Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lungwort - Herb of the Week

In keeping with my desire to feature unusual and exotic herbs this year, I have chosen Lungwort Pulmonaria officinalis as the Herb of the week.

Lungwort, a hearty, herbaceous perennial, is a popular garden plant grown mostly for its appealing spring flowers that are pink, or red when they open, then turn violet and blue, creating a multi-colored effect.  There are also white cultivars.  The white spots on its green foliage were thought to resemble diseased lungs giving it its name and making it popular as a folk remedy for treatment of lung diseases such as tuberculosis, this of course was due to the Doctrine of Signatures.  If you are curious about this doctrine see my previous post. Also known as Soldiers and Sailors, Spotted dog, Joseph and Mary and Jerusalem Cowslip it is a plant in the borage family which can be seen in the shape of purple that so matches borage.

Perennial flower gardeners will recognize this plant as it is a popular perennial shade plant especially due to the fact it flowers which many shade plants do not do in so colorful a fashion.

It is native to the northern US and Europe.  It is naturalized in many countries with a cooler climate as it grows in cool, moist areas and woodlands from zone 3 to 6.

To Grow

This shade plant that is most suited to zone 2 and 3. The first flowers on 9 to 12 inch stems, appear in early spring, and the plant continues to bloom util late spring.  The blotched, silvery-white variegated leaves, remain attractive for many months.
growing well in the shade
It makes an effective ground cover for shaded areas, but it also looks good in in bold clumps at the front of an herbaceous or mixed border.  The plant is undemanding provided there is sufficient moisture.  Water freely in dry weather if soil appears dry.

Division, preferably at the end of the season, is the easiest propagation method, but it will grow from seed. However Lungwort seldom produces viable seed, making division more suitable.  Sow seed outside in any soil in the spring, but you get better plants by dividing and replanting roots in a shady spot during late fall months.  Thin plants to 24 inches. You will want to cut the stems back in the fall for over wintering.  It can self-seed erratically.  If you do not want it to overtake your garden, always dig up the seedlings that appear in spring.  No special winter care is needed as the plant is very hardy.
Sissinghurst White
The white version is called ‘Sissinghurst White.’  It is a semi-evergreen perennial with the same height and width as the colored variety. If you grow a plant called Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica), it is in the same family as Lungwort and has a similar appearance.
Virginia Bluebells courtesy of

To Use

The leaves of the Lungwort contain mucilage, tannin, saponins and sislic acid and some of these can have beneficial effects for coughs and sore throats.  Some herbalists prescribe lungwort to control diarrhea.  Chesty coughs, wheezing, and shortness of breath were thought to benefit from an infusion of the dried leaves.

The leaves are edible, though the hairiness means that they are disliked by many. The can be added to salads in small quantities. They can also be cooked at a potherb and the hairiness disappears on cooking. But the leaves do not have a very pronounced flavor. They can be substituted for spinach in some dishes, but as a vegetable the cooked leaves tend to be a bit slimy. Due to the mucilage, the best use of these leaves is as a thickening agent. Use them as a substitute for okra in West African and cajun cookery. 

Harvest the leaves after it is done flowering in summer and dry for medicinal use.


Egg salad with lungwort
½ cup lungwort leaves, washed and finely shredded
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced into rings
1 small lettuce (ie little gem), shredded
½ cup mixed salad leaves
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
2 Tbls. mayonnaise
salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste

Arrange the lettuce on the base of a serving dish and top with the sliced eggs. Top the eggs with the mixed salad leaves. Mix together the spring onions, mayonnaise, lungwort leaves and seasonings in a bowl. Use this to top the salad and serve immediately.
This is a twist on a traditional Louisiana Filé gumbo. This is a traditional stew that incorporates filé powder (dried and ground sassafras leaves) as a flavoring and thickener. Lungwort leaves are substituted as the thickening agent in this version.

Lungwort Leaf Gumbo
½ cup butter
4 celery sticks, chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 parsley sprigs, finely chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ cup flour
4 Tbls lungwort leaf powder
8 ½ cups fish stock or water
2 bay leaves
1 sprig of thyme
1 chili pepper, finely chopped
¼ pound smoked ham, diced
¼ pound hot sausage (chorizo is good) cut into ½ inch slices
1/3 pound prawns, shelled (reserve shells and heads for stock)
½ pound firm white fish, cubed
salt and black pepper, to taste

Place the butter in a large soup pan and heat to melt. When nicely melted and sizzling add the celery, onion, parsley, bell pepper and garlic. Fry over a low flame for about 20 minutes, or until the onion is soft and golden then add the flour and lungwort leaf powder. Stir the mixture constantly for about ten minutes to form a roux then add the stock and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer then cook for about 20 minutes before adding the ham, fish and sausage. Continue cooking for a further 30 minutes. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly then add the prawns and thyme. Continue cooking for about 2 minutes then adjust the seasonings and serve on a bed of rice.

Lungwort Tea
1 Tbls dried lungwort leaves (or lungwort leaf powder)
1 ¼ cups boiling water
honey, to taste

Warm your teapot and rinse clean. Add the lungwort leaves to the pot and pour over the 300ml boiling water. Cover and set aside to infuse for 10 minutes. Strain into a cup or mug, sweeten to taste with honey and serve. Herbalists recommend that this is taken three times a day. Whether or not the tea has any medicinal benefits, the mucilage from the lungwort leaves combined with the honey will help relieve a sore throat.

Here is an old chest cold recipe:

1 part Anise seed
2 parts Coltsfoot leaves
2 parts Lungwort

Steep 2 tsp. in 1/2 cup boiling water. Add this tea to 1-1/2 cups althea tea which has been prepared by soaking 1 tbsp. althea root, leaves and/or flowers in 1/2 cup cold water for 8 hours. Take the mixture with honey, in mouthful doses.

This is an old recipe and I would consult a doctor or herb practitioner before making this to self-treat.  See my post earlier this month on Coltsfoot.

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