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Agrimony is a traditional European medicinal plant used for tensions and mucosal health

Agrimony

Agrimonia eupatoria Rosaceae

Agrimony is traditionally used for conditions affecting the digestive system and liver, as well as for mucosal health and skin. It is also indicated for a number of conditions in the urinary and reproductive systems.

Sustainability status

Not currently on risk lists but complete data may be missing on the status of the species. Commonly cultivated though may be sourced from the wild. Only source cultivated supplies or from certified sustainable wild collection. Read more about our sustainability guide.

Sustainability Status
Key benefits
  • Tonic
  • Antidiarrheal
  • Gastrointestinal tonic
  • Wound healing
  • Liver protective
  • How does it feel?

    Agrimony is fairly mild to taste with subtle qualities of sweetness and acridity. It is astringent and toning to the mucous membranes which can quickly be detected when tasting the tea.

  • What can I use it for?

    agrimony flowersAgrimony has been widely documented as a remedy to treat mild diarrhoea in both adults and children. It is a gentle medicine with a potent astringent action that is commonly adopted for the treatment of diarrhoea. It can be used for dysentery or following a bout of gastritis to help normalise bowel movements.

    Agrimony is also used for catarrh and inflammation in the upper respiratory tract. This may be a symptom of the common cold, sinusitis or acute bronchitis. It helps by astringing the mucous membranes throughout the respiratory tract whilst also reducing inflammation. This action may be helpful for any excess of mucous or catarrh in the respiratory tract and also in the digestive tract.

    One of the most popular uses for this herb is as a gargle for inflammations of the oral and pharyngeal mucosa such as for laryngitis, pharyngitis or tonsillitis. Agrimony both relieves and treats tonsillitis and inflammation that affect the vocal cords by restoring the tone and reducing inflammation in the mucosal tissue.

    It is also used topically as a compress or rinse to support the healing of wounds and ulcers. Agrimony reduces inflammation and speeds up the repair of slow-healing wounds by creating a barrier over the exposed tissue, allowing the skin cells to repair and regenerate. Its astringent properties “tighten” the skin and create a protective barrier to support healing.

  • Into the heart of Agrimony

    agrimonyAgrimony is considered to be a tissue relaxant and is neutral energetically. This means that it is neither hot nor cold. It is described by Wood as a ‘superlative remedy for tension’. It is indicated for constrictive tissue states. Astringent qualities are in fact beneficial for tension as they regulate and restore the tissue state in the mucous membranes. Agrimony also has mild bitter acridity, which also adds to its relaxant action. Acrid herbs are often used for constrictive tissue states (7). This is because bitter compounds can trigger reflexes in our autonomic nervous system (mostly relayed via the vagus nerve).

    Herbs work on both the physical and the emotional level. Agrimony has a number of traditional uses for more emotional and energetic applications. It is said to be specific for those who hide their emotional pain behind a jovial facade. Wood also describes that agrimony is excellent for those who hold their breath to hide their pain. He describes that patients may have digestive issues and struggle to fulfil their breath due to a holding tension (7). This would also be fitting with the bitter action on the vagal pathway.

    Dr Bach uses agrimony in one of his 38 flower remedies that were created using high diluted flower infusions and brandy to treat emotional states. He writes that agrimony ‘is the remedy for people who keep their troubles hidden under a mask of pleasure and happiness. The sad clown masking inner hurt by being the life and soul of the party is an Agrimony archetype. Friends are often the last to know that anything is wrong in the Agrimony person’s life’.

    ‘Sometimes Agrimony people turn to drink or drugs to help them stay ‘happy’. They tend not to like being alone: the mask slips when there is no company. They seek out friends, parties and bright lights. Only at night when they are alone with their thoughts will the mental torture they have repressed come back to haunt them’ (6).

    In Dr Bach’s writings, agrimony’s positive potential is to help with acceptance of the ‘darker side of our lives and personalities, so that we can become more rounded human beings’. As a mood remedy, agrimony helps one find peace with life’s ebbs and flows (6).

