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Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)

This is a tall plant (1.5m) of particularly wet areas of Dubwath Meadows and it is not as common as angelica, valerian or meadowsweet. Purple Loosestrife has very distinctive and attractive spires of small, clustered reddish-purple flowers, each having six petals. It cannot really be mistaken for any other plant (rosebay willow herb does not occur in wet habitats). It flowers in high summer from July to September.

It is called loosestrife because of its superficial similarity to yellow loosestrife to which it is, however, unrelated. It does not possess the medicinal properties which give rise to the name loosestrife. It was, however, formerly esteemed by herbalists in the treatment of chronic diarrhoea and dysentry.

The scientific name Lythrum is from the Greek luthron, meaning 'gore', a reference to the colour of the flowers. Salicaria refers to the similarity of the leaves to some members of the willow family (Salix).

Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris)

The bright yellow flowers of yellow loosestrife have orange edges and are bunched together in terminal spikes. They provide plentiful pollen for bees and appear in high summer from July to September. The strong downy stems are covered with opposite pairs of spear-shaped leaves. The plant is occasionally common at Dubwath in the wetter areas and along stream banks. It occurs in similar areas to purple Loosestrife to which it is, however, unrelated. The plant grows to approximately 1.5m in height.

Yellow loosestrife has often been known as Yellow Willow Herb, Herb Willow or Willow Wort, although it is not related to the true willow herbs. The Yellow Loosestrife belongs to the same family as primrose and pimpernel. Both the scientific and popular names of the loosestrife have interesting origins. The name Lysimachia is supposed to have been given in memory of King Lysimachus of Sicily, who, according to Pliny, first discovered its medicinal properties and then introduced it to his people. It had the ability to staunch bleeding of any sort - the young leaves bound about a fresh wound were said to check the bleeding and perform a cure in a very short time. However. even in Pliny's time, it was suggested that the plant did not really derive its from a more or less mythical king, but that it was compounded from the Greek words signifying 'dissolving' or 'ending strife' - it being held that not only oxen, but also restive horses, could be calmed by it.

Indeed its common name of loosestrife is very old and refers to the belief that the plant would quieten savage beasts and that, in particular, it had a special virtue "in appeasing the strife and unruliness which falleth out among oxen at the plough, if it be put about their yokes". The plant appears to deter biting insects and flies, and so placing it under the yoke relieved oxen of their tormentors, making them quiet and tactable. For the same reason, the dried herb used to be burnt in houses, so that the smoke might drive away unwanted insects - it was particularly valuable in marshy districts where the plant is most common.