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Agrimonia eupatoria (Agrimony, Cockeburr, Sticklewort, Stickwort)

Category: Medicines - plant based



Introduction and description


Agrimonia eupatoria belongs to the Rosaceae  - Rose - order of plants. The long flower-spikes of Agrimony have caused the name of 'Church Steeples' to be given the plant in some parts of the UK. It also bears the title of 'Cockeburr,' 'Sticklewort' or 'Stickwort,' because its seed-vessels cling by the hooked ends of their stiff hairs to any person or animal coming into contact with the plant.

 It is native to most of Europe, south to N. Africa and east to Iran. It is also found in North America, where it used to be used for fevers with great success, by the Indians and Canadians.

 Classified as a wildflower it can be found growing in fields, by stone walls, on waste ground and roadside verges, usually on alkaline soils, preferring sunny positions.


Agrimony has an old reputation as a popular, domestic medicinal herb, being ‘well known to all country-folk’, and its slender spikes of yellow flowers, which are in bloom from June to early September, and the singularly beautiful form of its much-cut-into leaves, make it one of the most graceful of the smaller herbs.

It is high in tannins and thus has a potential as a bioremedial plant as well as chelating agent.  According to Plants for a Future a “refreshing tea is made from the fresh or dried leaves, flowers and stems. It can be drunk hot or cold. It was formerly very popular either on its own or added to China tea, having a peculiar delicacy and aroma”.

It also has a long history of being used as a medicinal plant, and was mentioned by Mrs Grieve and Culpepper [see observations]. Agrimony was one of the most famous vulnerary [wound healing] herbs. The Anglo-Saxons, called it Garclive.  It was at one time included in the London Materia Medica as a vulnerary herb.   It was, Gerard informs us, at one time called Philanthropos, ‘on account of its beneficent and valuable properties’ however he also offers an alternative explanation saying that the name arose from the tendency of the seeds to cling to the garments of passers-by, ‘as if they were desirous of accompanying them’.


Mrs Grieve's Complete Herbal


From the long, black and somewhat woody perennial root, the erect cylindrical and slightly rough stem rises 1 or 2 feet, sometimes more, mostly unbranched, or very slightly branched in large specimens.

The leaves are numerous and very rich in outline, those near the ground are often 7 or 8 inches long, while the upper ones are generally only about 3 inches in length. They are pinnate in form, i.e. divided up to the mid-rib into pairs of leaflets. The graduation in the size and richness of the leaves is noticeable: all are very similar in general character, but the upper leaves have far fewer leaflets than the lower, and such leaflets as there are, are less cut into segments and have altogether a simpler outline. The leaflets vary very considerably in size, as besides the six or eight large lateral leaflets and the terminal one, the mid-rib is fringed with several others that are very much smaller than these and ranged in the intervals between them. The main leaflets increase in size towards the apex of the leaf, where they are 1 to 1 1/2 inches long. They are oblong-oval in shape, toothed, downy above and more densely so beneath.


The flowers, though small, are numerous, arranged closely on slender, terminal spikes, which lengthen much when the blossoms have withered and the seed-vessels are maturing. At the base of each flower, which is placed stalkless on the long spike, is a small bract, cleft into three acute segments. The flowers, about 3/8 inch across, have five conspicuous and spreading petals, which are egg-shaped in form and somewhat narrow in proportion to their length, slightly notched at the end and of a bright yellow colour. The stamens are five to twelve in number. The flowers face boldly outwards and upwards towards the light, but after they have withered, the calyx points downwards. It becomes rather woody, thickly covered at the end with a mass of small bristly hairs, that spread and develop into a burr-like form. Its sides are furrowed and nearly straight, about 1/5 inch long, and the mouth, about as wide, is surmounted by an enlarged ring armed with spines, of which the outer ones are shorter and spreading, and the inner ones longer and erect.


The whole plant is deep green and covered with soft hairs, and has a slightly aromatic scent; even the small root is sweet scented, especially in spring. The spikes of flowers emit a most refreshing and spicy odour like that of apricots. The leaves when dry retain most of their fragrant odour, as well as the flowers, and Agrimony was once much sought after as a substitute or addition to tea, adding a peculiar delicacy and aroma to its flavour. Agrimony is one of the plants from the dried leaves of which in some country districts is brewed what is called 'a spring drink,' or 'diet drink,' a compound made by the infusion of several herbs and drunk in spring time as a purifier of the blood. In France, where herbal teas or tisanes are more employed than here, it is stated that Agrimony tea, for its fragrancy, as well as for its virtues, is often drunk as a beverage at table.

The plant is subject to a considerable amount of variation, some specimens being far larger than others, much more clothed with hairs and with other minor differences. It has, therefore, by some botanists, been divided into two species, but the division is now scarcely maintained. The larger variety, having also a greater fragrance, was named Agrimonia odorata.


It is possible to grow Agrimony as, for example, a part of a wildflower garden or meadow.  As already stated, the plant prefers calcareous soils, and will thrive in a dry sunny or lightly shaded position.  Once it has established itself, a plant will self sow quite freely, although the plants may spring up all over the place.  The seeds are contained in the burrs as such they could be transported anywhere.  Agrimony is grown in France as they use it for herbal teas.  The cultivar Sweet Scented is used for this purpose because of its spicy apricot like fragrance.

For a first time sowing, the seeds can be sown in Spring in situ.  Germination can take a number of weeks.  Once established the plant can be divided.

Medicinal uses

Agrimony was once well known for curing ‘the ague’. Unfortunately this word can have more than one meaning, but the two most interesting definitions are those of fever caused by viral infections – so it was used as an antiviral - and Ague may also refer to Malaria, so both uses are of great interest.  We have included Dr Duke’s analysis which appears to show it can do a great deal more than this being a more general anti-parasitic plant and having anti-bacterial and antifungal activity as well.

Mrs Grieve confirms it was once used as a vermifuge - an agent that destroys or expels parasitic worms - an anthelmintic, but that this use had somewhat declined at the time she wrote her Herbal.

The plant is used in Bach flower remedies - the keywords for prescribing it are 'Mental torture' and 'Worry, concealed from others'!  It is contraindicated for hypersensitivity to plants from the rose family.

 The German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine approve Agrimonia eupatoria for diarrhoea, inflammation of the skin, inflammation of the mouth and pharynx.

The observations provide the research details.


Related observations