More unusual members of Asteraceae (part 4)

Close up from our Common Knapweed or Centaurea nigra.
The main heading of my wonderful weed blog is of Greater Knapweed or Centaurea scabiosa! See further in today’s block to learn about all the virtues of this genus.

Today I will write the last part on our native Asteraceae or ‘composites’ and daisy family in common terms. All known medicinal uses and other uses are mentioned.

On the end of this post all the links to the posts I’ve done so far about this large family!

In the last post I covered with what we see as the common daisies: yellow centred disk flowered with a ray of white florets as well as a few other composites or Asteraceae.

This time we start with plants we don’t immediately associate with the composites, but closely observed we find always the common combination of many disc florets, surrounded or not with ray florets.

Then finishing off with the other typical group of the Asteraceae which are the various ‘dandelion like’ flower members!

Most medical information again from the Medicinal Flora by J. Barker. The links to the scientific and common name provide also with good, general information about the plants!

There is a green background for the text if the plant is edible, ornamental or otherwise useful for wildlife, etc. Pink background is either as a warning or medicinal use. Blue background for interesting facts! To make the post more colourful I have given the plant a background of the flower colour!




Tussilago farfara or Coltsfoot

Petasitis albus or White Butterbur & P. hybridus or Butterbur

  • P. japonicus or Giant Butterbur
  • P. pyrenaicus or Winter Heliotrope

Jacobaea vulgaris ( syn. Senecio jacobaea) or Common Ragwort

Senecio vulgaris or Groundsel

  • S. cambrensis or Welsh Groundsel
  • S. doria or Golden Ragwort (Neophyte)
  • S. doronicum or Chamois Ragwort (Neophyte)
  • S. eboracensis or York Ragwort
  • S. glastifolius or Woad-leaved Ragwort (Neophyte)
  •  S. inaequidens or Narrow-leaved Ragwort (Neophyte)
  • S. minimus or Toothed Fireweed (Neophyte)
  • S. ovatus or Wood Ragwort (Neophyte)
  • S. sarracenicus or Broad-leaved Ragwort (Neophyte)
  • S. smithii or Magellan Ragwort (Neophyte)
  • S. squalidus or Oxford Ragwort (Neophyte)
  • S. sylvaticus or Heath Groundsel
  • S. vernalis or Eastern Groundsel (Neophyte)
  • S. viscosus or Sticky Groundsel (Neophyte)

Calendula officinalis or Pot Marigold

Calendula arvensis or Field Marigold (Neophyte)

Carlina vulgaris or Carline Thistle

Arctium lappa or Greater Burdock & A. minus or Lesser Burdock

Arctium tomentosum or Woolly Burdock

Silybum marianum or Milk Thistle

Centaurea nigra or Lesser Knapweed, C. scabiosa or Greater Knapweed & C. cyanus or Cornflower

Cichorium intybus or Chicory/Wild Succory

Hypochoeris radicata or Cat’s-ear

Tragopogon pratensis or Goat’s-beard & Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon Sonchus oleraceus or Smooth Sow-thistle & S. asper or Spiny Sow-thistle

Lactuca virosa or Wild Lettuce

Taraxacum aggr.  or Dandelion

Lapsana communis or Nipplewort

Hieracium  sps. or Hawkweed

Pilosella officinarum  or  Mouse-ear Hawkweed & P. aurantiaca or Fox-and-Cubs


The Artemisias:  There are less than a dozen native artemisias  on the British Isles and it should be noted that they are CUMULATIVELY TOXIC AND IN OVERDOSE MAY CAUSE IRREPERABLE DAMAGE TO THE BODY!

Artemisia vulgaris or Mugwort and here

A tall aromatic perennial herb of waste places, refuse tips, rough ground, farmyards, roadside verges and waysides, usually on relatively alkaline, fertile soils. The seeds, lacking a pappus, are often spread by human activities, especially in urban areas and along road and rail systems.

Edible Uses:

Leaves can be used raw or cooked. Aromatic and somewhat bitter. Their addition to the diet aids the digestion and so they are often used in small quantities as a flavouring, especially with fatty foods. The young shoots are used in spring. In Japan the young leaves are used as a potherb. The dried leaves and flowering tops are steeped into tea.

