Botanical name Geranium robertianum
Geranium from Greek for “crane”. The fruit capsule can look like a crane’s head (ovary) and beak (elongated stigma). Robertianum from Latin “Robert”, plus a bit of grammar!
This plant is a common, native member of the “Cranesbill” family. It has numerous alternative names including “Red Robin” (Robin is shortened version of Robert / stems and leaves turn red later in season), “Stinking Bob” (crushed leaves smell of burning tyres!?) and “Death-come-quickly” (if picked and taken into a house, it becomes a curse from the evil fairy “Puck”).
This leads to the question “Who was Robert”? Could it have been “Puck”, otherwise known as “Robin Goodfellow”, the mischievous sprite of the 16th Century, or the German sprite “Knecht Rupert”, a friend of“Puck”? Was “Herb Robert” named after Saint Robert of Molesme, an 11th century herbalist, and founder of the Cistercian order. There was Saint Robert of Salzburg, a remarkable 8th century bishop, who has a feast day on 27th March. Perhaps there was no “Robert”. Maybe the Latin word “Rubrus” meaning red, became corrupted over time?
Herb Robert is a fast growing, self pollinating plant, that has explosive seed pods (seeds shoot over 15 feet!). It’s leaves are used by foragers for making tea, and leaves are nutritious in salads, fresh or dried. Mixed with Basil, they apparently make a good pesto.
It is in herbal medicine that “Herb Robert” has many fans. Under the medieval “doctrine of signatures”, the link between “Geranium, Greek for crane” and the bird, the “Stork”, gave it the use for treating bleeding after childbirth, probably helped by the fact that the plant turns red, as mentioned. It has been called “Bloodwort”, and was said to have the property of regenerating blood. It has been commonly used as an insecticide, by rubbing leaves on the skin. It is an antioxidant, supporting the immune system, and has been shown to lower blood sugar levels, making it useful to treat diabetes. Traditional European herbalists have used it for treating ailments as varied as toothache, conjunctivitis, jaundice, nosebleeds, gout and dysentery, as well as treating wounds. More recent science has shown that all “Geraniums” contain geraniin, which is a licenced medicine in Japan for the treatment of diarrhoea. More interestingly, geraniin has been found to have powerful antioxidant effects, as well as antimicrobial, and anticancer benefits. The magazine “Phytochemistry” in 2021 published an article about how geraniin was found to inhibit lung cancer in vitro and in vivo.
My small bit of research into “Herb Robert” has opened up to me, and I suspect most of you, the science of “Phytoremediation”. It has been noted that Herb Robert thrives under power lines, and appears to have the properties of absorbing radiation. It also thrives along railway lines where the ground is contaminated by heavy metals. “Phytoremediation” scientists research a plant’s ability to absorb dangerous contaminants from the air, soil or water, rendering the environment safer for mankind. All plants have the ability to absorb contaminants, and survive. Some are better than others, and Herb Robert is one of those. For interest, the “Sunflower” is being heavily researched. Rafts of Sunflowers have been left floating on water heavily contaminated by radioactivity. The plants absorb the contamination, and are then disposed of as nuclear waste.
I shall finish off with the gentle assistance of the Flower Fairy.
LITTLE HERB ROBERT, BRIGHT AND SMALL,
PEEPS FROM THE BANK OR THE OLD STONE WALL.
LITTLE HERB ROBERT, HIS LEAF TURNS RED;
HE’S WILD GERANIUM, SO IT IS SAID.
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