Medicine in the Verge

What healing properties do the plants on your doorstep hold?

I took an evening stroll down a pleasant but unremarkable country lane this evening. As every spring, the wild flowers are racing to compete for the sun’s light and to complete their annual cycle before winter.

I’ve learned the names of many of these plants and I’ve learned how they grow. What I wondered, is what healing properties they may have. The different chemicals in plants have been used for millennia as medicines. Maybe our modern medicines are more refined but many effective drugs are extracted from plants or synthesised to replicate the molecules found in them.

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is coming to the end of its season but still green and although its scent has now faded somewhat can be found in hedges and verges.

In the past it has been used as an antiseptic and a treatment for asthma. It can be used as a poultice for ulcers and cuts.

Dandelion (Taraxum officinale) is one of the few wildflowers almost everyone recognises. As well as having the property of restoring childhood memories of blowing its seeds from the “Dandelion Clock” its sap has been used for treating corns, verrucas and warts.

White Dead Nettle (Lamium album) has been used to make a tea for treating excessive periods and haemorrhoids.

It can be told apart from Stinging Nettles by its bold white flowers that whorl in clusters around the stem.

Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) grows amongst the grass in many places. As well as containing Vitamin-C it has been used as a tea for chesty coughs and colds.

The Stinging Nettle (Urticaria dioica) is as useful as it is unpopular with anyone who has encountered its stings.

It’s medicinal uses include lowering blood pressure and its iron rich properties have led to it being used to treat anaemia.

All these potentially useful plants within half a mile of my home.

The legal bit: Please speak to your doctor before treating maladies with medicinal plants. Be certain of your identification of anything you forage before you use it and take advice from experienced foragers and herbal practitioners.

Never pick race plants or from a protected site. Only forage plants that are abundant in an area and then in quantities that will not affect their population.

This blog is written for entertainment and inspiration ; it is not intended as an authoritative, exhaustive or detailed guide to plants or their uses. If you are interested in this subject I advise further research using reputable books and websites.


Spring With Energy

Winter was almost like the olden days of fable. In other words, we had snow; quite a bit of it. More than that, it was long. 

Spring has arrived and life that was dormant appears impatient to catch up. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Evolution has adapted species to deal with a variety of conditions;the fact that wildflowers are now racing to complete their annual cycle is  evidence of that.


For us this means a wonderful wild flower display. I’ve been out and about today. Everywhere I looked, wildflowers are Blooming.

Here are some I saw, all within a mile of each other:

IMG_4898[1]Field forget me not (Myosotis arvensis)


IMG_4915[1]English primrose (Primula vulgaris)


IMG_4904[1]Dog violet (Viola riviana)


IMG_4908[1]Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris)


IMG_4903[1]Lesser celandine (Ficara verna)


IMG_4916[1]Oppsosite leaved golden saxifrage (Chrysoplenium oppositfolium)


IMG_4906[1]Wood sorrel (Oxalis griffithii)

IMG_4900[1]Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)


IMG_4899[1]Bluebell (Hyacynthoides non-scripta)



Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus)

Thanks for reading and I hope you get out into nature to enjoy this spring’s marvellous display.




Colour in Clover

Clover may be the only wildflower more famous for its leaves than its blooms. 

The three lobed shamrock leaves are symbolic of all things Irish but this widespread family of plants grows here too; and right now it’s “Pom-Pom” flowers are at our feet. 

Clover grows wild today but before commercial fertilisers were common, farmers would plant it because of its ability to capture nitrogen, the main component of many fertilisers; and fix it in the soil. 

Two clovers are most common in England. Red and White Clover. White clover is more often associated with species poor, cultivated and fertilised land, whereas its red cousin is often an indicator of species rich grassland where other wild flowers thrive. 

It is possible from time to time, to find both growing together 

Red Campion, Pink Star of the Woods and Hedges

As spring progresses, many wildflowers are overtaken by vigorous plants such as nettle, bramble and grasses. 

Where the soil is rich more colourful wild flowers may be fewer now but a few stars shine out against the verdant background. 

