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Tuesday, May 29, 2012
PURPLE LOOSESTRIFE, EUROPEAN NATIVE: HISTORY OF HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF PURPLE LOOSESTRIFE
Purple loosestrife, is not, as the name might suggest, a relative of Yellow loosestrife. Purple loosestrife is a member of the Lythraceae family of plants, but was called by the same name as the yellow-flowered loosestrife because of its similar properties to it. It is said to be able to calm cattle and repel insects so that they stayed calm when being employed in agricultural tasks. The plants were hung on the animal or around the yokes of oxen to keep biting, irritating insects at bay.
This plant lives in wetlands and fens and marshes as well as in lakes or on their shores. In this habitat it is similar again to yellow loosestrife but also to water figwort and Buckbean.. It can grow to around six feet high and is a striking plant, which presumably is why it found its way to
North America in the 1800s. Unfortunately since then it has become invasive. It is native to Europe including the British Isles, North Africa and northern Asia.
These plants were called loosestrife with spiked flower heads by the 17th century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper to distinguish between the two plants with the same name. However they were also called by a number of other names such as Flowering or Blooming Sally, Purple Willow Herb, Salicaire - a corruption of the Latin genus name, and Spiked loosestrife.
The leaves of the purple loosestrife have astringent properties and were used for staunching the flow of blood, either externally when the leaves, either fresh or dried could be placed on a wound to clean it, or internally in a tisane. The name Lythrum refers to the colour of the flowers, which were thought to resemble the colour of bloody gore.
Traditionally the plant has been used for gastro-enteritis and dysentery but was also used for problems with the liver, fevers, constipation and typhus. As an infusion it was also used as a gargle for mouth problems and sore throats.
It has been found to have anti-bacterial effects against lysteria bacteria which can be responsible for food poisoning, so causing diarrhoea and dysentery, so at least one traditional use has been vindicated by modern research.
Culpeper says that the plant is better even than Eyebright for the eyes, claiming that in some instances it could actually restore the sight of a person who had become blind. Here is what he had to say about the herb, but remember that he was writing in the 17th century.
“It …cleanses and heals all foul ulcers whatsoever, by washing them with the water, or laying on them a green leaf or two in summer, or dry leaves in winter. This water, when warmed and used as a gargle, or even drunk sometimes, cures the quinsy, or king’s evil of the throat. The said water applied warm takes away spots, marks and scabs in the skin; and a little of it drunk, quenches extraordinary thirst.”
The leaves and root of purple loosestrife may be eaten cooked, and the flowers produce an edible red dye which was once used to colour sweets.