Monthly Archives: July 2013

Water Hyacinth

Latin Name: Eichhornia crassipes

Flower by Tim Waters

Flower by Tim Waters

Origin: Native of tropical South America.

Family: Pontederiaceae.

Known Hazards: Eating the plant, which is reported to contain HCN, alkaloid, and triterpenoid, may induce itching. Fresh plants contain prickly crystals. Plants sprayed with 2,4-D may accumulate lethal doses of nitrates.

Habitat: Water courses. Moist and boggy areas at elevations of 200 – 1500 metres in Nepal.

Edibility Rating: 2 (1-5)

Medicinal Rating: 0 (1-5)

Physical Characteristics: Free-floating perennial to 65 cm tall. Leaves basal, young plants with leaf stalks to 25 cm long and inflated at the base and older plants with leaf stalks to 60 cm long and without inflated bases. Roots feathery, black to purple, to 1 m long; usually short if water nutrient rich. Seed ovate–oblong, ribbed, about 1 mm long.
Flowers: In clusters on stems mostly taller than leaves. Flowers to 7 cm wide, lasting for 1 to 2 days and when all flowers on the spike have matured the spike turns down into the water. The flowers are hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs)It can fix Nitrogen.

Distinguishing features: Distinguished by pale blue–lavender flowers with darker purple and yellow blotch, and some leaves with a swollen, buoyant base of leaf stalk.

Dispersal: Seeds may germinate within days or may remain dormant for up to 15 or more years. Mainly increases in density by daughter plants produced on stolons.

Water Hyacinth

Edible Uses

Young leaves and petioles – cooked. Virtually tasteless. Said to be used as a carotene-rich table vegetable in Formosa. Javanese sometimes cook and eat the green parts and inflorescence. Flower spikes – cooked.

 

Medicinal Uses

None known

Other Uses

Biomass; Pollution. Water hyacinths are potentially an excellent source of biomass. Through an anaerobic fermentation process, polluted hyacinths can be converted to the natural gas methane – a costly process that may become more economical as supplies of underground natural gas are depleted. Dried and cleansed plants can be used as fertilizer and plant mulch. Eventually, living aquatic plants might serve aboard long-distance manned spacecraft, absorbing wastes and converting carbon dioxide to oxygen, then being themselves converted into food. The plant can be cultivated for use in wastewater treatment, and can be incorporated into a system where the biomass is harvested for fuel production. Since this biomass is a by-product of wastewater treatment, it has a positive environmental impact, and thus poses no threat as competitor to food, feed, or fibre-producing plants. Wilted water hyacinth, mixed with earth, cow dung, and woodashes in the Chinese compost fashion, can yield useful compost in just two months. Although potential yields are incredible, so are the costs of removal or attempted eradication of this water weed. Standing crops have been estimated to produce 100-120 tonnes per hectare per year. Under ideal conditions, each plant can produce 248 offspring in 90 days. Water hyacinth roots naturally absorb pollutants, including such toxic chemicals as lead, mercury, and strontium 90 (as well as some organic compounds believed to be carcinogenic) in concentrations 10,000 times that in the surrounding water. In Africa, fresh plants are used as cushions in canoes and to plug holes in charcoal sacks.

Notes: Attractive but troublesome plant that has spread worldwide, obstructing waterways, reducing fish production, harbouring mosquitoes, and severely disrupting life in some communities along rivers and lakes, mostly between latitudes 35° north and south of the equator. Luxuriant growth is usually a symptom of nutrient enrichment (eutrophication). Water Hyacinth will not thrive in good quality tap water. Biological control has been effective in some regions, particularly in tropical areas.

Variegated Thistle

Latin Name: Silybum marianum

Leaf by Tony

Leaf by Tony

Origin: Native to Europe

Family:Asteraceae

Form: Annual

Growth Habit: Variegated thistle is a widespread weed in Tasmania and generally occurs in pasture, crops, roadsides and neglected areas. In soils of high fertility it can build up toxic levels of nitrates. Seeds generally germinate in autumn, depending upon moisture levels, however germination at low levels may occur at other times of the year.The young plant develops into a rosette, usually up to 1 metre in diameter, but plants are capable of growing larger under ideal conditions. The leaves exhibit striking white variegations, hence the plant’s name. A large specimen in flower is a very striking plant. The tall upright flower stem comprises many branches and is produced in late winter. This usually reaches up to 1 metre but may grow considerably larger.

