Medical Herbs Catalogue



Botanical Name: Aquilegia vulgaris (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Ranunculaceae
Synonym: Culverwort (Saxon).
Parts Used: Leaves, root, seeds.

The Columbine, though a wild flower in this country, found occasionally in woods and copses, and in open clearings (generally on a calcareous soil), is more familiar as a garden plant.

Description: From its branching and fibrous root, which is blackish and rather stout, springs a large tuft of leaves, dark and bluish green on the upper surfaces and greyish beneath. These lowest leaves are on long foot-stalks and are large, having a terminal group of three leaflets, and below them on each side another group of three leaflets. The stem-leaves get gradually smaller, the higher they grow up the stem, the uppermost being without stalks and merely threelobed. The flower stems are 1 to 2 feet high, erect and slender, often reddish in colour, branching into a loose head of flowers, which are 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter and drooping.

The only variety in which the flowers are not drooping is Aquilegia parviflora, which Ledebour describes with the flowers perfectly erect.

When growing wild, the flowers are usually blue or dull purple, occasionally white. The Columbine may be distinguished from all other British flowers, by having each of its five petals terminated in an incurved, hornlike spur. The petals are tubular and dilated at the other extremity.

The flowers are perfumed like hay.

The plant is in blossom throughout May and June. Its fruit is composed of five carpels, cylindrical in form, with pointed ends like a cluster of little pea-pods, each carpel (or seed vessel) containing many smooth, dark-coloured seeds, which are freely shed when ripe, so that the parent plant is generally the centre of a little colony of seedlings.

The generic name of Aquilegia is derived from the Latin aquila (an eagle), the spurs of the flowers being considered to resemble an eagle's talons. The popular name, Columbine, is from the Latin columba (a dove or pigeon), from the idea that the flowers resemble a flight of these birds. A still older name, Culverwort, has the same reference wort being the Saxon word for a plant and culfre meaning a pigeon.

The Columbine is a favourite old-fashioned garden-flower, being mentioned by Tusser (1580) among a list of flowers suitable 'for windows and pots', Parkinson, in 1629, speaks of the many varieties grown in gardens. It was one of the badges of the House of Lancaster and also of the family of Derby. The flower is referred to in Hamlet and in one of Ben Jonson's poems: 'Bring cornflag, tulip and Adonis flower, Fair Oxeye, goldylocks and columbine.' Medicinal Action and Uses: Astringent. It has been employed on the continent, but according to Linnaeus, with very unsatisfactory results, children having sometimes been poisoned by it when given in too large doses. It is no longer used. Culpepper tells us: 'The leaves of Columbine are successfully used in lotions for sore mouths and throats. . . . The Spaniards used to eat a piece of the root thereof in a morning fasting many days together, to help them when troubled with stone. The seed taken in wine with a little saffron removes obstructions of the liver and is good for the yellow jaundice.'