You guys, it’s spring. Well, it was spring. I looked out the window this morning and everything was covered with snow. Again. (I’m really over this winter…)
However, yesterday the day was a reasonable spring temperature, the snow was melted, and the cracks in the sidewalks were suddenly green with life. SPRING. I spent last spring learning about the different urban weeds here in the Philadelphia area but I never considered what medicinal uses people thought they might have. But, most of these weeds are not native – someone had to bring them to North America for a reason. Why? Why did they want these plants around?
So as the plants show themselves this spring, I will be looking into their uses and we will be starting with one that I have already seen this year – Henbit.
Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) is a common weed in the United States. It not cultivated but instead you will find it growing between cracks in the sidewalk or invading a lawn. It’s a member of the mint family which means it has a square stem. The leaves are scalloped and the upper leaves completely encircle the stem. The flowers are tubular and usually purple in color and form in the upper axils of the leaves.
Henbit has long been considered a wild edible plant. It is foraged for in the spring and added to salads as a green high in antioxidents and iron. However, it was traditionally used medicinally for blood related maladies. Taken internally or used externally as a poultice it can help stop bleeding and reduce swelling associated with cuts and burns. It is also thought to be an emmenagogue.
The lovage plant (Levisticum officinale) has been cultivated for medicinal and culinary use for many years – so long, in fact, that the exact native region of the plant is unknown because humans were so swift to spread it across the globe. With a taste reminiscent of celery, the leaves, roots, and seeds have been used as a folk medicine for ailments from kidney stones to migraines. Contemporary research shows the root has high diuretic properties and its tea is effective for expelling gas in both children and adults.
But the entomological breakdown of the name shows that the plant was known for its abilities in love. From Wikipedia:
The name ‘lovage’ is from “love-ache”, ache being a medieval name for parsley; this is a folk-etymological corruption of the older French name levesche, from late Latin levisticum, in turn thought to be a corruption of the earlier Latin ligusticum, “of Liguria” (northwest Italy), where the herb was grown extensively. [In] Italian [it is] levistico or sedano di monte, French livèche, Romanian leuştean, Hungarian lestyán, Russian любисток lyubeestok, etc. In Bulgaria, it is known as девесил deveseel. The Czech name is libeček, and the Polish name is lubczyk, both meaning ‘love herb’. The name in Swedish is libbsticka. The official German name is Liebstöckel, literally ‘love stick’.
As my family collapsed in the living room last night, stuffed and exhausted from a day of visiting and eating and eating and presents and more eating my father asked me a trivia question (which is how my family celebrates every and all holidays and gatherings): “Hey Sarah, what is another name for Boswellia?”
I was stumped. “I’ll give you a hint,” he told me, “it’s an herb…” And still, I had nothing.
So then he retreats to the kitchen and comes back with his bottle of Boswellia serrata – Frankincense. Who knew? Of course it was Christmas themed plant trivia.