Today’s featured plant is Butter and eggs, Linaria vulgaris,
Butter and eggs is also know as yellow toadflax, wild snapdragon, flaxweed, bread and butter, false flax, brideweed, bridewort, Jacob’s-ladder, rabbit flower, imprudent lawyer, pennywort and a host of other names.
The flowers look very similar to Dalmatian Toadflax (L. dalmatica) but that species has broad leaves. Butter and eggs pops in in my garden and near my mailbox, and we have extensive patches of it out in the pasture. The name “snapdragon” originates from the “popping” or “snapping” sound that is made when you squeeze it, but I’ve never tried squeezing one. According to Wildflowers of Wisconsin, the other common name, toadflax, is based on how the flower opens wide like a frog or toad’s mouth when squeezed. (I wonder if the name “imprudent lawyer” is linked to that wide open mouth, too? I’m thinking “yes”.)
Range and Identification of Butter and Eggs
Butter and eggs originated in Europe and was brought over as a decorative garden plant. It escaped, and now ranges all over North America, from Manitoba to Mexico. (How’s that for adaptability?) It’s commonly treated as a noxious weed, because it is a perennial and spreads by rhizomes, plus the seeds can stay viable in the soil for eight years. I let it grow around the edges of the garden, but I avoid letting it go to seed. (Eight years is longer than I want to be pulling volunteers.) It is an aggressive grower, and can easily crowd out smaller plants. It prefers a neutral pH and gravelly and sandy soil, and will happily grow in disturbed soils, along roadsides, in pastures, at the edge of woods and in your garden.
The height of the plant is between 1-2 feet. Flowers grow in spikes and have five petals. The orange part is known as a “honey guide”, which guides the insects along the long spur of the flower, insuring pollination (from Wildflowers of Wisconsin). Leaves are narrow, grasslike and simple (not composite), and are attached in an alternating pattern along the stem. There are some beautiful closeups of the blossoms at all creatures.org.
Butter and Eggs as Food and Habitat for Wildlife
Around here, the fields are humming with bumblebees working over the flowers of butter and eggs. Most sites I’ve seen dismiss it as a wildlife plant because it displaces native species, but I know the bees love the blooms, and it is also a favorite of the hummingbird-like sphinx moth. Smaller insects are unable to effectively pollinate the flower because they lack the weight to open the bloom.
Medicinal Uses of Butter and Eggs
Part Used Medicinally—Cultivation. For medicinal purposes, Toadflax is generally gathered in the wild condition, but it can be cultivated with ease, though it prefers a dry soil. No manure is needed. Seeds may be sown in spring. All the culture needed is to thin out the seedlings and keep them free of weeds. Propagation may also be carried out by division of roots in the autumn.
The whole herb is gathered just when coming into flower and employed either fresh or dried.
When fresh, Toadflax has a peculiar, heavy, disagreeable odour, which is in great measure dissipated by drying. It has a weakly saline, bitter and slightly acrid taste.
Constituents—Toadflax abounds in an acrid oil, reputed to be poisonous, but no harm from it has ever been recorded. Little or nothing is known of its toxic principle, but its use in medicine was well known to the ancients.
Its constituents are stated to be two glucosides, Linarin and Pectolinarian, with linarosin, linaracin, antirrhinic, tannic and citric acids, a yellow colouring matter, mucilage and sugar.
Medicinal Action and Uses—Astringent, hepatic and detergent. It has some powerful qualities as a purgative and diuretic, causing it to be recommended in jaundice, liver, skin diseases and scrofula; an infusion of 1 OZ. to the pint has been found serviceable as an alterative in these cases and in incipient dropsy. The infusion has a bitter and unpleasant taste, occasioned by the presence of the acrid essential oil. It was at one time in great reputation among herb doctors for dropsy. The herb distilled answers the same purpose, as a decoction of both leaves and flowers in removing obstructions of the liver. It is very effectual if a little Peruvian bark or solution of quinine and a little cinnamon be combined with it. Gerard informs us that ‘the decoction openeth the stopping of the liver and spleen, and is singular good against the jaundice which is of long continuance,’ and further states that ‘a decoction of Toadflax taketh away the yellownesse and deformitie of the skinne, being washed and bathed therewith.’
The fresh plant is sometimes applied as a poultice or fomentation to haemorrhoids, and an ointment of the flowers has been employed for the same purpose, and also locally in diseases of the skin. A cooling ointment is made from the fresh plant – the whole herb is chopped and boiled in lard till crisp, then strained. The result is a fine green ointment, a good application for piles, sores, ulcers and skin eruptions.
The juice of the herb, or the distilled water, has been considered a good remedy for inflammation of the eyes, and for cleansing ulcerous sores.
Boiled in milk, the plant is said to yield an excellent fly poison, and it is an old country custom in parts of Sweden to infuse Toadflax flowers in milk, and stand the infusion about where flies are troublesome.
So while these plants have been used medicinally, do exercise caution. Botanical.com also states: “Bear in mind “A Modern Herbal” was written with the conventional wisdom of the early 1900’s. This should be taken into account as some of the information may now be considered inaccurate, or not in accordance with modern medicine.”
Butter and Eggs for Dying Fabric
Plant Supplies.com states:
This whole plant as well as the flowers has been used in traditional fabric dyeing. A range of possible colors can be produced by Linaria vulgaris including yellow-green, yellow and chartreuse. It is traditionally used to dye wool. (The mordants used for fixing the dye include: alum, copper, tin.)
If any of my crafty local friends would like to experiment with this, I’ve got several very large patches filled with flowers right now, and I’ll bet that Deb has some wool she could spare. 🙂
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