Woundwort is a member of the mint family and grows on damp laybys, riversides and the edges of woodland. The two most common types are Marsh Woundwort and Hedge Woundwort. They exhibit similar characteristics being between one and three foot tall with toothed lance-shaped leaves. The flowers of both plants grow into a point in whorls around the hairy stem and range from deep pink (Hedge) to light pinkish purple (Marsh). They have an unpleasant odour which is difficult to describe, being at first green and medicinal yet coffee-ish, bitter and pungent. However bees love it and drink greedily from its miniature orchid-like flowers.
Having smelt it I find it hard to believe it is edible but the tuberous roots are apparently white, crisp and tasty with a mild nutty flavour. The roots can be dried and ground and made into flour, which suggests they are fairly starchy whilst the young stems were once steamed and also eaten. In ‘Britain’s Wild Larder’ C. Loewenfeld, P. Back and P. Bosanquet share this lovely recipe for Woundwort Salad…
Marsh Woundwort Root Salad Dig up some roots and scrub them well. Put them into salted boiling water and cook until tender. Leave to cool, then chop up the roots roughly. Serve as a salad in an oil and lemon dressing and sprinkle with flavouring herbs. As a footnote it is illegal to dig up the roots of any wild plant but it is of course fine to do it with a crop in your own garden, or if you have asked the permission of the land owner. Woundworts may vary in appearance but luckily they all share the same therapeutic properties. As its name suggests it was primarily known to heal wounds and to staunch bleeding, which the 16th century herbalist John Gerrard discovered when watching a Kentish man, badly injured with a scythe, heal himself by binding the fresh leaves to his injury. Gerrard reported a full recovery and used the same treatment to great effect on other patients with potentially fatal blade wounds. Modern research has proved the plant to have strongly anti-bacterial properties.
However knowledge of Woundwort’s healing properties pre-date Gerrard by many centuries and it had long been a folk remedy, used for many ailments, earning it the title, All-Heal. The juice of the fresh plant was used to cure bleeding from the lungs and various types of internal haemorrhaging. It was also used to treat severe diarrhoea and dysentery.
Some old herbalists thought a syrup made from the plant an ideal cure for hoarseness. It is certainly a natural expectorant so would help any coughs likely to cause voice loss. The plant is known to have sedative qualities but at one time the pretty flowers were made into distilled water which, once taken, was said to make the spirits feel refreshed and lively. In folk medicine Hedge Woundwort was thought particularly efficient for bringing boils and carbuncles to a head by using the heated leaves as a poultice. The herb is of great medicinal value and modern herbalists still use it to heal wounds and ulcers.
In previous centuries an ointment made from hogs lard and Woundwort leaves was used as an everyday first aid salve but also to as a rub for rheumatics, gout and joint pain. Having read this I decided to make some to see if it could help with my fibromyalgiac aches and pains. So, minus the hogs lard, here is my more animal friendly recipe for a simple salve…
Marsh Woundwort Salve
Ingredients: 1 - Small handful of freshly picked and thoroughly washed Woundwort leaves– pat dry with a tea towel to stop oil spitting during preparation. 1 mug full of cheap olive oil (or Sweet Almond oil if you can afford it) ¼ bar of bees wax Method: Roughly chop the dried leaves, heat the olive oil in a pan until you hear it bubble, take the chopped leaves and drop them into the hot oil, fry for a few minutes, stir and before the leaves begin to darken remove from the heat. Do not allow them to burn because the burnt smell will ruin the salve. Leave the oil to cool a little then strain the hot mixture through a sieve and some muslin into a bowl. Throw the drained herbs away (or on the compost), and wash the pan. Return the drained oil back to the clean pan and reheat. Drop a quarter of a bar of beeswax into the oil and allow it to melt. As soon as it has disappeared remove from the heat. Allow to cool slightly while preparing a sterilised jar and lid. While it is still warm pour into the sterilised jar, and screw on the lid. Once cooled, label and store in a cool dark place, where it should last for a couple of years.
Just to warn you this is an excellent healing salve but the leaf odour is imparted into the ointment and it isn’t the nicest smell in the world – but then neither is TCP…
Claire Fleetneedle Cautions: • Large doses may cause dizziness and erratic heart rate • To be avoided by pregnant or breast feeding women
These are some of my personal experiences using Woundwort combined with information I have researched over a number of years. I am not encouraging people to self-medicate, in the treatment of specific conditions it is always best to consult a herbalist or your GP. If you should develop an adverse reaction to any of the above please stop using the herb immediately. And always take care when identifying the plant. If you plan to eat some the herb, please try a small amount to begin with to ensure your system can tolerate it. LIFE ON PIG ROW DISCLAIMER: We’d like to thank Claire for this wonderful piece, as she points out, this is her personal experience and common sense must prevail in homemade herbal remedies. Therefore, if you are out and about foraging and aren’t confident that what you are about to pick is edible or medicinal the best advice is to leave it where it is. In the event of an adverse reaction to any homemade herbal remedy or foraged edible food you are advised to seek out medical advice. While every care is taken in the production of these posts neither Claire Fleetneedle nor Life on Pig Row are responsible for adverse reactions. Please remember to check local by-laws before foraging and never forage on private land without permission. Please use common sense when foraging.