Woundwort, Hedgeotanical: Stachys sylvatica (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Labiatae Part Used: Herb.
The Hedge Stachys, or Hedge Woundwort, the most frequent of the Stachys, is a coarse, hairy, malodorous plant, common in woods and hedges. It has thick, creeping roots that throw up tall stems, 2 or 3 feet high. Like the rest of the genus and labiate plants in general, these are quadrangular, but instead of being hollow (like the Deadnettles) they are filled with pith and solid; they are very hairy and often more or less red in colour.
The stem branches a good deal, though the upright character of the plant is preserved, the branches being very similar in character to the main stem and issuing from it in pairs, opposite to each other, at the same spot from which the leaf-stalks arise, the leaves being thrown off from the stem in pairs, each at right angles to the pair above and below it. The blades of the leaves are heart-shaped, similar in form to those of the nettle, with bold, saw-like teeth to the margins, and are on rather long footstalks.
The flowers grow in rings or whorls upon the stem, as in the other species of Stachys, each ring having narrow, leafy bracts beneath it, and being separated from the other by an intervening space of stem, the whole forming a long, terminal spike. There are rarely more than six flowers in each whorl. The lower lip of each flower is entire, beautifully variegated with white upon the dull crimson-purple ground and with its sides folded back. The upper lip is also entire and very convex, slightly viscid to the touch. The four stamens are beneath the protecting hood formed by the upper part of the flower, two of them longer than the others, their anthers first dull violet, then becoming black and containing pure white pollen. When in seed, the calyx teeth become rigid, and as the calyx tube dries and contracts, the four little nutlets enclosed are shot out. The corolla tube is often half filled with honey, and the mouth of the tube is provided with stiff white hairs to keep insect visitors to the centre of the channel, this flower laying itself out to be fertilized by hive bees, humble bees and long-tongued flies, who settle on the lower lip, and as they creep up the channel of the petal tube, get dusted with the pollen from the stamens in the hooded petal.
An old authority tells us that this herb 'stamped with vinegar and applied in manner of a pultis, taketh away wens and hard swellings, and inflammation of the kernels under the eares and jawes,' and also that the distilled water of the flowers 'is used to make the heart merry, to make a good colour in the face, and to make the vitall spirits more fresh and lively.'
It is said that a yellow dye can be obtained from the plant, and it has been suggested that the very tough fibres of its stem might be utilized commercially; it has also been classed among the Woundworts good for stanching blood. Referring to its pungent foetid smell when rubbed, Green, in his Universal Herbal (1832), considers that 'being one of those that powerfully affect the nerves, it might prove no contemptible stimulant if judiciously used.' He informs us also that toads are thought to be fond of living under its shade, and that though sheep and goats eat it, cows and hogs refuse it.