The History of Acanthus

Acanthus plants have been known since ancient times. Callimacus, a Greek architect of the 5th century BC used the perfect symmetry of acanthus leaves as decorative patterns at the top of Corinthian columns Acanthus is also thought to be the plant mentioned in the bible, Job 30:7

“Among the bushes they brayed; under the nettles they were gathered together.” (King James Version)

The “nettles” are thought to be acanthus, which has prickly leaves, and it may even have been the plant used for the “Crown of Thorns”.

Medicinal Properties of Acanthus

As a medicinal plant, the Greek physician Dioscorides, in the lst century AD, recommended the roots be used in the form of a plaster to treat burns and to wrap around dislocated joints. As an infusion, acanthus was thought to be a diuretic. It was also used to relieve wind and spasms and to soothe damaged nerves. It is the mucilage and tannin found in acanthus, which allows it to be used externally to ease irritation and internally to heal and protect.

Acanthus have been lurking in English gardens for some time longer than you may expect! The English Physician (1652) and the Complete Herbal (1653), by Nicholas Culpeper cites acanthus as “an herb, with several medicinal properties”.

These include:-

“The leaves being boiled and used in clysters, is excellent good to mollify the belly. The decoction drank inwardly, is excellent and good for the bloody-flux.”

“The leaves, being bruised or rather boiled and applied like a poultice are excellent good to unite broken bones and strengthen joints that have been put out. The decoction of either leaves or roots being drank, and the decoction of leaves applied to the place, is good for the king’s evil that is broken and runs; for by the influence of the moon, it revives the ends of the veins which are relaxed.”

“There is scarce a better remedy to be applied to such places are burnt with fire that this is, for it fetches out the fire, and heals it without a scar.”

In the African continent, acanthus has folkloric medicinal uses:

In Nigeria, roots used for furuncles (boils).

In African traditional medicine, used for urogenital infections, urethral pain, endometritis, cystitis, aches and pains.

In Cameroon, used for pain, inflammation and threatened abortion.