Tormentil

Synonyms: Biscuits, Bloodroot, Earthbank, English Sarsaparilla, Ewe Daisy, Flesh and Blood, Septfoil, Shepherd's Knapperty, Shepherd's Knot, Thormantle, Tormentilla
Scientific Name: Potentilla erecta (L.)
Family: Rosaceae (Rose Family)

Habitat

Central and northern Europe.

Constituents

15-22% tannins (pyrogallol, catechin derivatives, ellagic acid derivatives)

Description

A four-petalled yellow flower that appears to hover above the digitate leaves on its thin stalk. A rose? Well, a member of the rose family at any rate. Tormentil, which flowers from June to August, reaches a height of between 10 and 40 cm, tending to creep along the ground in wetter locations, almost forming a cushion, while in drier climates it grows more upright, with the stems falling untidily across each other. In contrast to the more filigree appearance of the plant with it's small flowers measuring only a centimetre, the rootstock is strikingly thick and irregular. In the spring several stems sprout from this root and the sun-hungry tormentil strives towards the light. When the root is cut it is first yellowish white but quickly turns deep red. It is because of this that the plant acquired the name bloodroot.

Uses

Extracts of tormentil root are rich in tannins. These natural plant constituents have astringent action, that is they cause contraction of human tissue. They can thus be used to stop mild bleeding and tighten the tissues. With their mild antibacterial action, extracts of tormentil root are useful for oral hygiene, for treatment of mild inflammation of the mouth and throat, for denture sores and for diarrhoea.

In folk medicine tormentil is used as a mouthwash and gargle for inflammation of the mouth and throat, for baths and compresses for poorly healing wounds, frostbite, burns and haemorrhoids. It is used internally for stomach complaints and diarrhoea.

Tinctures or extracts of bloodroot are added to oral hygiene products, bath additives or creams for open pores, after-shave lotions, deodorants and many more.

Interesting Facts

The word tormentil is derived from the Latin tormentina meaning intestinal cramps or colic and the use of tormentil root for these symptoms goes back a long way. Potentilla erecta literally means an upright powerful being (potentia = power, erectus = upright).

The astringent and antibacterial action of tormentil root was known in antiquity. Hildegard von Bingen was also aware of the benefits of this healing root. She wrote: "Bloodroot is more cold than warm and if a person's body harbours excessive and noxious, that is purulent humours let him take bloodroot and twice as much leafy spurge and crush these to obtain the juice; let him pour this into an earthenware vessel and then pour a good, clear wine over the juice; if he drinks this draft for fifteen days, after eating and when retiring to bed, this will do him good for one year as the draft will reduce the excessive and poisonous humours."

In the days of the plague a heavenly voice is said to have drawn people's attention to bloodroot. In 1348/49, when the plague was raging in the Wiesental valley in Baden and no salvation was in sight, a bird is said to have come from the sky and chirped the following song: "Eat tormentil and pimpernell and keep away the deathly knell".

The herb priest Johann Künzle wrote in 1911: "Gargling for 8 days with bloodroot water makes loose teeth gain a hold again. For this purpose, infuse the powdered bloodroot with hot water."

When rhatany root arrived in Germany bloodroot faded into oblivion. In the First World War rhatany - coming from abroad - was in short supply, so people turned back to the indigenous bloodroot, which actually contains more tannins than rhatany. The dye tormentil red extracted from tormentil root is used to make a red ink.

The plant from another perspective

Tormentil is an exception amongst the members of the rose family, its flowers having only four instead of the usual five petals. Its above ground growth is reserved rather than exuberant. As German tannin plant number one it has a contracting nature. It hides its true strength underground: the root. Even the strong root is characterised by contraction, remaining firm and hard even in watery locations. Because the cut root becomes blood red people regarded it as having blood-staunching properties. The colour and the rose scent perceptible to sensitive noses give the plant a flower-like quality, too. A flower-like quality which is captured and shaped in the tannin-rich root. This is the picture of tormentil as medicinal herb: astringent, firming and forming in inflammatory conditions where the natural processes have got out of hand.

The plant in our products

In Dr.Hauschka Med Sage Mouthwash tormentil supports the preparation's astringent action on the gums. 

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