Wood Avens (Geum urbanum), also known commonly as Herb Bennet, has been used medicinally since Roman times. It is named 'geum' from the Greek 'geno' meaning to yield an agreeable fragrance - the freshly dug roots having a clove-like scent and another of this plant's names is 'Clove Root'.
These aromatic roots were thought to protect against evil and poisons in medieval times, when the plant was worn as an amulet to ward off evil spirits and venomous beasts. It was known as 'Herb Benedict', a name given to antidote herbs owing to a story in the life of St Benedict. Its trefoil leaf symbolising the Holy Trinity and its five golden petals the five wounds of Christ, it appears as a decorative feature in medieval architecture, too.
The leaves used to be added to salads and soups, used for flavouring ale and to fragrance linen, preserving it from moths. The roots boiled in wine were used as a cordial against the plague and Culpeper considered it good for diseases of the chest or breath, or for the stitch.
The infusion may be helpful taken at the start of chills or catarrh and the herb is still used in modern herbal medicine: internally to treat diarrhoea, gastro-intestinal infections, bowel disease, uterine haemorrhage or intermittent fever and externally for haemorrhoids, vaginal discharge and inflammation of the mouth, gums and throat.
An astringent, antiseptic herb which reduces inflammation, checks bleeding and discharges, lowers fever and acts as a tonic for the digestive system.
Flowers May to October. Collect the flowering plant in July or August. Harvest by cutting plants as flowering begins (dry for infusions) or lift roots in the spring (use fresh or dry for decoctions). Roots lifted on the 25th March from dry soil are traditionally the most fragrant and they must be dried carefully then sliced and powdered to best retain their properties.
PLEASE NOTE: These notes on the history and use of herbs have been compiled for general interest and are not intended as medical advice, for which you should consult a professional herbalist.
'A Modern Herbal' Mrs M. Grieve FRHS ed. Mrs C. F. Leyel (1973)
‘Herbs and Healing Plants of Britain and Europe’ Dieter Podlech (1987)
'RHS Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses' Deni Brown (2002)