Medical Herbs Catalogue



Family: N.O. Onagrariaceae The Willow-herbs (Epilobium), nine species of which are natives of Great Britain, belong to the order Onagraceae, to which belong also the familiar garden flowers the Fuchsia, Clarkia and Godetia, and the Evening Primrose (Cenothera biennis) (a native of North America, which, as a garden escape, is sometimes found apparently wild). The insignificant wild plant Circaea lutetiana, the Enchanter's Nightshade, also belongs to the same family. Many of the members of the order, being rich in tannin, find considerable domestic use as astringents.

The name of the genus Epilobium is from two Greek words epi (upon) and lobos (a pod), from the fact that the flowers stand upon the top of long, thin, pod-like seed-vessels, having somewhat the appearance of rather thick flower-stems. The name Willow-herb refers to the willow-like form of the leaves.

WILLOW-HERB, ROSE BAY Botanical Name: Epilobium angustifolium (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Onagrariaceae
Uses Medicinal Action and Uses
Synonyms: Flowering Willow. French Willow. Persian Willow. Rose Bay Willow. Blood Vine. Blooming Sally. Purple Rocket. Wickup. Wicopy. Tame Withy.
Part used: Herb.

Epilobium angustifolium (Linn.), the Rose Bay Willow-herb, is one of our handsomest wild flowers, and like the Foxglove, is for its beauty often cultivated as a garden plant.

Its tall, erect stems, 4 to 8 feet high, densely clothed with long, narrow, minutely-toothed leaves, terminate in long, showy spikes of flowers of a light rose-purple, hence the name Rose Bay, the leaves having likewise been compared to those of the Bay Laurel. The plant has also been named Blood Vine, because it has a red appearance. In Ireland, we find it called 'Blooming Sally,' Sally being a corruption of the Latin Salix, the Willow, really a reference to the willow-like leaves. Gerard calls it: 'A goodly and stately plant having leaves like the greatest willow or osier, garnished with brave flowers of great beautie, consisting of four leaves apiece of an orient purple colour.' It is a native of most countries of Europe. In this country, it has apparently become more common than it was in Gerard's day. He tells us he had received some plants of this species from a place in Yorkshire, apparently as a rarity, 'which doe grow in my garden very goodly to behold, for the decking up of houses and gardens.'

It is to be found by moist riversides and in copses, but will sometimes spring up in a town, self-sown, on waste ground recently cleared of buildings: the site of Kingsway and Aldwych in London, adjoining the Strand, where many buildings, centuries old, had been pulled down, was the following summer covered by the Rose Bay Willow-herb, as by a crimson mantle, though no one could explain where the seeds had come from. The same phenomenon was repeated, in Westminster, when other old buildings were demolished for improvements and the ground remained waste for a considerable time. In America, it springs up on ground recently cleared by firing, being one of the plants called 'Fireweed' in the United States where it is known as the Great or Spiked Willow-herb, Bay Willow, Flowering Willow, Purple Rocket, Wickup and Wicopy.

The plant is in bloom for about a month.

The individual flowers are about an inch in diameter, calyx and corolla each four-parted; the stamens, eight in number, standing up, form an arch or dome over the ovary, on the green, fleshy, upper surface of which nectar is secreted. Sprengel, in 1790, showed that the flowers, which open soon after sunrise, are protenandrous, i.e. the anthers ripen first, and self-pollination would occur if insects did not visit them. Bees, who much visit the flowers in search of nectar, get smeared by the pollen, which is sticky. It is not left by them on the stigma of the same flower, however, which at this stage is a mere knob, immature and unable to receive the pollen grains. On reaching another flower, further advanced, the stigma, ripe for reception of pollen, has opened out to become a white, four-rayed cross of great distinctness and perforce receives any pollen the insect visitor may have collected as he pushes by to get to the nectar below, and the ovules thus become fertilized.

The dead flowers, when fertilization has been effected, fall off cleanly from the long, projecting, quadrangular pods, which later split into four long strands, which stretch wide apart, disclosing a mass of silky white hairs, in which are embedded the very tiny seeds, a few hairs being attached to the top of each seed. The slightest wind scatters them broadcast over the neighbourhood. All the Willow-herbs distribute their seeds in the same manner, and as the plant spreads extensively by creeping stems it is very difficult to keep it within bounds.

