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YTO Nature Watch - Tormentil



Tormentil is a small yellow flower that looks a little like a buttercup but has four petals rather than five. The hardy blooms grow on heath and moorland, grassland with acidic soil and even on some rural roadsides.

Low growing, with soft and velvety petals and leaves with a silver underside, tormentil can be seen between May and September. It is a pretty flower that is remarkably powerful.

The scientific name Potentilla officinalis essentially means 'the powerful one with healing abilities' in Latin. It is also known as Potentilla Erecta, as a nod to its apparent use as a natural viagra in ancient Rome.

Tormentil was essential to early medicine and would have been a well-used part of an apothecary's kit. It treated childhood colic, gum diseases, infected wounds and painful inflammation inside and outside the body.

The stem of tormentil contains more tannins than any other plant. Tannins are astringent and can make human tissue contract; this stops minor bleeding and smooths the skin.

Extract of tormentil root was also used as an antibacterial salve, toothpaste and mouthwash. It is also a helpful cure for tummy upsets and colitis.

Tormentil is part of the rose family, and the bright roots and stems have a very rose-like fragrance and can be used to make dye.

In 1348, when the plague raged through Baden in Germany, tormentil was used as a remedy as it was thought to have the power to encourage dramatic healing in the dangerous bubonic swellings.

Even earlier than this, in 1100, Saint Hildegard of Bingen knew about the healing properties of this small yet mighty plant:


“Tormentil is more cold than warm and if a person’s body harbours excessive and noxious, that is purulent humours let him take tormentil and twice as much leafy spurge and crush these to obtain the juice; let him pour this into an earthenware vessel and then pour a good, clear wine over the juice; if he drinks this draft for fifteen days after eating and when retiring to bed, it will do him good for one year as the draft will reduce the excessive and poisonous humours.”

In WW1, when more modern anti-bacterial and skin-contracting medicines ran out, tormentil was gathered and put to use, potentially saving many hundreds of lives.



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