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Agrimony is more than just a sticky nuisance

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By Ted Manzer
Columnist

Friday, December 7, 2018

Anyone who has ever taken a walk in a brushy pasture in fall has probably encountered agrimony. Often, people run into it before they see it. Before you realize, you’re covered with little spiny balls that stick to everything. Dogs are adept at getting covered with them too.

I remember amassing these sticky little burrs all over my clothes numerous times while bow hunting. There’s something about them. I know they are around, but I never see them until it’s too late. Later in the season the burrs become less of a problem. By that time, they’ve wound up on a hunting dog or someone else’s clothing.

This camouflaged wildflower, agrimony, grows one to two feet tall and has hairy leaves on upright stems. Toothed, rough-textured leaves contain multiple blades. Plants remind me of an upright growing potentilla. Flowers are similar too.

Agrimony is a perennial herb in the rose family that grows in full sun or light shade on well-drained soil. It tolerates dry conditions well. Plants require little fertilizer but don’t thrive in wet places.

Spikes of yellow flowers develop in summer and are long gone by fall. That’s when these plants blend into their surroundings and unfortunate pets and hikers encounter the spiny burrs.

When in flower, agrimony attracts numerous pollinators. However, plants don’t need these pollinators as they can self-pollinate and still produce viable seeds. Still, bees and butterflies love them. That may be one reason some folks plant agrimony for ornamental use.

It has been a recent trend for people to plant natives in their perennial gardens. This one may attract pollinators, and it has become naturalized, but it is not native. It’s from Europe.

Agrimony makes a fine perennial provided plants are cut back prior to developing those clingy seeds. Constant pruning is necessary to keep them flowering and prevent them from developing the dreaded burrs. Otherwise plants will look weedy and seeds will spread everywhere animals travel.

Those seeds are edible, but I have no interest in partaking of them. Agrimony is not used extensively by foragers for food, but tea can be made from the leaves and/or flowers, and it is reported to be quite good. Supposedly, the taste favors apricots, but I have never tried it.

Herbalists use agrimony leaves to treat sore throat, upset stomach, mild diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, gallbladder disorders, and fluid retention. The liquid is sometimes swallowed and sometimes used as a gargle. Additionally, people steep the leaves and use them topically to treat skin disorders.

Some chemicals isolated from agrimony have antiviral properties. Leaves contain tannins, which are useful to combat inflammation and diarrhea. However, because of the high tannin levels repeated use or high dosages can lead to constipation. Continued long-term use is associated with kidney and liver problems.

Agrimony use has also been found to reduce blood sugar. While this sounds helpful it could cause problems to diabetics currently taking medicine to control blood glucose levels. Always remember to consult your medical professional before consuming herbal medicines, particularly ones you’ve collected.

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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