Dispersal: Variegated thistles are spread entirely by seed. The seeds are equipped with a small pappas, or parachute of hairs, however they are not disbursed over long distances by wind. Most seed falls within a few metres of the parent. Livestock, particularly sheep, also spread seed in their wool.

Status: Silybum marianum is declared as Secondary Weeds under the Noxious Weeds Act 1964.

Weed Impact: Variegated thistle is a serious weed in Tasmania, particularly in the lower rainfall areas of the midlands. Infestations can be very dense and may totally dominate pasture or a crop. It is also a widespread and troublesome weed of roadsides

Edible Uses

Image from WikispeciesRoot – raw or cooked. A mild flavour and somewhat mucilaginous texture. When boiled, the roots resemble salsify (Tragopogon hispanicus). Leaves – raw or cooked. The very sharp leaf-spines must be removed first, which is quite a fiddly operation. The leaves are quite thick and have a mild flavour when young, at this time they are quite an acceptable ingredient of mixed salads, though they can become bitter in hot dry weather. When cooked they make an acceptable spinach substitute. It is possible to have leaves available all year round from successional sowings. Flower buds – cooked. A globe artichoke substitute, they are used before the flowers open. The flavour is mild and acceptable, but the buds are quite small and even more fiddly to use than globe artichokes. Stems – raw or cooked. They are best peeled and can be soaked to reduce the bitterness. Palatable and nutritious, they can be used like asparagus or rhubarb or added to salads. They are best used in spring when they are young. A good quality oil is obtained from the seeds. The roasted seed is a coffee substitute.

Variegated Thistle

Medicinal Uses

Astringent; Bitter; Cholagogue; Diaphoretic; Diuretic; Emetic; Emmenagogue; Hepatic; Homeopathy; Stimulant; Stomachic; Tonic.

Blessed thistle has a long history of use in the West as a remedy for depression and liver problems. Recent research has confirmed that it has a remarkable ability to protect the liver from damage resulting from alcoholic and other types of poisoning. The whole plant is astringent, bitter, cholagogue, diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, emmenagogue, hepatic, stimulant, stomachic and tonic. It is used internally in the treatment of liver and gall bladder diseases, jaundice, cirrhosis, hepatitis and poisoning. The plant is harvested when in flower and dried for later use. Silymarin, an extract from the seed, acts on the membranes of the liver cells preventing the entry of virus toxins and other toxic compounds and thus preventing damage to the cells. It also dramatically improves liver regeneration in hepatitis, cirrhosis, mushroom poisoning and other diseases of the liver. German research suggests that silybin (a flavonoid component of the seed) is clinically useful in the treatment of severe poisoning by Amanita mushrooms. Seed extracts are produced commercially in Europe. Regeneration of the liver is particularly important in the treatment of cancer since this disease is always characterized by a severely compromised and often partially destroyed liver. A homeopathic remedy is obtained from equal parts of the root and the seed with its hulls still attached. It is used in the treatment of liver and abdominal disorders.

Other Uses

A good green manure plant, producing a lot of bulk for incorporation into the soil

Notes: A locally common weed of roadsides, neglected land and stream banks. African Olive produces fruit that are usually smaller and less fleshy than those of plants cultivated for edible olives and olive oil.

Tree-of-Heaven

Latin Name: Ailanthus altissima

Flowers by Zen

Flowers by Zen

Origin: Native to China

Family: Simaroubaceae.

Known Hazards: The plant is possibly poisonous. Male flowers have potentially allergenic pollen. The leaves are toxic to domestic animals. Gardeners who fell the tree may suffer rashes. The odour of the foliage is intensely disagreeable and can cause headache and nausea, rhinitis and conjunctivitis.The pollen can cause hay fever.

Habitat: Uplands.