AS a boy, after learning the names of bluebell, daisy and dandelion, the next wildflower I came to know was Red Campion (Silene dioca)

Growing up to three feet tall it can keep up with all but the most vigorous competitors in the race for sunlight that plants engage in. It’s a common and welcome sight in hedges and woods. 

Look closely and there are two types of flower. Male with twisted yellow anthers and female, with delicate, greener stamen.


Hogweed (and cow parsley)

Hogweed is taking over the verges and woodland edges. 

The good news is, there’s nothing wrong. At around the same time Cow Parsley goes to seed and its delicate white flowers fade, it is succeeded by its cousin, hogweed. 

Both are members of the carrot and parsley family; and by far their most common members in the British countryside. 

I was at the Bushcraft Show this weekend and found the two growing together in a hedgerow. The Cow Parsley is at the end of its flowering period, the Hogweed at the start. 

The easiest way to tell the difference between the two is that Cow Parsley has more delicate, feather-like leaves, Hogweed’s are more robust, thicker and larger. 

There are nearly forty members of the carrot family growing wild in Britain. Thirty of them look very similar. Some have irritants in their sap and some are poisonous; some are delicious wild food. This makes them a very useful group to know; but to know well. 

I’ll be adding posts about the different members of this family as I encounter them over summer. 

Heathland Heather Burns

Burning wildlife’s home doesn’t sound like conservation. 

I was on the Long Mynd, a hill covered by upland Heath in Shropshire, last week. 

On the hill plateau, the National Trust has been burning areas of heather for years. 

Rather than destroying the habitat, by clearing aging heather this way, the conditions are created where new growth of heather and bilberry can begin. 

By managing the heath this way, conservationists are creating a mix aged heather covering, providing a better habitat for wildlife from grouse to butterflies. 

The Many-Named Wild Arum

Wild Arum (Arum maculatum) is known by many names.


“Cuckoo Pint,” “Lords and Ladies,” “Friars Cowl,” Wake Robin;” and “Jack-in-the-Pulpit,” are but a few of the traditional English names for the species.


Many of the names refer to the distinctive shape of the plant, with its phallus-like “spadex” at the centre. This organ is the flower of the plant and as well as becoming the fruiting body later in the year, growing a distinctive column of red berries, attracts insects with it’s odour, which smells of faeces.


It’s not a flower to put in the living room.

The plant and its berries are also poisonous. A dramatic feature to look out for on a spring walk in the woods.


A Surprise Wildflower Habitat 

I recently pulled into a laybye near home and realised I had chanced upon a rich oasis of wildflowers. 

The laybye has been used over recent years as a parking place, a store for road stone and access to a construction site. The heaps of unused road stone bulldozed into the verges has made the area perfect for a much wider variety of species than I would expect to see in such an area. 

Many wildflowers thrive in soil which is low in nutrients, which is why I think the stone chippings added to the verges have allowed these plants to thrive. 

The Spanish Invasion 

Have you been to a bluebell wood recently?
The stunning sight of the floor of a greenwood, turned blue is a wonder enjoyed by many. 

However, all may not be as tranquil as it looks in the forest.  The native bluebell in Britain (Hyacynthoids non-scripta) is giving ground to its larger cousin, the Spanish Bluebell (Hyacythoids hispanica)

Spanish bluebells are larger and lighter coloured than the native bluebell. The two species cross-breed, threatening to change the shape and colour of bluebells across the country. 

(Both native and Spanish species can have occasional white flowers but only the Spanish bluebell can have pink flowers. )

It’s Cow Parsley time of year

One of my favourite wild flowers is beginning its annual display.

Cow parsley turns road verges, field margins and path edges into gardens. This is one of the first of the umbellifer flowers (the plants with umbrella-shaped flower-heads) to emerge and as well as providing a beautiful, lace-like cluster of flowers, is an early nectar source for bees, butterflies and other insects.

It can be eaten when young but beware of confusing it with other similar looking flowers. It has a passing resemblance to deadly hemlock (the poison used to kill Socrates in Ancient Greece) as well as Fools Parsley (which is smaller.) Both these and other poisonous lookalikes flower later in the year.