little gem like yellow flower with only four petals growing amongst
the heather has lost the vast respect it once held. Culpepper,
Gerard and other herbalists of the past saw it as a specific against
all venoms, poisons, contagious disease and putrefactions. We
should remember their usage of the words, venom and poison, were
not quite as specific as ours. I think it would be of little direct
use against a poisonous substance like arsenic or against the
venom of a snake although even in these situations it could help
counter infection, pain and inflammation.
There was a time when Highland spaewives believed
in microbes and infection while the qualified physicians laughed
at their quaint superstitions (and wanted to bleed the patient
to death). This is the context in which arose several folk accounts,
of miracle cures achieved by the wise woman using tormentil when
the doctor had said there was no hope of survival. Not it seems
miracles just vernacular science outdoing mistaken academic dogma.
The effectiveness of this plant in treating diarrhoea,
dysentery etc. and its widespread availability made it very important
in past eras of dubious food hygiene.
Despite its high tannin content it has a disadvantage
for tanning leather of not being very large. Many rhizomes were
needed to tan a single hide. In the Faroes, Shetland and many
of the Western Isles there was no tree bark available as an alternative,
in some islands there was grave danger of over harvesting and
restrictions on digging up the plant were in place at least as
early as the 18th Century.
Non-medical uses of tormentil
The roots are extremely rich in tannin,
long boiling converts this into a gum that can then be eaten.
An emergency food, it is only eaten when all else fails. A tea
is made from the rhizomes.
In areas where trees were scarce or absent, tormentil roots were
used for tanning leather and also for dyeing/tanning fishing nets.
A red dye is obtained from the roots. The plant, and especially
the root, is rich in tannin. It is used cosmetically as a compress
to tone up flabby skin. The root contains up to 20% tannin.
Medicinal uses of tormentil
Antibiotic, Astringent, Enuresis, Haemostatic,
of medical actions
Containing more tannin than oak bark, all parts
of tormentil are strongly astringent, finding use wherever that
action is required. This plant is considered to be one of the
safest native astringents and it is widely used in herbal medicine
in the treatment of diarrhoea, dysentery, sore throats etc. The
whole plant, and especially the root, is antibiotic, strongly
astringent, haemostatic and hypoglycaemic. It is used in the treatment
of diarrhoea, dysentery, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, ulcerative
colitis etc. Externally, the plant makes a good styptic for cuts
etc., and a strongly made decoction has been recommended as a
wash for mouth ulcers, infected gums, piles and inflamed eyes.
Extracts are used to treat chapping of the anus and cracked nipples.
The plant's effectiveness as a toothache remedy is undeniable
and it has also been of benefit in treating bed-wetting by children.
Plants For A Future,
Flora Celtica, www.floraceltica.com/,
Flora Celtica is an international project based at the Royal Botanic
Garden Edinburgh, documenting and promoting the knowledge and
sustainable use of native plants in the Celtic countries and regions