Name: Anemone (Anemone pulsatilla)
Otherwise known as: Windflower, Flower of Death
Habitat: A thick-rooted member of the Ranunculaceae family growing up to 45cm in calcareous soils in Europe and the Mediterranean. The plant has feathery leaves covered in long hairs that grow in rosettes around the thin stem that terminates in a purple flower. All parts of the plant are poisonous.
What does it do: The plant is named after the god of the wind – Anemos.
The Egyptians considered the plant an emblem of sickness, and the Chinese call it the ‘Flower of Death’. In some European countries the peasantry considered it a flower presaging ill omen. The Romans plucked the first flowers of spring and wore them as a garland against fevers.
Anemones, when fresh, contains the glycoside anemonin and anemonic acid; the former is responsible for any fatalities that have arisen and can cause gangrene when the skin is broken. Anemone poisoning in many ways replicates the action of Aconite, causing paralysis of the central nervous system and collapse of the respiratory tracts. The toxins dissipate in the plant when dried.
Culpeper advises the roots be chewed because it ‘purgeth the head mightily, and when all is done, all the pills in the dispensary purge not the head like hot things held in the mouth’. Gerard recommended a bath taken in Anemone flowers and leaves to cure leprosy. Elizabethan herbalists used the plant to treat headaches rheumatics and gout – it was thought to be more effective on fair-haired blue-eyed women.
Modern herbalists and homeopaths use it to combat painful conditions of the male and female reproductive system, such as dysmenorrhoea, orchitis and prostatis; it is also used to treat hyperactivity, insomnia, nervous tension, earache, exhaustion and stress. Care must be taken when handling and planting.