A range of flowers in Colins Paddock

Map of the Down

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Herb Bennet or Wood Avens - Geum urbanum

herbbennet_250Herb Bennet (a somewhat shy member of the Rose Family) shuns bright sunlight but may readily be found in shadier areas of Magog Down. It grows up to 18 inches tall and you may find it in bloom from late spring through to early autumn. Although it is a pretty plant, it is not a showy one as it seldom bears many of its five-petalled, yellow flowers (each about half an inch in diameter) at any one time. The flowers are succeeded by heads of achenes – dry fruits each enclosing a single seed. The achenes terminate in long, hooked awns which, catching on the fur (or clothes) of passing animals, aid in seed distribution.

The plant is a perennial, springing from a short, thick rhizome which, when fresh, has a clove-like aroma. The basal leaves terminate in large, usually three-lobed leaflets and the lower stem leaves are also three lobed. This charateristic, associated with the five pale-gold petals, gave it a symbolic significance to the monks of old to whom the leaves spoke of the Holy Trinity and the flowers of the five wounds of Christ.

The common name of the plant comes from the Latin herba benedicta (= blessed herb). It’s not clear whether this name was given because of the symbolism of the leaves and flowers or because the Devil (with his love of all things foul and malodorous) was thought to hate the sweet smell of the root-stock. Either way, the 15th Century author of Ortus Sanitatis assures us that “Where the root is in the house, Satan can do nothing and flies from it, wherefore it is blessed above all other herbs, and if a man carries the root about him no venomous beast can harm him”.

The roots are said to be most fragrant if they are dug from dry soil in the spring (25th March was reckoned to be the best day for the job!). Laid amongst clothing they help to deter clothes moths.

Grown as a pot herb in 16th century gardens, Herb Bennet was boiled in broth or decocted in wine as a remedy for upset stomachs, wind and stitch. Culpeper considered it a particularly safe herb and recommended a decoction of it for a variety of uses from expelling “crude and raw humours from the belly and stomach” to removing “spots or marks in the face, washed therewith”. “It comforts the heart”, he wrote, “and strengthens the stomach and a cold brain”.

So there you have it. Whether you want to be rid of moths or devils, Herb Bennet is the plant for you. As for me, the older I get the more I feel the need for its benificent influence on my increasingly cold brain!

David Yarham
October 2004

See also...

Report of the visit from Cambridge Natural History Society in August 2017


News about a visit by the local branch of Butterfly Conservation charity taking place in August 2016


News about the very special area of Colin's Bank, published in February 2015

Pasque Flower

One of our Friends sent us this beautiful picture of some Pasque Flowers taken in amongst the Cowslips in May 2016.pasqueflower_jb_may2016_crop_453

Photo by Jill Butler