Agrimony (Agrimonia) has been used since ancient times.
The Greeks used it as a remedy for ailments of the eye and the herb’s name is derived from the Greek word Argemone which means plant that heals the eye. In ancient Rome the great author and naturalist Pliny the elder deemed this “an herb of princely authorite”. Anglo-Saxons used the leaves of this herb to help stop bleeding and heal wounds. Chinese medicine often used this herb to treat menstrual difficulties and during the middle ages this herb was used frequently as a sleep aid. In North America agrimony was used for a variety of ailments by Native Americans and up until the late 19th century it was also used throughout Europe and North America to treat skin conditions, cough, sore throat, and diarrhea.
Agrimony is a fairly common herb that is a member of the Rosaceae or rose family. There are more than twelve different species of this perennial herb throughout Europe, Asia and North America. Agrimonia eupatoria (common) is the most prevalent species in Europe. This hardy herb can be found growing in woodlands and fields, but also takes well to garden cultivation. Agrimonia gryposepala (hairy) is the most prevalent in North America. In the garden both species prefer partial sun and require watering on a regular basis.
The common version reaches a height of 1 -2 feet with a woody stem covered in a silky down. In some species this down is quite thick giving these the designation of Hairy Agrimony. The leaves are dark green and at the bottom of the plant can be rather large; often seven or more inches long. The leaves reduce in size from the bottom of the plant to the top with those nearest the top being on average about three inches. The small bright yellow flowers are arranged tightly on individual spikes. Both the leaves and the flowers are scented and depending on species the aroma varies from that of apricots to lemons. Once the flowers fade they leave behind prickly burrs that cling to clothes or fur. These are the origin of one of the most common colloquial names for this herb; the cocklebur.
Agrimony contains beneficial active compounds including catechin – a water soluble polyphenol and antioxidant and thiamin – a water soluble B vitamin. It also contains quercitrin an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that is also the source of its yellow pigmentation. it contains the complex polyphenol tannin. This bitter plant compound is a natural astringent. Also present in agrimony are palmitic, silicic, and ursolic acids. Palmitic acid is one of the most common saturated fatty acids in both animals and plants. New studies have found that palmetic acid may help fight skin cancer. Silicic acid is a compound of hydrogen, oxygen, and silicon that has been shown to be beneficial to hair, skin, and nails. Ursolic acid is a pentacyclic triterpenoid found in many herbs and fruits that acts as a diuretic and anti-inflammatory. In addition to its medicinal properties, the plant is also used as a dye. The entire plant is used to make dye and when gathered from spring through September, it yields a pale yellow hue. When gathered late in the year, the dye results in a deep rich yellow.
The herb has been used extensively in folklore. Witches often used this herb in spells and to ward off hexes. When placed in a sachet and hung in the home, it was said to provide protection against goblins, evil spirits, and poisoning. Practitioners of voodoo use agrimony to repel jinxes and block curses. It is believed the herb not only repels jinxes and curses, it sends them back against their perpetrator. Today modern day wiccans often place leaves of the plant in pillowcases to ensure a good night’s sleep.