Woundwort is a perennially growing herb belonging to the mint family of Labiatae. This plant is a valuable source of nectar for several insects. Woundwort resembles nettle and has creeping roots that give rise to new plant. The stems of this plant are fleshy and quadrangular in shape growing up to a height of 60 cm to 90 cm (approximately two feet to three feet). The plant produces basal leaves having elongated stalks and they dry up even before the plant bears flowers.
This plant produces leaves that are oblong and pointed at the tips (somewhat resembling a heart) having smoothed bases that hold onto the stem and get thinner to a narrow point. The leaves are arranged in pairs up the stem - the leaves as well as the stems have fine bristles. In addition, the leaves are long, slender and jagged - those at the base of the plant are longer than the others. The plant bears flowers from the latter part of summer (during the period between June and August) that appear in spikes of mauve. The woundwort flowers are two-lipped having patches of different colors (mottled) and bloom in whorls of six at the stem terminals. The flowers stay on the plant till the first frosts of the winter. The lower lip of the flower possesses a charming dotted white pattern. Generally, the woundwort flowers are pollinated by the bees, who visit the flowers for nectar.
Woundwort and betony (botanical name, Stachys officinalis) are known to be closely related. Similar to betony, since the Middle Ages, even woundwort has been highly valued as a healing herb and, therefore, it is also often called ‘all-heal'. In earlier times, this herb was mainly used to cure cuts and injuries and generally used in the form of a poultice prepared with the fresh leaves. During the latter part of the 16th century, British herbalist John Gerard endorsed the herb following his visit to a farmer who had himself cured his own deep wound caused by a scythe by applying a poultice of crushed fresh woundwort leaves. In fact, when this renowned herbalist made an offer to the farmer to treat his wound free of charge, the latter refused to oblige. Gerard later named the herb ‘clown's woundwort'. And in the subsequent times, the herbalist asserted that he had cured several serious wounds - some of them even ‘life-threatening', using the herb woundwort.
Woundwort possesses antispasmodic properties and, since long, the herb has been traditionally used as a medication to treat gout, cramps and aching joints. In fact, even contemporary herbalists recommend this herb for treating pains caused by cramps. In addition, woundwort also possesses astringent as well antiseptic properties and, therefore, its effectiveness in stopping hemorrhages as well as healing wounds. In traditional herbal medicine, topical application of the fresh woundwort leaves is still prescribed to heal cuts and wounds. On the other hand, an herbal tea prepared with the leaves of the plant is believed to be useful in curing diarrhea.
There was a time when rural people gathered the fat tuberous roots of woundwort and boiled them like vegetable for consumption. In addition, although they have a horrible smell, tender and young shoots of the herb were also regarded as edible and cooked in the same way as asparagus.
It may be noted that the hedge woundwort (botanical name, Stachys sylvatica) is closely related to woundwort and this species possesses branching stems and large rough, jagged leaves akin to those of the nettle. The hedge woundwort also produces flowers that have a reddish-purple hue. Similar to the marsh woundwort, the freshly obtained bruised leaves of hedge woundwort possesses curative properties and were earlier used to heal wounds and swellings.
Leaves, root, seeds.
For several centuries, woundwort has been used as a remedy to treat an assortment of diseases and health conditions all over the world. In effect, herbalists consider woundwort something like an universal remedy. This herb possesses a number of remedial uses and they are very constant. The entire woundwort plant has several medicinal properties, including antipyretic (any medication that checks or prevents fevers), antiseptic, antibacterial, astringent, antispasmodic, carminative (a medication that helps to expel gas from the stomach), and febrifuge (a medication that dispels fever), diuretic, stomachic (a medication that is beneficial for the stomach), hypotensive (a medication that treats low blood pressure), and tonic, styptic (a medication that helps to bind body tissues), vulnerary (any herb that heals wounds) and vermifuge (a medication that expels worms from the body).
While an infusion prepared with cold water and freshly sliced or dried as well as powdered leaves is said to be a revitalizing drink, a weak infusion of the herb may also be used as therapeutic eyewash for sties and pinkeye (a severe type of conjunctivitis). In addition, woundwort is also ingested as a remedial tea to treat diarrhea, fevers, internal hemorrhage, tender mouth and throat as well as the debility of the heart and liver.
The wound healing properties of woundwort have given much repute to this herb, especially owing to its effectiveness in treating internal as well as external hemorrhages. The name of the herb itself suggests that it has been used traditionally as a medication to stop bleeding as well as treating inflamed parts. In addition, woundwort is highly useful for treating health conditions, such as cramps, gouts and joint pains. Generally, the herb is harvested during summer just before the plant starts blooming. In most cases, the herb is dried after harvesting for use when necessary. Woundwort plant also yields a yellow dye or pigment.
Woundwort, especially its tuberous roots, are edible and eaten both raw and cooked. It is considered to be a healthy and nourishing food having a pleasing gentle nutty taste. One may also prepare bread and other items by using the dried and pounded powder of the tuberous woundwort roots. The tubers of this plant are formed during autumn. While they are somewhat small in size, the tuberous roots are moderately smooth and formed in reasonable amounts and, hence, they are not very difficult to use. The young shoots of the herb can also be consumed after cooking much in the same way as asparagus. Hence, these shoots are often used as a substitute for asparagus. Although the shoots have a pleasing flavour, their smell is disgusting.
Habitat and cultivation
Woundwort is indigenous to Europe and widespread in the United Kingdom, where it is found growing in the wild in swamp meadows as well as along the river banks and beside streams and ditches. This herb is extensively scattered in the northern temperate climatic zones.
Woundwort has the aptitude to grow and thrive in a variety of soil conditions. The herb prefers light or sandy soil, but it also thrives well on medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils provided the drainage is adequate. In addition, the plant has a preference for acidic soils, but also grows well in neutral and basic or alkaline soils. Woundwort can grow in partial shade, such as in light forested areas, as well as in sunlight. In effect, for proper growth, this herb needs a moist or damp soil that is well drained. In the wild, woundwort grows around marshy lands, ditches as well as beside water bodies.
The woundwort plant is propagated by its seeds. It is best to sow the seeds in a cold frame during spring. When the seedlings have grown large enough to be handled, prick each of them individually and plant them in separate pots indoors. When the young plants are sufficiently large, plant them in their permanent positions outdoors. Alternately, this herb can also be propagated by means of root division done in spring. Large root divisions can be directly planted in their permanent positions outdoors.
The woundwort plant produces flowers at different times of the year conditional on the climate as well as a number of other conditions. More often than not, the plants blossom during the period between June and August. The entire plant is harvested just prior to the blooming and dried for later use. The leaves as well as the small flowers of the herb are edible.
Chemical analysis of the woundwort plant has revealed that the most helpful elements enclosed by the herb include betulinic acid, delphinidin, D-camphor, manganese, hyperoside, oleanolic acid, rutin, rosmarinic acid, ursolic acid and also a variety of tannins and saponins.