Edibility Rating: 1 (1-5)

Medicinal Rating: 3 (1-5)

Physical Characteristics: Deciduous, suckering shrub or large tree to 15 m high. Leaves alternate 20–50 (rarely to 100) cm long, with base of leaf stalk swollen (see photo). Leaves usually consist of 9–21 ovate, strongly veined, mostly opposite leaflets, 4–13 cm long, and with the terminal leaflet often smaller. Seeds surrounded by a flattened wing (see photo), green at first but becoming reddish.
Flowers: In terminal clusters mostly 6–12 cm long; male and female flowers on separate plants (dioecious). Male flowers emit an offensive smell that attracts insects. Flowers summer.The plant is not self-fertile.

Distinguishing features: Distinguished by leaflet lobes with a conspicuous dark gland (see photo) that produces an unpleasant smell when crushed and clusters of winged fruits.

Edible Uses

Leaves – cooked. Used as an emergency food in times of scarcity, they have an offensive odour. Some caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity.

Tree-of-Heaven

Medicinal Uses

Anthelmintic; Antibacterial; Antispasmodic; Bitter; Astringent; Cardiac; Deobstruent; Diuretic; Emetic; Emmenagogue; Febrifuge; Rubefacient. The tree of heaven is not often used in Western herbal medicine, though it is more popular in the Orient. Various parts of the plant are used, though the bark is the part most commonly used – however, it contains a glycoside that has not been fully researched and so should be used with caution. The root and stem bark are antispasmodic, astringent, bitter, cardiac depressant, diuretic, emetic, febrifuge, rubefacient and vermifuge. The vermifuge properties do not act on round worms or earthworms. A nauseatingly bitter herb, it is used internally to treat malaria and fevers, it also slows the heart rate and relaxes spasms. It needs to be used under the supervision of a qualified practitioner since the bark readily causes vomiting[238]. In China, the bark is a popular remedy for dysentery and other complaints of the bowels. In one clinical trial, 81 out of 82 patients were cured of dysentery when they were given this herb. A tincture of the root-bark has been used successfully in the treatment of cardiac palpitations, asthma and epilepsy. Tree-of-heaven is a folk remedy for asthma, cancer, diarrhoea, dysentery, dysmenorrhoea, dysuria, ejaculation (premature), epilepsy, eruption, fever, gonorrhoea, haematochezia, leucorrhoea, malaria, metrorrhagia, sores, spasms, spermatorrhoea, stomachic, tumours of the breast (China), and wet dreams. The bark is harvested in the spring and dried for later use. The leaves, bark of the trunk, and roots are put into a wash to treat parasitic ulcers, itch, and eruptions. In Korea, the root bark is used in the treatment of coughs, gastric and intestinal upsets. The stembark is emmenagogue. The leaves are anthelmintic, astringent and deobstruent. The fruit is used in the treatment of bloody stools and dysentery. They have also been used to treat ophthalmic diseases. Extracts from the plant are bactericidal[218]. The tree is used in homeopathic remedies for cancer. A resin extracted from the roots and leaves is a revulsive or vesicant.

Other Uses

Seedpods by fturmogDye; Hedge; Herbicide; Insecticide; Repellent; Soil reclamation; Soil stabilization; Tannin; Wood. A yellow dye is obtained from the leaves. The leaves contain 12% tannin, quercetin, as well as isoquercetin, and the alkaloid linuthine. The leaves and wood are high in cellulose and are used in paper-making. The crushed leaves and flowers are insect-repellent. The plant parts, when steeped in water, are said to yield an insecticidal solution. An aqueous extract of the leaves contains a substance that is toxic to other tree seedlings. When plants are put into marshy areas they drain the soil and thereby remove mosquito breeding sites. The plants have extensive root systems and sucker freely, they can be used in soil-stabilization programmes. Since the plant is tolerant of soil pollution it can also be used in land reclamation schemes on old mine tips etc. Plants can be grown as a tall hedge. Wood – fairly hard, heavy, difficult to split, not durable, coarse grained. Though little used, except in poorer countries, the wood is suitable for cabinetry, cellulose manufacture, furniture, lumber, pulp, and woodwork. It is difficult to split but easy to work and polish. The wood is also used locally for charcoal and firewood. Yields of 20 cubic metres per hectare is possible for this light wood.

