Jacob's Ladder

Medical Herbs Catalogue


Jacob's Ladder

Botanical Name: Polemonium coeruleum (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Polemoniaceae

Synonyms: Greek Valerian. Charity.
Part Used: Herb.
Habitat: This species is found wild in bushy places and by the side of streams, apparently indigenous, from Stafford and Derby northwards to the Cheviots, but doubtedly indigenous elsewhere, and when found in Scotland and Ireland, only an escape from gardens.

The Greek Valerian (Polemonium coeruleum, Linn.) is not a Valerian at all, but belongs to the natural order Polemoniaceae, the family of the Phloxes. Cats are, however, nearly as fond of the smell of this plant as of the true Valerian, and will frequently roll on it and injure it, and hence, perhaps, it has been popularly termed Valerian. It does not possess any of the medicinal qualities of the Valerians, and has nothing in common with them except in the shape of the leaves.

It is a common garden plant, with showy, blue flowers, and is called 'Jacob's Ladder,' from its successive pairs of leaflets. The name of the genus, Polemonium, is somewhat obscure - it is apparently derived from the Greek polemos (war), but its application is unexplained.

Description: The plant is bright green and smooth, the upper portion generally clothed with short, gland-tipped hairs. The perennial root-stock is short and creeping, the stem 18 inches to 3 feet high, hollow and angular; the leaves, with very numerous pairs of entire leaflets, 1/2 to 1 inch long. The flowers are very numerous, terminating the stem of branches, slightly drooping, the corollas 3/4 to 1 inch across, deep blue, with short tubes and five broad, spreading segments. The stamens, inserted at the throat of the tube, have yellow anthers.

A handsome form, frequent in gardens, has variegated leaves and white flowers. Medicinal Action and Uses: Culpepper says of it: 'It is under Mercury, and is alexipharmic, sudorific, and cephalic, and useful in malignant fevers and pestilential distempers; it helps in nervous complaints, headaches, trembling, palpitations of the heart, vapours, etc. It is good in hysteric cases, and epilepsies have been cured by the use of this herb.' He tells us also, 'it is planted in gardens, and is found wild in some parts of Yorkshire.'

P. reptans (Linn.) (Abscess Root), known also as FALSE JACOB S LADDER, is used in herbal medicine for its diaphoretic, astringent and expectorant qualities; an infusion of the root being considered useful in coughs, colds, and bronchial and lung complaints, producing copious perspiration; has been considered to have similar diaphoretic and astringent action to Jacob's Ladder.