Agrimony, Named For A King But Useful To All
Agrimony is a bitter herb that was commonly used in ancient medicine for a remarkable variety of purposes. Agrimony is a plant in the rose family and is, therefore, expectedly astringent. Agronomy’s official name Agrimonia eupatoria refers to Mithridates Eupator, the ruler of the Kingdom of Pontus from 120 to 63 BC. The king was a renowned herbalist, remembered for his herbal remedies against poison, known as the “Universal Antidote” in ancient Greek herbals. Ply referred to Agrimony as, “an herb of princely authority.” Dioscorides wrote in de Materia Medica, “The leaves of this (pounded fine and applied with old swines’ grease) heal difficult scars on ulcers. The seed and herb (taken as a drink with wine) help dysentery and serpent bites.”
Agrimony also found an important role in the Monastic Medicine of the Middle Ages. Abbot Walafrid Stabo wrote in his herbal, Hortulus, in the 800s:
And here in handsome rows you can see my Agrimony. It clothes all the fields with its profusion it grows wild in the woodland shade. Much honor it has and many virtues - among them this: If it is crushed and drunk the draught will quench the most violent stomach ache. And if an enemy blade happens to wound us, we are recommended to try its aid, pounding the shoots and putting them on the open place. If we remember to add to the dressing some sharp vinegar, our full strength will soon be returned.
Writing around 1100, Saint Hildegard von Bingen wrote in Physica:
Agronomy is hot. A person who has lost his knowledge and understanding should have the hair cut from his head, for that hair creates a shaking tremor. Agrimony should be cooked in water, and that warm water used to wash his head. The same herb, so warmed, should be tied over his heart, when he first senses enveneration front he madness. Then, it should be placed warm, over his forehead and temples. It will clear up his knowledge and understanding, and take the insanity out of him. If someone produces or throws off mucus and much phlegm from his sick intestines, and has a cold stomach, he should frequently drink wine in which agrimony has been placed, before and after meals. It diminishes and purges the mucus, and warms the stomach. Also, in order that a person be purges from saliva, discharge and runny nose, one should take agrimony juice and twice as much fennel juice and add to these one half pennyweight of herb Robert juice. Then take as much galangal as there is of the other three, and six pennyweight of storax, and two pennyweight of female fer, and pulverize these. Blend this with the forename liquid and make little pills the size of beans. Afterward, take a pennyweight of the juice of celandine, and dip the pills in it, and place them to dry in the sun. If the sun has no heat, place them in a light wind or a gentle breeze, so that they may be gently dried. When a person wishes to eat these pills, he should wrap his belly in lamb skins, or the skin of some other animal, so that he becomes warm with their helpful heat. He should not get too close to the fire, but use the heat of this covering. He should consume the pills before sunrise, since dawn is a smooth and gentle time. He should take five to nine pills, dipping each one in honey before swallowing them. After eating them, he should walk around a bit in a shady place, not int he direct sun, until he feels a loosening. Around noon, after he has felt the loosening, or if his obdurate stomach has not yet had it, he should sip a porridge of the finest whole wheat flour, so that the gentle porridge may heal his intestines or his hardened stomach might soften.
….. Also if someone’s eyes are clouded, pound agrimony in a mortar and place the crushed matter over the eyes at night, being careful that it not enter the eyes, and bind them with a clothIt will attack the fogginess of the eyes and make them clear.
According to Mrs. Grieves, Agrimony is mentioned in an old English medical manuscript:
'If it be leyd under mann's heed,
He shal sleepyn as he were deed;
He shal never drede ne wakyn
Till fro under his heed it be takyn.'
Gerard wrote in 1597:
It is hot, and doth moderately bind, and is of a temperate dryness. Galen saith that Agrimony is of fine and subtle parts, that it cutteth and scoureth; therefore, saith he, it removes obstructions or stoppings out of liver, and doth likewise strengthen it by reason of the binding quality that is in it.
A. The decoction of the leaves of Agrimony is good for them that have naughty livers, and for such as piss blood upon the diseases of the kidneys.
B. The seed being drunk in wine (as Pliny affirmeth) doth help the bloody flux.
C. Dioscorides addeth, that it is a remedy for them that have bad livers, and for such as are bitten with serpents.
D. The leaves being stamped with old swine's grease, and applied, closeth up ulcers that be hardly healed, as Dioscorides saith.
