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WALA Plant Library
Tormentil

Synonyms: Biscuits, Bloodroot, Earthbank, English Sarsaparilla, Ewe Daisy, Flesh and Blood, Septfoil, Shepherd's Knapperty, Shepherd's Knot, Thormantle, Tormentilla
Scientific Name: Potentilla officinalis or Potentilla erecta (L.) RAEUSCH
Family: Rosaceae (Rose Family)

Habitat

Central and Northern Europe, the mountains of North Africa

Constituents

Rootstock: up to 25% tannins (catechin tannins, gallotannins and ellagitannins)

Description

Golden yellow flowers with an orange centre and four heart-shaped petals hover on thin stalks above digitate leaves. A rose? Well, a member of the rose family at any rate, although most such members have five petals on their flowers. The first time it blossoms each year, tormentil sometimes reveals its full rose appearance. The one-centimetre flowers produced at this time are the only ones to have five petals. The tormentil that blossoms from May to October produces long shoots measuring 10 to 40 centimetres, which creep along the ground, almost forming a cushion, or grow taller and more unkemptly, with the stems falling across each other. Thanks to elaiosomes (fatty treats for ants), the nutlets that ripen in the centre of the petals are spread widely.

The rootstock contrasts starkly with the more filigree-looking plant. Also known as the rhizome, this part of the plant comprises the long stems that stretch out underground. The rootstock is impressively thick and grows horizontally in a powerful and irregular manner. In spring, several sun-thirsty tormentil stems sprout from the rootstock and reach for the light. The yellowish-white rootstock turns an intense red colour once it has been cut and has a herbal, rose-like fragrance.

Uses

Tormentil’s rhizome contains more tannins than almost any other known plant. These natural botanical ingredients are astringent, meaning that they cause human tissue to contract. They can stop minor bleeding and smooth the skin. With their mild antibacterial properties, extracts of tormentil root are useful for dental and oral hygiene, for treating mild inflammation of the mouth and throat and for denture sores. From an internal perspective, they alleviate both acute and chronic-inflammatory forms of diarrhoea, such as Colitis ulcerosa.

In folk medicine, tormentil is used as a mouthwash and gargle for inflammation of the mouth and throat, as well as added to baths and compresses to treat poorly healing wounds, frostbite, burns and haemorrhoids. It is used internally for stomach problems and diarrhoea.

Tinctures or extracts of tormentil are added to bath products, creams for large-pored skin, aftershaves, deodorants, mouthwash and many other products.

Interesting facts

The scientific name Potentilla officinalis essentially means the powerful one with healing abilities. This is derived from the Latin word potentia = power and the affix officinale, which is often used for medicinal plants and comes from the Latin officina = pharmacy or laboratory. The affix in the alternative scientific name Potentilla erecta is derived from erectus = upright and describes the plant’s stems, which frequently right themselves. The synonym bloodroot accurately describes the appearance of the rhizome once cut.

People have known about tormentil’s astringent and antibacterial properties since antiquity, although the plant previously had more healing powers attributed to it than it actually possesses. For example, it was regarded as a plague remedy back in 1348/49 when this terrible disease raged in the Wiesental Valley in Baden, Germany. With no salvation in sight, a bird is said to have flown down from heaven and chirped the following song: “Eat tormentil and pimpernel and keep away the deathly knell.”

Saint Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was also aware of the benefits of this healing rootstock. She wrote: “Tormentil is more cold than warm and if a person’s body harbours excessive and noxious, that is purulent humours let him take tormentil and twice as much leafy spurge and crush these to obtain the juice;

let him pour this into an earthenware vessel and then pour a good, clear wine over the juice; if he drinks this draft for fifteen days after eating and when retiring to bed, it will do him good for one year as the draft will reduce the excessive and poisonous humours.”

The herb priest Johann Künzle (1857-1945) wrote: “Gargling with tormentil water for 8 days makes loose teeth gain a hold again. For this purpose, infuse the powdered tormentil with hot water.”

When rhatany (Krameria lappaceae) arrived in Germany tormentil faded into oblivion. In the First World War, however, rhatany was in short supply due to coming from abroad and people turned back to the indigenous tormentil, which actually contains more tannins than rhatany.

The dye tormentil red extracted from the rootstock is used to make a red ink.

Use in Skin Care and Remedies

Dr.Hauschka Med first researched tormentil for topical applications and used it in Dr.Hauschka Med Acute Care Potentilla. This cream restores the balance to irritated skin and helps to sustainably break the cycle of itchiness and scratching. Comprehensive studies have confirmed its effectiveness on reddened, irritated and itchy skin.1

In Dr.Hauschka Med Sage Mouthwash, tormentil helps to fortify the gums.

1 Schempp CM, Mandera R, Huber R, Schaette R, Wölfle U. Die Blutwurz, Potentilla erecta (L.) Räuschel — ein kleines Rosengewächs mit großer Heilwirkung.“ Der Merkurstab 4 (2015): 296–305.

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