Today I harvested a little Avens (Geum urbanum). Also known as Herb Bennet, it grows plentifully in my garden so I don’t have to go far for it. According to herbal lore this plant is collected when the flowers are at their height, but I prefer to gather it now when the foliage is at its most abundant. As the plant comes into flower the leaves are sparcer. At this time gathering becomes much less efficient because it seems that all you have in your basket are wiry stems and prickly seed heads.
Avens is a member of the Rosaceae and is closely related to Potentilla. It is not surprising then that it is predominantly used as an astringent. It also contains aromatic compounds, eugenol in particular, which give the roots a clove-like scent when freshly dug. The aromatic compounds combined with the astringency of the plant makes it good to use in digestive troubles such as diarrhoea, dysentery and mucous colitis.
This is a very gentle herb and it is ideal for use in children. It can be given as an infusion to help ease those tummy upsets which are an inevitable part of going to school and building up a healthy immune system. It can also be used to settle nausea and allay vomiting so is great for making little ones feel better.
In times gone by it was known as the Blessed Herb (Herba Benedicta) since it had the reputation of being able to ward off evil spirits and venomous beasts. It was worn as an amulet. The Ortus Sanitatis, printed in 1491, states: ‘Where the root is in the house, Satan can do nothing and flies from it, wherefore it is blessed before all other herbs, and if a man carries the root about him no venomous beast can harm him.’
I hope that I am not tempting fate to pronounce that we do not have a problem with evil spirits or venomous beasts in this household but then to be fair it grows abundantly all around the house so it may be doing its job perfectly! I do make use of the roots to ward off moths in wardrobes though. The clove like scent in the roots will deter them if you tie bundles of dried roots and hang them amongst your clothes. Dry the roots carefully to ensure that the aromatic compounds are preserved.
I may not use a huge amount of Avens in my practice, but it is a herb that I would not want to be without and I gather it every year at around this time.
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