Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Hemp agrimony

2014-05-14 16.24.341. In the 1920s and 30s my father took our family (five of us) for our annual holidays to the West Country – Dorset, Somerset, Devon or Cornwall.
On one occasion we stayed at St Ives in the latter county with a fisherman and his wife. Whilst there the husband told us that on one occasion he had been bitten by a fish and his arm was poisoned. Whether the fish was venomous or if toxin entered the wound I cannot remember, but it soon became critical for in those days no antibiotics were available. The medics were contemplating amputation when a kindly friend advised him to apply a poultice of hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum) leaves and flowers. It worked wonders and he was cured!
As a teen-ager I suffered repeatedly from boils. Up to five at a time would appear on my neck, making it unsightly and uncomfortable to say the least. The worst boil affected my left wrist. My fingers looked like sausages and the swelling reached my elbow.
My parents suddenly remembered the experience of the St Ives fisherman. Not knowing where the plant might be found in this area, but somehow connecting it with wet habitats, I got on my bike and cycled to Colnbrook where, sure enough, it was growing on the banks of the River Colne. The poultice soon extracted all the pus and my arm returned to normal. We always kept a small bundle of hemp agrimony in store for such use.
Whenever I have seen this plant in the succeeding 60 or 70 years it has been with admiration and gratitude.
Probably I would not have needed to cycle to Colnbrook for in recent years I have seen good stands of Eupatorium cannabinum on the Paddington Branch Canal, about a quarter of a mile north of Bulls Bridge, opposite the eastern boundary of the Minet Site – only about a mile and a quarter from where I lived at that time [Uxbridge, Middlesex, March 2001].

Images: main, Andover, Hampshire, July 2014; inset, Wildlife Garden, The Natural History Museum, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, London, May 2014.