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Plant of the Week: Insect eating plant used to treat breathing problems

Name: Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia)

Otherwise known as: Dew Plant, Red Rot, Herba Rosellae

Habitat: A small herbaceous perannial member of the Droseraceae family growing up to 10cm in peaty soil on the edges of ponds, bogs and rivers. It has orbicular leaves on long stalks lying flat on the ground. The surface of the leaves is covered with red hairs, each having a small gland at the top containing fluid that looks like a dew drop.

What does it do: Sundew is one of the few insectivorous plants to be found in Northern Europe; and because the shallow roots atrophy in the soil they inhabit – which is barren of elements essential to healthy growth – the plant suffers from nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium starvation. Hence the need to entrap the small insects in the globules formed at the end of the hair that contain formic and benzoic acid that make up the digestive pepsin enzymes that break down the easily assimilated insect proteins. When the insect is captured, the hairs and leaves envelop it, preventing escape. Non organic matter is rejected.

The medieval herbalists made tinctures from the juice to treat whooping-cough, bronchitis, asthma and incipient tuberculosis. The fresh juice was believed to prevent ageing and as a specific against warts and corns. Currently, some herbalists mix it with colloidal silicates to treat arteriosclerosis.

Culpeper states that ‘…the leaves outwardly applied to the skin will raise blisters; but there are other things which will also draw blisters, yet nothing dangerous to be taken inwardly. There is a usual drink made thereof with aqua vitae and spices frequently and without any offence or danger, but to good purpose, used in qualms and passions of the heart’.


Alexander McCowan is author of The World’s most Dangerous Plants

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