Cyprus Mail

Plant of the week: Pungent root used to expel colds

Name: Masterwort (Imperatoria ostruthium)

Otherwise known as: Hot Root

Habitat: A perennial member of the Umbelliferae family growing up to 1m in river banks and moist alpine areas. It displays rosettes of basal leaves on tall hollow stems that terminate in umbels of white to pinkish flowers. A native to central and southern Europe, it is often mistaken for Angelica.

What does it do: The name is derived from the German meisterwurz (master root) which is a reference to the active part of the plant: the highly pungent rhizome. Once a popular pot-herb in England and Scotland and highly regarded for its diaphoretic – excessive sweating – properties valued by early herbalists to expel colds and fevers, and by bare-knuckle boxers to aid weight loss, it no longer features as prominently with modern practitioners, except in cases of anorexia and in homeopathic medicine.

The main constituents include a large proportion of essential oil, with limonene, phellandrene and pinene, plus a coumarine glycoside; imperatorin, and bitters and tannins. This renders the plant stimulent, antispasmodic, diuretic, diaphoretic, stomacic and carminative. Decoctions with wine and infusions were used to treat asthma, dropsy, cramp, the falling sickness – epilepsy – dyspepsia, menstrual complaints, apoplexy and flatulence.

Culpeper claimed ‘The juice thereof dropped, or tents dipped therein, and applied either to green wounds or filthy rotten ulcers, and those come by envenomed weapons, doth cleanse and heal them. The same is also very good to help the gout coming of a common cause’.
Excessive doses are toxic.

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