Fleetneedles' Forage: Bugle

The information below, Claire Fleetneedle has researched over a number of years. Neither Claire Fleetneedle or Life on Pig Row are encouraging people to self-medicate and in the treatment of specific conditions it is always best to consult a herbalist or your GP. As stated due to conflicting information regarding Bugle (Ajuga reptans) this post is for your interest only. Some sources say the plant is highly narcotic and can slow the heart.

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Bugle  (Ajuga reptans)

Bugle is a wild member of the mint family which has been around for many centuries, so long in fact that all of my oldest herbal books mention it.  Bugle loves damp fields and lawns and can often be found on the edge of woodland. The toothed leaves are an unusual purplish bronze colour and grow from the thick square stem. The blueish lilac flowers appear out of the stem just above the leaves from late April through to summer. The plant attracts bees and butterflies and these days it is often utilised to create ground cover in gardens.

I have read conflicting information regarding its consumption, some believing it to be a dangerously toxic narcotic, others considering the young shoots perfectly safe to be eaten in salads or stews. Perhaps it is best to err on the side of caution, so I write this piece for information purposes only.

Bugle is rarely used in herbal medicine today but in previous centuries it was utilised for an array of remedies and treatments.  Most early herbals mention its use as a wound herb and so renowned was this virtue, Bugle was often called ‘Middle Comfrey’ as it was considered almost as powerfully healing as true Comfrey (Symphytum officinale).  Like Comfrey, a tincture of Bugle leaves in wine was a common home remedy for dislocations and broken bones taken internally and applied by compress held close to the skin of the affected region. 

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In John Parkinson’s  ‘The Theater of Plantes’  written in 1640 he suggests using Bugles as..

A SINGULAR GOOD OINTMENT: an ointment made with the leaves of Bugle, Scabious, and Sanicle, bruised and boyled in Axungia  (goose fat) until the herbs be dry, and then strained forth and kept in a pot, for such occasions as shall require it, is found so singular good for all sorts of hurts in the body, or any part thereof…

This ointment was used for a range of cuts, wounds and sores and was a popular homemade cure all remedy. Bugle was considered equally effective for internal wounds, such as haemorrhaging and disorders which caused the patient to spit blood. During the 17th century some London apothecaries sold ‘Traumatick Decoction’ a wound draught with Bugle as its main ingredient. Its external blood staunching properties also earned it the colloquial name of Carpenters herb.

In Nicholas Culpeper’s ‘Complete Herbal’ written in the mid 1600’s he rates the herb highly believing it wonderful for curing ‘ulcers and sores, gangrenes and fistulas’. He also believed a syrup made with the herb was an effective remedy for the D.T’s.  and alcoholic induced nervous disorders including hallucinations. He also suggested using a decoction to cure mouth ulcers and gum disease. Finally he shared a similar ointment recipe to the one above claiming ‘it is so efficacious for all sorts of hurts in the body, that none should be without it’.

In other old herbal texts the leaves of the Bugle plant were used to make a decoction which was thought beneficial for cleansing the liver, kidneys and gallbladder. In folk medicine a poultice of the freshly boiled leaves was placed around the liver overnight to hasten liver decongestion. The fresh juice of the leaves was traditionally used as a dressing and pain reliever for ulcers and sores and as a general remedy for bruising. An old country name for Bugle was Sicklewort, perhaps due to its use in salves to heal cut hands and fingers caused by harvesting.

Bugle is now rarely used in herbal medicine but the old saying ‘he who has bugle needs not physician or surgeon’ is perhaps worth considering, and I wonder what further research could tell us. So often in my studies I discover that modern scientific tests confirm many ancient remedies. With so many of the old herbalists finding great value in this little plant I can’t help but speculate what secrets Bugle is keeping …

Happy Reading,
Claire Fleetneedle

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.


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