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Common Name: Viper's Bugloss
Echium vulgare is a Biennial/Perennial up to 0.90 metres tall.
It is harvested from the wild for local use as a food, medicine and source of materials.
The leaves are poisonous[
]. No cases of poisoning have ever been recorded for this plant[
]. The bristly hairs on the leaves and stems can cause severe dermatitis[
Europe, including Britain, from Scandanavia south and east to Spain, the Urals and W. Asia.
Calcareous and light dry soils, especially on cliffs near the sea[
]. It is also found on walls, old quarries and gravel pits[
|Bees, Flies, Lepidoptera
Succeeds in any good garden soil but flowers best when the soil is not too rich[
]. Requires a sunny position[
The plant is very deep rooted[
A good bee plant[
Young leaves - raw or cooked[
]. They can be used as a spinach substitute[
]. Mild and mucilaginous[
]. Although somewhat hairy, when chopped up finely they are an acceptable part of a mixed salad[
]. Eating the leaves is said to stimulate sexual desire[
]. Use with caution, there is an unconfirmed report of toxicity[
There has been an increase in interest in a number of Echium species because of the fatty acid composition of the seed oil[
]. Like borage and evening primrose oil, it contains significant amounts of gamma linolenic acid (GLA), but it also contains the rarer stearidonic acid (SdA), which is also an important intermediate in the production of a number of important compounds in the body[
]. Both acids are made by the same enzyme, and their effects are complimentary, so the oil is potentially valuable as a health food and cosmetic component[
The seed oil from Echium contains a unique ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids[
]. These lipids, previously obtained from other plant sources, have been used for many years in food supplements[
]. Of potential interest for health food applications are the appreciable amounts of g-linolenic acid (GLA) as well as the unusual polyunsaturated fatty acid, stearidonic acid. Stearidonic acid is the equivalent position of GLA in the omega-3 metabolic pathway[
Viper's bugloss was once considered to be a preventative and remedy for viper bites[
]. It is related to borage, Borago officinalis, and has many similar actions, especially in its sweat-inducing and diuretic effects[
]. In recent times, however, it has fallen out of use, partly due to lack of interest in its medicinal potential and partly to its content of pyrrolizidine alkaloids which are toxic in isolation[
The leaves and flowering stems are antitussive, aphrodisiac, demulcent, diaphoretic, diuretic, pectoral and vulnerary[
]. An infusion of the plant is taken internally as a diuretic and in the treatment of fevers, headaches, chest conditions etc[
]. The juice of the plant is an effective emollient for reddened and delicate skins, it is used as a poultice or plaster to treat boils and carbuncles[
]. The leaves are harvested in the summer and can be dried for later use[
The roots contain the healing agent allantoin[
The plant is said to be efficacious in the treatment of snake bites[
]. When chopped up finely, the fresh flowering heads can be made into a poultice for treating whitlows and boils[
The oil obtained from the seed is potentially valuable as a cosmetic component The oil obtained from the seed is potentially valuable as a cosmetic component because of its moisturizing and anti-inflammatory action[
A red dye is obtained from the root[
Seed - sow late winter-May or August-late autumn in situ. Germination usually takes place within 2 - 3 weeks at 15°c.
If the seed is in short supply then it can be sown in pots in a cold frame. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and plant them out in the summer.