The Daily Dose: Common Speedwell

Scientific Name: (Veronica off., Scrophulariaceae Family – may be classified in the Plantain Family (Plantaginaceae) now)

Common Name:     Paul’s Betony, Groundheal, Groundhele, Fluellin, Veronica, Low Speedwell, Common Gypsy weed, angel eyes, bird’s eye

Medicinal Part:  Above ground parts, harvested in summer, cut into 1 inch lengths, dried well

Description: Common Speedwell is a native of the Old World but is abundantly naturalized in the eastern United States, where it grows in open, grassy places.  It can be found on heaths, moors, dry hedgebanks, and in coppices, where it is very common and generally distributed.

The common name “speedwell” bears an old meaning of “thrive” or “get better” as in “speed you well” or “God speed.”  The more formal “Veronica might derive from the Latin words “vero” and “eikon” meaning “true image.” Another rendering of “Veronica” is from the Greek “phero” and “nike” meaning “I bring victory” referring to its plant’s usefulness.

The plant is a perennial of a prostrate habit with ascending branches, bearing erect, spike-like clusters of blue flowers, the stems 3-18 inches long, varying very much in length according to soil health.  The leaves are opposite, shortly stalked, generally about an inch long, oval and attenuated (thin) into their foot-stalks, their margins finely toothed.  The flowers are in dense, axillary (in or growing from an axil), many flowered racemes (a flower cluster with the separate flowers attached by short equal stalks at equal distances along a central stem), 1 1/2 to 6 inches long, the individual flowers nearly stalkless on the main flower-stalk, their corollas (petals) only 1/6 inch across, pale blue with dark blue stripes and bearing two stamens with a very long style.  The capsule is inversely heart shaped and notched, longer than the oblong, narrow sepals.  The plant is of a dull green and is generally slightly hairy, having short hairs, sometimes smooth.

The fresh herb is faintly aromatic.  After drying, it is inodorous.  It has a bitterish, warm and somewhat astringent taste.

The common wild British speedwells include brooklime (V. beccabunga) and common field (V. persica), germander (V. chamardrys), heath (V. off.), ivy leafed (V. hederofolia), marsh (V. scutellata), slender (V. filiformis), thyme leaved (V. serpyllifolia) and wall (V. arvensis).

Properties and Uses: There is a bitter principle soluble in water and alcohol but scarcely so in ether and precipitated by the salts of lead but not by tannic acid; an acrid principle; red coloring matter, a variety of tannic acid, producing a green color with ferric salts; a crystallizable, fatty acid with malic, tartaric, citric, acetic and lactic acids; mannite; a soft, dark green bitter resin.

This species of Veronica retained a place among recognized remedies until a comparatively late period.  It is still employed in herbal medicine.

Its leaves possess astringency and bitterness.  The plant has diaphoretic, alterative, diuretic, expectorant, and tonic properties and was formerly employed in pectoral and nephritic complaints, hemorrhages, diseases of the skin and in the treatment of wounds.  Modern herbalists still consider that an infusion of the dried plant is useful in coughs, catarrh etc. and is a simple and effective remedy in skin diseases.

John Parkinson (1640) ascribed strong “virtues” to the speedwell family as a singular good remedy for the plague and all pestilential fevers, for leprosy, for all manners of cough and diseases of the lungs, for opening obstructions of the liver and spleen, for kidney stone and tumors.

Modern research shows anti-inflammatory effects on human lung cells on a molecular level but has yet to be tested.  It was found to be a deinhibitor of COX2.  It showed in another study antigastric ulcer activity in rats and regenerated mucosa.

Food uses include: adding young shoots to salads combining with onion and hard boiled eggs and a mustard vinaigrette.

Dose and Preparation:

This plant is virtually identical in its nature, functions, indications and preparations to Pipsissewa herb and root.  However, there are some differences:

  • Because Speedwell is a resolvent detoxicant that contains saponin, its focus is the skin more that the joint and muscles.  Like Heartsease and Burdock, Speedwell excels at treating chronic skin disorders of many kinds.
  • Unlike Pipsissewa herb and root, Speedwell herb is a stimulant and mucolytic expectorant used for chronic lung phlegm-damp and lung phlegm-dryness syndromes in bronchitis, bronchial asthma, etc.
  • Speedwell herb is more astringent and hemostatic that Pipsissewa herb and root, and is given in internal and external bleeding – including blood in the urine and stool in damp-heat conditions of the intestines and bladder.
  • Unlike Pipsissewa herb and root, Speedwell herb is not used for pain relief of any kind.

The herb is prepared by long infusion, 10 minute short decoction or tincture (which is the most effective).  External uses include pessaries and douches for gynecological complaints and salves, lotions, or compresses applied for skin, lymph, and all painful conditions (see note above).  Fresh leaf, bruised and applied to skin is rubefacient (produces redness of the skin) and vesicant (causes blistering).

The tincture is of a light, aromatic, aniseedy taste with a touch of sweet astringency.  It goes straight to the head leaving a euphoric eye cleaning sensation and a slight buzziness.  After about two minutes, the focus descends and spreads out, feeling like a spirit of goodwill that warms and wakens you up – the whole body.

Long infusion and short decoction: 6-12g (for restoring and re-energizing as a tea and foot bath)

Tincture: 2-4 ml at 1:3 30%

Tea: Steep a teaspoonful of the granulated leaves and flowering tops into a cup of boiling water for half an hour.  Strain.  Take a tablespoonful 3-6 times a day.

Resources: The Herbalist, Joseph Meyer; The Energetics of Western Herbs, Peter Holmes; various online dictionaries; Grieve online; Practical Herbs, Henriette Kress