The small-flowered willowherbs are a specific remedy for prostate problems, including benign prostate hyperplasia (BHP). Plants in this informal group help shrink the tissues, arrest cell proliferation, and normalize urinary function.
Small-flowered willowherbs are also effective for a wide range of bladder and urinary problems, for women as well as men, with the astringent and diuretic action serving to tone and also detoxify the urinary tract.
Description: Perennials growing up to about 2 ft, recognizable by small pink flowers, which have four notched petals, borne on the ends of long seed-pods. These split and curl when ripe to release downy seeds.
Habitat: Gardens and other disturbed ground, woods and damp places.
Distribution: Widespread throughout the northern hemisphere.
Species: There are about ten species, which are used interchangeably, including American or fringed willowherb (E. ciliatum ), marsh willowherb (E. palustre), hoary or smallflower hairy willowherb (E. parviflorum ), and broad-leaved willowherb (E. montanum ).
Related species: Rosebay willowherb has been reclassified into the genus Chamerion, but is closely related. The great willowherb, also known as codlins and cream (E. hirsutum ), is not used in herbal medicine - it grows to 5 ft, has large cerise flowers, and grows in ditches or by streams.
Parts used: Above-ground parts in flower.
The Austrian herbalist Maria Treben was the first to bring the small-flowered willowherbs to public attention in recent times. She wrote of helping hundreds of people with prostate problems by using this neglected herb.
Julie's father, living in Namibia (which still has a strong German influence from colonial days), drank willowherb tea for his prostate twenty-five years ago, but the tea is still not widely available for sale in the UK. All the more reason to grow or pick your own!
These willowherbs frequently appear as garden weeds because they like bare or disturbed soil. If you break the stem about hallway up, the plant will grow new side shoots, and you can collect from the same plant several times during the summer.
Any of the small-flowered species can be used (see panel on the left), which is handy because they hybridize easily and are difficult to identify individually. The flowers vary in color from deep pink almost to white, and leaf shapes range from very narrow to quite broad, and from smooth to downy.
The name willowherb comes from the willow-like leaves. The flowers of some species look like burning matches, with the bright pink buds at the end of long ovaries or unripe seed pods (or cods as the old English herbalists call them).
These writers classified willowherbs with the loosestrifes. Gerard describes the seed "wrapped in a cottony or downy wooll, which is carried away with the winde when the seed is ripe," but apparently didn't use the plant. Parkinson calls it very astringent and "effectuall both to stanch blood, restrain fluxes, heale the sores of the mouth and secret parts, close up quickly greene wounds and heale old ulcers.'
While best known as a prostate remedy, these plants aren't just for men. They can help women with bladder and urinary problems too, used on their own or with pellitory of the wall, couch grass, horsetail, and bilberry leaves. For prostate enlargement, willowherbs can be taken alongside nettle root, another effective remedy for the condition. But do consult your herbalist or doctor first.
It is well worth keeping a little patch of willowherbs in a corner of your garden. They are persistent, growing up in cracks or unweeded bare soil, so once established you'll have a ready supply on hand (we know gardeners will regard these words as heretical).
Everyone who knows this herb values and preserves it through careful picking.
These two specimens from our garden show how variable in form small-flowered willowherbs can be in even a small area
• prostate enlargement
• urinary problems
• bladder disorders
Harvest by picking the flowering stems about hallway up. This enables the plant to produce more flowers and seeds later on. Dry in a shady place. As the plants dry, the seed pods often break open and release tiny downy seeds, so you might want to do this outdoors. You can use the whole plant, but the tea is more manageable if you discard the fluffy seeds and larger stems, then cut into small pieces with a pair of scissors and store in jars or brown paper bags in a cool dry place.
Use a heaped teaspoonful of the dried herb per mug of boiling water, and infuse for about 3 minutes. Drink two to three cups a day. Maria Treben recommends 1 cup in the morning on an empty stomach and another half an hour before the evening meal.
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