Name: Tormentil (Potentilla Tormentilla)
Otherwise known as: Septfoil Bloodroot, Shepherd’s Knot
Habitat: A perennial member of the Rosacaea family growing up to 40cm in damp wasteland in North America and Europe. It grows from a brown, cylindrical root and has narrow, serrated leaves with silvery undersides on slender stalks that contain small yellow flowers.
What does it do: The name derives from the Latin ‘tormentum’ signifying a griping of the bowels. The root was mostly used in infusions to treat a wide range of ailments such as diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery and the ‘bloody flux’. Tea made from the leaves and flowers was applied as a wash to septic ulcers, wounds and sores; medieval herbalists regarded it as the most effective astringent. Until early 20th century stables and ostlers would use the tea to relieve saddle sores on their horses.
Elizabethan herbalists thought the plant the most effective antidote for poisoning: Parkinson writes… ‘and so doth also the distilled water of the herb and roote, rightly made and prepared, which is to steepe them in wine for a night and then distilled in Baineo marie; this water in this manner prepared taken with some Venice Treakle, and thereupon being presently laid to sweate, will certainly by God’s help, expell any venoms or poyson, or the plague, or any fever or horror, or the shaking fit that happeneth…’. The plant continued to feature as a decoction for piles and sore throats in Victorian times and there is evidence that Lord Russell set aside a piece of land to encourage poor people to grow Tormentil for pharmaceutical purposes.
Culpepper claimed ‘…Tormentil is most excellent to stay all fluxes of blood or humours, whether at nose mouth or belly’.
In the Western Isles of Scotland and the Orkneys the roots were used for tanning leather and considered superior to oak bark for the purpose. The Laplanders used a thickened red juice to dye their bridle furniture a deep red.