Notes: Forms dense thickets sometimes many hectares in size. Known to be growing in Australia in mid 1800s. Was often cultivated, especially around rural buildings. Possibly toxic to stock. In China its wood is used for fuel, construction and furniture; its bark and leaves for medicine and its leaves for food for a moth which makes silk. Hardy plant, with a deep root system.

Topped Lavander

Latin Name: Lavandula stoechas

Image from WikispeciesOrigin: Native to the Mediterranean.

Alternative Name(s): Bush lavender, French lavender, Italian Lavender, Spanish lavender

Family: Lamiaceae.

Known Hazards: None known.

Habitat: Dry hills, garigue and open woods on limestone and granite soils.

Edibility Rating: 1 (1-5)

Medicinal Rating: 2 (1-5)


Physical Characteristics: Topped lavender is a small upright shrub to 1m high. The opposite leaves are downy, grayish-green and fragrant. Flowers are deep purple and fragrant in cylindrical heads topped with a few distinctive violet bracts. It is in leaf all year, in flower from November to February and abundant seeds are produced in late spring and early summer. The flowers are hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees, Lepidoptera (Moths & Butterflies). It is noted for attracting wildlife.

Dispersal: Seed is spread by wind and water.

Edible Uses

None known

 Topped Lavander

Medicinal Uses

Antiasthmatic; Antiseptic; Antispasmodic; Digestive; Expectorant. Topped lavender has similar medicinal properties to common lavender (L. angustifolia). It yields more essential oil than that species but is of inferior quality. The flowers, and the essential oil derived from them, are antiasthmatic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, digestive and expectorant. It is used internally to alleviate nausea. Externally, the essential oil is used as an antiseptic wash for wounds, ulcers, sores etc and as a relaxing oil for massage.

Other Uses

Essential; Incense; Pot-pourri; Repellent. An essential oil is obtained from the flowers – used in soap making, perfumery, medicinally etc. When growing the plant for its essential oil content, it is best to harvest the flowering stems as soon as the flowers have faded. The aromatic leaves and flowers are used in pot-pourri, as an insect repellent in the linen cupboard etc. They are also used as a strewing herb in churches etc. The flowering stems, once the flowers have been removed for use in pot-pourri etc, can be tied in small bundles and burnt as incense sticks.

Notes: Topped lavender has been in cultivation in Australia since 1857 and was recorded in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens in 1858. It appears in Victorian nursery catalogues in the 1870s. It is naturalised in Victoria and South Australia and on the Mt Stromlo Observatory site in Canberra before the 2003 bushfires. It has been declared a noxious weed in parts of Victoria.

Common Thornapple

Latin Name: Datura stramonium

Seed pod by fturmog

Seed pod by fturmog

Origin: Probably native of the USA and Mexico.

Family: Solanaceae.

Known Hazards: All members of this genus contain narcotics and are very poisonous, even in small doses.

Habitat: Dry waste ground and amongst rubble or the ruins of old buildings.

Edibility Rating: 0 (1-5)

Medicinal Rating: 4 (1-5)

Physical Characteristics: Flowers: Trumpet-shaped and 5-lobed, surrounded at base by sepals 3–5.5 cm long. Flowers summer. The flowers are hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Moths.Annual herb to 1.5 m high. Leaves 8–36 cm long, ovate to rhombic, margins deeply lobed, lobe margins coarsely toothed to undulate. Capsule ovoid, 2–4.5 cm long.

 

Image by Annethelibrarian

Image by Annethelibrarian

Distinguishing features: Distinguished by hairless or sparsely hairy stems; white to lavender flowers, 6–10 cm long, stigma below to above anthers; erect spiny capsule, with over 100 spines of variable length, on a straight stalk; seeds black or grey, pitted, 2.5–4.5 mm long.

Dispersal: Spread by seed, particularly by water and as a contaminant in produce.

