Name: Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria)
Otherwise known as: Cocklebur, Church Steeples
Habitat: An herbaceous perennial of the Rosaceae family growing to about one metre in dry ditches and hedges in Europe and Africa. An elegant plant with pinnate, hairy leaves on an unbranched stem terminating in racemes of bright yellow, star-shaped flowers that produce the burrs that attach to passing animals.
What does it do: The generic name is believed to derive from the Greek word agremone, a title given to plants that could supposedly cure cataracts; and the specific name from the scholar king, Mithradates Eupator, King of Pontus, who resisted the Roman advances into Asia Minor, and compiled a tract of herbal cures for wounds suffered in warfare.
Pliny referred to the plant as ‘a herb of princely authority’, and Dioscorides recommended Agrimony ‘..for such that are bitten by serpents’. It seems to have acquired this reputation as a cure for venomous bites in many cultures; the AngloSaxons applied the herb for warts, wounds and snake-bite.
There is strange cure for internal bleeding which was popular in medieval times that required Agrimony to be mixed with toad-skin and menstrual blood; obviously a treatment of last resort. Gerrard suggests that ‘A decoction of leaves is good for them that have the naughty liver’, and the plant was an essential ingredient of Arquebusade Water which was applied to wounds caused by faulty firing mechanisms of early firearms. Modern herbalists recommend Agrimony for acid stomach, indigestion, debility of the liver, gall bladder stimulation and disorders, nose-bleed, incontinence, infantile bed-wetting, diarrhoea and promotion of the gastric juices.
Externally it is applied to clean and heal difficult ulcers and to remedy suppurating wounds and sores.
Recent research indicates that extracts from the plant will inhibit selected viruses and the tuberculosis bacterium. Chinese scientists have isolated a compound from Agrimonia pilosa that is a powerful blood coagulant and will inhibit bone, liver and pancreatic cancers.
The honey-scented flowers were once added to mead and the whole plant yields a yellow dye which deepens in hue as the season progresses.