They have also been used as a flavouring in beer, though fell into virtual disuse once hops came into favour.

Action: Emmenagogue. Stomachic and aperitif. Choleretic. Anthelmintic.

Uses: As an adjunct to treatment of spasmodic dysmenorrhoea, amenorrhoea.

Artemisia absinthium or Wormwood or here ( archaeophyte)

A tall, grey, aromatic, wind-pollinated perennial herb grown in some gardens and allotments, found as a relic or self-sown in open industrial areas, base- and nutrient-rich skeletal soils, waste and rough ground, waysides, dry banks, railway sidings, farmyards, refuse tips, gravel-pits and quarries. It is often persistent, especially in urban and maritime locations where it is less at risk from frost damage. Cattle and horses avoid it.

Ornamental uses in the cultivars ‘Lambrook Silver’ and ‘Lambrook Mist’

It is an ingredient in the spirit absinthe, and is used for flavouring in some other spirits and wines. In the Middle Ages, wormwood was used to spice mead, and in Morocco, where it is called shība, it is used as a complement or substitute for mint in Moroccan tea.

Action: Bitter. Stomachic. Choleretic. Anthelmintic. Emmenagogue.

Uses: Nematode infestation. Anorexia. Atonic dyspepsia.

Other Artemisias in the B.I. are:

  1. A. abrotanum or Southernwood (Neophyte)
  2. A. annua or Annual Mugwort
  3. A. biennis or Slender Mugwort

Tussilago farfara or Coltsfoot and here

A rhizomatous perennial herb, occurring, often as a pioneer, in a wide range of moist or dry, often disturbed habitats, which include heavy, poorly drained clay, sand dunes, shingle, slumping cliff-slopes, landslides, spoil heaps, seepage areas, rough grassland, crumbling riverbanks, waste places, railway ballast and roadside verges. 

A very ‘pretty’ as well as a ‘welcoming’ plant which is unusual that it flowers early and ‘naked’ without any leaves. These appear when the flowers die down.

This is the cough remedy par excellence….

Action: Antitussive. Demulcent. Anticatarrhal. Expectorant. Emolient.

Uses: Irritable Cough. Acute and chronic Bronchitis. Tracheitis. Cough in Asthma. Externally: for bites, sores and skin eruptions. Has also been used for slow healing wounds and ulcers.

Petasitis albus or White Butterbur (Neophyte)

A large, dioecious rhizomatous perennial herb, with white flower heads in spring and huge leaves in summer. It is occasionally planted as an ornamental in large gardens and is found well-established in nearby woods and on waste ground, tracksides and shady riverbanks, often on nitrogen-rich soils.


Petasitis hybridus or Butterbur

A very robust, dioecious rhizomatous perennial herb, with pink flower heads in spring and large leaves in summer. It grows in moist, fertile, often alluvial soils by watercourses, in wet meadows, marshes, flood plains and copses, and on roadsides. It spreads mostly vegetatively from rhizome fragments.

The large felt like leaves were used, it is tought, to wrap up butter in warm weather, hence the common name.

The plant had a great reputation in the 16th & 17th Centuries both in England and on the Continent for use against the Plague.

Action: Antispasmodic. Demulcent (said to be an emmenagogue)

Uses: Gall-bladder dyskinesia. ‘Irritable stomach’. Duodenitis. Migrainous headache, especially associated with tension and indigestion. May be helpful  for irritations of urinary tract.

Two other species (both neophytes) in the B.I. are:

Jacobaea vulgaris ( syn. Senecio jacobaea) or Common Ragwort

A biennial or perennial yellow-flowered herb of grasslands, and especially abundant in neglected, rabbit-infested or overgrazed pastures; it also grows on sand dunes, in scrub, open woods and along woodland rides, waste ground, road verges and waysides, and on rocks, screes and walls. Ragwort contains pyrrolizidine, toxic to the liver in humans and horses if consumed in quantity, so is specified under the Weeds Act (1959) and Ragwort Control Act (2003). Horses and livestock tend to avoid it whilst grazing, but cannot detect it in contaminated hay.

The wildlife benefits of this cheerful weed are talked about in a previous blog.

It is a source of livestock poisoning and hay fever in people and apparently a source of toxic honey?

