Friday, February 24, 2012

Common Toadflax/Almindelig Torskemund

Linaria vulgaris
Flora and Fauna

Common Toadflax is a blue-green 10-50 cm rank plant with narrow leaves, lemon-yellow flowers in clusters with orange palate and a long spur. It's common in dry fields, fences and dikes, especially along the coast. It has many names: Butter and eggs / Fairy's lanterns / Jacob's ladder / Ramsted / Snap-dragon / Yellow toadflax.

A Danish name for it is Virgin Mary's slipper or Grandma's slipper. The Virgin Mary name entered possibly the picture with Christianity. Since it was used as a laxative and diureticum, it was called shit herb or piss herb. The spurs were sucked by children, and this gave it the name cow's teat (kopatte). Actually the plant has got lots of  nicknames, referring to its look and use.

The toadflax is native to most of Europe and northern Asia, from the United Kingdom, south to Spain in the west and east to eastern Siberia and western China.  It has also been introduced and is now common in North America. The plant is widespread on ruderal, along roads, in dunes, and on disturbed and cultivated land. It has escaped from cultivation in North America where it is a common naturalised weed of roadsides and poor soils; it is listed as an invasive species in several U.S. states and Canadian provinces.

The common toadflax blooms tirelessly from May until late autumn. The yellow flowers with the orange underlip has a certain similarity to a fish mouth, which gave it its Danish name Torskemund.  The botanical name Linaria indicates that the leaves are similar to the leaves of the flax plant (Linum). The fruit is a capsule, and if the plant has good conditions it reproduces by self-seeding. Because the flower is largely closed by its underlip, pollination requires strong insects such as bees and bumblebees. The plant is foodplant for a large number of insects. Its typical mask flower can be mistaken for species like cow-wheat and yellow rattle.
While most commonly found as a weed, toadflax is sometimes cultivated for cut-flowers, which are long-lasting in the vase. Like snapdragons  they are often grown in children's gardens for the "snapping" flowers which can be made to "talk" by squeezing them at the base of the corolla.

Folk Medicine:
Henrik Smid 1546: destilled water from the plant is diuretic , but must only be given to patients with dropsy, the same water worked as a laxative, and this or the juice of the plant was used to bath red inflamed eyes - it was used to heal wounds, cancer and fistulas.

Simon Pauli, Flora danica 1648: the whole plant crushed with lard and egg yolk is good in a painkilling compress upon haemorrhoids, this was wellknown by physicians. Destilled water of the plant, added pulverized bark from summer elder is diuretic and was given to dropsy-patients. Some recommend to drink decoction for jaundice,and the drink was said to help someone, who had fallen down from a high spot.

1761:  The plant had painkilling  properties. The leaves were noted in the pharmacopoeia in 1772.

The plant is poisonous for flies, they are killed by the milk-extract.

The plant was in 1648 cultivated in gardens and is recommended as a decoration-flower.

1795: children suck nectare from the flower spurs and eat the pistil.


Source: V.J. Brøndegaard, Folk og Flora, Dansk Etnobotanik, Rosenkilde og Bagger,  1980; Naturstyrelsen, Fugle og Natur; Have abc; wikipedia Dansk/ English .

Photo 2006/2009/2010: grethe bachmann


Out on the prairie said...

It is fun to see similar plants as I have here in Iowa.

Thyra said...

Hej Steve,

I really can imagine that!

Grethe `)

Gerry Snape said...

i grow some in the garden...just love my wild flowers. lovely post Grethe.

Thyra said...

Thank you Gerry!
It must be lovely to see the flowers come up in spring. Yesterday when I was out on a walk I saw so many yellow aconites and white snowdrops and the crocus are on their way up. A lovely time, isn't it?
Gerry, your Thursday's poem is very beautiful and the Irish painting is a fine work of art.

Grethe `)