Common Figwort: skin deep



Figworts are the prime members of the family scrophulariaceae which also includes toadflaxes, better known perhaps as snap-dragons! This relationship to snap-dragons gives a clue as the flowers you will find on figworts which bear a family resemblance.
There are five figworts in my field guide but only two would you expect to encounter in Dorset, water figwort and the common figwort (Scrophularia nodosa). As you would expect from the name the water figwort occurs in damp places such as ditches, stream sides and damp meadows so if you find a figwort in woodlands, hedgerows and shady dry places then it is going to be common figwort, easy really. Far more common than water figwort, common figwort is a tall plant growing to at least a metre tall on a strong, square, hairless stem which branches at the top and each branch bears a small, brownish-purple flower. It has quite large, pointed leaves with a serrated edge. It flowers from May until August and in the autumn the rounded seed heads are very visible.
Figwort has a bitter, unpleasant taste but it contains many chemicals and has long been used for medicinal purposes and it is considered, even today, as a cleansing and detoxification agent and is used externally to treat skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis and haemorrhoids. A jolly useful plant to have around! 
Common Figwort: skin deep

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