Riverside herbs

Walking along the Thames from Hampton Court to Richmond yesterday, it was interesting to see what flourishes along the riverbank. There’s plenty of water, obviously, but the tide comes up and there must be pollutants despite huge improvements in recent years.

In those conditions, only the tough can survive. That means the vigorous, deep-rooted plants like docks, forests of nettles, broad-leafed plantain and figwort; all with a long history of medicinal use. Docks are laxative, nettles diuretic and nourishing, plantain anti-allergic and soothing, figwort strongly alterative for skin conditions. What they all have in common is a cleansing, tonic quality; they get things moving, one way or another.

Here and there were the robust newcomers, Oxford ragwort and Himalayan balsam, that have become part of the English wildflower landscape. We don’t use them medicinally; Oxford ragwort contains toxic alkaloids, though its relative, Goldenrod, is useful for sinus problems. As for Himalayan balsam, who knows? Maybe some use will come to light; even Japanese knotweed has turned out to be high in resveratrol, so it does have some virtues after all.