Herb Library

Back to Herb Menu     Back to Index

DISCLAIMER: These pages are presented solely as a source of INFORMATION and ENTERTAINMENT and to provide stern warnings against use where appropriate. No claims are made for the efficacy of any herb nor for any historical herbal treatment. In no way can the information provided here take the place of the standard, legal, medical practice of any country. Additionally, some of these plants are extremely toxic and should be used only by licensed professionals who have the means to process them properly into appropriate pharmaceuticals. One final note: many plants were used for a wide range of illnesses in the past, but be aware that many of the historical uses have proven to be ineffective for the problems to which they were applied.

aka Bean trefoil, Bitter root, Bitterkleeblatter (Ger), Bitterworm, Bocke (Dutch), Bocksbohne (Ger), Bog myrtle,
Bog nut, Boonan (Dutch), Brook bean, Buckbean, Marsh clover, Marsh trefoil, Moon flower, Scharbocks-klee (Ger),
Trébol (Sp), Trefle d' eau (Fr), Trefoil, Water shamrock, Water trefoil

(Menyanthes trifoliata)
[shu cai]

• Large doses of the root cause vomiting and purging.
• Irritating to digestive system in people with gastric inflammation and infection.
• Excess causes vomiting.
• Not to be taken by those with diarrhea, dystentary, or colitis.

CONTAINS: Bitter glycosides, alkaloids, coumarins, saponin, essentail oil, flavanoids, pectin; aromadendrine, betulinic acid (antitumor), cadinene, choline, cineole, dihydrofoliamenthin, foliamenthin, gentianidine, gentialutine, gentianine, gentiatibetine, gurjunene, invertin, loganin, meliatin, meliatoside, menthiafolin, menyanthin (increases gastric secretions), scopoletin, secologanin, alpha-spinasterol, stigmast-7-enol, trifolioside and vitamin C.

A perennial to 18 inches found growing in marshlands, shorelines, and ditches throughout the northern hemisphere. Trifoliate leaves, alternate, elliptic to ovate, on long petioles arise from a thick, black, creeping rootstock which is scaly with old leaf scars; flowers pale pink with red stamens borne in a thick spike at ends of axillary scapes to 1 foot long, corolla white to purple with a white beard to 1 inch across, appearing in early spring to early summer; fruit is a seed resembling a bean. Often found in company of Pitcher Plant and Sundew. Its common name is derived from the appearance of its leaves which are said to be similar to those of the broad bean. Found in North America from Canada south to Virginia and west to Ohio and Missouri. A smaller variety is found in the east and northern central United States. Once included in the Canadian list of medicinal plants. The species name is derived from 2 Greek words meaning month and flower.

Was official in the USP from 1820 to 1842 and in the NF from 1916 to 1926.

PROPAGATION: By seed in spring; by stem cutting, by division of rhizomes in spring.
NEEDS: An ornamental grown in shallow, acid water or wet soil in sun; spacing is 18 inches.
FLOWERS: May to July.
HARVEST: Leaves while plant is flowering (dried for in infusions, liquid extracts, and tinctures).
PART USED: Dried leaves, dried root, dried rhizome


When fresh emetic, cathartic. When dry bitter tonic (akin to Gentian), diuretic, anti-inflammatory, cathartic, deobstruent, depurative, diaphoretic, emetic, emmenagogue, febrifuge, intoxicant, laxative, nervine, cholagogue, stimulates digestion, improves lympathic drainage, and vermifuge. In Traditional Chinese medicine it is has been used as a hypnotic, narcotic and sedative in fevers. Root was once used in cases of intermittent fever.
Has been used as a substitute for Great Yellow Gentian (Gentiana lutea).
Has been used internally for indigestion, problems of the liver and gall bladder (infusion), hepatitis, anorexia (appetite stimulant - works by stimulating production of saliva and gastric juices), arthritis, gout (juice of the plant mixed with whey), dyspepsia, migraine (infusion), rheumatism, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, muscular weakness in myalgic encephalomyelitis, chronic infections, scrofula, scurvy, joint and muscular pain (combined with Bugbane (Cimicifuga racemosa) or Celery (Apium graveolens). Was used in Candian folk medicine for rheumatism. The finely powdered leaves were used for ague.
In Chinese folk medicine it has been used for cancer, dropsy (juice of leaves), dyspepsia (either alone or combined with wormwood, centaury, or sage; also for sluggish liver), eruptions, fever, flu, gout, hemoptysis, jaundice, rheumatism, scurvy, skin ailments and worms.
Tincture has been said to be useful in stubborn skin conditions. At one time, skin diseases were treated by drinking 1 pint of the infusion daily, split up during the day, for several weeks.
Has been used externally for ulcerous sores, rheumatism, glandular swellings, and herpes.
Diorcorides recommended it to be taken with mead or honeyed water for coughs and chest pains, also for weak liver and spitting blood.
Some early North American settlers fermented it with malt liquor for an antiscorbutic drink.
The root was boiled, then the liquid drunk (taking nothing else until a cure was effected) by the Illinois-Miami tribes for looseness of the bowels and for bloody flux. The Kwakiutls washed the stems and roots, broke them in pieces, then boiled them to decoction and gave 3 times daily for spitting blood and other internal diseases.

!All others buy commercial preparations and follow directions carefully!
TOTAL DAILY DOSE = 1½ to 3 tsp (dependant on size and weight).
LEAVES = 20 to 60 grains
WINE TINCTURE = Macerate 1/3 oz (10 grams) herb in 3.5 oz (100 ml) red wine; 1½ tsp taken up to 3 times daily.
TINCTURE = 1 to 2 ml 3 times daily, or 5 to 20 drops.
SIMPLE INFUSION = Combine 1 to 2 tsp dried leaves in 1 cup boiling water; steep 10 minutes; strain; 1/2 cup taken unsweetned before each meal, 3 times daily.
COMPOUND INFUSION = (Used as anti-inflammatory) Combine 2 parts bogbean, 1 part each black cohosh or celery seed; 1 tsp combined herbs steeped 10 min in 1 cup boiling water.
DECOCTION (root/rhizome) = 1 tsp dried and finely cut herb to 1 cup boiling water; simmer gently 10 minutes; taken cold, 1 mouthful at a time throughout the day.
COLD EXTRACT = 2 tsp leaves to 1 cup water; let stand 8 hours; strain.
TONIC DRINK = 1 handful leaves steeped in 1 pint boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes, then strained and cooled; one wineglass full (2 oz) taken daily.
POWDER = (Purgative in large doses) 1/2 to 1 tsp, 3 times daily.

Used for diabetes, headache, urinary problems.

Rot in sheep.
Vermifuge (1/2 oz daily) for young or sick animals: leaves cut and made into pills with flour and honey, then given when animal is fasting.
For rheumatism and cramp, 1 pint of juice is mixed with 3 parts whey and used externally.
Tonic (1 handful of leaves daily) for farm animals: leaves are cut and mixed with bran and molasses.
Also used for: digestive ailments, nervous ailments, debility, and dropsy.

Once used in salads and sandwiches in spring to accompany cheese and/or pickles.
At one time it was used occasionally to flavor beer when other bitters were unavailable.
Leaves have been used in Sweden for brewing (2 oz replacing 1 lb of hops).

An infusion has been used as a wash in winter to keep skin clear of blemishes.

Dried leaves have been included in herbal smoking mixtures.

©2000 & 2004 by Ernestina Parziale, CH