Action: Antirheumatic and anti-arthritic

Uses: Externally: In arthritis and rheumatism. Sciatica (providing the cause has been investigated).

Other Ragworts in the B.I. are:

  1. Jacobaea aquatica or Marsh Ragwort
  2. J. erucifolia or Hoary Ragwort
  3. J. maritima or Silver Ragwort (Neophyte)
  4. J. paludosa or Fen Ragwort and also 2 hybrids:
  5. J. × ⁠albescens (Jacobaea maritima × vulgaris)
  6. J. × ⁠ostenfeldii (Jacobaea vulgaris × aquatica

Senecio vulgaris or Groundsel

An annual of open and disturbed ground, occurring in semi-natural habitats on sand dunes and coastal cliffs, and as a weed of waste places, roadsides, pavements, arable fields and other open habitats, often on nutrient-rich ground. 

Barker adds some medicinal uses and it was a plant often used in the past but he does not recommend its use as it is potentially a toxic plant for internal use.

Other Senecio in the B.I. are:

  1. S. cambrensis or Welsh Groundsel
  2. S. doria or Golden Ragwort (Neophyte)
  3. S. doronicum or Chamois Ragwort (Neophyte)
  4. S. eboracensis or York Ragwort
  5. S. glastifolius or Woad-leaved Ragwort (Neophyte)
  6.  S. inaequidens or Narrow-leaved Ragwort (Neophyte)
  7. S. minimus or Toothed Fireweed (Neophyte)
  8. S. ovatus or Wood Ragwort (Neophyte)
  9. S. sarracenicus or Broad-leaved Ragwort (Neophyte)
  10. S. smithii or Magellan Ragwort (Neophyte)
  11. S. squalidus or Oxford Ragwort (Neophyte)
  12. S. sylvaticus or Heath Groundsel
  13. S. vernalis or Eastern Groundsel (Neophyte)
  14. S. viscosus or Sticky Groundsel (Neophyte)

Calendula officinalis or Pot Marigold (Neophyte) and here

An aromatic annual to perennial herb, widely grown in sunny, well-drained gardens, found as an escape in towns and villages, usually close to gardens on roadsides, bare and waste ground and also on refuse tips. It often succumbs to frost but increasingly survives in sheltered places. 

This is one of the most important remedies when concerned with the healing of tissues and the management of infectious illness.  An attractive orange flowering annual but clearly is not a native therefore please look for more information at the links given.


Calendula arvensis or Field Marigold (Neophyte)

Carlina vulgaris or Carline Thistle.

A usually biennial or short-lived perennial monocarpic herb, typically occurring in well-grazed grassland on dry, infertile calcareous or base-rich soils, but also in more open habitats, including rock exposures, screes, quarry floors, pits, tracksides, coastal cliffs and sand dunes.

It is the root which is used medicinally and its uses are as diuretic, diaphoretic and a cholagogue. It is stomachic and laxative but in large doses purgative and emetic. It has uses in veterinary medicine.

In places where it is common and abundant, the receptacle has been eaten, in the same manner as artichoke.

Arctium lappa or Greater Burdock and here (Archaeophyte)

A. minus or Lesser Burdock and here

The spring roots of the very young plants can be eaten like Salisify.

Action: Antibacterial; and reduces effect of bacterial and other toxins. Depurative and alterative with benefits mainly for skin. Diuretic. Choleretic. Hypoglycaemic. Aperitif.

Uses: Eczema and other desquamatory skin disease. Acne.  Psoriasis. Simultaneous External and Internal use: Impetigo, boils, acne and eczema; abscess’; infected insect bites. Rheumatism.  Gout (leaf poultice on affected joint).


Arctium tomentosum or Woolly Burdock

Silybum marianum or Milk Thistle or here (Archaeophyte)

An annual or winter-green biennial herb, grown in gardens for its impressive rosettes, found in rough pasture, on grassy banks of roads and tracks, in hedgerows, on waste ground, on refuse tips and dumped soil, along active and disused railway lines and on arable field margins. It is locally well-established and persistent, especially in coastal habitats in southern England, but is also a widespread casual, mainly from bird seed.

A curious and incredible spiky plant which has many uses and is attractive enough for in the ornamental garden. The foliage has white splashes, hence the name ‘Milk Thistle’. It has attractive purple thistle-like flower heads too which should attract various insects.

