What is Figwort?
Figwort, known scientifically as Scrophularia nodosa, is a pernnial herb belonging to the Scrophulariaeceae family. Figwort goes by a number of other common names including woodland figwort, knotted figwort, throatwort, rosenoble, carpenter’s square, scrophula plant and kernelwort.
It may not be among the best-known of herbal remedies but figwort contains a number of active compounds that make it beneficial for a range of conditions from rheumatism and arthritis to constipation and skin health.
The common figwort can be found growing wild across Europe and Western Asia and while not among the most popular garden plants, it can sometimes be seen adorning gardens.
The plant grows over a meter in height up to a maximum of around 120 centimeters. Figwort has horizontal rhizomes with bulbous joints and shoots on the sides. Figwort has smooth, upright stems with dark green, heart-shaped leaves. Its flowers are mostly green with reddish colored upper lips.
When it comes to its medicinal uses, both the leaves and the stems are harvested in summer while the plant is blooming. These leaves and stems are then dried to be used in tinctures, liquid extracts and topical ointments.
Chemical Composition of Figwort
The reason that figwort is used to make medicine is due to the plant’s diverse range of chemical compounds. These include amino acids, flavonoids, saponins, phytosterols, fatty acids, cardiac glycoside and asparagine.
The plant also contains a number of phenolic acids including vanillic acid, ferulic acid, cinnamic acid and caffeic acid.
Many of these substances have been well studies and are known to have a variety of health benefits including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions.
Medicinal History of Figwort
The scientific name is derived from one of the traditional uses of the plant. In the past, it was used as a natural remedy for scrofula which is a tuberculosis infection affecting the neck’s lymph nodes.
There is no evidence that figwort was effective in treating scrofula. In days gone by, herbalists believed that plants could treat illnesses affecting a body part that they resembled. The bulbous shape of the figwort rhizomes looks similar to swollen glands hence the plant’s historical use and its scientific name.
During the Middle Ages, figwort was used to treat a range of inflammatory disorders and was also believed to be an effective remedy for tumors.
These days, figwort is still used by some herbalists to treat a variety of health issues. It is believed to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, diuretic and mild analgesic properties.
Health Benefits of Figwort
Figwort does not have the number of uses that many herbs are renowned for. Nevertheless, it is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties which can help treat several conditions including arthritis and joint pain. It may also have natural diuretic effects that can help treat urinary tract infections and bladder issues. It is also applied topically to treat a host of common inflammatory skin conditions.
Whether or not, figwort acts as a natural diuretic is open to debate. There are no scientific studies that prove the effect of the claim but the herb has long been used to help promote urine production and to relieve bloating.
Diuretics or water pills are often prescribed to treat urinary tract infections, bladder infections and kidney complaints. Figwort may have similar effects but further studies are necessary.
Joint Pain and Arthritis
According to studies, figwort contains over 200 compounds including terpenoids and iridoids. (1) These compounds have demonstrated anti-inflammatory potential which may be the reason that the herb has often been used to treat people with joint pain including rheumatism and arthritis.
Inflammatory Skin Conditions
While no studies have been done into the effects of using figwort topically, it is likely that this traditional use owes much to the anti-inflammatory compounds found in the herb.
Figwort has also been used traditionally and is still used today to treat hemorrhoids naturally. According to studies, many of the compounds found in figwort can help reduce inflammation and irritation while they may also help heal wounds and sores. (1)
Figwort is also used internally to help detoxify the system. Again, there is no scientific evidence for this use but proponents believe that the herb can help flush the toxins from the body and stimulate the health of the lymphatic system.
One of the traditional uses of figwort was as a treatment for the cold. It is often combined with peppermint or lemon balm for greater effect. It is possible that the herb’s anti-inflammatory actions can help relieve swelling and irritation in the nasal passage helping people to breathe more comfortably.
Animal studies suggest that figwort may have anti-spasmodic actions that could help ease muscular spasms and cramps. The study published in 2012 found that extracts isolated from the herb helped promote muscle relaxation in rabbit’s intestines. (2)
How to use Figwort
Figwort is available in several supplementary forms including liquid extract and tinctures. It can also be consumed in the form of a tea. Ready made, figwort tea leaves as well as loose leaves are available online and possibly in your health stores.
There is no reliable data available regarding dosage so pay careful attention to any product labels and consult an expert if you are not sure.
Side Effects and Precautions
As is the case with the vast majority of herbal remedies, you need to take care before using figwort. There is insufficient data regarding its safety so it is important to speak with your doctor before taking it orally or applying it topically.
No serious adverse side effects have been reported but there are still a number of precautions you should be aware of.
- In very large doses, figwort may cause diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.
- Pregnant women should not use figwort. There is no data regarding its safety for the unborn child and women pregnant women should err on the side of caution and avoid using it.
- There is also no safety data regarding the effects of figwort on breast-fed infants. If you are breast-feeding, avoid using figwort.
- Do not give figwort to your children.
- Figwort is closely related to Digitalis purpurea commonly known as foxglove. Both of these plants contain cardiac glycosides which may affect your heart. While figwort contains considerably smaller levels of these compounds, you should still be careful when you use the plant internally. It should be avoided completely by people with any type of heart condition since it may make the condition even worse.
- Figwort may affect blood sugar levels. Do not use if you have diabetes.
- Avoid using figwort if you are using lithium. Figwort may have diuretic effects which can decrease the body’s ability to deal with lithium. This can affect the amount of lithium left in the body resulting in serious adverse side effects.
- Avoid using figwort if you are using diuretic medications or ‘water pills’. Because figwort may have diuretic properties, taking it along with another diuretic medication can cause problems. Diuretics can decrease the amount of potassium in your system and using figwort at the same time may deplete your potassium levels even more.
- Figwort is an herb that has been traditionally used for a number of conditions including joint pain and to rid the body of excess water.
- Figwort can be applied topically to help treat a range of inflammatory skin conditions.
- Figwort contains compounds with anti-inflammatory properties and may also work as a natural diuretic.
- Not a great deal of research has been done into the effects of figwort on specific conditions.
- Because of its purported diuretic effects, figwort may interact with certain medications.