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Pulmonaria officinalis

A member of the Borage family, Lungwort is a common wildflower of moist and semi-shady habitats, preferring deciduous or mixed woods. It grows from northern and north-eastern Europe and Russia to the Alps beyond, in Mediterranean woodlands. In the Middle Ages it was much esteemed for its medicinal properties, but it has fallen into disuse in recent times, to the point that it has become difficult to source any information about its properties. Lungwort is often cited as a prime example of the workings of the Doctrine of Signatures and it is claimed that the herb was named and used as a pulmonary herb simply due to its leaves' resemblance of lung tissue. The leaves are slightly hairy, somewhat heart-shaped and speckled with white blobs. It is one of earliest wildflowers to emerge in spring and provides a lavish supply of nectar for insects. Their colour ranges from pink to purple, depending on their stage of development, as the pH level within the flower changes after fertilisation. This change of colour was also likened to lung tissue, which changes colour depending on the level of oxygen present in the lungs.

Lungwort does not only bear the signature of the lung, but is indeed useful for healing various lung complaints. The leaves contain high amounts of vitamin C and iron as well as silicon and allantoin, the same healing substance that is also present in Comfrey and Borage, but Lungwort lacks the pyrrolizidine alkaloids of its cousins. Lungwort is an excellent and undervalued herb that is very effective for coughs, whooping cough, chronic bronchitis, asthma and in former times was even rated for its usefulness in treating tuberculosis and spitting of blood. Its mildly astringent nature makes it useful for diarrhoea, especially in children. Externally, it can also be used for washing and dressing wounds and as an ointment for haemorrhoids.

Lungwort was used in folk medicine and sympathetic magic for healing rites involving the lungs. Not much else is known about its magical properties, except that in the language of flowers it is said to express: 'thou art my life'. It is considered an herb of Mercury and may be used to induce a gentle shift in a stagnant situation. Lungwort has a soothing quality that is both earthy and moist and may help to calm irritation, especially when associated with hysterics.