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Saturday, May 5, 2012


small meadow rue
The three meadow rues which are native to the British Isles are Thalictrum flavum, Common meadow rue, or Yellow meadow rue, Thalictrum aquilegifolium, Columbine or Greater meadow rue and Thalictrum minus the small meadow rue. They are not related to the herb rue which is a member of the Rutaceae family, but these are in the Ranunculaceae or buttercup family which makes them relatives of the lesser celandine, stinking hellebore, the Christmas rose, wood anemone, stavesacre, wolfsbane, monkshood, goldenseal and black cohosh.
small meadow rue
   Thalictrum minus is native to Europe, south west Asia and parts of north west Africa and South Africa. Unlike the other two meadow rues it has yellow, plum-brown flowers, rather like the figwort in colour and its foliage is similar to the Maidenhair fern.                                        
   The young leaves of this meadow rue can be cooked and eaten like spinach, although some of the Ranunculaceae family members have some toxicity so caution is recommended. Some research has been done on this plant and some new alkaloids and other compounds have been discovered in it. An infusion of the leaves or a decoction of the root has been used in traditional medicine in the past to help reduce fevers
common meadow rue
  The Common meadow rue has tufty yellow flowers and tends to grow in moist places, such as water meadows, fens and ditches. This is Thalictrum flavum which can grow to over a metre high. It is this one that Nicholas Culpeper the English herbalist who wrote his Herball in the 17th century mentions thus:-
“Government and virtues. Dioscorides saith, That this herb bruised and applied, perfectly heals old sores, and the distilled water of the herb and flowers doth the like. It is used by some among other pot-herbs to open the body, and make it soluble; but the roots washed clean, and boiled in ale and drank, provokes to stool more than the leaves, but yet very gently. The root boiled in water, and the places of the body most troubled with vermin and lice washed therewith while it is warm, destroys them utterly. In Italy it is used against the plague, and in Saxony against the jaundice, as Camerarius says. A poultice made of the leaves has been known to give ease in the sciatica; and the country people in Buckinghamshire boil the roots and young leaves in ale, and take it as a purge. In smaller doses it works by urine, and removes obstructions of the viscera.”                                                                               
greater meadow rue
  The third meadow rue is Thalictrum aquilegifolium, or Greater Meadow rue, or Columbine meadow rue, the latter name being given to it because of the similarity of its leaves to columbines. This one in also native to North America, where it was used in the 19th century to flavour spruce beer which was taken as a digestive tonic. It was also used as a purgative and diuretic, so one wonders what happened to those who drank the beer!
  As you can see from the pictures, these three meadow rues are quite distinctive, although all are in the same genus.This last has been used in Chinese medicine for the treatment of respiratory problems such as asthma, in combination with other herbs.

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