David Watson Hood, visual artist.
The image for tormentil
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Tormentil: Potentilla erecta L., Synonyms Potentilla tormentilla Stokes, Potentilla sylvestris Neck. Aert-Bark (earth bark), Barr braonan-nan-con (dog's briar bud), Biscuits, Blood-Root, Braonan bachlag (earth-nut), Braonan fraoch (possibly bud in heather), Braonan nan con, Cairt Làir, Eartbar, Earthbank, Earth-barth (earth-bark), Ewe Daisy, Ewe-daisy, Five Fingers, Flesh and Blood, Leamhnach, Leanartach (follow me everywhere-because it is so common), Leannartach, Septfoil, Shepherd's Knot, Shepherd's Knapperty, Star flower, Thormantle, Tormentil, Tormenting root (refers to analgesic properties).

Tormentil: Potentilla erecta L.The 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, Hypoglycaemic, Odontalogic.
Definitons 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, www.pfaf.org/index.html
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 of Europe.

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