Tag Archive | wild herbs

A Pretty Weed

Every late spring a shady corner of the hayfield is bright blue with the flowers of a pretty weed.  The area is about 5 feet square and has not increased noticeably in size over the years.  Having learned my lesson from the yellow rattle about allowing pretty weeds in the hayfield, I decided to research this lovely blue flower.  Turns out it is Germander speedwell, Veronica chamaedrys, a member of the Plantain family.

Germander speedwell was introduced to New England and is native to Britain and Europe.  A perennial herb with rhizomes, it is termed a turf weed due to its tenacious ability to survive with grass.  The name Germander has nothing to do with Germany.  It is a corruption of the pronunciation of chamaedrys.  The herb has a long association with healing and was well known and widely used over 500 years ago.  The high tannin content of the leaves and stems makes an astringent tea that was favored for respiratory tract and nervous system ailments and as a treatment for stomach ulcers.  It was also used as a poultice on the skin, especially for itching.

The flowers are large for a turf weed, measuring a half-inch across.  Each flower lasts only one day and wilts quickly on picking.  This trait earned the plant the sobriquet Mannertreu or Men’s Faithfulness in Germany.  Apparently German men had a reputation for short-lived faithfulness.  During extended rainy spells, the flowers do not open.  They are able to self-pollinate.  In France the plant was often used as a substitute for Asian tea, due to a similar smell and flavor, and went by the name Europe Tea.  The seeds are said to be favored by birds.

Because this weed can out-compete grass, I will be keeping a close eye on it.  Should the size of the patch increase, I will mercilessly eradicate the little speedwell.  So far the plant has restricted itself to one shady spot under an ancient maple and causes no problem in the field.

 

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Wild St. John’s Wort

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These plants grow wild in the unmowed areas of our farm.  I decided to identify them because the little red berries they produce are intriguing.  I wondered if they were edible.  Turns out this plant is St. John’s Wort. There are two native species in my bouquet:  Hypericum boreale or Northern St. John’s Wort, a wetland variety, and Hypericum punctatum or Spotted St. John’s Wort that grows in drier locations.

The boreale is smaller and near the center of the photo with the red berries.  Its flowers are bright yellow and it is common in cranberry bogs.  At first I mistook this plant for some sort of odd cranberry.  The spotted variety has golden-yellow flowers. The leaves of both plants have tiny transparent pores.  The pores are visible on some of the leaves in the foreground of my photo.

I had difficulty telling the Spotted St. John’s Wort from Hypericum perforatum, Common St. John’s Wort, that thrives as an introduced plant in Maine.  The spotted has more black dots and lines on the petals than the common.

The plant is recognized for its medicinal qualities and is used as a remedy skin injuries and muscle aches, even depression.  It is actually labeled as a poisonous plant because it contains strong compounds including an anti-inflammatory.  Some are sensitive to the plant’s oil so care should be taken when handling.

Crushing the flower leaves a reddish resinous stain on the fingers.  The red juices contain the medicinal elements.  The plant is recommended by herbalists to treat such a wide range of ailments that it sounds like a panacea.  The flowers and tender leaves are infused in olive or other fine oils to create a red-colored medicinal oil.  I will not be eating the little red berries the plant produces!