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Alkanet

Common Name: AlkanetAlkanet Flowers
Genus:  Alkanna (Anchusa)          
Species: tinctoria (officinalis)   
Family: Boraginaceae
AKA:  Dyer’s Alkanet, Dyer’s Bugloss, Spanish Bugloss, Wilde Bugloss, Orchanet.

Historical Uses:

Medical:

Dioscorides indicated that the root, made up with oil in a searecloth, is good for old ulcers.  With parched barley meale it can be used to treat leprosy and for tetters and ring-worm. A decoction being inwardly taken with mead or honied water, cureth the yellow jaundice. Diseases of the kidneies, the spleene and agues.  Good to drive forth the measles and small pox if drunke in the beginning with hot beere (1). Antidote for venomous bites (2).

Culinary:

Roots of these are used to color sirrups, waters, gellies, & such like confections (3).

Other:

Used in ointments for women’s paintings.

Folklore/Astrology:

Under the domain of Venus. Sacred to Hecate and her daughters Medea and Circe (4).

Additional Historical Facts:

The name Alkanna derives from the Spanish word alcanna, which in turn is derived from the Arabic word for henna. Mentioned as a source of a purple dye in Greco-Egyptian texts from the 3rd century AD (5).
Grieve indicates the word comes from the Greek word Anchousa meaning paint, from the use of the root as a dye.

Contemporary Uses: (6)

Medical:

Used externally for varicose veins and indolent
ulcers, bed sores and itching rashes

Economic:

Used as a purple colorant for wood, foods, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics(6).

Parts Used:

Roots

Plant Characteristics:

Area of Origin: Southern Europe to Middle East
Physical description:
Plant type: Perennial in identified zones. Biennial in colder zones.
Form: Upright/spreading
Height: 24”
Flower color: Blue, funnel shaped
Flowering period: Summer
Soil type/requirements: Limestone screes, coastal sands, very dry sandy or alkaline soils.
Hardiness zone: USDA 8-9
Sun requirements: Full to partial sun
Propagation: Sow in cold frame in early spring, plant them out in summer.

Bibliography

1.    Gerard, p. 800
2.    Anderson, p. 20
3.    Gerard, p. 800
4.    Anderson, p. 20
5.    Grieve, p. 18-19
6.    Bown, p. 111

Illustrations:

1.    Meydenbach Herbal      1491
2.    PSUMG        2005
3.    PSUMG        2012