Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica)

Hedge Woundwort

Being a practical person, I find myself drawn to things that serve a purpose, and as my knowledge has grown and I gain confidence in using the resources nature has provided, the plants all around us have taken on a whole new area of interest for me. I find myself recognising more plants as I walk the dog or wander through the woods, and although it has taken a while for this recognition to sink into my everyday knowledge, it feels like I’m making progress in learning them. To aid this, I’ve taken to regularly finding a plant, identifying it and then looking for it often. What I found helpful was naming the plant and its use to help cement the knowledge. I recently heard the advice that if you want to imbed something in your knowledge, practice it once a day for a week, once a week for a month and once a month for a year.

One of my favourite plants to look for is Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica), a plant that does what its name implies.

Hedge Woundwort is a tall, hairy perennial that grows in hedges and woods, often in groups where its tall spires of purple flowers once spotted, can be regularly identified. The stem is square shaped and hairy and its leaf shape remind me of nettles due to their ovate shape and regular large teeth on the margin. The leaves are arranged in opposite pairs and they have a thick furry feel to them.

Ovate leaf in opposite pairs
Ovate leaf in opposite pairs.

It’s worth noting that Marsh Woundwort (Stachys palustris) leaves do not have a long stem to their leaves.

A key identifier is its strong musty smell that a quick sniff of a broken leaf reveals. The purple flowers are arranged in whorls around the central stem and are hooded, with a variegated white and purple lower lid.

What captivated me about this plant is the story of its practical application. John Gerard, the famous 17th century herbalist, relates the story of his discovery of it during a visit to Kent:

‘it chanced that a poore man in mowing of Peason did cut his leg with a sithe, wherein hee made a wound to the bones, and withall very large and wide, and also with great effusion of bloud; the poore man crept unto this herbe, which he bruised with his hands, and tied a great quantitie of it unto the wound with a piece of his shirt, which presently stanched the bleeding, and ceased the paine, insomuch that the poore man presently went to his daies worke againe, and so did from day to day, without resting one day untill he was perfectly whole; which was accomplished in a few daies, by this herbe stamped with a little hogs grease, and so laid upon it in manner of a pultesse, which did as it were glew or sadder the lips of the wound together, and heale it according to the first intention, as wee terme it, that is, without drawing or bringing the wound to suppuration or matter; which was fully performed in seven daies, that would have required forty daies with balsam it selfe. I saw the wound and offered to heale the same for charity; which he refused, saying that I could not heale it so well as himselfe: a clownish answer I confesse, without any thankes for my goodwill: whereupon I have named it Clownes Wound-wort, as aforesaid.

So, does it work? Let’s find out.

To make an ointment from this herb I gathered a good handful of the plant, both leaves, stems and flowers and cut them up into small chunks (bruising it in a pestle and mortar or with a rolling pin would also work). I placed olive oil (approx. 200 ml of oil, rather than the pig fat Gerard used) in a glass bowl over a pan of boiling water and gradually added the herbs to the oil until the oil covered the herbs completely.

Infusing the oil
Infusing the oil.

I gently heated the mixture for three hours, the herbs will gradually reduce in volume so I added what extra herbs I had as space allowed. You need to keep the heat down to avoid deep-frying the herb mixture. Once infused, I strain the herb through a jelly making bag (a cloth would also work) into a measuring jug.

Straining the mixture
Straining the mixture.

For every 100mls of oil I added 10g of beeswax. I then reapplied the strained liquid to the heat and stirred in the bees wax until it melted, I poured this into several small containers and left it to cool and set. I’ve stored the ointment in the fridge to help preserve it.

The finished ointment cooling
The finished ointment cooling.

The practical test
With Gerards story in mind, I was keen to test the healing powers of the plant. Several weeks ago, I took a heavy crash mountain biking in Wales, which resulted in a broken big toe and some pretty deep cuts and grazes. With the wounds properly cleaned I’m mainly on the mend but far from fully recovered, the deep grazes especially were still red and sore so it seemed like a good opportunity to test the ointment out. I applied the ointment to the wounds and area around the wounds around 4pm and again just before bed. Fast forward eight hours and the redness had already subsided, I also noticed a reduction in the discomfort with no noticeable side effects so far. Without any control test, it’s not possible to claim too much about this ointment but I’m happy that it has been helping with the healing so far.

If you’re interested in more natural remedies then Woodland Ways offers a medicinal plants course.


Leaves from Geralds herbal:

Stachys family uses:

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