I went hunting for a specific herb in the park today, for my neighbours’ dog. Parietaria officinalis, Pellitory-of-the-wall (NL: Groot glaskruid) or something extremely closely related to it, seems to be a favorite walk-time snack for young Tobias and we are all wondering what it is about this particular plant that he enjoys and needs. To identify the plant, I had to find it growing and take a close look. Here’s a link to some historical information about Pellitory of the wall and it’s uses. It is still revered by some herbalists as a urinary system tonic which is safe for children and adults (unless they suffer from hayfever and allergies). It is also used to treat urinary system complaints, when they arise, such as cystitis. Historically many more trusted it’s ability to treat cystitis, prostratitis, kidney and bladder stones, nephritis, urine retention and dropsy, more effectively than any other herb. It is a diuretic, emollient and sedative. It is commonly used today as an emollient in products such as baby creams and lotions. There are also those who use it as a wound herb, as a window and copper cleanser and to sooth burns and scalds. Here’s an interesting link for more information on these less well documented uses.
The plant is a non-stinging member of the Stinging Nettle family, Urticaceae. Its upper leaf surfaces are smooth and the lower suface veins are tufted with hairs. The flowers are discrete and clustered around the base of the leaves. The diuretic action of the plant is due to it containing very high levels of Potassium nitrate (KNO3).
The plant which grows in the park has a crucial difference, it has green stems rather than the red stems which are indicitive of P. officinalis. Also it is softly hairy all over, whereas P. officinalis is hairy on the stems and lower leaf sides. It seems to be Parietaria pensylvanica, Pennsylvania Pellitory, which is known to be naturalized in Europe. It smells very pleasantly like stinging nettles and tastes similar to nettle but lighter and more fresh almost like a cucumber, when chewed. It is sometimes called Pensylvania Cucumber plant and I am looking forward to developing some nice recipes for this plant. All members of the Parietaria Genus seem to share the same high pollen allergy properties and I have found a few US accounts of it being used as a food and medicine plant to help urinary tract problems, in just the same way as P. officinalis. Here’s an interesting link about using the Genus. Please note that one Parietaria species, with red stems, is known as Asthma weed in Australia. It produces pollen which a great number of people are allergic to.
So, Tobias seems to know what he’s looking for. Parietaria pensylvanica grows very well in several parts of Frankendael, all of which are dry, shady woodland habitats. Now I know more about this genus of plants, I can’t wait to get out my scissors, jam jar and vodka to make a Parietaria pensylvanica tincture. The well documented herb Pellitory of the wall, is also effective as an infusion, juice and decoction. Perhaps my neighbours may like to try adding a drop of Pensylvania cucumber plant tincture to Tobias’ water bowl each day, to see if that helps satisfy his need for the chemicals found inside the plant?