Fleabane, CommonBotanial: Inula dysenterica (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Compositae
Synonyms: Pulicaria dysenterica (Gaertn.). Middle Fleabane.
Parts Used: Herb, root.
Habitat: This species is a native of most parts of Europe, in moist meadows, watery places, by the sides of ditches, brooks and rivers, growing in masses and frequently overrunning large tracts of land on account of its creeping underground stems. In Scotland, however, it is rare, though common in Ireland.
The Common Fleabane is nearly related to elecampane and other species of Inula, and by Linnaeus, whom Hooker follows, is assigned to the same genus, although placed, with a smaller variety, in a separate genus, Pulicaria, by the botanist Gaertner.
This plant has medicinal properties, and though in England it has never had much reputation as a curative agent it has ranked high in the estimation of herbalists abroad. It was formerly used in dysentery, and on this account received its specific name from Linnaeus, who in his Flora Suecia says that he had been informed by General Keit, of the Russian Army, that his soldiers, in one of their expeditions against Persia, were cured of dysentery by means of this plant. Our old authors call it 'Middle Fleabane' - Ploughman's Spikenard being the Great Fleabane; both names being derived from the fact that, if burnt, the smoke from them drives away fleas and other insects. The generic name, Pulicaria, refers to this property, the Latin name for the flea being Pulex.
By the Arabians, it is called Rarajeub, or Job's Tears, from a tradition that Job used a decoction of this herb to cure his ulcers. It was formerly recommended for the itch and other cutaneous disorders.
Description: It is a rough-looking plant, well marked by its soft, hoary foliage, and large terminal flat heads of bright yellow flowers, single, or one or two together, about an inch across, large in proportion to the size of the plant, the ray florets very numerous, long and narrow, somewhat paler than the florets in the centre or disk.
The creeping rootstock is perennial, and sends up at intervals stems reaching a height of 1 to 2 feet. These stems are woolly, branched above and very leafy, the leaves oblong, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches long, heart or arrowshaped at the base, embracing the stem, irregularly waved and toothed. Like the stem, the leaves are more or less covered with a woolly substance, varying a good deal in different plants. The under surface is ordinarily more woolly than the upper, and though the general effect of the foliage varies according to its degree of woolliness, it is at best a somewhat dull and greyish green.
The plant is in bloom from the latter part of July to September. The fruit is silky and crowned by a few short, unequal hairs of a dirty-white, with an outer ring of very short bristles or scales, a characteristic which distinguishes it from Elecampane and other members of the genus Inula, whose pappus consists of a single row of hairs this being the differing point which has led to its being assigned to a distinct genus, Pulicaria.
Another English plant bears the name of Fleabane (Erigeron acris), a member of the same order. For the sake of distinction, it is commonly known as the Blue Fleabane, its flowerheads having a yellow centre, and being surrounded by purplish rays. It is a smaller, far less striking plant, growing in dry situations.
Medicinal Action and Uses: The leaves when bruised have a somewhat soap-like smell. The sap that lies in the tissues is bitter, astringent and saltish, so that animals will not eat the plant, and this astringent character, to which no doubt the medicinal properties are to be ascribed, is imparted to decoctions and infusions of the dried herb. The following is taken from Miss E. S. Rohde's Old English Herbals: 'Fleabane bound to the forehead is a great helpe to cure one of the frensie.' 'Fleabane on the lintel of the door I have hung, S. John's wort, caper and wheatears With a halter as a roving ass Thy body I restrain. O evil spirit, get thee hence! Depart, O evil Demon.' .......(Trans. of Utukke Limnûte Tablet 'B.' R. C. Thompson, Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonians). See ELECAMPANE.