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Friday, May 11, 2012
LUNGWORT - ANCIENT USES BORNE OUT BY RESEARCH: HISTORY AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF LUNGWORT
Lungwort is a herb in the Boraginaceae family, so is a relative of borage, comfrey, the alkanets, fragrant manjack and lasora as well as viper’s bugloss among many others. There is another plant called lungwort, (Lobaria pulmonaria) but that is a moss or lichen which is also called oak moss, because it grows on or under oak trees.
The flowers of this lungwort look like those of comfrey but the plants are distinguishable very easily by the leaves. The flower buds begin pink, a then as they mature turn to lilac, with both colours seen on the same stem. They are called Soldiers and Sailors for this reason; they are also called Jerusalem Cowslips, because of the shape of the flowers, I suppose.
In the Mediaeval Doctrine of Signatures, herbalists believed that plants looked similar to the parts of the body they could be used to cure. The leaves of the lungwort plant looked to these early herbalists like lungs, as they decayed, and so they were used to cure lung problems. As it happens, modern research has discovered that the plant is indeed a useful remedy for lung problems.
An infusion of the leaves of this lungwort is used to help coughs and catarrh. Use a tsp of dried herb to a cup of boiling water and leave to steep for 15 minutes before straining and drinking. This is said to be beneficial for inflammation and lung problems.
The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, although they are mucilaginous and so not to everyone’s taste, as they are slimy when cooked (cook like spinach).The plant is used to flavour vermouth, and mixed with coltsfoot is a common cough remedy in herbal shops. This mixture is also said to be excellent for children’s whooping cough.
The plant contains allantoin which is known to have wound healing properties so this supports the plant’s traditional use for skin problems such as eczema. The plant also has antibiotic properties which means it can kill the bacteria which cause lung and chest infections. It also contains the bioflavonoids, quercetin and kaempferol and research has shown that it exhibits some anti-tumour activities.
The plant has also been used in traditional medicine to treat kidney problems and gastro-intestinal ones too- As it has astringent properties it should be a useful agent against diarrhoea. However it is not advised to take the plant internally as it contains pyrrolizidin alkaloids.
Lungwort is believed to have originated in Central Europe and is now naturalized in Britain where it was cultivated for its ornamental value and its health benefits. If you harvest it, this is best done in springtime, and you should harvest only the young leaves and dry them for later use. However, if you do this, make sure that you are not breaking any laws, and only take the herb under the supervision of a physician.