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Here Comes The Queen!

Every year there is one herb in the garden that really makes itself known. One type of plant that will be in abundance and seem more striking than ever. As herbalists and plant growers when we see this it's clear to us we need to stop and take notice. This plant has been brought to our attention for some healing that needs to take place for ourselves, something that maybe we are not quite aware of or giving enough attention to.
This year that plant is Figwort ~ Scrophularia nodosa. We went up to our old farm in Sligo to move plants last week. When I arrived at the house the first thing I noticed was a giant Foxglove and a Figwort self seeded in the gravel at the front door!

These two plants are thought of as the KING and QUEEN of the herbs. There they were standing tall on display. The showy Foxglove the King and understated Figwort the Queen. Yes! The first time I heard Figwort was the Queen I was surprised too. She is hardly an eye catching plant.. even when in full flower and her foliage has quite a distinct stinky smell. Yet despite this I still love stopping to admire her and photograph her subtle beauty.
We had very large Scrophularia's in the garden for years which we always harvested from but one year they got devastated by an infestation of black fly. Although we have them in the nursery we never had them thrive in the garden since then. Very strange!  This year they are BACK - popping up as self seeders all over the place! Seeing Figwort making its come back reminded me of living in damp Leitrim where is grew in almost every ditch. It loves a damp climate and moist ground. This hints to somemof its medicinal uses.
 As Figworts latin name Scrophularia nodosa suggests it was indeed used to treat Scrofula. An infection of the lymphatic nodes most likely caused by TB which was once prevalent in damp auld Ireland. It is indicated for use in conditions where the lymph nodes are enlarged. This could be recurring respiratory infections or impaired immune function. The plant has an unusual looking bulbous root ball that is said to resemble the lymphatic nodes. We use the aerial parts of Figwort - the leaf and stem and flowering parts. It's most known for its use internally in the treatment of chronic skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema. I have treated eczema patients in clinic that presented with multiple painful swollen lymphatic nodes in the groin, underarm area and neck. This presentation calls for a herb like Scrophularia. It's also highly anti-inflammatory. You can make external preparations of the plant to add into creams and ointments for all kinds of skin rashes from nappy rash to sunburn. I think it's most interesting medicinal property is its anti-rheumatic action. Figwort contains some of the same iridoid glycoside phytochemicals of the well known 'arthritis herb' Devil's Claw. As Devil's Claw is native to the South African region of the Kalahari. We have never had the chance to experiment with growing it here indoors so Scrophularia could be our native substitute. External topical applications of preparations of Figwort can relieve the inflammation and swelling of arthritic and rheumatic joints. Another common condition associated with dampness which we see a lot of here in Ireland.
When we moved down to Co. Clare I was happily surprised to see Figwort in the hedgerows. I didn't realise it but I actually missed this herb Queen so I'm delighted she's back in my life. I'll be indulging in making fresh Scrophularia medicines this month. If you see her along the roadside make sure to give her a curtsy ;)

About Ivywood

Herbalists Ross Hennessy and Marina Kesso have moved their businesses and family to a new piece of land in Co Clare. They are busy creating new spaces on the land to reestablish their clinical practice and medicinal herb nursery. Formerly Bareroot Botanicals and Iona Herbal they have now renamed the woodland and business Ivywood.