Tormentil (Potentilla erecta)

Tormentil is a common plant found abundantly on hills and in meadows. It is recognisable by its small yellow flowers - four heart-shaped petals with leaves divided at the base of the plant. The plant flowers between June and September. The roots are mainly used and are collected in summer or early autumn.

Tormentil, known as Néalfartach in Irish. Neal in Irish means Depression or Gloom while Fartach means Hurt or Injury. It was known in Co Cork as Lus an Chodlata meaning a Herb for Sleep and Neal Codladh meaning Snooze or Wink of Sleep suggesting that it was used as a plant used for promoting rest.

Long ago, the roots were boiled in milk for the treatment of diarrhoea. Farmers in Kilkenny used it as a cure for scour in cattle. Decoctions of the herb were also used to heal foot rot in sheep.

Tormentil has a very high content of tannins. Tannins "knit" together proteins. Because of this, it is ideal for all cases of diarrhoea caused by infections or inflammations and for relieving gastritis and enteritis. The root contains antiseptic properties. An important use for Tormentil in the past was the treatment of severe burns. The high content of tannins in Tormentil enabled a protective antiseptic seal to form, protecting the flesh temporarily. Decoctions of the root were also used as a gargle for sore gums, mouth ulcers and to fasten loose teeth. Externally a strong decoction was used to treat piles. Long ago in rural Ireland a soothing mixture was made with St John's Wort to promote sleep.

In the early 1700's, Ireland suffered a shortage of trees and the Irish government awarded £200 to William Maple for discovering that leather could be tanned using Tormentil roots. Two years later he published a pamphlet with his findings entitled -"A Method of Tanning without Bark". Later in the 18th century when again trees were scarce, tanners were encouraged to obtain tannin from Tormentil roots through a scheme organised by the Royal Dublin Society.

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