  • Traditional uses

    agrimony tinctureAgrimony’s astringent and tonic properties have long been understood as being of great value in herbal medicine. Agrimony was well reputed among the Anglo-Saxons who called it ‘garclive’. They used it to heal wounds, snake bites and warts. In medieval times it was referenced as ‘egrimoyne’ and was commonly used with mugwort as a vinegar infusion for ‘a bad back’ and ‘alle woundes’.

    Agrimony formed an important component of the famous ‘arquebusade’- translating from French to ‘shot of an arquebus’. This remedy is a herbal-infused water made from aromatic herbs. This was prepared to treat 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, eau de arquebusade is still applied for sprains and bruises.

    It was at one time included in the London materia medica as a vulnerary herb- referring to its use for coughs, diarrhoea and for relaxed bowels.

    Agrimony has had a great reputation for curing jaundice and other liver complaints. Gerard believed in its efficacy- writing that ‘a decoction of the leaves is good for those who have naughty livers’ and he tells us also that Pliny called it a ‘herb of princely authority’.

  • Traditional actions

  • What practitioners say

    agrimony flowers and leavesAgrimony is a gentle tonic for all visceral organs, particularly those lined with epithelial tissue or mucosa that lines body cavities and hollow organs. It has gentle astringent, relaxant and tonic properties. It also has the ability to relax tissues where there is held tension and rigidity.

    Digestive system 

    Agrimony is a tonic for all of the digestive organs from top to bottom. It has applications that start from the mouth for the treatment of oral and laryngeal inflammations right through to inflammations in the lower bowel such as mucous colitis, gastrointestinal ulcerations, haemorrhoids and diarrhoea (7, 8).

    It is specific for intestinal atony to restore strength and tone. Its powerful astringent and tonic actions come into themselves with any looseness or flaccidity in the intestines which helps to improve overall digestive function.

    Poor bowel health or bowel inflammation can occur for a number of different reasons. Sometimes this may be caused by poor diet; food sensitivities; chronic constipation; infection or dysbiosis -just to name a few. This inflammation or poor tone of the intestinal mucosa can also lead to nutritional deficiencies but also leaky gut which often results in multiple sensitivities and intolerances due to excess permeability. A herbalist acknowledges that in order to make headway for any of these conditions- mucosal inflammation in the bowels needs to be addressed. Agrimony is a primary herb used for healing the gut along with herbs such as calendula.

    Agrimony is also used to support a number of liver diseases. It has a hepatoprotective action and protects the liver from damage. A number of studies have demonstrated that agrimony reduces markers for liver injury. It is also used to allay inflammation of the gallbladder as found in cholecystitis and cholestasis (3,4).

    Urinary system

    Agrimony is used in a number of urinary tract conditions. It is a diuretic whilst also toning the mucous membranes throughout the urinary tract. Some of the specific indications for agrimony are for urinary incontinence, cystitis, bladder atony and pyelonephritis (3, 8). It may be used in combination with other herbs to address tissue conditions, bacterial or inflammatory afflictions respectively (8).

    Skin and mucosa

    Agrimony has a number of different applications for skin defects and types of skin inflammation. It is used in herbal medicine to support the healing of internal and external ulcers. It may be used for the effective treatment of inflammatory conditions of the oral mucosa (8).

    It may be applied in the form of compresses or added to ointments as topical therapy for different skin conditions such as chronic eczema, purulent wound and psoriasis (4).

    Agrimony’s ability to support the healing of wounds is second to none. Used as a wash that is made from a strong decoction of the plant, agrimony may be applied directly to the affected area 3 times a day. Its tannin content tones the tissues and creates a protective film under which the tissues may be more effectively repaired. It has also been shown to have bactericidal action, in particular against Staphylococcus aureus for infected wounds (3).

    Reproductive system

    Agrimony is sometimes used as a gentle uterine tonic due to its astringent properties. This application is common for plants in the rose family as they are often high in tannins which have a tonic effect on the mucous membranes.

    Agrimony may be used to treat period pains and excessive bleeding. It is also anti-hemorrhagic. Its diuretic action additionally helps with fluid retention that is experienced before or during menstruation (7,8).

