Canadian Lousewort

Pedicularis canadensis

Herbs gallery - Canadian Lousewort

Common names

  • Canadian Lousewort
  • Common Lousewort
  • Forest Lousewort
  • High Heal-All
  • Snaffles

A flowering plant, the Canadian lousewort (scientific name Pedicularis canadensis) is a member of the Orobanchaceae family. The common genus name of the species has its origin in the erroneous belief that if animals grazed on this plant, they would be infested by lice. Canadian lousewort is found growing naturally in arid, open woodlands and thickets all over Canada as well as the United States. This is a low-growing plant covered with fine hairs and it produces tube-shaped, hooded flowers at the apex of the stalk, which is segmented.

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The leaves of Pedicularis canadensis are soft, long and hairy. Several leaves are basal emerging tufted from the plants roots. The leaves are also jagged at the margins and have deep incisions, which usually have a reddish hue. Bees have a preference for the Canadian lousewort flowers, which bloom during the period between April and June. These flowers appear in a wide range of hues varying from purplish-red to greenish-yellow and are clustered on small, crowded spikes. The flowers give way to elongated, brown-hued capsule like fruits. Interestingly, this species is basically a parasite that grows on the roots of various different plant species. Despite their parasitic nature, these plants also possess the ability to grow individually when there is no suitable host.

Different from other completely parasitic plants, Canadian lousewort is able to absorb some amount of water as well as minerals from the soil via its roots. This plant also bears green leaves that enclose chlorophyll, which is essential for plants to produce their food by themselves from carbohydrates via a process called photosynthesis.

Pedicularis canadensis is a hairy, short plant that grows up to a height of anything between 5 inches and 14 inches. Each plant has a maximum of five perpendicular branchless stems growing in a clump. The flowers of Canadian lousewort appear in clusters of 10 to 20 each. Harvest the whole Canadian lousewort plant when it is in bloom, dry it out and preserve the herb for use when needed.

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Canadian lousewort flowers are mainly pollinated by bees. The tubular structure of these flowers is not only interesting, but it also helps to spread the pollens to be picked up by bees. When a bee enters a Canadian lousewort flower to collect nectar, the insect chafes against a protuberance on the flower's upper lip. Consequently, the back of the bee is dusted with pollen. When the same bee visits other flowers, it transfers the pollens from its back to those flowers.

Parts used

Leaves, roots, stems.

Uses

American Indians have used an infusion prepared from the roots of Canadian lousewort to treat variety of health conditions, including diarrhea, stomach aches, heart problems and anemia. In addition, they used the infusion to prepare a poultice and applied it to heal sore muscles, swellings and tumours. Infusions made from this plant's roots have also been employed for promoting digestion as well as treating problems related to the stomach. On the other hand, the leaves and stems of Pedicularis canadensis are consumed after cooking like a pot herb.

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This herb is also used in the form of an anodyne, emmenagogue, aphrodisiac, cardiac remedy, poultice, anti-tumour medication and blood tonic in alternative medicine. A therapeutic infusion prepared from the roots of Canadian lousewort is also used for treating anemia, heart problems, and cardiac conditions. This infusion is also effective for treating bloody diarrhea, stomach aches and ulcers.

A therapeutic poultice prepared from the crushed root of Pedicularis canadensis is applied to tumours, varicose veins, sore muscles and swellings. In addition, the roots of this herb are grated finely and included in foods to serve as an aphrodisiac.

An infusion prepared with the dried herb or its fresh leaves have been traditionally used to cure tonsillitis, sore throat, cough and even bronchitis. This infusion is also useful for treating dizziness, headaches, pains related to the bladder, urinary tract and kidneys. Take a piece of clean cloth and dip or rinse it in a potent medicinal decoction prepared from Canadian lousewort and use it to ward of animals as well as prevent scabies and lice infestation.

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The root of Canadian lousewort was referred to as the "enticer root" by a section of Native Americans, who carried the roots of this herb and used it in the form of a charm when they were determined on seducing someone. Moreover, they also used this root to solve problematic marriages. For this purpose, the root was place on the couple's food and when both would consume the root, the natives believed that it would rekindle love between the couple.

Native Americans have been using an herbal tea made from the roots of Canadian lousewort to treat internal swellings. In addition, they also used a poultice made from the root of the herb to treat external swellings. This infusion also helped the Native Americans to cure various other problems, including coughs, and digestive disorders. In the early days, herbal healers believed that the whole Canadian lousewort plant served as an astringent, tonic and sedative.

An infusion prepared from the leaves of this herb has been traditionally used by the Native Americans to ensure forced abortion. An infusion made from the fresh or dried out leaves of Canadian lousewort has been effectively been employed for treating sore throats.

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Members of the Iroquois community consume this herb in the form of a vegetable, in the same manner as we eat spinach. Early settlers in Canada also consumed this herb by adding it to their soups. In addition, the Native Americans add this herb to their oat meals and also feed their horses using the herb.

Habitat and cultivation

Canadian lousewort is found growing naturally in thickets, damp open woodlands, along the sides of roads, and clearings. This plant needs moist soils with proper drainage and areas that are in full sunlight to semi-shaded locations. Almost all the growth as well as development of Canadian lousewort take place in spring. Nevertheless, the leaves of this herb remain green all through the summer.

The seeds of Canadian lousewort are among the most difficult to germinate. If you want to propagate plants of this species from their seeds, you need to first stratify them in a refrigerator. However, if you sow these seeds outdoors during the fall in places having cold weather conditions, the environmental conditions will naturally help to stratify the seeds. Ideally, you should mix Canadian lousewort with moist sand, peat moss or vermiculite and then sow them. In fact, opting for silica sand will be a wonderful choice. If you are sowing large quantities of seeds, ideally use the rough quality of vermiculite. Put the combination inside a plastic bag with a zipper or any container that can be sealed and store it in a refrigerator at temperatures between 33°F and 38°F. In case the seeds are stored in a good moist stratification for a very long period, some of them may even germinate while in storage. Such sprouts need to be planted right away.

Pedicularis canadensis plants need a host plant since this species is basically hemi-parasitic in nature. As far as host plant for Canadian lousewort is concerned, sedges and low-growing grasses are excellent. Some of the plants you can choose for this purpose include buffalo grass or sweet grass. You can organize a parasitic bond by sowing the seeds in the midst of the host plant's damaged roots. You can achieve this by creating an incision at the host plant's base, where you can sow the seeds of pedicularis. In order to achieve this you need to also rake an area around the host plant. In case the host plant has been recently transplanted, it is likely to offer an attractive set-up to the pedicularis to bond with the host plant.

Constituents

Chemical analysis of the Canadian lousewort (Pedicularis canadensis) has revealed that this herb contains a number of compounds that are beneficial for our health. Its constituents include chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, betulinic acid, betaine, rosmarinic acid, harpagide and tannins.

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