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Common Name: Potentilla | Scientific Name: Potentilla Tormentil

Family Name: Rosaceae


When you apply tormentil to your skin in the case of a wound, its tannins have the ability to form an eschar or false scar, pulling the proteins together to create a seal. This closes off blood vessels, deadens nerve endings. This is a most excellent first aid plant!


Chapter from “Backyard Medicine Chest” by Dr. Douglas Schar

Chapter from “Backyard Medicine Chest” by Dr. Douglas Schar


Cuts, scrapes, ouchies, and the rest.

Accidents do happen and no medicine cabinet would be complete without some sort of first aide in good supply. When it comes to scratches, burns, and cuts, there are two issues at hand, the first is preventing infection and the second is reducing the pain that results from the wound. Americans spent 1.3 billion dollars on first aid accessories last year – don’t even attempt to calculate how many bandaids and first aid creme that would be! Suffice to say it would be a lot. Obviously we need a first class first aid plant in the cabinet and we have one.

Our last garden plant is tormentil, and it will readily take care of both problems. The name indeed hints of the power the plant contains, derived from the word potens, or powerful, the plant is question was deemed so effective the ancients called it potentilla, the little powerful one! One of my favorite herbalists, Gerarde, had this to say of it in 1597, “The decoction of the leaves and roots, is excellent good for all wounds, both outward and inward”. We wont be using it for inward wounds but we will be using for external wounds.

Tormentil actions in the arena of first aid is to do with the fact the plant contains tannins. “Tannins” are a series of chemicals produced by plants that man has made good use of for centuries. Oak galls contain high tannin contents and they were once used to make ink. As the name suggests, tannins were once and still are an integral part of the tanning of skins, or the processing of raw skin into leather. Tannins act in the same manner on your skin as they do on the skin of some animal who has had his removed – they toughen things up.

There are 150 species of tormentil, all of which are used for similar purposes. They are tannin rich and we use them for their tannins. Tannins are complex chemicals that are built up on a base of phenolic acid. Almost all plants produce them, some in greater quantities. Generally they are found in the stems, bark, leaves, and roots. Unripe fruits are loaded with tannins and some say the plants store tannins in the fruits to make the fruit unappealing until it is ripe and the seeds are mature and ready to be distributed. Tannins are as well stored in the protective layer in a plant, ie in the bark that covers a tree. Others say that tannins are indeed a waste product of the life process of the plant and get shipped to dead space such as in bark or in leaves about to drop off the tree. No one knows why tannins are produced but humanity has discovered what plants contain substantial quantities of them.

Chemically tannis have the ability to bind proteins together. To understand how tannins work we will have think imaginatively and I will do my best to make it fun. Your skin is made up of proteins but they dont exist in a solid sheet as you might imagine. The skin is more like a cocktail glass filled with ice and alcohol. The ice cubes represent the protein in your skin. Your skin is said to be a sea of lipids with protein ice bergs floating in it. When you apply tannins to the skin it is like pouring the liquid out of the glass. The action of tannins on skin is that of binding, it binds the proteins together. As the proteins are pulled together the lipid sea gets drained away and the icebergs freeze into a solid mass. In the process of the tanning of skins tannins bind proteins together and as a result the “leather” is of a tough consistency.

The same thing happens when you apply tannins to your skin, the proteins are pulled together. In the case of a wound, the proteins being pulled together results in seal. This seal doesn’t allow bacteria to enter into the body, seals off blood vessels, deadens nerve endings, and kills any bacteria that might be hanging about.

The body is a pretty clever thing, though it appears to have openings to the outside world it is indeed sealed tight to bacteria, fungus, and virus. The problem with a wound is that it offers an opening into the body, an opening that some nasty critter is looking for. Tormentil has the ability to seal of the body by forming a eschar or false scar – with the proteins pulled tightly together there is no access for invaders.

When it comes to dealing with a wound, sealing up the wound isn’t enough. When you have a wound you want to kill off any bacteria that might be hanging around the site just looking for an entre into the body. Gerard said this about tormentil, ” The leaves and roots boiled in wine, or the juice thereof drunken provoketh sweat, and by that means driveth out all venome form the heart, expelleth poison, and preserveth the bodie in time of pestilence form the infection thereof, and all other infectious diseases.” Though bacteria had yet to be discovered gerarde noticed that infection due to pestilience could be knocked out with the use of tormentil.

The tannins contained in tormentil very effectively kill of bacteria.

When an accident first happens the primary concern tends to be stopping the bleeding and tormentil will do this in short order. Gerard said this, “It stoppeth the spitting of blook, pissing of blood, and all other issues of blood, as well in men as women.”

The decoction of the leaves and the roots , or the iuice thereof drunke, is excellent good for all wounds, both outward and inward. Blood vessels are also made of protein and the tannins seal them off nicely.

Culpepper, another old English herbalist found that tormentil was a great plant to have around when you need a little body sealing. “Tormenil is most excellent to stay all fauces of blood or humours, whether at the nose, mouth or belly. The juice of the herb and root, or the decoction therof, taken with some venice treacle and the person laid to sweat expel any venom or poison, or the plague, fever, or other contagious disease, as the pox, measles, etc. for it is an ingredient in all antidotes and counterpoisons. It resiteth putrefecation. Tormentil is no less effectual and poweful a remedy against outward wounds, sores, and hurts than for inward and is therefore a special ingredient to get used in wound drink, lotion, and injections. It is also effectual for piles, the juice or powder of the root, put into ointments , plasters, and such things that are applied to wounds or soures is very efffectual.”

Apart from sealing a wound up, chemicals contained in the plant are as well thought to speed the healing process – specifically the knitting of tissue together. Hence Culpepper’s suggestion it be included in ointments and plasters.

As to the pain element of wounds tormentil does a nice job here as well – for the same reasons. Nerve endings are made of protein and the tannins bind these up and makes it impossible for them to ship messages of pain to the brain.

Now how do you use tormentil in the home disaster department? The easiest way is to make a tincture of tormentil or to buy tormentil tincture from the nature food store and keep it in the medicine chest. If you want to make your own tincture, look in the back of the book under the making tincture section.

Otherwise, once you have your tincture in your cabinet and an accident happens, simply drop few drops of the tincture on the wound and cover with a bandaid. When you change the bandaid put a few more drops on the wound. Keep this up and in a matter of no time a scab will form and you will be well on your way to perfect healing.

Getting your herb:
1. Purchase the dried herb or tincture from a health food shop/herb seller.
2. Grow it yourself. Tormentil is a member of the rose family and it likes growing conditions much like the common rose. A dry, fertile, sunny location will make a perfect home. Not as common a plant as it used to be, generally you will have to purchase your starter plant from a mail order herb nursery. Sadly, harvesting the plant for use generally means curtains for the plant, as such you will want to plant a few in the garden. When harves comes around you have to yank the whole plant out of the garden, with a couple of plants you will have a coninuing supply. Tormentil will drop seed and this will result in new plants and as long as you keep one plant going there will be successive generations. To harvest you simply take a shovel to the plant and remove it with as many roots as you can get. Shake the dirt off the plant and wash well. Hang the whole thing in a dry location and when fully dry chop well!

Disclaimer: The author makes no guarantees as to the the curative effect of any herb or tonic on this website, and no visitor should attempt to use any of the information herein provided as treatment for any illness, weakness, or disease without first consulting a physician or health care provider. Pregnant women should always consult first with a health care professional before taking any treatment.