The Hemp Agrimony, Eupatorium Cannabinum, belongs to the great Composite
order of plants. It is a very handsome, tall-growing perennial, common on
the banks of rivers, sides of ditches, at the base of cliffs on the seashore,
and in other damp places in most parts of Britain, and throughout Europe.
The root-stock is woody and from it rises the erect round stems, growing
from 2 to 5 feet high with short branches springing from the axils of
the leaves, which are placed on it in pairs. The stems are reddish in
colour, covered with downy hair and are woody below. They have a pleasant
aromatic smell when cut.
The root-leaves are on long stalks, but the stem-leaves have only very short
root-stalks. They are divided to their base into three, more rarely five,
lance-shaped toothed lobes, the middle lobe much larger than the others,
the general form of the leaf being similar to that of the Hemp (hence both
the English name and the Latin specific name, deriven from cannabis, hemp).
In small plants the leaves are sometimes undivided. They have a bitter taste,
and their pungent smell is reminiscent of an umbelliferous rather than of
a composite plant. All the leaves bear distinct, short hairs, and are sparingly
sprinkled with small inconspicuous, resinous dots.
The plant blooms in late summer and autumn, the flower heads being arranged
in crowded masses of a dull lilac colour at the of the stem or branches.
Each little composite head consists of about five or six florets. The corolla
has five short teeth; though generally light purple or reddish lilac, it
sometimes may be nearly white; it is covered with scattered resinous points.
The anthers of the stamens are brown, and the very long style is white.
The crown of hairs, or pappus, on the angled fruit is of a dirty white colour.
We sometimes find the plant called 'St. John's Herb,' and on account
of the hempen-shaped leaves, it was also formerly called, in some districts,
'Holy Rope,' being thus named after the rope with which the Saviour was
The leaves contain a volatile oil, which acts on the kidneys, and likewise
some tannin and a bitter chemical principle which will cut short the chill
of intermittent fever.
Medicinal Action and Uses
Alternative and febrifuge. Though now little used medicinally, herbalists
recognize its cathartic, diuretic and anti-scorbutic properties, and consider
it a good remedy for purifying the blood, either used by itself, or in
combination with other herbs. A homoeopathic tincture is prepared, given
in frequent small well-diluted doses with water, for influenza, or for
a similar feverish chill, and a tea made with boiling water poured on
the dry leaves will give prompt relief if taken hot at the onset of a
bilious catarrh or of influenza.
In Holland it was used by the peasants for jaundice with swollen feet,
and given as an alternative or purifier of the blood in the spring and
against scurvy. The leaves have been used in infusion as a tonic, and
in the fen districts where it prevails, such medicines are very necessary.
Country people used to lay the leaves on bread, considering that they
thus prevented it from becoming mouldy.
Preparation---Fluid extract, 10 to 60 drops.
According to Withering, an infusion of a handful of the fresh herb acts
as a strong purgative and emetic. Boerhaave, the famous Dutch physician
(1668-1738), recommends an infusion of the plant for fomenting ulcers
and putrid sores, and Tournefort (Materia Medica, 1708) affirmed that
the fresh-gathered root, boiled in ale, purges briskly, but without producing
any bad effects, and stated that there were many instances of its having
It had also the reputation of being a good wound herb, whether bruised
or made into an ointment with lard.
Goats are said to be the only animals that will eat this plant.