Edible Uses

None known

Common Thornapple

Medicinal Uses

Anodyne; Anthelmintic; Antiasthmatic; Antidandruff; Antiinflammatory; Antispasmodic; Hallucinogenic; Hypnotic; Mydriatic; Narcotic. The thornapple is a bitter narcotic plant that relieves pain and encourages healing. It has a long history of use as a herbal medicine, though it is very poisonous and should be used with extreme caution. The leaves, flowering tops and seeds are anodyne, antiasthmatic, antispasmodic, hallucinogenic, hypnotic, mydriatic and narcotic. The seeds are the most active medicinally. The plant is used internally in the treatment of asthma and Parkinson’s disease, excess causes giddiness, dry mouth, hallucinations and coma. Externally, it is used as a poultice or wash in the treatment of fistulas, abscesses wounds and severe neuralgia. The use of this plant is subject to legal restrictions in some countries. It should be used with extreme caution and only under the supervision of a qualified practitioner since all parts of the plant are very poisonous and the difference between a medicinal dose and a toxic dose is very small. The leaves should be harvested when the plant is in full flower, they are then dried for later use. The leaves can be used as a very powerful mind-altering drug, they contain hyoscyamine and atropine. There are also traces of scopolamine, a potent cholinergic-blocking hallucinogen, which has been used to calm schizoid patients. Atropine dilates the pupils and is used in eye surgery. The leaves have been smoked as an antispasmodic in the treatment for asthma, though this practice is extremely dangerous. The seeds are used in Tibetan medicine, they are said to have a bitter and acrid taste with a cooling and very poisonous potency. Analgesic, anthelmintic and anti-inflammatory, they are used in the treatment of stomach and intestinal pain due to worm infestation, toothache and fever from inflammations. The juice of the fruit is applied to the scalp to treat dandruff.

Other Uses

Hair; Repellent. The growing plant is said to protect neighbouring plants from insects. The juice of the fruits is applied to the scalp to cure dandruff and falling hair.

Notes: Up to 30,000 seeds have been recorded from one plant. Seeds may remain dormant for many years. After seed-set the plant withers, leaving a skeleton from autumn to spring. Introduced to Australia in early 1800s. Now the most common of the Thornapples in Australia. All parts of the plant, particularly seeds, are toxic to livestock and humans. Rank smell and bitter taste usually deter stock from grazing plants. Weed of disturbed areas and summer crops. The plant known as Datura tatula is a purple flowered form of Datura stramonium

Sweet Pittosporum

Latin Name: Pittosporum Undulatum

Flowering plant. Image by Manuel M Ramos

Flowering plant. Image by Manuel M Ramos

Origin: Australia – New South Wales, Victoria.

Alternative Name(s): Victorian box, Mock orange, Australian cheesewood, New Zealand daphne, Victorian laurel, Wild coffee

Known Hazards: This plant contains saponins. Saponins are found in many foods, such as some beans, and although they are fairly toxic to people they are poorly absorbed by the body and most pass straight through without any problem. They are also broken down if the food is thoroughly cooked for a long time. Saponins are much more toxic to some creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish.

Habitat: Sheltered situations and rainforests.

Edibility Rating: 0 (1-5)

Medicinal Rating: 0 (1-5)

pittosporumPhysical Characteristics: A tall shrub or small tree growing to a height of 14m and a spread of 6m. It has shiny dark green paler beneath, oval leaves with wavy edges which give it its specific name.
Flowers: Creamy-white, sweetly scented flowers are followed by clusters of orange fleshy fruit about 13mm long. In flower from November to Genuary. The flowers are hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Lepidoptera (Moths & Butterflies).

Edible Uses

None known

 

Medicinal Uses

None known

Other Uses

The opened seeds can be boiled up to produce a gum. This gum can be used as a safe herbicde on weed seedlings in fragile areas – by smothering the plants.
Can be grown as a windbreak hedge in the mildest areas of the country, resisting maritime exposure. Wood. Used in the manufacture of golf clubs.

Sweet Pittosporum

Notes: Native to wet forests in coastal areas between the Great Dividing Range and the sea from southern Victoria to southern Queensland. The fruits are attractive to birds and other animals including posums and foxes. It also spreads in dumped garden waste and contaminated soil and seeds stick to footwear.
Sweet Pittosporum is invasive in New Zealand, South Africa and USA. It is a serious weed problem outside its natural range in SA, Tasmania, Victoria and WA. It is a weed on King, Lord Howe and Norfolk islands. It is a serious weed in the Sydney district in areas where it does not occur naturally and on the NSW mid-north coast.Pittosporum undulatum, commonly mistaken as a native in Tasmania, appears to hybridise with P. bicolor in Tasmania. It is invasive in coastal areas. Control of dispersal is difficult. Pittosporum affects natural environments through shading, competition and changes in soil nutrients. Changes in fire regimes has allowed Sweet pittosporum to out-compete fire-adapted native species.

