Leafless parasitic plant. Has threadlike stems, which are usually yellow-red in color, and small, scented, pale pink flowers.
Habitat & Cultivation
Dodder grows throughout Europe, Asia, and southern Africa. It prefers coastal and mountainous regions, and is gathered in summer.
Dodder contains flavonoids (including kaempferol and quercitin), and hydroxycinnamic acid.
History & Folklore
Dodder has always been an unpopular country plant. It is also known as hellweed and devil’s guts, due to its tendency to overrun and strangle the plant on which it feeds. This host can be thyme (Thymus vulgaris), gorse (Ulex europeaus), or a crop such as beans. Dodder does, however, have medicinal benefits.
In his Materia Medica, Dioscorides (1st century CE) notes its use in classical times in combination with honey to purge “black bile” and to lift a melancholy humor. In 1652, the herbalist Nicholas Culpeper similarly recommended it “to purge black or burnt choler.” Culpeper further states that dodder plucked off thyme is the most efficacious, making the interesting point that the parasite’s medicinal benefits are determined in part by its host.
Medicinal Actions & Uses
In line with its traditional use to purge black bile, dodder is still considered a valuable, though little-used, herb for problems affecting the liver and gallbladder. It is thought to support liver function and is taken for jaundice. Dodder has a mildly laxative effect, and is also taken for urinary problems.
Greater dodder (C. europaea) and flax dodder (C. epilinum) may be used in the same way as C. epithymum. C. reflexa is employed in Ayurvedic medicine to treat difficulty in urinating, jaundice, muscle pain, and coughs.