Saturday, February 12, 2011

Veronica chamaedrys - Germander Speedwell

Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys), is the most common species of Speedwell in Britain, found everywhere, in woodland, hedgerows and gardens, flowering in spring and early summer. The name Speedwell probably comes from its use in folk medicine in curing ailments quickly. Sourses attribute the name Germander to either a corruption of the Latin chamaedrys (charisma, gift) or from the Greek "chamai" (on the ground).  It is also said to be named after St Veronica, who wiped Christ's forehead on his way to the cross, finding his image on her cloth afterward.   Yet another speculation on the name suggests that it came from the Greek "phero" (I bring) and "nike" (victory) referring to its curative properties.

Some folklore states that if you pick a speedwell, your eyes will be pecked out by birds. British children would be told their mother's heart had broken, after the petals fell off the Speedwell they had picked.  Irish people wore Speedwell for protection.  And according to the book "Wild Flowers Worth Knowing," by Neltje Blanchan, the Germander Speedwell was commonly known in literature and botanies as the forget-me-not for more than two hundred years, or until only fifty years ago.

The blossoms of this plant wilt very quickly upon picking, which has given it the ironic name  "Männertreu", or "men's faithfulness" in Germany

In ancient herbal medicine, the juice was boiled into a syrup with honey, and spoken very highly of for the treatment of coughs and catarrh. An infusion of its leaves was used for coughs and a decoction of the whole plant was employed to stimulate the kidneys. It was also used as a vulnerary (treatment for wounds), a blood purifier, and a remedy in various skin diseases, its external application is considered efficacious for itching.  When in flower, the entire plant was used for its diaphoretic, astringent, and stimulant properties.  Its root was used as a preventative against pestilential fevers.  It was believed to be a panacea for many ills, including smallpox, measles, cancer and kidney ailments.

Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) is not to be confused with Common Speedwell (Veronica officinalis) or Common Germander (Teucrium chamaedrys).

Germander Speedwell is a low growing, prostrate plant found in grassy areas. It has a short, upright stalk with paired leaves topped with numerous flowers 2 to 6 inches long. Its pretty blue flowers have a distinct white 'pupil' in the centre, giving it the country name of 'cat's eye'.  It opens in the morning as bright blue and filled with nectar. By the end of the same day it has faded to pink.  The heart-shaped leaves are toothed and hairy. This plant will tolerate almost any soil from alkaline to slightly acid, from heavy clay, to dry & sandy.  Often considered difficult-to-control, speedwell has a fibrous root system and spreads rapidly in patches. Blue, violet or white flowers are products in the spring. Mature fruit is heart-shaped. 

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