  • Research

    agrimony flowersVery little research has been carried out around the effects of agrimony on human subjects such as in double blind clinical trials which are the most useful method of research for establishing an evidence base for plant medicines. However, there are a number of in vivo/ in vitro studies that focus on compounds found in agrimony which demonstrate a number of its effects. A number of in vitro and in vivo have been included below to demonstrate the mechanism of action for some of the uses of vervain that have been discussed in this monograph.

    Animal studies are not condoned by herbal reality, however for the purpose of providing research from which some understanding of therapeutic actions can be confirmed, some animal studies have been included herein. 

    A review of therapeutic effects of agrimony

    This comprehensive review of studies carried out on agrimony brings a summary of the biological activities together with mounting evidence of subcellular phytochemical mechanisms of action to demonstrate a wide range of effects. The results of a number of studies demonstrated its antimicrobial, antiviral, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective, neuro-protective, anti-cancer and anti-diabetic actions as well as wound healing activity. Additionally, agrimony displayed a number of immunoprotective effects, decreasing pro-inflammatory cytokine levels while increasing anti-inflammatory cytokines. 

    It has been shown to moderate NO (nitric oxide), to scavenge free radicals and stimulate the expression and activity of the antioxidant enzymes superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione. Agrimony also exerts a number of beneficial effects on the liver helping to alleviate liver injury. It also inhibits TLR-4 signalling, which is a receptor which activates both innate and adaptive immune cells. 

    In the intestines, extracts of agrimony have been shown to inhibit α-glucosidase and, consequently,  glucose absorption. Studies also demonstrated the occurrence of selective cytostatic effects on tumour cells. The herb’s extracts inhibit blood clot formation and the intrinsic pathway which is the body’s response to internal damage. 

    The review remarks on the lack of clinical studies on this plant in human subjects. However, it concludes that the available research into agrimony’s therapeutic effects gives it a remarkable potential for use as a medicinal agent (3).

    Immune system

    In a review of several recent studies carried out on the therapeutic effects of agrimony the antiviral activity of agrimony has been well documented. An ethanolic extract of Agrimonia eupatoria L. exhibited an inhibitory effect on mengovirus, also known as Columbia SK virus. The antiviral effect was also demonstrated in negative-sense RNA viruses. The agrimonia species also have been shown to possess anti-hepatitis properties. Aqueous extracts prepared from the stems and leaves of Agrimonia eupatoria L. and A. pilosa L. inhibited hepatitis surface antigen (HBsAg) secretion. The inhibitory effect of the extracts against hepatitis B virus (HBV) (DNA virus) was also measured in HepG2.2.15 cells and was found to be temperature-dependent. The study concluded that the optimal temperature for the material was heated in water to 60 °C (3). This means that an infusion or decoction may be the best application of this herb for anti-viral activities.

    Liver injury

    Agrimonia eupatoria L. has been shown to protect against liver injury due to its lipid-lowering and antioxidant activities. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, 8-week study was carried out to investigate the liver protective effects of agrimony aqueous extract (AEE) on 80 subjects with elevated alanine transaminase (ALT) levels (a possible sign of liver damage from hepatitis, infection, cirrhosis, liver cancer, or other liver diseases). The subjects aged 20 years or older were all diagnosed with mildly to moderately elevated ALT levels (between 45 and 135 IU/L). Subjects were randomised into two groups to receive either AEE twice a day or two capsules of placebo for 8 weeks. 11 subjects dropped out leaving 69 subjects to access for the study (placebo = 35, AEE = 34). The AEE group showed a significant reduction in ALT and serum triglyceride (TG) at 8 weeks compared with the placebo group (ALT P = .044, TG P = .020) (4). The study shows a positive effect on ALT levels which may give light to some mechanism by which agrimony is traditionally to reduce liver injury in herbal medicine.

