that " Further experiments are necessary to ascertain the medicinal value or inertness of this plant"

Note--the above medicinal information is for historical interest only and not meant as a guide to preparing home made preparations for internal use.

Herb robert and Geranium lucidum

courtesy of the BHL
courtesy of the BHL

Modern day uses

In homeopathy it is used to treat internal bleeding and also as a diuretic, and was once used for relieving toothache.As a mouthwash and gargle.

An home made preparation can be made by infusing 2 teaspoonfuls of the herb in 250 ml of boiling water and leave to infuse for five minutes. The resulting liquid can be used as a gargle for mouth and gum infections and also to clean bleeding wounds.

It is apt to mention that like conventional medicine, some herbal medicine may not suit everybody and when first trying any herbal preparation, it is wise to try a little in the first instance, to test your tolerance of the herb.


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    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 4 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Greensleeves Hubs,

      Hi Alun, your kind comment and vote up is truly appreciated. Best wishes to you.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 4 years ago from Essex, UK

      Nice comprehensive guide to this wild flower Dave. Thanks for that. Voted up. Alun.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb, glad to have introduced you to this charming little plant. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      My mother raised a number of geraniums when I was growing up. She enjoyed the fragranr lemon variety. My understanding is that there are many types. I had never heard about herb robert until now.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Thank you for your visit and for taking the time to leave your appreciated comments. Best wishes to you.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      Another interesting hub on a flower I'm not familiar with. We have cranesbill geraniums that act very similarly, however I'm not sure about their medicinal properties.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 4 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Jackie Lynnley,

      Hi , thank you for reading and for your appreciated comments.


      Hi, thank you Eddy for your apprecoiated comments also. Best wishes to you.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      Interesting and useful.

      Voting up and wishing you a great day.


    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      This is great, one I will tuck away to go over. Thank you!


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