Apart from its medicinal value, the leaves also have been eaten as well as the stem, peeled and boiled.

Action: Hepatocyte protector. Choleretic (some action on vascular system probably via sympathetic nervous system, but poorly defined).

Uses: Acute and chronic hepatitis. Post hepatitis syndrome. Fatty degeneration of the liver.  Has even shown benefit in liver cirrhosis. Porta stasis and resultant secondary venous troubles (eg haemorrhoids and varicose veins).  Has protective properties towards liver cells. Travel sickness: take on 8 consecutive days prior to journey. Proven antidote (if taken in time) to many toxins including those from Amanita mushrooms. Traditionally, the external treatment of warts should be accompanied by stimulation of the liver by internal treatment for which this plant has long been a candidate.

Centaurea nigra or Lesser Knapweed

A perennial herb of a wide range of grasslands including hay meadows, pastures, chalk and limestone downland, fen-meadows, cliff-top grassland, roadsides, cemeteries, railway banks, scrub, woodland edges, field borders and waste ground. It occurs on a wide variety of soils ranging from mildly acidic to calcareous and from waterlogged to free-draining. It is now a near-universal constituent of wild-flower seed mixtures used for conservation, amenity and landscaping purposes.

C. scabiosa or Greater Knapweed

A tufted, winter-green, perennial herb of dry, usually calcareous soils, and found in chalk and limestone grassland, scrub, woodland margins, and on cliffs, roadsides, railway banks, arable field margins, and waste ground. It is also widely introduced in wild-flower seed mixtures.

The first plant is the most common Knapweed, but  the root and the fruits of both species were made into a heal-all salve for all manner of bruises and sores. It became specific for whitlows and in the 14th century was applied to the lesions of the Plague for which it was also taken internally. Repeated mention is made of its efficacy against infections; for tonsillitis, it was made into a gargle and was used as such or externally to arrest bleeding.

All Centaureas are beautiful and useful plants for wildlife!

Centaurea cyanus or Cornflower and here

This lovely annual is now a rare site as a former weed in cornfields, but of course very popular again as an ornamental in wildflower mixes.

Barker mentions that an infusion of the dried flower has been used as an eye-wash for tired eyes and for conjunctivitis. It is a mild astringent, laxative, diuretic and to some extent antimicrobial. Duraffourd considers it anti-inflammatory and febrifuge, of value in rheumatic conditions.

Other Centaureas found in the B.I.:

  1. Centaurea aspera or Rough Star-thistle (Neophyte)
  2. C. calcitrapa or Red Star-thistle (Archaeophyte)
  3. C. diluta or Lesser Star-thistle (Neophyte)
  4. C. jacea or Brown Knapweed (Neophyte)
  5. C. macrocephala or Giant Knapweed (Neophyte)
  6. C. montana or Perennial Cornflower (Neophyte)
  7. C. solstitialis or Yellow Star-thistle (Neophyte)

Cichorium intybus or Chicory & Wild Succory and here (Archaeophyte)

A winter-green perennial herb, typically found on the grassy banks and verges of paths, tracks and roads, but also on arable field margins, in rough grassland, on waste ground and riverbanks.

This has flowers of the most wonderful blue and has been used for at least 5000 years as a salad herb and as a sure but gentle remedy for the liver. It makes a very good addition to a wild flower seed mixture and is sometimes included in commercial mixtures because the leaves are safe and acceptable to cattle while the deep root is useful for breaking up the soil!

It is one of the Twelve Healers of the Bach Flower remedies said to be for those, “ who fuss and worry over details”.

Action: Bitter tonic. Choleretic. Hypoglycaemic.

Uses: Anorexia. Chronic constipation. Similar uses to Dandelion, including chronic skin conditions. The decoction may safely be given wherever there is tenderness and enlargement of the liver.

Plants with ‘Dandelion-like flowers’: strap-shaped or ligulate florets

Hypochaeris radicata or Cat’s-ear

A perennial herb of meadows, pastures, lawns, heathlands, cliff-tops, sand dunes, roadsides, railway banks and waste ground, on slightly acidic, usually free-draining soils. It is very tolerant of drought, and is absent from sites subject to prolonged waterlogging.

