Name: Great Masterwort (Astrantia Major)
Otherwise known as: Mountain Sanicle, Astrantia
Habitat: A perennial aromatic shrub member of the Umbelliferae family growing up to 80cm in meadowland on mountain slopes and native to Europe. It displays dark green, palmate leaves that are sharply-toothed and grow from a thick stem and terminate in umbels of pink flowers which are encircled by red bracts that give the appearance of a crown. The plant is poisonous in all parts.
What does it do: During the Hundred Years War between England and France Swiss troops carried phials of Masterwort juice that they named Magistrantian and applied it to all open wounds. Culpepper, writing in the 17th century claimed… ‘The juice thereof dropped or applied to green wounds (septic) or filthy rotten ulcers, and those come by envenomed weapons, doth soon cleanse and heal them. The same is also very good to help the gout acoming of a cold cause’.
It is quite rare to find the plant growing in the wild now but it is becoming more popular as a mid-bed ornamental. The examples found growing in the wild are predominantly garden escapes.
Great Masterwort like its sister plant Common Masterwort (Peucedanum ostruthium) is rarely used in herbal medicine. But at one time its popularity as a treatment for asthma and apoplexy led to it being almost scavenged to extinction. However, it still remains popular with homeopaths as a treatment for anorexia.
The coumarin glycoside imperatorin renders the infusions, once very popular, toxic.
Alexander McCowan is author of The World’s most Dangerous Plants, available through Lulu Publishing and Amazon