[Herbal Rootlets]: No. 85 – Splendid Speedwell

“I remember my childhood names for grasses and secret flowers. I remember where a toad may live and what time the birds awaken in the summer — and what trees and seasons smelled like — how people looked and walked and smelled even. The memory of odors is very rich.”

― John Steinbeck, East of Eden

This lovely little spring flower has a long history of medicinal use but has sadly fallen out of use with most modern herbalists. Veronica officinalis, the “official” species listed in the pharmacopeias and dispensaries, grows wild but may not be as easy to find as other species such as V. persica. There are several species which can be used medicinally so if you have a species growing in your area, look to various sources for the species’ medicinal usage. Some common names of Speedwell (V. persica) are Gypsyweed and Bird’s Eye Speedwell. V. officinalis was also referred to as Gypsyweed as well as Paul’s Betony, Upland Speedwell, Veronica, Low Speedwell and Groundheil.

My usage of Speedwell has only begun in the past year as it is so small a plant that I overlooked it for years. After having her on my radar for several years, last year I made a conscious decision to try to learn more about her many uses. In my studies I discovered through Peter Holmes (The Energetics of Western Herbs) that Speedwell is “virtually identical in its nature, functions, indications and preparations to Pipsissewa herb and root” with the exception of a few things; most notably, Speedwell is not used for pain relief. This is great to note as Pipsissewa is a more commonly used herb here in North America but is unfortunately on the “to watch list” for United Plant Savers. Speedwell does not have this problem as she can be found taking over yards and fields all around the world. And even though she can be a bit invasive, she is short lived, preferring to die back when the weather gets too hot, making her a great ground cover for springtime when not much else is growing (and blooming).

Veronica officinalis – Photo taken in upstate New York by Beth LeGoff

If you cannot find Speedwell growing in your area, there are some resources online for purchasing the dried herb (as well as seeds if you’d like to try growing it!). If you have Speedwell growing in your yard, you can harvest and use the entire plant. If you do have Speedwell growing in your yard (and she is not buried under three feet of snow) try a taste test of a leaf to see if you can describe her energetics. The first thing you will notice is there is a bit of bitterness. In fact, historically, Speedwell was a substitute for black tea in Europe, something herbalist Ben Charles Harris suggested was because Speedwell “helped to strengthen and fortify the body against disease in her book “The Compleat Herbal”. You might next notice that your mouth seems to be drying up a bit as you chew on the leaf and seems to cool it off as well. Most people describe Speedwell as bitter, drying and cooling. What do you think?

V. persica blooming in early spring.

Because there is not a lot of modern use for Speedwell, finding nutritional information is a bit more difficult. I did discover that she has vitamin C. In addition to vitamin C, Speedwell contains resins, alkaloids, tannins, bitters, saponins, phenylethanoid, and the glycosides iridoid and scutellarin (which is also found in Skullcap).

Medicinally, Speedwell is considered to be alterative, anti-ulcer, astringent, decongestant, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, hemostatic, hypocholesterolemic, lithotriptic, restorative, stimulant, stomachic, tonic and vulnerary.

Veronica persica in early spring in southern Illinois

Let’s take a look at what Speedwell can or has been used for…

Most historical sources list similar uses for Speedwell, including skin conditions, respiratory conditions and urinary issues. Another aspect is Speedwell’s usefulness for eye issues as well.

Starting with the eye issues, Speedwell has been used as a poultice and as an eyewash to ease tired and inflamed eyes. Try this herb for sore, swollen and strained eyes. Because she is often used for itchy skin conditions, I hope to try a wash out for itchy eyes soon.

For the respiratory system, Speedwell is decongestant and expectorant. She has been used for all things respiratory including coughs, congestion, asthma, tuberculosis, and bronchitis. As being a primary drying herb, Speedwell helps to dry out damp conditions of the lungs. This is also a helpful herb to use for helping to break up dried up mucus that is stuck in the lungs. Used as a gargle, Speedwell is also good for scratchy sore throats and possibly sore throats caused from sinus drainage. I would reach for Speedwell any time a respiratory complaint comes up, perhaps mixing her with Thyme, Plantain, Wild Cherry and any number of other respiratory herbs.

Veronica spp. – Photo taken in upstate New York by Beth LeGoff

Urinary issues such as stone formations, cystitis, urethritis, blood in the urine, bedwetting, cloudy urine, incontinence, and water retention, Speedwell may be helpful. Many of these issues can be resolved with Pipsissewa and there is some historical use of Speedwell for urinary conditions as well. Speedwell is diuretic and astringent which are useful for many of these urinary issues and as a lithotriptic, she has the ability to dissolve urinary stones.

Speedwell excels when it comes to skin conditions with her vulnerary and hemostatic actions. She is listed in almost all resources as being a wound healer and for her use on various skin conditions including chronic skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis as well as “leprosy-like” conditions. Speedwell can also be used for slowly healing sores, pimples and itchy skin. As a hemostatic, Speedwell can help to stop bleeding on a cut or wound that won’t stop on its own. Speedwell would combine well with Burdock for skin issues. The late Juliette de Bairacli Levy used Speedwell for a number of skin complaints including inflammation, eruptions, ulcers and rashes. For chronic skin conditions, be sure to use Speedwell both internally and externally.

A modern herbalist named Harald Tietz suggests that the tincture can be rubbed into the skin for rheumatism and gout. I would pair this with daily cups of Speedwell tea as well.

Juliette de Bairacli Levy stated that the Romani people also used Speedwell (commonly referred to as Gypsyweed, indicating an herb that was often used by the Romani) as a tonic and blood cleanser, which we sometimes refer to as an alterative. Speedwell would be a great herb to add to springtime teas to help with getting our winter sluggish blood moving.

I find it interesting that Speedwell is listed in herbals as being a stimulant but contains scutellarin, a glycoside found in Skullcap, which is an herb that is known for being very calming. But as herbalist jim mcdonald points out, herbs can be both stimulating and relaxing at the same time. UK herbalist Lucinda Warner backs up this phenomenon with her first impression of tasting Speedwell tea: “The first sip had an immediate mental clearing effect and I felt soothed but not sedated, the effect being both relaxing and clarifying.” This is an herb I would reach for when I need to calm down and focus on a task.

In my research, I found a few other uses listed but could not find much to back up these uses. These uses included epilepsy, jaundice, worms, sore breasts for nursing moms, as well as being hypocholesterolemic and anti-ulcer. Hopefully as time goes on, more research will be done by herbalists to discover more uses and to back up these mentioned uses.

Speedwell is one of the first green plants to appear in my yard. She will be one of the first plants to bloom as well, dotting the lawn with minuscule blue-purple specks. The best time to harvest Speedwell is in the spring when she starts to bloom. The entire plant can be harvested for use or you may choose to simply trim the aerial parts, leaving the roots behind. I find it easiest to just pluck her from the ground since she is so small but V. officinalis is a bit larger and would probably be easier to harvest the aerial parts.

It is easy to dry Speedwell by simply placing what you’ve gathered in a basket in a warm, dry place, fluffing it daily to turn, allowing it to evenly dry. Store in a glass jar away from light.