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AvensBotanical Name: Geum urbanum (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Rosaceae
Synonyms: Colewort. Herb Bennet. City Avens. Wild Rye. Way Bennet. Goldy Star. Clove Root.
Parts Used: Herb, root.
Habitat: The Avens (Geum urbanum, Linn.), belonging to the order Rosacece, its genus being nearly related to the Potentilla genus, is a common wayside plant in Great Britain, abundant in woods and hedges in England, Ireland and southern Scotland, though becoming scarcer in the north. It is common in the greater part of Europe, Russia and Central Asia.
Description: It has thin, nearly upright, wiry stems, slightly branched, from 1 to 2 feet in height, of a reddish brown on one side. Its leaves vary considerably in form, according to their position. The radical leaves are borne on long, channelled foot-stalks, and are interruptedly pinnate, as in the Silverweed the large terminal leaflet being wedge-shaped and the intermediate pairs of leaflets being very small. The upper leaves on the stem are made up of three long, narrow leaflets: those lower on the stems have the three leaflets round and full. The stem-leaves are placed alternately and have at their base two stipules (leaf-like members that in many plants occur at the junction of the base of the leaf with the stem). Those of the Avens are very large, about an inch broad and long, rounded in form and coarsely toothed and lobed. All the leaves are of a deep green colour, more or less covered with spreading hairs, their margins toothed.
The rhizomes are 1 to 2 inches long terminating abruptly, hard and rough with many light brown fibrous roots. The flowers, rather small for the size of the plant, are on solitary, terminal stalks. The corolla is composed of five roundish, spreading, yellow petals, the calyx cleft into ten segments - five large and five small - as in the Silverweed. The flowers, which are in bloom all the summer and autumn, often as late as December, are less conspicuous than the round fruitheads, which succeed them, which are formed of a mass of dark crimson achenes, each terminating in an awn, the end of which is curved into a hook.
History: The plant derives its name of Avens from the Latin Avencia, Mediaeval Latin, avantia or avence, a word of obscure origin and which in varieties of spelling has been applied to the plant from very early times.
The botanical name, Geum, originated from the Greek geno, to yield an agreeable fragrance, because, when freshly dug up, the root has a clove-like aroma. This gives rise to another name, Radix caryophylata, or Clove Root, and its corruption, Gariophilata.
Avens had many names in the fourteenth century, such as Assarabaccara, Pesleporis, or Harefoot, and Minarta.
It was called 'the Blessed Herb' (Herba benedicta), of which a common name still extant - Herb Bennet - is a corruption, because in former times it was believed that it had the power to ward off evil spirits and venomous beasts. It was worn as an amulet. The Ortus Sanitatis, printed in 1491, states: 'Where the root is in the house, Satan can do nothing and flies from it, wherefore it is blessed before all other herbs, and if a man carries the root about him no venomous beast can harm him.' Dr. Prior (Popular Names of English Plants) considers the original name to have probably been ' St . Benedict's Herb,' that name being assigned to such as were supposed to be antidotes, in allusion to a legend respecting the saint. It is said that on one occasion a monk presented him with a goblet of poisoned wine, but when the saint blessed it, the poison, being a sort of devil, flew out of it with such force that the glass was shivered to atoms, the crime of the monk being thus exposed. Hemlock is also known as Herb Bennet, probably for the same reason.
Goldy Star of the Earth, City Avens, Wild Rye and Way Bennet are other local names for the plant.
In mediaeval days, the graceful trefoiled leaf and the five golden petals of the blossoms symbolized the Holy Trinity and the five wounds of Our Lord, and towards the end of the thirteenth century the plant frequently occurs as an architectural decoration in the carved leafage on the capitals of columns and in wall patterns.
The roots should be dug up in spring; some of the old physicians were so particular on this point that the 25th March was fixed for procuring the root (and it was specified that the soil should be dry). At this time the root was said to be most fragrant. It loses much of its odour in drying, so must be dried with great care, and gradually, then sliced and powdered as required, as they are less likely to lose their properties in this form than when kept in slices.
