Black Figwort

This genus contains about 200 species of annuals, perennials, and occasionally subshrubs, found in temperate regions and on mountains in the tropics. Few are ornamental, though the variegated form of Scrophularia auriculata (Water Figwort) is widely grown as a marginal aquatic. In France, S. nodosa is known as herbe du siège since the tubers were eaten by Cardinal Richelieu's starving troops during the siege of La Rochelle (1627-8). Scrophularia nodosa is an example of the Doctrine of Signatures, the nodular roots revealing it as a remedy for swollen glands and tumors. Culpeper wrote that "a better remedy cannot be found for the king's evil" (The English Physician Enlarged, 1653). "King's evil" was a term used for scrofula (tuberculosis of the lymphatic glands), hence the name Scrophularia. Its constituents include aucubin, a mild laxative that increases excretion of uric acid from the kidneys, and anti-arthritic compounds harpagoside and harpagide, as in Harpagophytum (See, Devil's Claw). Scrophularia auriculata, from W Europe, and the American S. marilandica have similar properties. The use of S. ningpoensis in Chinese medicine dates back to the later Han dynasty (CE25-220).

Perennial with 4-angled stems and ovate leaves, to 15cm (6in) long. Small brown-red, two-lipped flowers are borne in panicles on thread-like stalks in spring, followed by ovoid capsules.

Common Name:
Black Figwort
Other Names:
Ningpo Figwort
Botanical Name:
Scrophularia ningpoensis
Native Location:
Moist to wet soil in sun or partial shade. Plants may be damaged by larvae of the figwort weevil.
By seed sown in autumn or spring; by division in spring; by basal cuttings in spring; by softwood cuttings in summer.
Roots (S. ningpoensis) are lifted in autumn and dried for use in decoctions. Plants (S. nodosa) are cut when flowering and dried for use in infusions, liquid extracts, ointments, poultices, and tinctures.
60cm-1.2m (2-4ft)
30-45cm (12-18in)
Parts Used:
Roots (xuan shen)
A bitter, saline, cooling herb that lowers fever, blood pressure, and blood sugar, and has anti-bacterial effects. Small doses act as a heart tonic; large doses depress cardiac function.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally for feverish illnesses with symptoms such as rashes, delirium, and insomnia (associated with excess heat), dry cough, throat infections, abscesses, and carbuncles.
Encyclopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright © 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limites. Pg 364