Uses: The leaves of the Rose Bay Willow herb have been used as a substitute andadulterant of Tea. Though no longer so employed in England, the leaves of both this species and of the Great Hairy Willow-herb (E. hirsutum, Linn.) are largely used in Russia, under the name of Kaporie Tea. Green (Universal Herbal, 1832) reports: 'The young shoots are said to be eatable, although an infusion of the plant produces a stupifying effect.

'The pith when dried is boiled, and becoming sweet, is by a proper process made into ale, and this into vinegar, by the Kamtschatdales; it is also added to the Cow Parsnip, to enrich the spirit that is prepared from that plant.

'As fodder, goats are said to be extremely fond of it and cows and sheep to eat it.

'The down of the seeds, mixed with cotton or fur, has been manufactured into stockings, etc.' The young shoots are boiled and eaten like asparagus.

The ale made from the plant in Kamchatka is rendered still more intoxicating with a toadstool, the Fly Agaric, Agaricus muscarius.

Medicinal Action and Uses: The roots and leaves have demulcent, tonic and astringent properties and are used in domestic medicine in decoction, infusion and cataplasm, as astringents.

Used much in America as an intestinal astringent.

The plant contains mucilage and tannin.

The dose of the herb is 30 to 60 grains. It has been recommended for its antispasmodic properties in the treatment of whoopingcough, hiccough and asthma.

In ointment, it has been used locally as a remedy for infantile cutaneous affections.

By some modern botanists, this species is now assigned to a separate genus and designated: Chamcenerion angustifolium (Scop.).

(Epilobium hirsutum LINN.)
Click on graphic for larger image Botanical Name: Epilobium hirsutum (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Onagrariaceae

Synonyms: Son-before-the-Father. Codlings and Cream. Apple Pie. Cherry Pie. Gooseberry Pie. Sod Apple and Plum Pudding.
Part Used: Herb.

The Great Hairy Willowherb, though it has not so conspicuous a flower as the Rose Bay, is yet a striking plant, growing in great masses by pond sides, along the margins of lakes and rivers and in marshes and pools.

It is tall and erect, branched, with underground creeping shoots, like the Rose Bay. The leaves are placed opposite one another on the stem, are 3 to 5 inches long, their bases clasping the stem and like it, very woolly, hence the specific Latin name hirsutum, and the common English name.

The flowers are numerous and large, rose purple, though not so brilliant as those of theRose Bay, bell-shaped and partly drooping, the petals broad and notched.

In this species, stigmas and anthers ripen together and the plant is capable of selfpollination, but cross-pollination is ensured by insect visitors by the more prominent position of the stigmas. Insect visitors are, however, not very numerous, and in their absence the stigmas curl back and touch the anthers. (In another smaller species, Epilobium parviflorum (Schreb.) rarely visited by insects, four stamens are shorter, four longer than the style; the former are only useful for cross-pollination, the latter selfpollinate the flower. Stamens and stigma ripen simultaneously.)

The seeds, contained in similar long pods, are provided as in the Rose Bay, with a tuft of hairs which aid in wind dispersal.

The leaves, and particularly the topshoots, when slightly bruised, have a delicate, cool fragrance, resembling scalded codlings, whence its popular name of Codlings and Cream, but this fragrance is very soon lost after the plant is gathered. It is also called, in allusion to this delicate scent, Apple Pie, Cherry Pie, Gooseberry Pie, Sod Apple and Plum Pudding. It is said to be the 'St. Anthony's Herb' of antiquity.

The old English country name of 'Son-before-the-Father' arises because, as Lyte says: 'the long huskes in which the seede is contained doe come forth and waxe great before that the flouere openeth.'

The name 'Hooded Willow-herb' does not refer to one of these species, but is another name for the Scullcap (Scutellaria), and the 'Purple Willow-herb' is also not this species, but another name for Lythrum Salicaria, the Purple Loosestrife, a plant that is often present in the same riverside situations.

Although the leaves of E. hirsutum have also been used as astringents there are reports of violent poisoning with epileptic-like convulsions having been caused by its employment.