Loosestrife, Yellow

Medical Herbs Catalogue


Loosestrife, Yellow

Botanical Name: Lysimachia vulgaris (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Primulaceae

Synonyms: Yellow Willow Herb. Herb Willow. Willow-wort. Wood Pimpernel.
Part Used: Herb.

The Yellow Loosestrife is a tall, handsome plant, from 2 to 3 or even 4 feet high, found as a rule on shady banks or crowning the herbage of the stream-side vegetation. It has a creeping root, which persists year after year, and every spring throws up afresh the tall, golden-topped stems, whose flowers are at their best in July and August.

Description: Its stems are slightly branched and covered with a soft, fine down. Closely set upon them are a number of nearly stalkless leaves, sometimes in pairs, sometimes three or four springing from the same spot. They are rather large and broad, 3 to 6 inches long by about 1 1/4 inches broad, oblong or lance-shaped and sharply tapering at the top. Their edges are unbroken. The undersurfaces are downy with soft, spreading hairs, especially on the veins, and the upper surfaces are marked with black dots which are glands. Whatever arrangement we find in any given plant holds throughout: we do not find in the same plant some of the leaves in pairs and others in three. When the leaves are in pairs, the stem is quadrangular and the angles increase as the leaves increase in number.

At the top of the stem arise the flower-buds, in the axils of the leaves. Each becomes a short stalk carrying a terminal flower, below which other flowers on smaller stalks arise - the ends of the main stem thus becoming covered with a mass of golden blossoms. The flower stalks are somewhat viscid, or sticky, to the touch.

Each flower is about 3/4 inch in diameter, forming a cup of five petals, quite distinct at their tips, but joined together near the base. When the flowers droop, the five-pointed calyx, whose edges are fringed with fine red hairs, are seen at the back of the petals. The five stamens look quite separate, but are joined together at the bottom by a fleshy band attached to the petals, so that they seem to stand on a little glandular tube. This tube has not, as one would expect, any honey, and, in fact, there is neither honey nor scent in any part of the flower. Nevertheless, the plant is visited by one particular kind of bee, Macropsis labiata, which will visit no other flower, hence where the Loosestrife does not grow the Macropsis does not seem to exist. Self- fertilization also takes place in smaller, less attractive-looking flowers, sometimes found among the others. As a result of fertilization, whether self or effected by insects, the ovary develops into a rounded capsule, which when dried opens at the top by five valves. The swaying of the stems by the wind jerks out the minute seeds.

The Yellow Loosestrife, which is in no way related to the Purple Loosestrife, has often been known as the Yellow Willow Herb, Herb Willow, or Willow Wort, as if it belonged to the true Willow Herbs (which are quite a different family - Onagraceae). There is a superficial resemblance between them, especially with regard to the leaves. The Yellow Loosestrife belongs, however, to the same family as the Primrose and the Pimpernel.

The Purple Loosestrife, on the other hand, is more nearly allied to the Willow herbs.

Other Species: Four species of Lysimachia are native in this country - the Yellow Loosestrife; the Moneywort - our familiar Creeping Jenny; the Yellow Pimpernel (or 'Wood Loosestrife'), which is remarkably like the Scarlet Pimpernel in general habit and in form, and the Tufted Lysimachia, a rare plant confined to the northern portions of this island.

Both the scientific and popular names o the Loosestrife have interesting origins. The name Lysimachia is supposed to have been given in memory of King Lysimachus of Sicily, who, as Pliny tells us, first discovered its medicinal properties and then introduced it to his people. A belief in these properties persisted for many centuries; it was 'a singular good wound herb for green wounds,' says one old herbalist, and it had a great reputation for stanching bleeding of any sort. It had the credit of being so excellent a vulnerary, that the young leaves bound about a fresh wound are said to immediately check the bleeding and perform a cure in a very short time.

Its common name of Loosestrife is a very old one, and refers to the belief that the plant would quieten savage beasts, and that in particular it had a special virtue 'in appeasing the strife and unruliness which falleth out among oxen at the plough, if it be put about their yokes.' The plant appears to be obnoxious to gnats and flies, and so, no doubt, placing it under the yoke, relieved the beasts of their tormentors, thus making them quiet and tractable. For the same reason, the dried herb used to be burnt in houses, so that the smoke might drive away gnats and flies. It was particularly valuable in marshy districts. Snakes and serpents were said to disappear immediately the fumes of the burning herb came near them.

Gerard speaks of the 'yellow pimpernel growing in abundance between Highgate and Hampstead.' Coles's Art of Simpling, the only herbal which devotes a chapter to herbs useful for animals, refers to the belief that: 'if loosestrife is thrown between two oxen when they are fighting they will part presently, and being tied about their necks it will keep them from fighting.' Even in Pliny's days, it was suggested that the plant did not really derive its name from a more or less mythical king, but that it was compounded from the Greek words, signifying 'dissolving strife' - it being held that not only cattle at the plough, but also restive horses could be subdued by it.

The plants can be transferred to the garden if the soil be somewhat moist, and especially if a stream or a piece of water is available. They will grow and thrive, then, in their new quarters, creeping by their perennial roots, so that when once fairly established, they will flourish permanently.

Part Used: The whole herb, collected from wild plants in July and dried.

The taste of the dried herb is astringent and slightly acid, but it has no odour.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Astringent, expectorant. Loosestrife proves useful inchecking bleeding of the mouth, nose and wounds, restraining profuse haemorrhage of any kind.

It has demulcent and astringent virtues which render it useful in obstinate diarrhoea, and as a gargle it finds use in relaxed throat and quinsy. For the cure of sore eyes, this herb has been considered equal, if not superior to Eyebright. Culpepper states: 'This herb has some peculiar virtue of its own, as the distilled water is a remedy for hurts and blows on the eyes, and for blindness, so as the crystalline humours be not perished or hurt. It cleareth the eyes of dust or any other particle and preserveth the sight.' For wounds, an ointment was used in his days, made of the distilled water of the herb, boiled with butter and sugar. The distilled water was also recommended for cleansing ulcers and reducing their inflammation, and also, applied warm, for removing 'spots, marks and scabs in the skin.'