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WILDLIFE OF NORTHERN ENGLAND

THE WOOD AVEN, Geum urbanum

NATIVE----------------------------------YES

COMMON------------------------------YES

MEDICINAL----------------------------YES {SEE TEXT}

PHOTOGRAPHS---------------------YES

 

The wood aven is known by several other common names which include,colewort, clove root,herb bennet, city avens, goldy star and herba bendicta. This plant that delights to grow in shady open woodland is a member of the rose family and is closely related to the Potentilla genus, which includes some well known garden plants.

The genus name of Geum derives from the Greek geno meaning "to impart", an agreeable flavour and refers to the aromatic roots of some species. the species name urbanum means it is often found in urban settings {it was often grown near to houses in the past} .

For other Latin plant names see LATIN NAMES EXPLAINED.

GET TO KNOW THE WOOD AVEN

The root of this species is a rhizome one to two inches long, which ends abruptly, hard and rough with fibrous roots coming off the rhizome. These rhizomes are aromatic and have an odour reminiscent of cloves. {hence many of its country titles.} They were once placed in wardrobes to keep moths away from clothes. The root was much used in medicinal preparations. {see below}

The stems are thin and almost upright in habit. They are slightly branched and attain the height of 1-2ft {30-60cm}. There is often a reddish brown tinge on one side or the other of the stem.

foliage and flowers.

The leaves of this plant vary a lot depending on their position on the stem. The lower leaves are borne on long,channeled stalks. They are similar in character to those of the silverweed, a related species within this family, being interrupted pinnate {divided into leaflets some smaller than others} i,e, larger side leaflets being divided along the stem by smaller ones. The large terminal leaflet is much larger and wedge shaped. The upper leaves on the stems are made of three narrow leaflets; those on the lower part of the stem have three leaflets round and full.

They are arranged alternately along the stem, each having two stipules {leaf -like members that in many species of plant occur at the junction where the leaf meets the stem., those of the wood aven are very large about one inch broad and long, coarsely toothed and lobed. all leaves are of a deep green colour, more or less covered by spreading hairs and their margins are toothed.

FLOWERS---The blooms are small in relation to the size of the plant. They are borne on solitary stalks. The petals are yellow and five in number. The petals spread and are roundish with slightly longer sepals that are linear and protruding just beyond them. The flowers are often unnoticed by people walking by, for they are small and somewhat inconspicuous.

You are more likely to notice the tight prickly fruit heads that succeed the flowers that stick readily to clothes and the fur of animals. this is the main way the fruits get distributed. 

ABOVE THE FLOWER OF THE WOOD AVEN.  BELOW THE FRUIT CAPSULE OF THE WOOD AVEN ----Photographs by Dal

GARDEN RELATIVES.

Many varieties of the Geum genus have been developed for the garden. They have been bred to display large showy flowers and larger lobed foliage. Most are perennial by nature and have long been favoured in cottage gardens. The rhizome which is much longer than those of their wild cousins are up to ten inches long{ 25cm} and quite thick. These are easily divided during the spring to increase stock. The rhizomes occur just below the surface of the soil and are sometimes exposed by the rain.

The long flowering period also make them a popular choice for cottage gardens. The cultivated varieties are bred to grow  and thrive in full sun another difference to their wild counterparts that tend to lurk in light shade.

   BELOW  GEUM ---GARDEN VARIETY

Photograph by Dal

FOLKLORE-MEDICINAL AND CULINARY USES OF THE WILD WOOD AVEN.

As in common with many species of wild flora this plant, as previously mentioned, as acquired many country titles. Herb bennet, which is a corruption of blessed herb was given to the plant because of its supposed ability to ward off evil spirits and even the devil himself. City avens was once a popular name for the plant in many regions which alludes to the fact that it is often found in urban settings. Goldy star of the earth alludes to its yellow star-like flowers that brighten up the shady habitats.

MEDICINAL AND CULINARY USES----- The active ingredients include essential oils, tannins and bitters.

The plant is astringent, styptic, febrifuge,antiseptic, tonic and aromatic. In archaic times the roots were utilised to flavour ale {beer}, it also preserves beer from turning sour. a cordial against the symptoms of the plague was produced by boiling the roots in wine. On account of its stomachic properties the root was regularly chewed to stop the smell of bad breath.

The various preparations procured from the root have been used to treat fevers, colds, dysentery, sore throats, catarrh, gastric irritation and head aches. Its astringent qualities make it beneficial in the treatment of diarrhoea in the form of an infusion of the root. This infusion was also employed as a lotion to alleviate the symptoms of skin infections.

MODERN DAY USES--- preparations from the root source is still employed against diarrhoea. An infusion of the root is used as a gargle for sore throats. It is still used in some parts of the country to flavour local beers. The leaves may be added to salads and soups.

Before using wild herbs for medicinal or culinary purposes it would be prudent of the reader to see  WILD HERB ADVISE, on this site.

HYBRIDS.

The only other species of aven growing in England is the water aven Geum rivale, where the two occur in close proximity hybrids occur between the two.

ABOVE  THE WOOD AVEN CLEARLY SHOWING THE LEAFLETS. BELOW THE HYBRID BETWEEN THE WOOD AVEN AND THE WATER AVEN

Components of Geum rivale the water geum

Image courtesy of the BHL Via Prof. Dr. Thome's Flora

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