Once upon a time this humble herb enjoyed a lot more respect and attention than it does today. Hardly anybody even recognises it when they happen upon it in a damp and shady neck of the woods, where it likes to grow. Indeed, it is a little bit elusive; sometimes it is hard to see it, even standing right in front of it. Its little reddish brown flowers are anything, but showy, nor do they have an alluring scent. Unlike some of its relatives, e.g. the pretty foxglove or the attention commanding Mullein, Figwort tends to hides in its own shadow. Yet, the ancients praised it for its powers, both magical and medicinal. Its Latin name points to the fact that it was believed to cure scrofula, a form of tuberculosis affecting the lymph nodes, especially of the neck, also known as 'King's Evil'.
According to the Doctrine of Signatures the nodules of the root bore similitude to the lymph nodes and other swellings, which figwort affects. When lymph nodes swell and become congested to the point of being hard and painful to the touch figwort disperses and clears the swellings. Swollen lymph nodes can be a sign of infection or it may just be stagnant drainage that needs a little stimulation. Figwort is an overall cleansing herb that stimulates the purging of toxins from the body. Thus it is always a useful herb to include in congestive skin troubles, such as some forms of acne, psoriasis and eczema. Dioscorides recommended it for the dispersal of tumours and the cleansing and healing of ulcers, wounds, burns and haemorrhoids. It stimulates the liver and strengthens kidneys and bladder, thus supporting the eliminative processes. In the past it was also used to treat mild diabetes. The ancients prepared both, a tea for inner cleansing and washing of external wounds, as well as an ointment for external use on haemorrhoids and such.
Figwort is a protective herb. It was said to ward off witches and to protect against the evil eye. The root is used as an amulet to protect or heal skin disease and problems of the neck and throat, especially scrofula. It was also hung around the necks of cows to protect them from the same evil.