Sticky Cape Gooseberry

Latin Name: Physalis viscosa

Origin: Native of North and South America.

Alternative Name(s): Prairie Ground Cherry, Sticky Ground Cherry

Family: Solanaceae.

Known Hazards: Although no specific mention has been seen for this species, it belongs to a genus where many of the members have poisonous leaves and stems, though the full ripe fruits are usually edible.

Sticky Cape Gooseberry

Habitat: Coastal sand dunes, sandy woods near the coast, pinelands and pastures.

Edibility Rating: 4 (1-5)

Medicinal Rating: 2 (1-5)

Physical Characteristics: Perennial herb to 60 cm high. Leaves to 5 (rarely to 6) cm long and to 3 (rarely to 4) cm wide, light green, margins undulate. Fruit orange when ripe, contained in a dull yellow-green joined sepals (calyx) 15–30 mm long, drying light brown. Seeds disc-shaped, sticky, 1.7–2.3 mm long.
Flowers: Petals joined in a tube (corolla) 11–15 mm long. Flowers summer and autumn.The flowers are hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects.

Distinguishing features: Distinguished by rhizomatous rootstock; plants sparsely hairy with minute forked hairs at least on calyx margins; narrow-ovate leaves; flowers with pale yellow corolla often with olive-yellow blotches between stamens, flower stalks 7–12 mm long; fruiting calyx papery, inflated, 10-angled in cross-section, containing a globe-shaped berry 10–15 mm wide.

Dispersal: Spread as seed by animals that eat the fruit, fruit floating on water and by cultivation spreading cut root sections.

Confused With: Other Physalis species. Most likely to be confused with Perennial Ground Cherry, Physalis virginiana, another rhizomatous species although this one has minute simple hairs or is hairless.

Edible Uses

Edible fruit – raw or cooked. Juicy and thin-skinned with a pleasant sub-acid cherry-like flavour.Said to be the best N. American species. The plant conveniently wraps up each fruit in its own ‘paper bag’ (botanically, the calyx) to protect it from pests and the elements. This calyx is toxic and should not be eaten.

 

Medicinal Uses

Aperient; Diuretic; Febrifuge; Poultice; Tonic. The fruit is aperient and diuretic. It is used in the treatment of gravel, suppression of urine etc and is highly recommended in fevers and in gout. The leaves and stems are febrifuge and slightly tonic. They are used in the treatment of the malaise that follows malaria, and for weak or anaemic people. The root has been used as a dressing on wounds.

Other Uses

None known

Notes: Seeds germinate and plants reshoot from roots in spring, growing over summer, aerial growth dies in autumn. Weed of irrigated land, railways and roadsides. Cultivation tends to spread plants. Fruit edible.

St John’s Wort

Latin Name: Hypericum perforatum

st_john_worth1Origin: Native of Europe, western Asia, North Africa.

Family: Clusiaceae.

Known Hazards: Skin contact with the sap, or ingestion of the plant, can cause photosensitivity in some people.

Habitat: Open woods, hedgebanks and grassland, in dry sunny places, usually on calcareous soils.

Edibility Rating: 2 (1-5)

Medicinal Rating: 4 (1-5)

Physical Characteristics: Perennial rhizomatous herb with erect stems to 1.2 m high. Leaves hairless, paler on the lower surface, ovate to narrow-oblong to about 3 cm long. Stems with opposite weakly pronounced longitudinal ridges and with occasional black glands. Fruit sticky, containing many pitted seeds about 1 mm long. Roots to 1 m deep; rhizomes shallow producing many buds.
Flowers: About 2 cm wide with 5 bright yellow petals. Flowers late spring and summer. The flowers are hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees, flies. The plant is self-fertile.

istinguishing features: Distinguished by numerous translucent glands on the leaves (obvious when leaves are held to the light), and yellow flowers often with black glands on the petal margins (look like dots—see photo).