E. Agrimony boiled in wine and drunk, helpes inveterate hepatic fluxes in old people.
In 1814, Culpepper wrote of Agrimony:
It has moreover been recommended in dropsies and the jaundice. Externally, it has indeed its use; I have seen very bad sore legs cured by bathing and fomenting them with a decoction of this plant.
It is of a cleansing and cutting faculty, without any manifest heat, moderately drying and binding. It openeth and cleanseth the liver, helpeth the jaundice, and is very beneficial to the bowels, healing all inward wounds, bruises, hurts, and other distempers. The decoction of the herb made with wine, and drank, is good against the biting and stinging of serpents, and helps them that have foul, troubled or bloody water, and causes them to make water clear and speedily. It also helpeth the cholic, cleanseth the breast, and relieves the cough. A draught of the decoction, taken warm before the fit, first relieves, and in time removes the tertian or quartan ague. The leaves and seeds taken in wine, stay the bloody flux; outwardly applied, being stamped with old swine's grease, it helpeth old sores, cancers, and inveterate ulcers, and draweth forth thorns and splinters of wood, nails, or any other such thing, gotten into the flesh. It helpeth to strengthen members that be out of joint: and being bruised and applied, or the juice dropped in it, helpeth foul and imposthumed ears.
The distilled water of the herb is good to all the said purposes, either inward or outward, but a great deal weaker.
Apparently though, by the 1930s when Maude Grieves wrote her comprehensive A Modern Herbal, Agrimony had become mostly used as a folk remedy:
Agrimony has an old reputation as a popular, domestic medicinal herb, being a simple well known to all country-folk. ...
Agrimony was one of the most famous vulnerary herbs. The Anglo-Saxons, who called it Garclive, taught that it would heal wounds, snake bites, warts, etc. In the time of Chaucer, when we find its name appearing in the form of Egrimoyne, it was used with Mugwort and vinegar for 'a bad back' and 'alle woundes': and one of these old writers recommends it to be taken with a mixture of pounded frogs and human blood, as a remedy for all internal haemorrhages. It formed an ingredient of the famous arquebusade water as prepared against wounds inflicted by an arquebus, or hand-gun, and was mentioned by Philip de Comines, in his account of the battle of Morat in 1476. In France, the eau de arquebusade is still applied for sprains and bruises, being carefully made from many aromatic herbs. It was at one time included in the London Materia Medica as a vulnerary herb, but modern official medicine does not recognize its virtues, though it is still fully appreciated in herbal practice as a mild astringent and tonic, useful in coughs, diarrhoea and relaxed bowels. By pouring a pint of boiling water on a handful of the dried herb - stem, leaves and flowers - an excellent gargle may be made for a relaxed throat, and a teacupful of the same infusion is recommended, taken cold three or four times in the day for looseness in the bowels, also for passive losses of blood. It may be given either in infusion or decoction.
---Medicinal Action and Uses---Astringent tonic, diuretic. Agrimony has had a great reputation for curing jaundice and other liver complaints. Gerard believed in its efficacy. He says: 'A decoction of the leaves is good for them that have naughty livers': and he tells us also that Pliny called it a 'herb of princely authoritie.' Dioscorides stated that it was not only 'a remedy for them that have bad livers,' but also 'for such as are bitten with serpents.' Dr. Hill, who from 1751 to 1771 published several works on Herbal medicine, recommends 'an infusion of 6 oz. of the crown of the root in a quart of boiling water, sweetened with honey and half a pint drank three times a day,' as an effectual remedy for jaundice. It gives tone to the system and promotes assimilation of food.
Agrimony is also considered a very useful agent in skin eruptions and diseases of the blood, pimples, blotches, etc. A strong decoction of the root and leaves, sweetened with honey or sugar, has been taken successfully to cure scrofulous sores, being administered two or three times a day, in doses of a wineglassful, persistently for several months. The same decoction is also often employed in rural districts as an application to ulcers.
In addition to Agrimony’s varied medicinal uses, another wonderful asset of this herb is that it is so common. In most temperate zones, Agrimony can be found growing wild, whether native or introduced. Its yellow flowers grow on spikes that are easy to spot and identify. Agrimony is also a pretty flower that could be included in the garden or an ornamental landscape. Although once called “all-heal” by herbalists, this herb of legendary kings is generally regarded as a weed. Rarely is something so valued to be had for free by those who take the initiative to gather it.