Wallflower

Cheiranthus cheiri

Herbs gallery - Wallflower

Common names

  • English Wallflower
  • Handflower
  • Wallflower

Wallflower is a perennially growing herb that survives for a short duration. This plant has straight stems that grow up to 2.5 feet in height, while the slender oblong to sword-shaped leaves are approximately three inches in length and appear alternately on the erect stem. The herb produces aromatic flowers during the period May-June. Each of these flowers is about one inch in diameter and has four smoothed petals whose colors vary from yellow to orange to yellowish brown. Similar to other plants belonging to the class of mustards, wallflower also produces long and slender siliques or pods containing numerous seeds following the flowering season. These siliques appear in drawn out clusters at the stem terminals.

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It is interested to know that even young women who are marginalized to sidelines or deemed insignificant at social gatherings are also generally called wallflowers, possibly owing to the fact that they, similar to the herb, have a tendency to cling to the walls. However, in times of yore, this sweet perfumed flower was associated with things more romantic. According to a fable, in the 14th century Scotland, the daughter of the Earl of March, Elizabeth had dropped a wallflower from the window of her castle as a gesture to her darling, who was the son of adversary kinfolk, indicating that she was prepared to elope. Nevertheless, it is unfortunate that when she tried to escape from the castle, she fell and died. On his part, Elizabeth's forlorn lover put a wallflower in his cap and departed from Scotland for good. Henceforth, this plant came to be known as a sign of misfortune in love.

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From the time of the ancient Greek physician Galen (around 130-200 AD), medical practitioners have accepted the therapeutic attributes of wallflower. In those times, the doctors prescribed wallflower to ease pain during childbirth, stimulate menstruation, purify the kidneys and liver as well as resolve cataract problems. Nicholas Culpeper, the 17th century English herbalist, has also talked about the effectiveness of wallflower in treating palsy and apoplexy (an unexpected, typically noticeable loss of bodily function owing to rupture of a blood vessel). During the early part of the 20th century, pharmacologists had found that the seeds, leaves and flowers of wallflower enclose a substance, akin to digitalis, which works on the heart. For this particular reason, wallflower is not recommended for household use.

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Parts used

Leaves, flowers, seeds.

Uses

While previously wallflower was used as a diuretic to promote flow of urine, still there is no clear idea or understanding regarding the herb's potent effect on the heart. When taken in small or measured doses, wallflower works as a cardio-tonic promoting a failing heart in a way akin to foxglove. However, when taken in excess or large doses, wallflower is deadly and, hence, it is used rarely.

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The flowers as well as the stems of this herb possess anti-rheumatic, cardio-tonic, antispasmodic, emmenagogue (a medication that promotes menstruation), purgative, nervine (a medication that relieves nervous disorders) and resolvent (any remedy that eases swelling or inflammation) properties. Medications prepared with these parts of the wallflower are used to treat impotence and palsy/ paralysis. Usually, the essential oil obtained from the leaves, flowers and stems of the herb is used for this therapeutic purpose. It may be noted that the herb encloses a chemical substance called cheiranthin that is a potent cardio-tonic and is even stronger compared to digitalis, which is obtained from species belonging to Digitalis). When taken in large doses, wallflower is toxic and hence, this plant ought not to be used as a remedy without the supervision of an expert medical practitioner.

The seeds of wallflower are aphrodisiac, expectorant, diuretic, stomachic (beneficial for stomach/ digestive process) and tonic. In addition, the seeds of the herb are often used to treat fever, dry bronchitis and even eye injuries.

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Habitat and cultivation

Wallflower is indigenous to the southern regions of Europe, but currently it is found growing all over the continent. This herb usually grows on old walls and cliffs and is considered to be a natural garden plant. Wallflower plant has a preference for light or sandy, medium/ loamy and heavy or clay soils. While it needs a properly drained soil, the plant can also grow in soils containing less nutritional substances. It is important to note that wallflower is unable to thrive in shade.

Wallflower is propagated through its seeds. The seeds are usually sown during the period between the later part of May and August. The optimum germination temperature is 20°C. It is essential that the seedlings of wallflower should germinate within three weeks of sowing. In the event of sowing the seeds in trays, prick out the seedlings individually and put them into small trays or pots till they are ready for being transplanted. On the other hand, you may sow the wallflower seeds sparsely straight away into a nursery bed. What ever may be the process you adopt, transfer the young plants to their permanent places outdoors in the early part of autumn and after the summer bedding has been completed. It is essential to move the young wallflower plants from their containers to flower beds in the autumn.

It is important to leave a space of around 30 cm or 12 inches between two plants approximately. Prick out the growing tips while planting to promote bushy growth of the plants. At the end of each spring, the plants ought to be removed when flowering has finished and substituted by annuals for sequence of colour.

Remember, this herb is vulnerable to grey mould, a fungal disease of the plants, which has the potential to attack the plant if they are kept indoors for longer periods during winters and if the humidity is extremely high. This plant disease may be treated by removing the parts affected and also spraying the plant with fungicide.

If you find that the plants have a stunted growth, be certain that it is an indication of club root that can develop when wallflower plants are grown in the same place for many years together. This disease is also caused by a fungus present in the compost and leads to awfully distended and distorted roots. When the plant develops this disease, the leaves wither away gradually and eventually drop off. The only way to get rid of the problem is to remove and burn the affected plants.

During winter, the side shoots and, usually the whole plant, whither owing to damages caused by frost and eventual formation of grey moulds - a fungal disease in plants. In case you have purchased young wallflower plants from any nursery, plant them in their permanent positions outdoors as soon as possible in autumn and provide them with a complete fertilizer in the compost.

As aforementioned, wallflower is indigenous to the old walls, sea cliffs and quarries in southern parts of Europe. Since this herb is found growing naturally on old walls, they are referred to as the wallflower. However, the wallflower plant that is grown in the gardens is not the type found growing in the wild. The garden wallflower is possibly a complex hybrid that has been derived from species growing in southern Europe. Wallflower is among the most popular plants and has been naturalized in several areas of Britain. Although this herb is actually perennial in nature, it is generally considered to be a biennial plant. The plant is of bushy nature having erect stems and produces aromatic flowers that are approximately 2.5 cm or one inch in diameter. They, especially the assortment of plants of garden origin, have yellow or brownish-yellow hue, but may also range from off-white to pink, orange, crimson, scarlet and even terra-cotta.

Generally, the flowers of wallflower plant are arranged in a loose inflorescence or raceme and are found in various shades of yellow, reddish-brown and even deep violet and streaked. Flowers of this plant are extensively used for bedding and are also useful as cut flowers and for containers.

Constituents

Chemical analysis of the wallflower has revealed that the herb encloses cheiranthin as well as other different cardio-active glycosides.

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