Viper’s bugloss is closely related to the common bugloss and the alkanets, and to borage as it is a member of the Boraginaceae family of plants. It has similar properties to borage and is used as a mood enhancer in some countries such as Iran. It can grow to heights or between 2 and 3 feet and like wallflowers, often grows on old walls. It is native to Europe including the British Isles. Scandinavia and western Asia. The name bugloss comes from the ancient Greek and means ‘ox’s tongue’ and it is so named, we think, because of the roughness and shape of its leaves. Its stems and leaves sometimes have red spots on their stems and leaves, and although the flowers are normally violet-blue, white ones are possible, but rare. Nicholas Culpeper says that they grew in Sussex in Lewes around a castle but that was in the 17th century. The roots of the plant go deep into the soil and these are believed to be diuretic and to promote sweating in fevers, so reducing the body temperature. There are seeds, which are said to resemble vipers’ heads, and so they were used to treat bites of serpents, and as the only indigenous British snake is the viper or adder, this is how the plant got its name. The old herbalists believed that a decoction of the seeds, preferably in wine, banished melancholy and lifted the mood.
  This is what John Gerard, writing in his Herball in the 16th century has to say about the plant:-
  “The physitions use the leaves, floures and rootes and put them into all kindes of medecines indifferently, which are of force and vertue to drive away sorrow and pensiveness of the minde, and to comfort and strengthen the heart.”
  It was Culpeper, writing a century later who mentions this property of the seeds, as well as waxing lyrical about the plant’s other properties.
   “It is a most gallant herb of the Sun; it is a pity it is no more in use than it is. It is an especial remedy against the biting of the Viper, and all other venomous beasts, or serpents; as also against poison, or poisonous herbs. Dioscorides and others say, That whosoever shall take of the herb or root before they be bitten, shall not be hurt by the poison of any serpent. The root or seed is thought to be most effectual to comfort the heart, and expel sadness, or causeless melancholy; it tempers the blood, and allays hot fits of agues. The seed drank in wine, procures abundance of milk in women's breasts. The same also being taken, eases the pains in the loins, back, and kidneys. The distilled water of the herb when it is in flower, or its chief strength, is excellent to be applied either inwardly or outwardly, for all the griefs aforesaid. There is a syrup made hereof very effectual for the comforting the heart, and expelling sadness and melancholy.”
  The leaves from low on the ground near the roots are he ones to be harvested, and can be dried for later use. They can be made into a tisane and this is diuretic and diaphoretic (promoting sweat). It is said that this will relieve a headache, and the pain caused by inflammation as well as soothing the nerves. You use 1 ounce of the dried leaves to 1 pint of boiling water and leave to infuse for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain and drink in small cupfuls when needed. However there are a few reports of the leaves being toxic, and if you collect them, wear gloves just in case of an allergic reaction.
  John Parkinson (1567-1650), apothecary to James I of England and James VI of Scotland, writes,
   “…the water distilled in glasses of the roots or the root itself taken is good against the passions and tremblings of the heart as also against swoonings, sadness and melancholy.”
  One study published in the Iranian Journal of Basic Medicine Vol 10 (3); autumn 2007 pp 189-196. “Evaluation of the Antidepressant Effects of the Aerial Parts of Echium vulgare in Mice,” Seyed Adel Moallem, H.Hosseinzodleh and Fatemah Ghancheh.
concludes that the extracts of the Viper’s Bugloss have “significant antidepressant effects” and end by saying “this herb might be considered a useful drug in the management of depression.”
  Interestingly it has been thought that viper’s bugloss is an aphrodisiac and perhaps it does actually lower inhibitions while enhancing the mood. In Iran it has been used for centuries to stimulate the mood and as an aphrodisiac.
  The leaves and flowering tops are used in infusions and decoctions for coughs and other respiratory problems and are also used to soften the skin and relieve inflammation and redness. In poultices the fresh leaves and flowers are apparently useful for getting rid of boils and hard skin. The tisane can be used on wounds to speed healing and it has been found that the roots contain allantoin which is known to be a wound healer, so a poultice of decoction of the roots may be good for wounds.
  Like borage this cheerful-looking plant has many benefits for our health, both physical and mental.

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