Speedwell, Germander

Medical Herbs Catalogue


Speedwell, Germander

Botanical Name: Veronica chamaedrys (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Scrophulariaceae

Synonyms: Fluellin the Male. Veronique petit Chêne. Paul's Betony. Eye of Christ. Angels' Eyes. Cat's Eye. Bird's Eye. Farewell.
Part Used: Herb.

Speedwell, Germander, is the commonest British species of Speedwell, found everywhere, on banks, pastures, in copses, etc., flowering in spring and early summer.

The name Germander is a corruption of the Latin chamaedrys. Gerard commenting on the name says: 'The Germander from the form of the leaves like unto small oak leaves, has the name chamaedrys given it, which signifieth a dwarf oak' - though the likeness is not very pronounced.

Description: This little plant has a creeping, branched root-stock, passing insensibly into the stem, which is weak and decumbent to the point where the leaves commence, and then raises itself about a foot, to carry up the flowers. The leaves are in pairs, nearly stalkless, 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches long, egg-shaped to heart-shaped, deeply furrowed by the veins, the margins coarsely toothed. On the whole length of the stem are two lines of long hairs running down between each pair of leaves, shifting from side to side wherever they arrive at a fresh pair of leaves. These hairy lines act as barriers to check the advance of unwelcome crawling insects. The leaves themselves bear jointed hairs, and the flower-stalks, calyx and capsule also have long, gland-tipped hairs. The leaves are sometimes attacked by a gall mite, Cecidomyia Veronica, and white galls like white buttons are the result on the ends of the shoots.

The numerous flowers are in loose racemes, 2 to 6 inches long in the axils of the leaves, the flowers are rather close together on first expanding, but become distant after the fall of the corolla, which is 1/2 inch across, bright blue with darker lines, and a white eye in the centre, where the four petals join into the short tube. The corolla is so lightly attached that the least jarring causes it to drop, so that the plant at the slightest handling loses its bright blossom - hence, perhaps, its name Speedwell and similar local names, 'Fare well' and 'Good-bye.' The under lip of the corolla covers the upper in bud. The flower closes at night and also in rainy weather, when the brightness of the blossoms quite disappears, only the pale and pearly underside of its petals being visible.

The cross fertilization of the flower is performed chiefly by drone flies. On either side of the big, double, top petal, a little stamen stretches outward like a horn. When an insect approaches, it grasps the stamens with its front legs and they are thus drawn forwards and onwards, so that they dust the under-side of the insect with their pollen. He steadies himself for a moment, probing the flower for the nectar round the ovary and then flies away. As the stamens in any flower do not discharge their pollen until after the stigma, which projects over the lower petal, has been ready for some time to receive it, and since the stigmas also rub on the insect's abdomen, it is evident that it will probably be fertilized from some neighbouring flower before its own pollen is ready for use. When before and during rain the flower is closed, in the absence of insect visitors, it then, however, successfully carries on self-fertilization. Kerner, in Flowers and their Unbidden Guests, notes this fact in referring to the Speedwells, saying: 'In the mountainous districts of the temperate zones, it often happens that rainy weather sets in just at the time when the flowers are about to open, and that it lasts for weeks. Humble and hivebees, butterflies and flies retire to their hiding-places, and for a considerable time cease to pay any visits to flowers. The growth of the plants is not, however, arrested during this period, and even in the flowers themselves, development quietly progresses if the temperature be not too low. The stigmatic tissue becomes receptive, the anthers attain to maturity, dehisce, and liberate their pollen, notwithstanding that no ray of sunshine penetrates the clouds, and that rain falls continuously. In such circumstances the mouth of the flower is not opened, selffertilization takes place in the closed flower, and all the adjustments evolved with the object of securing cross-fertilization are ineffectual.'

The two-celled ovary matures into a flattened capsule, deeply notched at the top, which opens round the edges by two valves. The Seeds are said to be specially good as food for birds.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Old writers of all countries speak highly of the virtues of the Speedwell as a vulnerary, a purifier of the blood, and a remedy in various skin diseases, its outward application being considered efficacious for the itch. It was also believed to cure smallpox and measles, and to be a panacea for many ills. Gerard recommends it for cancer, 'given in good broth of a hen,' and advocates the use of the root as a specific against pestilential fevers.

It is not to be confused with Germander (Teucrium chamaedrys), the celebrated specific for gout, used by the Emperor Charles V.

The Germander Speedwell has a certain amount of astringency, and an infusion of its leaves was at one time famous for coughs, the juice of the fresh plant also, boiled into a syrup with honey, was used for asthma and catarrh, and a decoction of the whole plant was employed to stimulate the kidneys.