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Saturday, April 28, 2012
WATER FIGWORT OR WATER BETONY: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF WATER FIGWORT
These plants are actually, it would appear, not the same, as the genus names are both accepted. The plant was called water betony because the leaves were very similar to those of wood betony, although the two plants are not related. Water figwort and water betony are in the figwort family of plants, the Scrophulariaceae and seem to have been used for the same purposes in medicine. Water Betony S. umbrosa, can be found in
Europe, and temperate Asia as well as some parts of North Africa, while it would appear that S. auriculata is not a native of temperate Asia. It is however native to the British Isles and Ireland. Both plants have other synonyms but the names here are the accepted ones.
Water figwort and water betony, then, have much the same properties as the common figwort, although it would seem that Nicholas Culpeper writing in his herbal of the 17th century, thought that they had different properties. He doesn’t write as much about the water betony as he does about the common figwort, and ends his description of it with a small diatribe regarding distilled waters:-
“Government and virtues. Water betony is an herb of Jupiter in Cancer, and is appropriated more to wounds and hurts in the breast than wood-betony, which follows; it is an excellent remedy for sick hogs. It is of a cleansing quality: the leaves bruised and applied are effectual for all old and filthy ulcers: and especially if the juice of the leaves be boiled with a little honey, and dipped therein, and the sores dressed therewith; as also for bruises or hurts, whether inward or outward; the distilled water of the leaves is used for the same purpose; as also to bathe the face and hands spotted or blemished, or discoloured by sun burning.
I confess I do not much fancy distilled waters, I mean such waters as are distilled cold; some virtues of the herb they may haply have (it were a strange thing else;) but this I am confident of, that being distilled in a pewter still, as the vulgar and apish fashion is, both chemical oil and salt is left behind, unless you burn them, and then all is spoiled, water and all, which was good for as little as can be, by such a distillation in my translation of the London dispensatory.”
The plants are attractive to wasps and bees, and grow in shady places along river banks and close to water. It was used as Culpeper mentions for cosmetic purposes by the old herbalists and also as a vulnerary and detergent for old sores and wounds. For skin problems a decoction or infusion was made and taken orally; this was used to cure eczema, psoriasis and other skin ailments.
The root of this plant was used in a decoction to rid the intestines of worms. The leaves can be harvested in June and July when they reach their peak and dried for later use. They can be applied fresh to wounds and skin rashes or cuts, or used in an ointment. For this purpose they used to be boiled with fat, usually lard.
Scrophularia auriculata has proved in tests to have anti-inflammatory properties and to contain iridoid glycosides which promote wound healing, so the ancient herbalists once again seem to have known what they were doing.
The plant should not be used by people with heart conditions as it affects the pulse rate, and is a relation of the foxglove, eyebright, mullein, snap dragon, brahmi and toadflax, to name just a few of its relatives.