Welcome to the Weekly Weeder series, where we help you identify wild plants and how to use them. 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 name “snapdragon” originates from the “popping” or “snapping” sound that is made when you squeeze the flower. 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?)
A European import, it has now naturalized over most of North America, including inside my greenhouse. Though less commonly used than many other herbs, it does have anti-inflammatory and diuretic properties.
Range and Identification of Butter and Eggs
Where Does Butter and Eggs Grow?
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?) See USDA Plant Profile Range map for Linaria vulgaris below.
Toadflax is an aggressive grower, and can easily crowd out smaller plants. It prefers a neutral pH and gravelly and sandy soil, but can tolerate alkaline soils. Butter and eggs will happily grow in disturbed soils – along roadsides, in pastures, at the edge of woods and in your garden (or greenhouse).
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. It is commonly found in colonies, which offer bold blasts of yellow in the landscape. Butter and eggs pops in in my garden and near my mailbox, and we have extensive patches of it out in the pasture. I let it grow around the edges of the garden, but avoid letting it go to seed.
How to Identify Butter and Eggs
Adapted from Wildflowers of Wisconsin.
The flowers look very similar to Dalmatian Toadflax (L. dalmatica) but that species has broad leaves. The flowers are also similar to garden snapdragons, since both are in the Scrophulariaceae (Snapdragon) family. Flowers appear in spring, summer and fall. The aroma of the flowers is sweetly intoxicating.
The flowers grow in spikes and have five petals. Each flower has yellow petals to the outside (butter), with an orange center (eggs). The orange part is known as a “honey guide”, which guides the insects along the long spur of the flower, insuring pollination.
The height of the plant is between 1-2 feet. Leaves are grey-green, narrow and grasslike. They are attached directly to the stem, in an alternating pattern higher on the stem, and opposite or whorled below.
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. It’s 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. Due to its glycoside content, the plant is mildly toxic to mammals and is rarely eaten.
Medicinal Uses of Butter and Eggs
Adapted from Edible & Medicinal Wild Plants of Minnesota & Wisconsin.
Note: As mentioned above, butter and eggs contains glycosides, which can be irritating and/or mildly toxic if consumed in large amount. Harvest the plant fresh and in flower. Do not exceed 2 teaspoons of dried plant made into tea per day taken internally.
Butter and Eggs contains the following important constituents:
- Quinazoline alkaloids (peganine)
- Iridoid monoterpenes (antirrhinoside)
- Flavinoids (linarin, pactolionarin, linariin)
- Citric acid
- Tannic Acid
- Vitamin C
Historically, the herb has been used as a liver tonic, diuretic, eyewash (to reduce inflammation), constipation remedy (and ironically, to firm up diarrhea), and a hemorrhoid treatment. When used as a liver tonic, it is commonly combined with other hepatic herbs such as burdock, dandelion, yellow dock and red root.
To use as an eyewash, the fresh herb is brewing into a tea and allowed to cool. It’s then applied as a cool compress to the eye area. For hemorrhoids, make a salve using a ratio of 1 part fresh, chopped plant to 10 parts coconut oil or lard. (See How to Infuse Herbs in Oil for more detailed information on salve making.)
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 my friend, Deb, has wool she could spare. 🙂
Learn to Use and Appreciate the Weeds
“Weeds” are just plants that grow without being planted – or where you may not want them – but they serve a purpose. I always tell the boys, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” If there is an empty niche, it will be filled. Our weeds hold the soil in place, plow compacted subsoil, draw up nutrients, provide medicine, feed wildlife (and people) – they are a treasure, not a curse. As you tend your yard and garden and the soil improves, unwanted volunteers will either disappear on their own, or be much easier to manage.
- Wildflowers of Wisconsin
- Nature’s Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants
- The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants
- Backyard Foraging: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat
- Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods From Dirt To Plate
Thanks so much for stopping by to visit. Help stop the overuse of herbicides by spreading the word about putting our weeds to work and sharing this post.
You may also find useful:
- Top 10 Edible Flowers, Plus Over 60 More Flowers You Can Eat
- The Weekly Weeder Series
- My Favorite Wildcrafting Resources
Originally published in 2011, updated in 2017.