Dispersal: Spread by seed, growth of rhizomes and movement of cut sections of rhizomes.

Edible Uses

The herb and the fruit are sometimes used as a tea substitute. The flowers can be used in making mead

St John’s Wort

Medicinal Uses

Analgesic; Antiseptic; Antispasmodic; Aromatic; Aromatic; Astringent; Cholagogue; Digestive; Diuretic; Expectorant; Homeopathy; Nervine; Resolvent; Sedative; Stimulant; Vermifuge; Vulnerary. St. John’s wort has a long history of herbal use. It fell out of favour in the nineteenth century but recent research has brought it back to prominence as an extremely valuable remedy for nervous problems. In clinical trials about 67% of patients with mild to moderate depression improved when taking this plant. The flowers and leaves are analgesic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, aromatic, astringent, cholagogue, digestive, diuretic, expectorant, nervine, resolvent, sedative, stimulant, vermifuge and vulnerary. The herb is used in treating a wide range of disorders, including pulmonary complaints, bladder problems, diarrhoea and nervous depression. It is also very effectual in treating overnight incontinence of urine in children. Externally, it is used in poultices to dispel herd tumours, caked breasts, bruising etc. The flowering shoots are harvested in early summer and dried for later use. Use the plant with caution and do not prescribe it for patients with chronic depression. The plant was used to procure an abortion by some native North Americans, so it is best not used by pregnant women. See also the notes above on toxicity. A tea or tincture of the fresh flowers is a popular treatment for external ulcers, burns, wounds (especially those with severed nerve tissue), sores, bruises, cramps etc. An infusion of the flowers in olive oil is applied externally to wounds, sores, ulcers, swellings, rheumatism etc. It is also valued in the treatment of sunburn and as a cosmetic preparation to the skin. The plant contains many biologically active compounds including rutin, pectin, choline, sitosterol, hypericin and pseudohypericin. These last two compounds have been shown to have potent anti-retroviral activity without serious side effects and they are being researched in the treatment of AIDS. A homeopathic remedy is made from the fresh whole flowering plant. It is used in the treatment of injuries, bites, stings etc and is said to be the first remedy to consider when nerve-rich areas such as the spine, eyes, fingers etc are injured.

Other Uses

 

Flower detail by Wikispecies

Flower detail by Wikispecies

Dye; Tannin. Yellow, gold and brown dyes are obtained from the flowers and leaves. A red is obtained from the flowers after acidification. A red dye is obtained from the whole plant when infused in oil or alcohol. A yellow is obtained when it is infused in water. The plant is said to contain good quantities of tannin, though exact figures are not available.

Notes: There are two varieties, var. perforatum with broad leaves and var. angustifolium with narrow leaves but intermediates are also common. One plant will produce thousands of seeds and these may remain viable in the soil for many years. Introduced to Australia in 1800s, and still spreading, especially on roadsides and cleared land. Major weed in USA and Canada. In Australia biocontrol has been partly successful but work is still continuing. Hypericin is concentrated in oil glands and causes photosensitisation in light skinned stock especially sheep.

Spiny Rush

Latin Name: Juncus acutus

Weaving Spiny Rush in Africa

Weaving Spiny Rush in Africa

Origin: Native of Europe, Africa and North America.

Alternative Name(s): Sharp Rush.

Family: Juncaceae.

Known Hazards: Although no reports of toxicity have been seen for this species, there is a report that one member of this genus is possibly toxic to mammals.

Habitat: Sandy sea shores and dune slacks, occasionally in salt marshes.

Edibility Rating: 0 (1-5)

Medicinal Rating: 0 (1-5)

Physical Characteristics: Shortly rhizomatous, tussocky perennial rush to 1.6 m high. Flowering stems and stem-like leaves arise from the base at varying angles giving the whole plant a characteristic globe shape. Fruit an ovoid 3-celled brown capsule. Seeds 1.2–2 mm long, brown.
Flowers: Flowering stems (culms) 2–4 mm wide. Inflorescence 4–13 cm long, consisting of clusters of 1–6 flowers; 1 or 2 leaf-like bracts 4–25 cm long at base of inflorescence. Stamens 6. Flowers throughout year but mostly spring and summer.

