Upright perennial herb growing to 3 ft (1 m). Has a square stem, oval leaves, small round brown flowers in clusters, and green seed capsules.
Habitat & Cultivation
Native to Europe, Central Asia, and North America, figwort thrives in wet or damp places, in open woodland, on riverbanks, and alongside ditches. The herb is gathered in the summer while in flower.
Figwort contains iridoids (including aucubin, harpagoside, and acetyl harpagide), flavonoids, cardioactive glycosides, and phenolic acids. Harpagoside and harpagide are thought to account for its antiarthritic activity.
History & Folklore
Figwort’s genus name, Scrophularia, alludes to the plant’s age-old use as a treatment for scrofula. In this condition, the lymph nodes of the neck, infected with tuberculosis, swell to form hard protruding lumps beneath the skin.
Figwort root resembles these swollen glands and therefore, according to the Doctrine of Signatures (which holds that a plant’s appearance indicates the ailments it treats), the herb was considered to be an appropriate remedy for treating scrofula. Indeed, in the 16th and 17th centuries, figwort was esteemed as the best medicinal plant to help relieve all manner of swellings and tumors.
Medicinal Actions & Uses
Figwort is an herb that supports detoxification of the body and may be used as a treatment for various types of skin conditions. Taken internally as an infusion or applied externally, figwort is of value in treating chronic skin diseases such as eczema and psoriasis.
Applied externally, it will also help speed the healing of burns, wounds, hemorrhoids, and ulcers. The traditional use of figwort as a treatment for swellings and tumors continues in Europe to this day. The herb is also mildly diuretic, and it is reputed to be effective when used to expel worms.
Water figwort (S. aquatica), another plant that is native to Europe, has similar properties, as does the American S. marylandica. In China, S. ningopoensis is used to treat infections and to clear toxicity.
Do not take figwort if suffering from a heart condition.