Bugloss, Viper's

Medical Herbs Catalogue


Bugloss, Viper's

Botanical Name: Echium vulgare (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Boraginaceae
Synonym: Blueweed.
Part Used: Herb.

Viper's Bugloss is a showy plant covered with prickly hairs. It grows on walls, old quarries and gravel pits, and is common on calcareous soils. The name Bugloss, which is of Greek origin, signifies an Ox's Tongue, and was applied to it from the roughness and shape of the leaves.

Description: The stems grow from 2 to 3 feet high and are covered with bristly hairs, as are also the leaves, which are 4 or 5 inches long, lanceolate, sessile, quite entire and rough on both sides. The stem is often spotted with red and sometimes the leaves also. The root-leaves form a tuft nearly 18 inches to 2 feet across. They are petioled. The flowers are in curved spikes, numerous, those of each spike pointing one way and closely wedged together. On their first opening they are bright rose-coloured and turn to a brilliant blue. They are in bloom throughout June and July, and are much visited by bees. The corollas are irregularly tubular and funnel-shaped. A variety is occasionally found with white flowers. The fruit consists of four small nutlets. The roots are biennial and descend to a great depth in the loose soil in which the plant generally grows.

Lycopsis arvenis, the Common or Small Bugloss, has small wheel-shaped flowers and wavy toothed leaves, which have also rigid hairs with a bulbous base. Viper's Bugloss was said of old to be an expellent of poisons and venom, and to cure the bites of a viper, hence its name. Coles tells us in his Art of Simples: 'Viper's Bugloss hath its stalks all to be speckled like a snake or viper, and is a most singular remedy against poyson and the sting of scorpions. Its seeds are also thought to resemble snake heads, thus specifying it as a cure for the bites of serpents. Its generic name Echium is derived from Echis, a viper. Parkinson says of it: 'the water distilled in glasses or the roote itself taken is good against the passions and tremblings of the heart as also against swoonings, sadness and melancholy.' Medicinal Action and Uses: Diuretic, demulcent and pectoral. The leaves, especially those growing near the root, make a good cordial on infusion, which operates by perspiration and alleviates fevers, headaches and nervous complaints, relieving inflammatory pains. The infusion is made of 1 oz. of the dried leaves to a pint of boiling water, and is given in wineglassful to teacupful doses, as required.

A decoction of the seeds in wine, we are told by old writers, 'comforts the heart and drives away melancholy.'