Agrimony Out Of The Mainstream

Use of agrimony is continued, however, by some practitioners. Green, in his Universal Herbal of 1832, records that ‘its root appears to possess the properties of Peruvian bark Cinchona pubescens in a very considerable degree, without manifesting any of its inconvenient qualities’, and if taken in large doses, either in decoction or powder, ‘seldom fails to cure the ague’, as Culpeper had already suggested. Hill, in mid-18th century, uses agrimony for treating jaundice, another old use. His prescription states 6 oz of the crown of the root in a quart of boiling water, sweetened with honey, and half a pint of the infusion drunk three times daily.

Coffin, writing in 1849, finds Culpeper at fault ‘as he oftimes is, for he ascribes such abundance of good properties that if half be true, humans would scarcely require any other medicine’. Coffin struggles to accept the sheer number of herbs in Culpeper’s writings which he claims can open obstructions of the liver and spleen. Yet, regarding agrimony, he refers to Hooper’s description of the herb as a valuable astringent which, by the testimony of Clomel, ‘was successful in enlargement of the liver’ in two cases. To this binding effect can be added a diuretic action and, according to Gray’s supplement to the Pharmacopoeia, a vermifuge. Coffin also lists the use of agrimony, in combination with other herbs, for dropsy and jaundice, and it is given freely to children suffering measles, scarlet fever and chicken pox. Coffin’s indications for agrimony in exanthemata later appear also in the National Botanic Pharmacopoeia. The National Botanic Pharmacopoeia classifies the herb as an astringent tonic and diuretic, useful also for coughs, diarrhoea and relaxed bowels as an infusion with raspberry leaf Rubus idaeus and sugar, jaundice and other liver problems. Grieve specifies a fluid extract preparation, to be prescribed at a dose of 10-60 drops. Coffin’s prescription for jaundice is to use 1 oz of each of barberry bark Berberis vulgaris, centaury Centaurium erythraea, bog bean Menyanthes trifoliata, agrimony and raspberry leaf Rubus idaeus decocted in a quart of water. After straining, 1/2 oz of cayenne pepper is added, along with mountain flax Linum catharticum if the patient is constipated, and a wineglassful (60 mL) of the mixture taken three or four times daily. After 3-4 days, the patient receives a vapour bath. If his jaundice is not relieved, a standard lobelia Lobelia inflata emetic is given and the bath repeated.

Hool summarizes the actions of agrimony promoted by the new botanic practitioners of Victorian England: tonic, stimulant, astringent, stomachic, hepatic, diuretic and diaphoretic. Hool emphasizes the use of agrimony in digestive problems, notably dyspepsia and biliousness, namely vomiting before and after meals, sour and watery eructations, sick headache, debility and a tendency to jaundice. He adds diabetes to the list, and not on account of its diuretic effects. The indication may come from the earlier Robinson (1868), who adds incontinence of urine and recommends the herb be boiled in milk for these two conditions. Robinson repeats older uses, such as the seed for bloody flux, a hot infusion before the fit of an ague, and uses for lungs, skin and blood, mentions agrimony’s fame as a vulnerary and regards few herbs as effective in haemoptysis, haematuria and disorders of the liver. He contributes a use with alum and honey internally for tape worms. Wren affirms the tonic effect of agrimony, promoting assimilation of food, reducing a cough and astringing relaxed bowels with a 1:10 infusion taken frequently.

Agrimony may be largely out of favour in mainstream medicine in Europe in the 1800s but in America, where it is also native, it is in use by the growing number of herbalists in practice. Cook classifies agrimony as a mild stimulating astringent, causing no irritation but toning the mucous membranes of the body and with application to skin and kidneys, for which latter it is highly regarded by some, including one doctor who considered it very useful for childhood enuresis. As an astringent, it can treat diarrhoea, leucorrhoea and blood loss from uterus, bowel or lungs. The dose to be employed, of an infusion of 1 oz of the herb steeped in a pint of boiling water (commonly 25 g to 500 mL of water) for an hour, is 2 fl oz (50 mL) every hour or two. A preparation much stronger than this can also be used cold. It is, by popular reputation, useful in chronic coughs with excessive expectoration and is employed as a gargle for aphthous ulcers and sore throats, and as a wash for ophthalmia from various causes. Cook cannot confirm its usefulness in jaundice, asthma, scrofula and obstructed menstruation and concludes ‘From having once been valued beyond its deserts, it naturally has fallen to a reputation below its real merits – for it deserves much regard in its proper place’. He also provides one example of use of the root of agrimony, as a warm decoction given freely for calculous difficulties.

Ellingwood classes agrimony among the general renal stimulants, for ‘all authors agree … that its influence is most direct upon the kidneys, correcting imperfect elimination through these organs’. He details the specific symptomatology of kidney or bladder pain and inflammation, foul-smelling urine with sediment, renal congestion and general irritability of the urinary organs. In addition, he states its particular employment also in incontinence of urine with coughing or sneezing in the elderly, for bronchial or pulmonary cough with thick, profuse secretions, and for dysuria with dysmenorrhoea in women. In this last presentation, agrimony will have a beneficially soothing effect on the nervous system. He adds ‘we would be inclined to combine macrotys Cimicifuga racemosa or gelsemium Gehemium sempervirens and pulsatilla Puhatilla vulgaris with agrimony, but the old doctors believed the latter remedy would cover the entire group of symptoms’.