Speedwell (botanical name, Veronica officinalis) is an undersized perennial herb that grows up to a maximum height of 6 inches to one foot (15 cm to 30 cm) and has partially-climbing stems that are decorated with oval flowers having serrated edges and a small petiole. The petite flowers have a pale blue hue and deep blue stripes and emerge in horizontal clusters.
When comparatively larger and more attractive plants are close by, the petite flowers of speedwell are generally overlooked by most. Nevertheless, the tiny light blue lavender flowers of speedwell are a frequent spectacle in the woods during summer. There was a time when herbalists used the speedwell to treat a large assortment of medical conditions. In contemporary herbal medicine, an herbal tea prepared by brewing dehydrated flowering speedwell plant is occasionally used to treat cough or in the form of a lotion that is applied topically to heal skin irritation. The speedwell herb has a slight bitter and astringent flavor and odor akin to tea which led people in the 19th century France to use the herb as an alternative to tea. In France, people called the speedwell tea as the d'Europe or the ‘European tea'. In fact, people in France continue to call speedwell tea by this name till date.
This herb derives its name from an ancient meaning of the term speed - ‘thrive'. However, the botanical name of the herb ‘Veronica' dates back to about 500 years and it seems that it is related to the name of the celebrated Veronica, who is known to have wiped Jesus' face when He visited Calvary. It is very likely that the genus Veronica was attributed to her since the flowers of this herb reportedly have resemblance to the stains that remained on the cloth which was used to wipe the face of Jesus.
For several centuries, people of different cultures have been using speedwell in the form of a panacea for almost all health conditions. There is sufficient evidence to imply that the herb was already in use in primeval Rome. In fact, when the Romans triumphed over Germany they found out the amazing attributes of speedwell from the Teutons. Even during the earliest days, there was a popular adage regarding plants, which said that specifically a highly-esteemed individual was believed to possess the good qualities of speedwell. According to people in those days, speedwell was considered to treat an assortment of medical conditions, ranging from common colds to gall stones.
However, in contemporary times, people do not use speedwell as much as a medication. Nevertheless, the reasons as well as the origins of a number of diseases that were cured by speedwell in earlier times are yet to be ascertained. Hence, it is probably time to have another look at the therapeutic properties of the herb. Besides curing ordinary ailments, the herb is also thought to aid in resolving spiritual problems and advocators of this herb even asserted that it was effective in keep away witches, devils, demons and other monsters. However, these have never been proved scientifically. People in France also used speedwell extensively to prepare an herbal tea known as ‘European tea', despite the fact that this particular tea has a disagreeable bitter flavour to people these days.
Traditionally, the green parts of the plant have been employed therapeutically for treating cough, gastrointestinal discomfort and otitis media (tenderness of the middle ear, marked by pain, light-headedness, and damaged hearing). Speedwell is known to possess rich content of vitamins, tannins as well as glycoside aucuboside. Found in several Plantaginaceae species, aucuboside is believed to possess anti-inflammatory attributes. Extracts obtained from speedwell are commercially available as herbal medications to cure ear infections and sinusitis. The herb was introduced to North America later and now it has extensively naturalized in the continent.
As mentioned earlier, an herbal tea prepared with the dehydrated flowering plant works as a diuretic as well as an expectorant and helps to eliminate phlegm. Nevertheless, pharmacologists have always doubted the usefulness of this herb as a diuretic and expectorant. In addition, they have also raised questions regarding the effectiveness of the herbal tea when used as a lotion to treat skin complaints - including irritations and infections.
The leaves and roots of speedwell are effective in restoring the health, astringent, gently diuretic, stomachic, slightly expectorant and stimulant. The leaves and roots of this herb have been used to treat pectoral as well as nephritic problems, skin ailments, hemorrhages, as well as to heal wounds. Despite its uses in earlier times, the herb is thought to be outdated in contemporary herbal medicine.
There was a time when the herb speedwell was held in high esteem in England. Then, it was considered to be a healthy, comforting, stimulating as well as a useful herbal tea. Like in the case of the majority of the bitter or astringent herbs, an infusion prepared with speedwell may be employed to rinse problematic skin conditions. Researches undertaken in recent times have revealed that the herbal tea prepared with speedwell may prove to be an effectual precautionary treatment for ulcers. In present times, the infusion prepared with speedwell is mostly used to treat coughs and blockage of the respiratory system.
Before concluding, it may be mentioned that it is believed that Emperor Charles V of Spain had obtained sufficient respite from the problems caused by gout by using speedwell.
Habitat and cultivation
The herb speedwell is indigenous to the temperate climatic regions in the Northern Hemisphere. This herb is found growing in the wild over an extensive region ranging from Newfoundland to Ontario, in the south to North Carolina and Tennessee and to Wisconsin in the west. Speedwell grows well in acidic as well as moist grasslands, uncultivated land as well as along the periphery of damp, deciduous (trees that shed leaves at fall) woodlands.
Speedwell primarily propagates by its seeds, while the herb also multiplies by vegetative growth. The runners of the plant crawl along the ground for a distance of about 8 inches (20 cm) prior to hanging on to the soil nonchalantly and placing its new stem roots on the ground. The leaves of speedwell are harvested during summer, dried up and stored for future use.
Speedwell is edible and several people consume this herb raw using it in a salad during early spring or add the herb to soup. A decoction of the dried flowering plant is made by adding one flowering stem or one-tenth ounce (3 grams) in one cup of water (250 ml). This decoction helps in treating edema (excessive fluid retention in spaces between tissues), digestive uneasiness and is also taken for a prolonged period to cure persistent skin complaints. In addition a lotion for external use may be prepared by adding two-third ounce (20 grams) of the whole plant in one cup of boiling water (250 ml) and filtered. This lotion may be used in compresses and topically applied to treat skin complaints.
Multipurpose springtime tincture
During early spring, a tincture is prepared by adding 1 3/4 ounce (50 grams) of whole, freshly obtained speedwell to one cup of mild acidic white wine. Slice the herb in a food processor and combine it with white wine. Allow it to stay for one month and shake the container once in every two or three days and filter the solution. Take this tincture internally for over a year. In case you experience slow digestion, eczema or intestinal deficiency, take one teaspoon (5 ml) before taking every meal.