    Wound healing

    A review analysed the results from a number of in vitro and vivo studies carried out to investigate the mechanisms of agrimony’s wound healing actions. One study demonstrated that an ethanolic (10 %) agrimony extract ointment shortened wound healing time to 10–16 days, and its water (10 %) extract to 12 days in rats. Other studies established a photosensitizing action and the study elucidates that this may contribute to agrimony’s wound-healing effect by increasing the wound/ulcer bed sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation. Ultraviolet exposure induces cellular proliferation in the stratum corneum – this is a protective mechanism of the skin to fight further sunlight damage. UVC has been reported to induce fibronectin release, which promotes cell migration and wound contraction. These physiological processes may explain some of the mechanisms of action for agrimony wound healing properties (3, 5).

  • Did you know?

    The name Agrimony is from ‘Argemone’, a word given by the Greeks to plants which were healing to the eyes. The name eupatoria refers to ‘Mithridates Eupator’, the last king of Pontus, the Hellenistic kingdom that emerged in northern Asia. He was a renowned concoctor of herbal remedies. The magic power of 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.’

Additional information

  • Botanical description

    Agrimony is a deciduous, perennial herbaceous plant with dark green, compound-pinnate leaves that are oval to elliptic-shaped, with oppositely-faced leaflets. Two or three pairs of small intercalary leaflets are found between each pair of larger leaflets. The terminal leaflet is often the largest. The leaf margins are deeply serrate or serrate-dentate. The leaves are mildly aromatic and are hairy above and below. The petioles are hairy and approximately 3-5 cm long. The stipules are present at the base of the leaf as is common with the vast majority of rose family plants. Their starch-laden rhizomes have a brown-coloured skin. These sustain the plant through its winter dormancy. The stems can reach anywhere from 30-60 cm high. They are rough to the touch and covered in glandular hairs. Agrimony has spikes of small yellow flowers with the rose signature of 5 green sepals, 5 petals, and a mass of stamens. It is these spikes that gave rise to one of its other common names, ‘churchsteeples’.

  • Common names

    • Common agrimony
    • Church steeples
    • Sticklewort
    • Medicinal agrimony
    • Cockbur
  • Safety

    Agrimony should not be used during pregnancy or lactation unless advised by a medical herbalist (1).

  • Interactions

    Agrimony might have a weak blood-glucose-lowering effect, and has weak diuretic and blood pressure-lowering effects. It may therefore be recommended to avoid its use with conventional drugs that have these properties (2).

  • Contraindications

    None known

  • Preparation

    • Tincture
    • Infusion
    • Decoction as gargle or wash for wounds
  • Dosage

    Tincture (1:5 in 45%): Take between 5- 10ml in a little water up to 3 times a day.

    Infusion: Infuse between 3-12g of dried herb in 1 cup of boiling water for 15 minutes, strain and drink 3 times daily. Follow the same steps and instead simmer for 15- 20 minutes for a decoction for as a gargle.

    Children: The average daily dose for between 1-4 years of age is between 1-2 g. Children 4-10 years of age take 2-3 g. Children 10-16 years of age to take 3-6 g (1).

    Decoction: Add up to 2 heaped teaspoons of dried agrimony into approximately one cup of boiling water. Simmer for around 15-20 minutes, strain and use as a mouthwash or gargle up to 3 times a day.

  • Plant parts used

    Flowering tops

  • Constituents

    • Tannins (3-11%) –  proanthocyanidins (condensed tannins) with a small proportion of ellagitannins, of which agrimoniin is the main constituent (0.3-0.5%) 
    • Flavonoids (about 0.9%) – including glycosides of quercetin, the 7-glucosides of luteolin and apigenin and 3-glycosides of kaempferol and kaempferide; as well as triterpenoids such as ursolic acid, euscapic acid and the 28-glucosyl esters of euscapic acid and tormentic acid.
    • Phenolic acids; B-sitosterol
    • Polysaccharides (19.5%)Minerals (7.3-7.9%) (1)
agrimony illustration
  • Habitat

    Agrimony is native to the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, particularly Europe and the UK where it grows in hedges, woodland margins and tall grasslands.

  • Sustainability

    According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status this plant has been assessed across many parts of Europe. It is currently classified as ‘least concern’ although it is locally declining and is considered to be threatened in Belgium and Cyprus.

