Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Rupture Wort

That place just betwixt excruciating pain,
And, “oh don’t worry, I will be fine,”
Twisted back, muscles stretched to the limit,
No pain worse, at least not at that time…

- From Rupture Zone by Ed Matlack

Pain motivates sufferers to seize upon any offer of relief. An astute physician near Devon, England, having studied the doctrine of signatures, might have mused upon the knotty little flower of a weed, thought, "Of a hernia it doth remind me", and offered it as a cure to a desperate patient. I'm only speculating, of course. But however it happened, it apparently worked, for the herb became known as Rupture Wort.

Rupture Wort is also known by its botanical name, Herniaria glabra. Certainly, its use was well-established before the scientific name was bestowed.  Linneaus himself might have carried a poultice wrapped in his truss, studied it and declared, "I shall call this Herniaria.

Herniaria is an unassuming little plant, prostrate and spreading, and no more than three inches high. The leaves are small and smooth. Flowers are insignificant. That it should have been so widely accepted as a medicinal plant is marvelous. Not only was it highly regarded as a treatment for hernia, but was valued as a cure for various bladder and kidney-related maladies such as dropsy, cystitis and kidney-stones. It has also been used as a healing poultice for ulcers. The Cincinnati Lancet - Clinic, Volume 16; Volume 55, p. 480, documented medicinal uses of Herniaria.

Whether for good or ill, Herniaria has fallen into disuse by physicians. Gardeners, however, have discovered less controversial applications. Because it produces an evergreen, practically indestructible mat, it is favored as a ground cover. Foliage turns bronze-red in winter. It's somewhat drought-tolerant, so is suitable for xeriscaping. Because it's very tolerant of foot traffic, Herniaria makes a wonderful lawn substitute. It's also beautiful cascading over walls. Herniaria grows at a reasonable rate, covering ground as a good ground cover should, but is easy to control. The mat is right dense, so tends to smother weeds very effectively. Some gardeners collect plants because of their special interests. Herniaria would be a good choice for medicinal herb gardens.

Herniaria thrives in full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 6 to 9, though some gardeners have reported it growing in zones 5 and 11. It tolerates a wide variety of soil types with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8.

Before you plant, take a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office for testing. The results will specify any soil amendments needed.

If your soil is not friable, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6 inches deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10 inches deep.  Compost may be incorporated into the soil.  Incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4 inches to 6 inches of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space the plants approximately 12 inches apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container.  Water the plants in the pots, then drain.  Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1 inch deep.

Though arguable whether Rupture Wort is actually an effective treatment for hernias, I should think that such a low-maintenance plant might take some of the ache out of gardening.

Return to Herniaria at goGardenNow.com.

1 comment:

Asaf Mazar said...

I live in a hot and arid region with very mild winters (no frost)

I am starting to experiment with using herniaria glabra as a living mulch under fruit trees and vegetable beds.
My primary interest is in using it for weed suppression as a non-aggressive, not water intensive living much under perennial and annual food plants.

So far, the plant seems very hardy and tolerant of neglect.

I am waiting for it to fill in under two fruit trees and a couple of garden bed border areas.

Next experiment will be to plant plugs in rows of widely spaced corn, with hopes that over time, the rupturewort will cover the entire row with a green mat, and future crops will benefit for competing only with this plant as opposed to tall, aggressive weeds.