Hedge Woundwort on the Midge Battlefield

Early June and the midges are out. I suddenly noticed this when I walked into a sylvan glade in the woods. It was so beautiful. The brilliant sunshine dapples by the shade of luminous green beech leaves. The last of the bluebells nodding gently with the white flowers of pignuts, scattered with yellow tormentil. Then suddenly brought out of my reverie by the savage attack of the midges! These insects are so small you can barely see them, yet can make our lives misery. I am sensitised to insects in general – due to a nasty centipede bite – and within minutes could feel lumps swelling up around my eyes, on my cheeks, neck and arms. Ow!!

Usually I have a supply of marsh woundwort on hand (see Marsh Woundwort in the Field) however, today I had none. Nature rarely lets us down though and along the lane where I had parked my car, there was some dock and sone small hedge woundwort plants (Stachys sylvatica).

Hedge woundwort (Stachys sylvatica)

The traditions medicinal use of hedge woundwort is to treat pain, swelling and inflammation. Mrs Grieves reports that “An old authority tells us that this herb ‘stamped with vinegar and applied in manner of a pultis, taketh away wens and hard swellings, and inflammation of the kernels under the eares and jawes.'” Elizabeth Blackwell 1739 records it’s use for all sorts of wounds (especially green (pus infected) ones, and also that it helps stop internal bleeding. 

Although it’s been incredibly hot, there was also still enough dock gel under the new leaf sheaths to apply to the swellings (see Do dock leaves really work?) to take the initial itch and aggravation out of the bites. Not having a camp stove with me – rare, but I’d cleaned out the car to take guests around – all I had was a water bottle. So I just picked the plant, crushed it between my hands and pushed it into the bottle. I then gave it a good shake and drank it. Relief was only minutes away!


Both hedge and marsh woundwort are highly undervalued plants. Even as foraging for food has become popular again, many people are put off by their musky scent that smells like an old room where mice have been living. However, it never tastes like that thankfully! They were widely used in the Middle Ages especially when treating the wounded on battlefields as, not only are they good for dealing with inflammation and swelling, but they are excellent for managing pain. I occasionally use betony (Stachys officinalis) tincture to manage the occasional migraine but the fresh herb beats the tincture hands down in with the Stachys family.



  1. chris saunders

    Hi Monica
    Hope your well.
    Shame we didnt get to do a Hendricks event again this year.
    I’ve been connecting with this plant the past few days. Didnt realise you could drink it in water. Guessing you can make tea as well!
    Do you dry it and use it during the winter as well.
    I did hear it use to be used in beer. Do you think that was the whole plant or just the flowers?
    I tried your recipe for sloe leaves in wine. Very tasty.
    Hopefully catch up with you properly some day.
    Best wishes
    Chris Saunders x

    • Hi Chris. Yes it can be used as a tea plant as well as a cold infusion. I use the whole upper part; leaves and flowering tops. I also dry it and make tinctures from the fresh plant although for medicines I prefer marsh over hedge woundwort. For beer I expect the whole aerial parts were used as a bittering agent but probably didn’t stay in fashion as it is not a strong flavour. Glad you enjoyed the épine. Hope to catch up soon 🙂

  2. I am really happy to have found this site. I have lots and lots of this “bad smelling” plant growing in my front garden and I was wondering what to do with it. I have a dehydration oven, so if you would be prepared to share any “how to dry stachys sylvatica for household use”, I would appreciate that.

    • Separate the leaves from the stems so they dry evenly. Dry it on a low temperature. 100F. And store in a brown paper bag.

  3. Elizabeth Ann Somerfirld

    Hello ! So helpful on 2 levels… I have been ‘targetting’ Woundwort as the weed to remove in my friends garden. It grows in abundance there. I recently removed a great gathering of it to free up a Quince shrub so I could tie it up. The shrub was delighted to Breathe more freely again 😊 and discovered also a very old struggling but Alive Rose .2ndly, I’m always getting bitten… the minute midges target me particularly in the heat… twice in Thailand I’ve suffered infected bites requiring anti~biotics … I will definitely try the W.wort tinctures, teas & dried W,wort 😊 how do you tell the difference between ‘Hedge’ & the other one? Many thanks for setting me on this discovery journey. Elizabeth.

    • The shape and texture of the leaves is the main difference between the two species. Hedge woundwort has soft, velvety, rounded leaves. Marsh woundwort has long, narrow, sandpapery leaves.

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