Formerly medicinal and dyeing plants, now ornamental and insect pasture: the common bugloss has a lot to offer. Here are tips for planting and care.
Profile of common bugloss:
Scientific name: Anchusa officinalis
Plant family: borage family (Boraginaceae), also forget-me-not family
Other names: alkanet
Sowing time: March to May
Planting time: March to October
Flowering period: June to September
Soil quality: sandy to loamy, moderately nutrient-rich to nutrient-rich, tolerates lime
These information are for temperate climate!
Use in: flower beds, overgrowth, borders, cottage garden, natural garden
Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 3 (-37 °C / -35 °F)
Bee and insect friendly: Yes
Plant characteristics and classification of common bugloss
Plant order, origin and occurrence of common bugloss
The common bugloss, botanically Anchusa officinalis, belongs to the family of the borage family (Boraginaceae). It grows wild in almost all of Central and Eastern Europe. But you can’t find them in Scandinavia, Great Britain, Italy and on the Iberian Peninsula. The plant is considered an archaeophyte, meaning that it was introduced to Europe before the discovery of America (1492) and then established itself independently. Locations that the common bugloss prefers to populate are dry field edges, waysides, abandoned areas and dumpings, vineyards and pastures. It also feels comfortable in higher altitudes – so it grows in the Alps to about 2,300 meters (7,500 ft). In natural gardens, it is still valued thanks to its beautiful, striking flowers.
Characteristics of common bugloss
The common bugloss is a biennial to perennial plant. A strong, black and wrinkled taproot grows underground up to over a meter (40 in) deep. Above ground, the herbaceous, usually single-shoot and hairy stems reach a height of 30 to 100 centimeters (12 to 40 in). They shimmer blue-green.
The foliage of Anchusa officinalis sits alternately on the shoots from the plant base to the inflorescence. The lower leaves are petiolate and become up to 20 centimeters (8 in) long, the upper ones sit directly on the stem and reach up to 10 centimeters (4 in). They are lanceolate to linear and also roughly hairy – they actually remind a little of “common buglosss”. The leaf margins are smooth or wavy.
The numerous buds form between June and September a richly branched inflorescence at the tip of the shoot. Each individual floret consists of five intergrown petals, which glow carmine when they bloom and then change color to a dark purple. This effect occurs because red cell sap flows through the epidermis of the plant, but through the layer below, the mesophyll, flows blue sap. In the middle of the flowers you can see a white eye made up of pharynx.
After pollination, small, four-part fruits, so-called schizocarps, are formed from each flower, each containing one seed.
Common bugloss – cultivation and care
If you want to put the common bugloss in the garden, it needs a place in full sun.
The plant places fewer demands on the soil. However, it should not be too low in nutrients and permeable enough, because occasional dry periods have a lesser effect on Anchusa officinalis than too much moisture. Locations with a very high lime content are also not suitable.
Plants bought in the pot can be planted from March to October. The optimal planting distance is 40 to 50 centimeters (16 to 20 in). Recommended is planting in mid-May to late June, as the plant is already blooming during the application and thus quickly beautifies the garden.
The best time for sowing Anchusa officinalis is between March and May.
Short dry phases don’t bother the common bugloss. From March to October, watering is therefore regular but moderate. It is best to wait until the top layer of soil has dried thoroughly before watering. In this way, they prevent root and plant neck decay due to waterlogging.
In early spring a dose of compost ensures sufficient nutrient replenishment.
The common bugloss is cut either after flowering or at the start of budding in spring. Prune the plant back to approximately a hand’s width and remove any withered leaves. If you cut the Anchusa officinalis after flowering, you can collect any remaining seeds. To do this, pinch off the corolla tube of the flowers and check for seeds.
The wild perennial is absolutely easy to care for. If the common bugloss is not to spread by self-sowing, it is cut back immediately after flowering.
Compared to some other Anchusa, the common bugloss has the advantage that it grows every year at a suitable location by self-sowing. You can support this process by removing wilted panicles from below the corolla tube, searching for seeds and sowing them at the desired spot in your garden.
Diseases and pests
The rather robust common buglosss can in some cases be infected by the cucumber mosaic virus, which causes leaf spots.
Common bugloss is hardy down to -37 °C / -35 °F. Winter protection is not necessary.
Use in the garden
The common bugloss fits wonderfully in natural gardens and decorates beds, gravel areas or sun-drenched wood edges. There it harmonises very well with other wild perennials with a wild character such as comfrey (Symphytum), dyer’s chamomile (Anthemis tinctoria), dog’s tongue (Cynoglossum officinale), crimson pincushion flower (Knautia macedonica), viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare) or catnip (Nepeta). With its flowers the common bugloss not only sets the table for butterflies, wild bees and bumblebees, its leaves are important food sources for the caterpillars of various (owlet-) moths. The young leaves have long been considered food for humans.
Common bugloss as a medicinal plant
All parts of the Anchusa officinalis plant were formerly used for medicinal purposes, although taken in large quantities are very toxic. For this reason, the use, in particular the root and the leaves, is often discouraged.
The roots of the common bugloss contain a red dye, which was used, for example, to visually enhance ointments and creams or to dye fabrics. This is where the folkloric name “bloodroot” comes from.
The leaves were made into ointments.
The blossoms that are still used today to decorate dishes or as tea against colds, fever and bronchitis are considered to be quite harmless. It is also said to have a calming and encouraging effect. Add a tablespoon of flowers to a cup of water and drink a maximum of three cups a day. However, the effect is considered controversial.
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