Viper’s Bugloss plant - Echium Vulgare (Boraginaceae)

Medicinal Use of Viper’s Bugloss – Echium Vulgare (Boraginaceae)


Abundantly hairy perennial growing up to 3 ft (1 m). Has narrow prickly leaves and pink to violet clusters of flowers in dense spikes.

Habitat & Cultivation

Native to Europe, viper’s bugloss is commonly found on uncultivated land, by roadsides, and in low-lying and coastal regions. The flowering tops are gathered in late summer.

Parts Used

Flowering tops.


Viper’s bugloss contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, allantoin, alkannins, and mucilage. In isolation, pyrrolizidine alkaloids are toxic to the liver. The alkannins are antimicrobial and allantoin helps wounds to heal.

History & Folklore

As its name suggests, viper’s bugloss was once considered a preventative and remedy for viper bite. In his 1656 The Art of Simpling, herbalist William Coles described the plant: “its stalks all to be speckled like a snake or viper, and is a most singular remedy against poison and the sting of scorpions.” Four years earlier, the English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper had praised its action against “the biting of vipers.”

Medicinal Actions & Uses

In many respects, viper’s bugloss is similar to borage (Borago officinalis), in that both herbs have a sweat-inducing and diuretic effect if taken internally. Viper’s bugloss has also been taken to treat chest conditions, as its mucilage soothes dry coughs and encourages expectoration. The significant mucilage content in viper’s bugloss has also proved helpful in treating skin conditions.

Prepared in a poultice or plaster, it is an effective balm for boils and carbuncles. In recent times, this herb has fallen out of use, due partly to lack of interest in its medicinal potential, and partly to its pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which in isolation are toxic. Viper’s bugloss may be safely used externally on unbroken skin.


Do not take internally.