Alkanet (Anchusa officinalis)

Alkanet, or common bugloss, is another member of the borage (Boraginaceae) family and happily very much in flower at the moment. The root is traditionally used as a dye and produces a deep reddish colour and the name Anchusa comes from the Greek word Achousa meaning to paint. Alkanet also takes its name from the Arabic al-khenna or henna which produces a similar lasting dye.

Like its other close relative Comfrey, the leaves of Alkanet can be used as a poultice externally to treat minor wounds and bruises, whilst internally its demulcent, astringing and expectorant properties can be beneficial for coughs and bronchial catarrh. The root may also be used externally and possesses antibacterial properties and is reputed to ease itching. A strong decoration can be made from the root, which should be dug up in the autumn, and then applied as a compress to skin conditions such as eczema and phlebitis.

The leaves and young tops of Alkanet taste a little like spinach and can be added to cooked food or salads, although if used in the latter it is advisable to blanch the leaves to soften them and bring out the flavour. Alternatively the leaves can be dried and added to potpourris where they give off a pleasant smell of wild strawberries.