This species is antibacterial and the leaves have been used for infections, especially bronchitis.

They are also eaten as a salad plant in the bleaker season.


Tragopogon pratensis or Goat’s-beard & Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon

The taste of the leaves is not unlike Chicory and so may be added to salads: they are depurative and so are often taken as a ‘Spring Cure’.

The root can be used like the related Salisfy or Scorzonera but it makes an easier addition to soup because of its mineral content.

It is diuretic due to it containing mannitol.

Sonchus oleraceus or Smooth Sow-thistle and

 S. asper or Spiny Sow-thistle

The concentrated juice of the young shoots can be useful in portal stasis.

Rich in minerals and vitamins, like the preceding species, this is a useful salad plant.

Lactuca virosa or Wild Lettuce

Action: Hypnotic and mild sedative. Hypoglycaemic.

Uses: Insomnia. Restlessness. Excitability. Irritable Cough. Whooping cough. May be useful in some sases of congestive and spasmodic dysmenorrhoea. Not only might it be taken by either men or women when sexual urges are unwelcome, but it would help reduce inflammation of the sexual organs. Also local, external application of an aqueous infusion will help reduce sores and inflammation of the genital region providing care is taken to establish the cause.

Taraxacum aggr.  or Dandelion

Have written a large contents blog about this useful plant but will add the Actions and Uses of its medicinal properties below:

Action: (especially the root): Choleretic and cholagogue. Bitter tonic and aperitif. Stomachic; gentle laxative (especially the leaf). Diuretic.

Uses:  Atonic conditions of digestive tract may gradually resolve chronic constipation. Gallstones. Cholecystitis. Portal stasis. In certain cases of portal hypertension, proving that the cause can be ascertained. Gout, especially when combined with Celery Seeds with which it synergizes. Also to some extent for muscular rheumatism. May be helpful in chronic skin disease.

Lapsana communis or Nipplewort

John Parkinson gave it the English name as a rendering of Papillaris which was the Apothecary’s name given it in Germany where it was made into an ointment for the treatment of cracked nipples, a modern usage confirmed by Leclere. The unopened ‘flower buds’ or the small brown fruits after may resemble a nipple: near enough for the Doctrine of Signatures to claim the herb.

Uses: the juice can be used for chapped faces and fingers and can be made into a suitable ointment. Laxative but soothing to the digestive tract, giving relief to pruritus ani. Diuretic, useful in cases of oligaria or renal insufficiency. Leaves are hypoglycaemic and can be used in treatment of maturity –onset diabetes.

Another use is more artistic! The dry stems with the multiple fruits are great for flower arranging.

Hieracium  sps. or Hawkweed

This genus is apomictic which means that it is able to produce seeds without undergoing sexual fusion. This result in a myriad seperate forms which are a speciality in order to seperate!

Barker does not list any medicinal use but does for the following related plant:

Pilosella officinarum  or  Mouse-ear Hawkweed

This plant has come in and out of fashion ever since the Middle Ages. Under the right circumstances it is very effective against infectious diseases.

Action: Bacteriocidal. Spasmolytic. Expectorant. Anticatarrhal. Diuretic. Sialagogue.

Uses: Brucellosis (also known as Malta fever or undulant fever). Bronchitis. Asthma. Whooping cough, for which it may be combined with White Horehound, Mullein and Coltsfoot.

Pilosella aurantiaca or fox-and-cubs,

orange hawk bitdevil’s paintbrush and  grim-the-collier.

This is an attractive orange flower but a very rapid grower in fertile soil! It makes a nice addition to an infertile lawn and the flowers are visited by many types of insects.

This plant is a typical neophyte. According to the online atlas of the British and Irish Flora, P. aurantiaca was grown in gardens by 1629 and recorded from the wild by 1793. It has no known medicinal uses.

Links on all the posts about the Asteraceae family so far:

part 1 all about the classification of the Asteraceae on the B.I.

Dandelion the important Asteraceae

Ragwort another important Asteraceae

part 3 more common ‘daisies’ and uses

part 2 some scientific background to the Asteraceae

This was the end of all the known, mainly medicinal uses of our native Asteraceae. Next time I  will cover another family. Pffeww!

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