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Heath Speedwell

Veronica officinalis

  • Name also: Common Speedwell, Common Gypsyweed
  • Family: Plantain Family – Plantaginaceae
    (formerly Figwort Family – Scrophulariaceae)
  • Growing form: Perennial herb.
  • Height: 10–30 cm (4–12 in.). Stem limp–ascending, branching, rooting, soft-haired.
  • Flower: Corolla almost regular (actinomorphic), pale blue–purple, approx. 8 mm (0.32 in.) broad, fused, 4-lobed, wheel-shaped, short-tubed. Calyx 4-lobed, lobes narrow, round-tipped, with glandular hairs. Stamens 2. Pistil a fused carpel. Inflorescence a dense axillary raceme. Flower-stalk shorter than subtending bracts.
  • Leaves: Opposite, short-stalked. Blade elliptic–ovate, with tapered base, hairy, finely toothed.
  • Fruit: Obcordate, flat, 4–5 mm (0.16–0.2 in.) long capsule, longer than calyx, approx. as long as broad, with glandular hairs.
  • Habitat: Grove-like forests, logging sites, banks, roadsides, waste ground, dryish meadows, meadows, rocky outcrops.
  • Flowering time: June–August.

Heath speedwell has been used for centuries as a cure-all medicinal. There are good grounds to suggest that it was used already in Ancient Rome: when the Roman Empire conquered Germany they learned about the plant’s wonderful qualities from the Teutons. Even in ancient times there was a saying about the plant, according to which a particularly highly-regarded person was said to have the virtues of heath speedwell. The plant was perceived to help a wide range of ailments, from colds to gall stones. Nowadays it is not much used as a medicinal. The causes and origins of some of the ailments that used to be treated with heath speedwell are not however precisely understood yet, so perhaps it is time to take another look at the plant’s medicinal properties. Apart from mundane ills, it was also believed to help spiritual problems, and it was claimed to repel witches, demons, devils and other assorted bogeymen, although this has never been proved. The plant was also eagerly used to prepare ‘European tea’, although it tastes unpleasantly bitter to contemporary taste buds.

Heath speedwell is probably native to rocky outcrops and light-filled hillside broad-leaved forests in southern Finland. Further north it is regarded as having spread with people and has arrived in ancient times to grow in dryish meadows and rich forests. It mainly spreads by seed, although it also spreads vegetatively. The plant’s runners creep along the ground a good 20 cm (8 in.) before gripping the soil lightly and putting down new stem roots.

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