- Biennial plant with a deep rooting system, growing 30-80 cm tall.
- In the first year it grows a rosette of lanceolate, hairy, sessile leaves - rough on both sides, lying on the ground.
- In the second year, tall upright, hairy stems arise (often spotted with red and sometimes the leaves as well) – followed by dozens of flowers produced in curved spikes, closely wedged together.
- They start pink and turn vivid blue with all the stamens protruding – the stamens remain red and standing out against the blue flowers.
- Viper's Bugloss got its name because the stalks are speckled like a snake/viper and there is a resemblance between the dead flower-head and the head of a snake. The seeds when ripe, are blackish and also shaped like the head of a viper.
- It was believed to be an expellent of poisons and venom, and that it could cure the bites of a viper and the sting of scorpions.
- The name bugloss is of Greek origin, referring to the leaves that are shaped and rough like an ox's tongue.
- Will grow in any well-drained soil (sandy, loam or clay – acid, neutral or acid).
- Can grow in poor soil - flowers best when the soil is not too rich.
- Needs full sun and can tolerate maritime exposure.
- Drought resistant.
- One of the best bee plants - yields nectar at lower temperatures than clover and should be part of any garden designed to attract wildlife.
- Flowers can be added to salad, crystallised or made into a cordial.
- The leaves are somewhat hairy, but when chopped up finely they are acceptable - young leaves taste mild and mucilaginous, can be eaten raw in a mixed salad/ or cooked and used as a spinach substitute.
Medicinal Uses. It is said that:
- The flowering tops are gathered in late summer and can be dried for later use.
- Do not handle without gloves, as the hairs on the leaves and stems can cause dermatitis.
- Not suitable for internal use by pregnant women.
- Echium oil is a powerful source of omega 3, 6 and 9 essential fatty acids, or EFA's, (sometimes called vitamin F) for the skin.
- Contains a high proportion of a unique EFA called stearidonic acid, not found in the other commonly used EFA source plants.
- Stearidonic acid is a powerful anti-inflammatory substance, which also acts to help protect the skin from environmental damage (such as UV radiation).
- The juice of the plant is an effective emollient for reddened and delicate skins.
- A poultice can also be made from freshly chopped leaves and flowering stems held in place with a bandage - or by thickening a standard infusion whilst still hot with cornflour to make a paste and spread onto a bandage - treat wounds, boils, carbuncles, whitlows and other skin eruptions.
- Is related to Borage, Borago officinalis and has similar actions - is sweat-inducing and has diuretic effects if taken internally.
- The leaves and flowering stems are antitussive, aphrodisiac, demulcent, diaphoretic, diuretic, pectoral and vulnerary - relieve fevers, headaches, lung disorders, chest conditions, colds and nervous complaints.
- The best leaves to use are the ones growing from the root and lying on the ground.
- Decoct seeds in wine - relieves inflammatory pains, comforts the heart, and drives away melancholy.
- A red dye is obtained from the root.
- In some countries Echium is grown as an oilseed crop because of the fatty acid composition of the seed oil.
- Like Borage and Evening primrose oil, it contains significant amounts of gamma linolenic acid (GLA), and it also contains the rarer stearidonic acid.
- When young, the plants are highly palatable to sheep