Hawkweed, Woodotanical: Hieracium sylvaticum (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Compositae Part Used: Herb.
The Hawkweeds, together with the Hawkbits, Goat's Beard and Salsify, belong to the Chicory group of the great order Compositae, which includes also the Dandelion and Sowthistles. All the plants of this group have milky juice, and the flowers - mostly yellow - have not two kinds of florets, like the daisy, but consist only of strap-shaped florets, each one of which is a complete flower in itself, not lacking stamens, as do the outer similarly shaped ray florets of the Daisy.
It is often a perplexing matter to distinguish the different members of the Hawkweed family. Some botanical authorities have recognized no less than thirty different species, but many of these are considered by other authorities to be merely variations or subspecies, and, as a rule, about ten species are regarded as distinct, of which the commonest among the taller species are the Wall Hawkweed (Hieracium murorum), and the Wood Hawkweed (H. sylvaticum), and the little Mouse-ear Hawkweed. The older writers have often grouped together, as far as their medicinal qualities are concerned, the Hawkweeds, the Hawkbits and the Hawkbeards, all of which have yellow, dandelion-like flowers, and are much alike in appearance. Culpepper says: 'Saturn owns it. Hawkweed, saith Dioscorides, is cooling, somewhat drying and binding, and good for the heat of the stomach and gnawings therein, for inflammation and the bad fits of ague. The juice of it in wine helps digestion, dispels wind, hinders crudities abiding in the stomach; it is good against the biting of venomous serpents, if the herb be applied to the place, and is good against all other poisons. A scruple of the dried root given in wine and vinegar is profitable for dropsy. The decoction of the herb taken in honey digesteth the phlegm in the chest or lungs, and with hyssop helps the cough. The decoction of the herb and of wild succory made with wine, cures windy colic and hardness of the spleen, it procures rest and sleep, cools heat, purges the stomach, increases blood and helps diseases of the reins and bladder. Outwardly applied it is good for all the defects and diseases of the eyes, used with new milk- it is used with good success for healing spreading ulcers, especially in the beginning. The green leaves, bruised and with a little salt, applied to any place burnt with fire before blisters arise, help them: as also St. Anthony's fire (erysipelas) and all eruptions. Applied with meal and water as a poultice, it eases and helps cramps and convulsions. The distilled water cleanseth the skin and taketh away freckles, spots, or wrinkles in the face.' The Wall Hawkweed, probably the commonest of the genus, grows freely in Great Britain in woods and on heaths, walls and rocks. It is a very variable plant, 1 to 2 feet high; the leaves, which are more or less hairy, mostly rise directly from the root and lie in a rosette on the ground. They are egg-shaped and toothed at the base and have slender footstalks. The stem is many-flowered and rarely bears more than one large leaf, sometimes none. The yellow flowers, which are in bloom in July and August, are from 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter, their stalks below the heads being covered with scattered, simple and gland-tipped black hairs.
The Wood Hawkweed is found on banks and in copses, flowering in August and September. It is also very variable, but is best distinguished from H. murorum by its more robust habit, rather larger heads of flowers and by the narrower leaves, less crowded in a rosette, the stem being as a rule more leafy, but some varieties of murorum would rank with this in form of foliage. The leaves are sometimes very slightly toothed, the teeth pointing upwards, at other times deeply so, and are often spotted with purple. The stems are 1 to 3 feet high and many flowered, the involucres of the heads being hoary with down.