Friday, 10 July 2009

Hedge woundwort

Stachys sylvatica

I grow within the lowly hedge;
My cousin at the marsh's edge.
And each, as shown within our name,
For healing wounds is known to fame.
Less famous is our second feat -
Our roots are very good to eat.

This pungent wild herb grows very happily in our garden, though no doubt my efforts to transplant it to the paddock will all prove in vain. Here it is growing across a path, and ought to be cleared away, but it's a cheerful soul and I shan't do so while it's in flower.

Despite its name it is not very highly rated as a wound herb - if its cousins, marsh woundwort or betony are to hand they are preferred; nonetheless, it was supposed to make a very good poultice (who, these days, remembers the agonising relief of a hot poultice on a recalcitrant splinter?) and styptic, more often collected from the wild than cultivated, since it grows readily in hedgerows across much of northern Europe. Gerard advised mixing it with hog's grease, much as I used to make comfrey ointment by heating comfrey leaves in lard.

Mrs Grieve, in her Modern Herbal, reports that a yellow dye can be made from the plant and it is suggested that there might be commercial uses for the fibres. Young shoots can, apparently, be eaten like asparagus, and the roots are said to be very nutritious, although the smell does little to persuade me.

There are good reasons for encouraging this plant in the wild areas around your garden, however: bees and moths both love it, and we should be doing all we can to provide habitats for both. Encouraging moths will also provide food for bats, and our long-eared bats regularly hunt over the woundwort patch (also the nettle patch, we have a very messy garden, although we claim that it is intentional).

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