    Habitat loss and over-harvesting from the wild are two of the biggest threats faced by medicinal plant species. There are an increasing number of well-known herbal medicines at risk of extinction. We must therefore ensure that we source our medicines with sustainability in mind. 

    The herb supplement industry is growing at a rapid rate and until recent years a vast majority of medicinal plant products in global trade was of unknown origin. There are some very real and urgent issues surrounding sustainability in the herb industry. These include environmental factors that affect the medicinal viability of herbs, the safety of the habitats that they are taken from, as well as the welfare of workers in the trade.

    The botanical supply chain efforts for improved visibility (transparency and traceability) into verifiably sustainable production sites around the world is now certificated through the emergence of credible international voluntary sustainability standards (VSS). Read our article on sustainable sourcing of herbs to learn more about what to look for and questions to ask suppliers about sustainability.

  • Quality control

    Herbal Medicines are often extremely safe to take, however it is important to buy herbal medicines from a reputed supplier. Sometimes herbs bought from unreputable sources are contaminated, adulterated or substituted with incorrect plant matter.

    Some important markers for quality to look for would be to look for certified organic labelling, ensuring that the correct scientific/botanical name is used and that suppliers can provide information about the source of ingredients used in the product.

    A supplier should be able to tell you where the herbs have come from. There is more space for contamination and adulteration when the supply chain is unknown.

  • How to grow

    Agrimony is easy to grow. It prefers full sunlight, but can handle part shade. It will grow in most types of average, well-drained soil, including dry and alkaline soil.

    • Plant agrimony seeds directly in the garden in spring after the risk of frost has passed. Seeds can also be started off indoors a few weeks ahead of time when transplanted when daytime temperatures are warm and seedlings are about 10 cm tall. Allow at least 30 cm between each seedling.
    • Watch for seeds to germinate in 10 to 24 days. Plants are generally ready for harvest 90 to 130 days after planting.
    • Agrimony requires little care. Water lightly until plants are well established, however it is important to avoid overwatering. Agrimony only really requires watering when the soil is dry.
  • References

    1. Agrimoniae herba Agrimony Monographs. (n.d.). Available at: https://escop.com/wp-content/uploads/edd/2019/07/Agrimoniae-herba-ESCOP-2019.pdf [Accessed 21 May 2023].
    2. Williamson, E.M., Driver, S. and Baxter, K. (2013). Stockley’s herbal medicines interactions : a guide to the interactions of herbal medicines. London: Pharmaceutical Press.
    3. Paluch, Z., Biriczová, L., Pallag, G., Carvalheiro Marques, E., Vargová, N. and Kmoníčková, E. (2020). The therapeutic effects of Agrimonia eupatoria L. Physiological Research, pp.S555–S571. doi:https://doi.org/10.33549/physiolres.934641.
    4. Cho, Y.M., Kwon, J.E., Lee, M., Lea, Y., Jeon, D.-Y., Kim, H.J. and Kang, S.C. (2018). Agrimonia eupatoria L. (Agrimony) Extract Alters Liver Health in Subjects with Elevated Alanine Transaminase Levels: A Controlled, Randomized, and Double-Blind Trial. Journal of Medicinal Food, 21(3), pp.282–288. doi:https://doi.org/10.1089/jmf.2017.4054.
    5. Kassim Ghaima, K. (n.d.). Antibacterial and Wound Healing Activity of Some Agrimonia eupatoria Extracts. Baghdad Science Journal, [online] 10(1), p.2013. Available at: https://www.iasj.net/iasj/download/f60b2633909f0ebe [Accessed 24 May 2023].
    6. The Bach Centre. (n.d.). Agrimony – The Bach Centre’s guide to the Bach flower remedies. [online] Available at: https://www.bachcentre.com/en/remedies/the-38-remedies/agrimony/.
    7. Wood. M. 2004. The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism: Basic Organs and Systems. North Atlantic Books,U.S.
    8. Menzies-Trull, C. (2013). Herbal medicine keys to physiomedicalism including pharmacopoeia. Newcastle: Faculty Of Physiomedical Herbal Medicine (Fphm).
Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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