HEMP AGRIMONY - NO RELATION TO HEMP, OR AGRIMONY: HISTORY AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF HEMP AGRIMONY
HEMP AGRIMONY, EUPATORIUM CANNABINUM
Hemp agrimony despite its name is not related to either agrimony or cannabis, or the Hemp tree (Vitex Agnus Castus or the Chaste berry tree) but is distinguished by being the only member of the Eupatorium genus which is native to
Europe. It is also native to parts of Asia and North Africa, but has naturalized after introduction, to North America. The Latin name Eupatorium, refers to the King of Pontus, Mithradates Eupator who was a reputed alchemist who dabbled some believed in the dark arts. It is believed that the name cannabinum came from the shape of the leaves of this plant. In Culpeper’s day it was called Water Agrimony or Bastard Agrimony or hemp and it has been used medicinally for millennia.
Hemp agrimony likes to grow in watery places, damp grasslands, marshes and wet woodlands. I’ve always liked the plant because it attracts butterflies and it is an attractive plant with pink-red flowers or sometimes white ones. The flower heads look large, but in fact they are made up of clusters of florets with pappus (hairs) growing on them. They grow to around 5 feet (1.5 metres) tall and can be 4 feet (1.2 metres) wide. They flower between July and September and it is best to harvest the leaves before the flowers open and dry them for later use. The leaves are said to be very effective if made into an infusion or tisane at the onset of flu as they contain vitamin C. This tisane used to be used to combat scurvy. The Physicians of Myddfai believed that hemp agrimony could stop you getting drunk and had this to say:-
“If you would not be drunk, drink in the morning as much as will fill an egg-shell of the juice of the hemp agrimony.”
In the Middle Ages it was believed that people should be bled regularly to make them healthy, and there were certain days when bleeding should not take place and after the bleeding you should eat and drink certain things. Here is another use the physicians of Myddfai made of hemp agrimony:
“Month of April. Bleed. Take a gentle emetic, eat fresh meat, use warm drink. Eat two mouthfuls of hart's tongue twice a day. Avoid the roots of vegetables, as they will occasion an obstruction. Drink hemp agrimony.” (Hart’s tongue is a type of fern.)
Writing much later in the 17th century, Nicholas Culpeper had this to say about the virtues of hemp agrimony:
“It is a plant of Jupiter, as well as the other agrimony; only this belongs to the celestial sign Cancer. It healeth and dryeth, cutteth and cleanseth, thick and tough tumours of the breast; and for this I hold it inferior to but few herbs that grow. It helps the cachexia, or evil disposition of the body; also the dropsy and yellow jaundice. It opens obstructions of the liver, mollifies the hardness of the spleen; being applied outwardly, it breaks imposthumes; taken inwardly, it is an excellent remedy for the third-day ague; it provokes urine and the terms; it kills worms, and cleanseth the body of sharp humours, which are the cause of itch, scabs... The smoke of the herb, being burnt, drives away flies, wasps....; It strengthens the lungs exceedingly. Country people give it to their cattle when they are troubled with the cough, or brokenwinded.”
Country people believed that if they put hemp agrimony leaves on bread, they would prevent it from turning mouldy, and it is said that the juice from the leaves and stems can be rubbed on pets and domestic animals to repel insects, including mosquitoes (this would smell better than the juice of Herb Robert).
Marie Corelli had clearly researched the use of the herb for this passage in her book, “The Treasure of Heaven” (although she didn’t get the colour quite right!) which is quoted below.
“..Cos they'se gittin' too wise for Nature's own cure. Nobody thinks o' tryin' agrimony, water agrimony--some calls it water hemp an' bastard agrimony--'tis a thing that flowers in this month an' the next, a brown-yellow blossom on a purple stalk, an' ye find it in cold places, in ponds an' ditches an' by runnin' waters. Make a drink of it, an' it'll mend any cancer, if 'taint too far gone. An' a cancer that's outside an' not in, 'ull clean away beautiful wi' the 'elp o' red clover.”
Dioscorides writing in the first century AD praised the herb for use externally and internally as it works to clean and heal old stubborn wounds and ulcers. There is some debate as to which agrimony he is writing about but Parkinson was convinced he meant hemp agrimony as he wrote,
“…all the apothecaries of our land …do use the first kind of agrimony as the most assured eupatorium of Dioscorides. However, in former times, both we and they beyond the seas did usually take the Eupatorium cannabinum, which they called Eupatorium vulgare, for the true kind.”
Hemp Agrimony can be used in bath water to ease aching muscles and joints and a compress of the leaves is said to relieve headaches. The ancient Greeks used the infusion as eye wash for inflammation of the eyes and with chamomile, the leaves are good in a tisane to aid digestion. The Anglo-Saxons used it to heal wounds and would put the bruised leaves on cuts as well as washing wounds with the infusion.
Hemp agrimony has been found to boost the immune system and make it less susceptible to colds and flu. The roots have mild diuretic qualities and are a laxative, as well as a tonic for the blood. It is believed to have antibacterial properties and is good for sore throats and mouth ulcers.
The infusion or tisane is made with one ounce of the dried leaves and flowers (of a handful of fresh) to 250 ml of boiling water. Let the herb steep for 15 minutes before straining and then either drink it or leave it to cool and use externally.
There is little research into this herb, but it seems that it is safe, although perhaps should not be used during pregnancy unless used under the supervision and direction of a doctor.