White Deadnettle: Modern Use

Modern texts, if the herb appears in them at all, mainly limit themselves to white deadnettle, but vary quite widely in their range of applications. Chevallier cites Gerard on lifting the spirits but restricts his internal uses mainly to women’s complaints. It is, he says, astringent and demulcent, used as a uterine tonic, to stop intermenstrual bleeding and menorrhagia; traditionally for vaginal discharge; sometimes taken to relieve painful periods. It can be taken against diarrhoea and externally used for varicose veins and haemorrhages. Wood cites Hill, Weiss and a 19th century UK herbalist who records the familiar traditional uses of helping the spleen, whites, flooding, nose bleeds, spitting blood, haemorrhages, green wounds, bruises and burns. The source of some of his specific indications ― cough, bronchitis, pleurisy, inflamed prostate, anaemia -is unclear, given his text. Menzies-Trull covers a broad range of uses, although there is no specific discussion of them. Bartram too gives a broad sweep, designating the flowering tops haemostatic, astringent, diuretic, expectorant, anti-inflammatory, vulnerary, antispasmodic and menstrual regulator, with uses including heavy and painful menstrual bleeding, cystitis, diarrhoea, prostatitis, catarrh, and piles, as douche for vaginal discharge, and as an eye douche. He gives a dose of 1-2 teaspoons to a cup of boiling water, taken three times a day; for vaginal douche 2 oz in 2 pints boiling water, cooled.

We should perhaps not be too surprised at a more subtle herb here. From Pelikan we learn how deadnettle differs from the more strongly active members of the labiate family, imbued as they normally are with warmth nature, suffused right into the leaves with volatile oils. We might anticipate a gentle action from the shape of the leaves, since, says Pelikan, the leaf shape gives clear indication of the extent of cosmic warmth perfusion. He compares the broad leaves of melissa to the ‘needles’ of rosemary. So we find ‘only traces of labiate warmth’ in white deadnettle, ‘a faint echo of the fiery labiate theme in a cool, damp, earthy medium’. The flowers however play a key role (as we have seen). They appear to take full part in the labiates’ movement towards the animal world, spoken of by Pelikan. The move of the flowers to the horizontal axis, the axis of animals; formation of’lips, throats and gullets’, and the space within the flowers forming the shape of insects’ heads. Wax casts, Pelikan tells us, resemble bees’ heads with proboscis. One name for lamium is bee nettle; the word lamium, Grieve says, comes from the Greek word laimos meaning throat; and we find from modern research that white deadnettle produces a constituent, phytoecdysteroid, an insect steroid hormone analogue.