Viper’s bugloss – characteristics, cultivation and use

A hummingbird hawkmoth visits a viper's bugloss
A hummingbird hawkmoth visits a viper's bugloss

The beautiful viper’s bugloss is a true insect magnet with its stately size of up to one meter (40 in). Its blue flowers attract huge numbers of bees, bumblebees, beetles and butterflies. The beauty with its bristle-like stems and rough leaves manage with barren soils. It even charms rubble places and train tracks with their presence. The flowers should remind of the head of a snake, the split style in turn to the adder tongue – hence the unusual name for this plant. It can relieve many skin problems, colds and headaches.

Profile of viper’s bugloss:

Scientific name: Echium vulgare

Plant family: borage family (Boraginaceae), forget-me-nots

Other names: blueweed

Sowing time / Planting time: February – March

Flowering period: May – August

Harvest time: May – October

Useful plant parts: leaves, flowers, roots

Location: sunny

Soil quality: permeable and nutrient-poor soils

These information are for temperate climate!

Use as a medicinal herb: boils, external inflammation, dry skin, depression

Use as aromatic herb: quarks, cream cheese, salads

Plant characteristics and classification of viper’s bugloss

Origin and occurrence of the common viper’s bugloss

The common viper’s bugloss is widespread throughout Europe. It is also native to western Asia. As a typical pioneer plant, it likes to colonize sandy-loamy ruderal areas and occurs mainly in humus-poor dry grasslands.

Plant order of viper’s bugloss

The biennial wild plant belongs to the borage family (Boraginaceae), which demonstrates the bristly hair on stems and leaves. The genus Echium includes over 60 species, several of which are garden-relevant. But none is as straightforward in care and use as the viper’s bugloss.

Look and characteristics of viper’s bugloss


The common viper’s bugloss is a typical herbaceous plant that can reach heights of growth up to one meter (40 in). The plant is biennial and adapted to dry locations.


The leaves are narrow to lanceolate and strongly hairy in all places. The size of the leaves decreases from bottom to top. Its base leaves are arranged in a rosette.


Viper’s bugloss forms strikingly blue to dark blue colored flowers, which are still pink at the beginning of the flowering. From the funnel-shaped flowers also protrude violet stamens, which differ in color from the petals. The plant usually flowers from early May to late August. The plant is an insect attracting plant, including various bees, bumblebees and butterflies.


The fruits are schizocarps, which later disintegrate into four small partial fruits and contain the seeds. They are spread by the wind or humans and animals.

a viper's bugloss plant
a viper’s bugloss plant

Viper’s bugloss – cultivation and care


Viper’s bugloss prefers a dry, well-drained and full-sun setting. Ideal are gravel beds or dry slopes. It also gets along in the perennial flowerbed, however, it is short-lived on nutrient-rich soil.


On a dry, well drained soil, viper’s bugloss feels most comfortable. On the other hand, it does not like waterlogging.


The Viper’s bugloss should be placed in a sufficiently deep planting hole because of its taproot. The permeability of heavy soils can be increased by the addition of grit or sand. A planting distance of 40 cm (16 in) between each plant should be kept. After planting, carefully water and pay attention to a steady supply of water during the following weeks.


Only in the early days it is important to pay attention to a good water supply for viper’s bugloss. After growing, it is completely easy to care for. Fertilizers do more harm than good. If you want the plant to be self-sown in the garden, have its seeds stand into winter. Otherwise, they are cut off near the ground after the end of the flowering period.


The easiest way to propagate is by sowing. To do this, sprinkle the seeds at the desired location in the garden. If it is sown in the autumn, it already forms its inflorescence in the coming year. Sowing in the spring, it blooms only in the following year. A preculture is possible, but not necessarily to be recommended, since viper’s bugloss forms its tap root shortly after germination and transplanting often does not work so well.


Viper’s bugloss are adapted to our climate, so no wintering needs to be taken.

Diseases and pests

The viper’s bugloss is almost never attacked by pests and even slugs despise it. If the weather is too humid, so its leaves can not dry out, it can cause mildew.

Viper’s bugloss and its use

The viper’s bugloss is rarely used in the kitchen and as a medicinal herb today. Gardeners in particular usually enjoy this plant because it attracts many important insects and is pretty to look at.

Viper’s bugloss in the kitchen

The leaves of the viper’s bugloss can be prepared as spinach and have a cucumber-like taste. However, the taste of cucumber is not nearly as distinctive here as it is with borage. For the preparation, especially the young leaves are used. The leaves are left to simmer in salt water with other herbs and then minced and steamed. Furthermore, the young leaves occasionally find use in wild herb salads.


Viper’s bugloss should not be eaten often or in large quantities because the substance Consolidin should not be good for the liver.

blue flowers of viper's bugloss
blue flowers of viper’s bugloss

Viper’s bugloss as a medicinal herb

Viper’s bugloss is in the pharmaceutical industry as well as no attention and in the natural medicine, it is largely unknown. Its healing properties are very similar to those of borage and comfrey.

In the past, however, the plant was used as a medicinal herb. In some herbal books, the plant is described as a “wild ox tongue”. The viper’s bugloss was recommended for wound healing of snakebites.

A viper’s bugloss ointment helps with sprains, strains and bruises. It is also possible to use fresh parts of plants, as described as a poultice, against these conditions.

Viper’s bugloss can be used for these ailments and diseases

  • boil
  • bruises
  • cough
  • fever
  • headache
  • purulent wounds
  • redness
  • snake bites
  • sprains
  • whitlow
  • wounds

Medicinal properties

  • diuretic
  • emollient
  • relieving
  • sweaty

The common viper’s bugloss is rich in linoleic acids and is therefore also used for skin-care creams in various cosmetics. Linoleic acids are essential nutrients that are able to produce anti-inflammatory substances in the body.

The common viper’s bugloss, like most other species of its genus, contains pyrrolidizine alkaloids, which in large quantities are toxic to the liver and kidneys.

Preparation of viper’s bugloss tea

Time needed: 10 minutes

This is how to prepare a viper’s bugloss tea by yourself

  1. put two teaspoons of fresh or dried viper’s bugloss herb in a tea strainer in ac up

  2. dash with boiling water

  3. leave do draw for 5 to 10 minutes

  4. if desired, sweeten with honey and drink in small sips

  5. the tea can be used against respiratory diseases and colds

  6. the tea should also help against headaches

Plant porridge as a wound plaster

Fresh plant parts are minced in a mortar or blender until a pulpy mass is formed. This can also be used to ripen boils and abscesses.

The porridge is applied on a cotton cloth and placed on the skin to be treated. Fixed with a gauze bandage, the plant can fully develop its effect.

Use of juice

The freshly squeezed juice of the plant can be applied to reddened and irritated skin.

As a poultice it helps against boils and abscesses.

Use of the root

The roots contain allantoin, like the roots of the comfrey.

Therefore, they can also be used in a similar manner as comfrey roots, for example, as an ointment or poultice against skin problems and injuries of the musculoskeletal system.


Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

Buy Viper’s bugloss – What is there to pay attention to?

Finished plants are hardly to be found due to the root behavior of the plant. Most success will bring a search on the internet. The price per plant is about 3 to 6 EUR/$.

Some producers offer seed from the viper’s bugloss. If you would like to cultivate it, you should pay attention to the botanical name Echium vulgare. In addition to these, more and more types are sometimes offered.

There are only a few products that use the plants components. The oil of the seeds is occasionally used for skin care products and is said to have anti-inflammatory properties there. Some sellers also sell pure echium oil, which is relatively expensive due to its rarity.

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