Bugle

Ajuga reptans

Herbs gallery - Bugle

Common names

  • Bugle
  • Carpenter's-herb
  • Common Bugle
  • Middle Comfrey
  • Sicklewort

The plant known as the bugle is a perennial herb - botanical name Ajuga reptans. Bugle blooms towards the end of April and flowers last until the start of July. The herb is characterized by its solitary and tapering floral stalks, each of which can be six to nine inches in height. It also has marked creeping scions or runners on the ground - these structures are elongated shoots, that can reach a couple of feet or more in length, they are sent out from the rootstock in all directions and help the plant spread out on a site. The stems of the bugle are marked off at intervals by pairs of leaves. At the point where pairs of leaves appear, rootlets are given off to the ground below, these rootlets enter the earth and root themselves - this is one way in which the plant propagates itself over a site. When winter comes, all the runners on the ground die, however, on all the places where the leaf pairs and the rootlets were seen lies a dormant plant which will develop into a full plant when spring arrives. Therefore, each individual bugle plant serves as an epicenter for a colony of new plants, this form of propagation occurs independently of the setting off of seeds. In fact, most bugle seeds do not always ripen, and this herb propagates itself from one generation to the next through the creeping scions.

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Bugle is characterized by having erect floral stalks that are sent up from the root stock as square stems, these are pale green in color and are often purplish in coloration on the upper surface. The leaves are borne on the stalk in opposite pairs. Stalks can be seen on the lower leaves, while leaves on the upper side are stalk less. Each individual is oblong and obtuse in structure, being serrated or mostly entire along the margins of the lamina. Each surface of the leaf bears many celled hairs, the margins of each single leaf is also fringed with a lot of hairs. The runners on the bugle have a very smooth surface; however, the stems of the bugle are only smooth along two of the sides, the two other sides being somewhat downy.

Bugle flowers have a purplish blue coloration. All the flowers are crowded into a single spike formed from about 6 or more rings of the floral whorls, usually each single whorl will bear 6 flowers. Bracts - the upper leaves - are often interspersed amid the whorls, these also have similar coloration. This is the main reason for the fact that the entire upper portion of the bugle plant has a bluish look in most cases. Bugle flowers also come in a white variety occasionally found in the wild, in such plants the upper leaves retain the normal green coloration of the lower portions of the plant.

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Bugle flowers show an evolutionary adoption in the lipped formation of each corolla, this is to aid cross fertilization of plants through the agency of bees, each single flower secrete a little nectar at the base of the long tube along the corolla of the flower. The lipped form of the corolla is unique and aids the bees, the upper lip being rather short, while the lower lip is cleft in three parts. Bugle flowers possess no scent and attract bees mainly by the coloration. Following pollination and fertilization of the flower, many small almost black seeds are formed in the ovules; however, many of these fertilized ovules will not mature into fruits.

The generic name of this herb is one of the few singular names for any plant in the plant kingdom. Bugle is the popular as well as the botanical name for the plant - this singular generic name is hard to account for and rather peculiar for any other organism. One way in which the plant could have been named this way is that the word 'Bugle' is a derivative from the word "bugulus," which is a name for a thin, glass pipe employed in embroidery work. This name could have come about as the long and thin tube of the corolla resembles this bead bugle in shape. What is much more likely is that "bugle" is a corruption of the Latin name "Ajuga," this generic name is the moniker that the great taxonomist Linnaeus initially gave to this plant, due to his belief that this plant or some other closely allied species of plant was the plant alluded to by Pliny and other Roman writers by a very similar name, the name is possibly a corruption of the word "Abija," a word which in its turn comes from the Latin word "abigo,"- to drive away. The plant being so called due to the belief that it could drive away different forms of diseases from the body. The bugle at any rate had a great reputation in older eras, and was once though to possess great curative powers and a potent medicinal property.