Externally, the rhizome, when dried, is of a brownish to a brownish-yellow colour. The fracture is short. Internally, it is of a light purplish-brown when dried. In transverse section, it shows a large pith, a narrow woody ring, with thin bark. The taste of the drug is astringent, slightly bitter and clove-like.
Constituents: The principal constituent is a volatile oil, which is mainly composed of Eugenol, and a glucoside, Gein, geum-bitter, tannic acid, gum and resin. It imparts its qualities to water and alcohol, which it tinges red. Distilled with water, it yields 0.04 per cent. of thick, greenish, volatile oil.
The root has been found by Milandi and Moretti to contain one-eleventh of its weight of tannin.
Medicinal Action and Uses: Astringent, Styptic, febrifuge, sudorific, stomachic, antiseptic, tonic and aromatic.
In earlier days the roots were not only used medicinally, as at present, but to flavour ale, and to put among linen to preserve from moths and to impart a pleasant odour.
The Augsburg Ale is said to owe its peculiar flavour to the addition of a small bag of Avens in each cask. The fresh root imparts a pleasant clove-like flavour to the liquor, preserves it from turning sour, and adds to its wholesome properties.
A cordial against the plague was made by boiling the roots in wine. Gerard recommends a 'decoction made in wine against stomach ills and bites of venomous beasts.' On account of its stomachic properties, chewing of the root was recommended for foul breath. Culpepper says: 'It is governed by Jupiter and that gives hopes of a wholesome healthful herb. It is good for the diseases of the chest or breath, for pains and stitches in the sides, it dissolveth inward congealed blood occasioned by falls and bruises and the spitting of blood, if the roots either green or dried be boiled in wine and drunk. The root in the spring-time steeped in wine doth give it a delicate flavour and taste and being drunk fasting every morning comforteth the heart and is a good preservative against the plague or any other poison. It is very safe and is fit to be kept in every body's house.'
In modern herbal medicine Avens is considered useful in diarrhoea, dysenteries, leucorrhoea, sore throat, ague, chills, freshcatarrh, intermittent fevers, chronic and passive haemorrhages, gastric irritation and headache.
The infusion or decoction is made from 1/2 oz. of the powdered root or herb to 1 pint of boiling water, strained and taken cold. The infusion is the most grateful, but the decoction may be made much stronger by boiling it down to half.
The simple tincture is made by pouring a pint of proof spirit on an ounce of the bruised root and macerating it for fourteen days and then filtering through paper. Two or three teaspoonsful of this tincture in any watery vehicle, or in a glass of wine, are a sufficient dose.
An excellent compound tincture may be made as follows: Take of Avens root 1 1/2 OZ.; Angelica root, bruised, and Tormentil root bruised, of each 1 OZ.; Raisins, stoned, 2 OZ.; French brandy, 2 pints. Macerate for a month in a warm place. Filter then through paper. Dose, 1/2 oz.
The same ingredients infused in a quart of wine will form an excellent vinous tincture.
The infusion is considered an excellent cordial sudorific at the commencement of chills and catarrh, cutting short the paroxysm, and the continued use of it has restorative power in weakness, debility, etc.
Its astringency makes it useful in diarrhoea, sore throat, etc. It is taken, strained and cold, in wineglassful doses, three or four times a day.
The infusion is also used in some skin affections. When used externally as a wash, it will remove spots, freckles or eruptions from the face.
Taken as decoction in the spring, Avens acts as a purifier and removes obstructions of the liver.
The powdered root has been used both in America and Europe as a substitute for Peruvian bark and has frequently been found to cure agues when the latter has failed, a drachm of powder being given every two hours.
The dose of the fluid extract of the herb is 1 drachm, of the fluid extract of the root, 1/2 to 1 drachm. As a tonic, the usual dose of the powdered herb or root is 15 to 30 grains.
As Arnica adulterant, the rhizome is sometimes present in the imported drug.