Distinguishing features: Distinguished by pith-filled stems and leaves; leaves similar to flower stems and other leaves forming a basal sheath (cataphyll) around the flower stem; leaves and bracts terminate in a stiff sharp point; capsules 4–6 mm long; seed with a tail at each end.

Dispersal: Spread by seed. Much of the spread appears to be by seedcontaminated mud attached to vehicles and animals.

Edible Uses

None known

Spiny Rush

Medicinal Uses

None known

Other Uses

Seed heads, Wollombi, NSWBasketry; Thatching; Weaving. The stems are used in making woven baskets, thatching, weaving mats etc.

Notes: Widespread in damp places and infrequently inundated watercourses on the coast and inland. The sharp spines, that project at many angles, make it especially dangerous for children.

Sorrel

Latin Name: Rumex acetosella

Seeding Sorrel, Wollombi, NSW

Seeding Sorrel, Wollombi, NSW

Origin: Europe; now cosmopolitan especially in temperate regions.

Family: Polygonaceae.

Known Hazards: Plants can contain quite high levels of oxalic acid, which is what gives the leaves of many members of this genus an acid-lemon flavour. Perfectly alright in small quantities, the leaves should not be eaten in large amounts since the oxalic acid can lock-up other nutrients in the food, especially calcium, thus causing mineral deficiencies. The oxalic acid content will be reduced if the plant is cooked. People with a tendency to rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity should take especial caution if including this plant in their diet since it can aggravate their condition.

Habitat: Heaths and acid grassland. A weed of acid soils.

Edibility Rating: 4 (1-5)

Medicinal Rating: 3 (1-5)

Physical Characteristics: Variable slender prostrate to ascending perennial to 50 cm high. Leaves with blade to 10cm long on stalk about 1 cm long. Seeds smooth and shiny, 1–1.5 mm long.
Flowers: In slender terminal heads that mature reddish. Flowers spring to early summer.

Juvenile specimen, Bundanon, NSW

Juvenile specimen, Bundanon, NSW

Distinguishing features: Distinguished by rhizomatous growth and spear-shaped leaves with distinct basal lobes (see photo).

Dispersal: Spread by seed and rhizomes.

Edible Uses

Leaves; Root; Seed. Leaves – raw or cooked. A delicious lemon-like flavour, most people consider them too strong to use in quantity, but they are excellent as a flavouring in mixed salads. The leaves should only be used in small quantities due to the oxalic acid content. The leaves can be used as thickeners in soups etc, they can also be dried for later use. Root – cooked. It can be dried, ground into a powder and made into noodles. Seed – raw or cooked. Easy to harvest, but the seed is rather small and fiddly to use. A drink similar to lemonade (but without the fizz) is made by boiling up the leaves.

Sorrel

Medicinal Uses

Astringent; Diuretic; Poultice. Sorrel is a detoxifying herb, the fresh juice of the leaves having a pronounced diuretic effect. Like other members of the genus, it is mildly laxative and holds out potential as a long term treatment for chronic disease, in particular that of the gastro-intestinal tract. The plant is also part of a North American formula called essiac which is a popular treatment for cancer. Its effectiveness has never been reliably proven or disproven since controlled studies have not been carried out. The other herbs included in the formula are Arctium lappa, Ulmus rubra and Rheum palmatum. The whole plant, used in the fresh state, is diaphoretic, diuretic and refrigerant. A tea made from the leaves is used in the treatment of fevers, inflammation and scurvy. The leaf juice is useful in the treatment of urinary and kidney diseases. A leaf poultice is applied to tumours, cysts etc, and is a folk treatment for cancer. A tea made from the roots is astringent and is used in the treatment of diarrhoea and excessive menstrual bleeding.

Other Uses

Dye. Dark green to brown and dark grey dyes can be obtained from the roots, they do not need a mordant.

Notes: Widespread and common. Usually germinates in autumn or winter. Seldom grazed and may be locally dominant in temperate pastures. Contains oxalates and is suspected of poisoning stock. Also a weed of crops in temperate Australia. Has been used as a vegetable.