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Different herbalists have differing opinions on the value of the bugle as a medicinal herb. A good way to judge these opinions is by a comparison of the old traditional saw that states, "He that has bugle and sanicle thumbs his nose at the surgeon," with the perspective of a modern French herbalist who states that the bugle is the "most resolutely - medicinally - inactive of plants." At the same time, there is general agreement that the bugle is more than just another plant with a pretty flower. One more common name of the bugle - carpenter's-herb, is an allusion to the fact that the bugle does possess some ability to stanch bleeding and can possibly heal cuts. This is a property possessed by all plants that contain large amounts of tannin - a principal plant pigment. Herbalists have also traditionally used remedies made from the bugle to stop internal bleeding in the lungs as well as to stanch other kinds of internal hemorrhaging in other parts of the body. In addition, remedies made from the bugle has been recommended for treating problems such as persistent coughs, in treating ulcers, in the treatment of rheumatism, and to treat all kinds of liver disorders. Bugle has also been used to prevent hallucinations following the consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol. Bugle is also seen by some herbalists as possessing mildly narcotic and sedative effects and its use is believed to possibly have a lowering effect on the heart rate similar to the action of the digitalis plant. At the same time, all the properties of the bugle other than the ability to heal wounds has not been thoroughly studied or researched in a clinical setting. The species name of the bugle, reptans, is an allusion to the reptile or snake like creeping runners given out by the herb.

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Parts used

Aerial parts.

Uses

The bugle tastes bitter, it is also a potent astringent, and aromatic as well. However, there are differing opinions on its value as an herbal medicine. In addition, the bugle also possesses mildly analgesic properties, and it is still used from time to time in herbal medicine as a wound healing herb. Traditionally, the bugle has also been used to cleanse and detoxify the liver, and the herb is also said to have a mild laxative action.

The remedies made from the bugle are specifically used for treating over-active thyroid glands and the symptoms such a disorder induces in the body, particularly if these physical symptoms include problems such as tightness of the chest when breathing, cardiac palpitation and shaking or quivering muscles. Whenever cardiac palpitations are of nervous origin, it is quite safe to use the bugle as an herbal relaxant. The weakened heart will be aided by the bugle if there is an associated accumulation of water inside the body of the patient. The bugle is also used as a major herbal sedative in cases of cough, it helps to relieve and ease irritating coughs, particularly when such persistent coughs come about due to nervous disorders.

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Habitat and cultivation

The bugle is found in the wild in Europe, parts of North Africa, and some parts of Asia. In North America the bugle has become naturalized since it was brought over from Europe in the colonial period. The bugle grows best in damp woods and on grassy and mountainous regions. The usual time to harvest the bugle is early in the summer when the plant is in full floral bloom.

The bugle grows well in soils which are rich in humus, particularly so in moisture retentive soils. Plants prefer partially shaded sites. The herb also grows well on marshy soils and in spring meadows especially if they have some shaded areas. Once established at a site, the bugle is moderately resistant to drought and grows well in dry shade, but, prolonged moisture loss or severe drought can bring great stress on the plants and cause permanent damage. The seeds of the bugle are not always ripened as the plant does not always propagate by seeds. Bugle spreads far and freely by means of the many runners it gives off and can soon form an extensive patch under suitable conditions on the original site. The bugle comes in many varieties and number of these varieties have been selected for their ornamental value and are grown in gardens, several of these varieties are variegated and these forms are particularly used as ground cover plants for dry shade in many gardens and herbaria. Exposure to strong sunlight is not a problem for the purple-leafed form, the plant often called the 'Atropurpurea' provided that the soil at the site is not dry or lacking in moisture. The bugle is considered to be a plant which is beneficial for bees and butterflies - apiarist grow the bugle as a source of nectar for bees.

The bugle can be propagated using the seeds. The seeds must be sown in the spring or in the fall on a cold frame if germination is to be assured. Bugle seeds normally take three or four weeks at 10°C to germinate, though the rate of germination can be erratic at most times. Once the seeds have germinated and seedlings emerge, each seedling can be prick out as soon as they grow large enough to handle and planted out in individual sites during the summer. The runners undergo division any time of the year and a plant at one site can spread out fairly rapidly over an area through the runners. Propagation through the use of the runners is quite easy; the divided runners can be planted straight out into the sites they will permanently occupy if necessary to negate crowding.

Constituents

Bugle contains iridoid glycosides including harpagide, which is also found in devil's claw.

Usual dosage

Bugle infusion: this infusion can be prepared by pouring a cup of boiling water on a teaspoonful of the dried herb and allowing the herb to infuse into the water for ten to fifteen minutes, drain and cool the liquid. Once strain, the infusion can be drunk thrice everyday for alleviating various ailments.
Bugle tincture: the tincture of the herb can be taken at doses of 1-2ml thrice daily for relieving a wide variety of symptoms caused by nervous disorders.

Collection and harvesting

Bugle should ideally be harvested in the period immediately preceding the opening of the floral buds in spring.

Combinations

The remedies made from bugle can be used with herbal nervines such as the skullcap or the valerian herbs.

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