Alicia Cook, is an elder Kanienkeha (Which translates to people of the flint otherwise known as a Six Nations Hodenasaunee (people of the Longhouse) or Iroquois) took me to her garden in Akwesasne, NY.
It was there I saw a weed common in my area of the Bronx which had always been a childhood curiosity of mine.
“What do you use that for?” I asked, pointing, to Smart Weed, Polygonum Persicaria.
“The heart and all things related to the heart” Alicia replied as she pointed to a heart-shaped figure of a heart on the leaf of smartweed noting that, that was the doctrine of signatures (The doctrine of signatures states that herbs resembling specific bodily parts can be used by physicians to treat ailments of those very body parts in a human being (2)) for the plant thus indicating its use for the heart.
Smart weed is an annual plant, the leaves are lance-shaped with a heart-shaped dark imprint at the center, the pink flowers are in long slender, loose racemes that droop at their tips. The leaves have a pungent acrid, bitter taste, there is no odor to the plant (1).
The species Polygonum Persicaria, ladies thumb or spotted knotweed is lesser known while the species Polygonum Hydropiper is better known and more frequently used (7).
Polygonum Persicaria is used as an antiseptic and considered similar but with weaker properties than Polygonum Hydropiper (7). For the duration of this article, we will focus our attention on the Polygonum Hydropiper because of its richer heritage worldwide and its wider presence in our literature and close connection to Polygonum Persicaria its lesser-used sister.
Dr. Small a homeopathic physician sites that Polygonum Hydropiper is similar to Pulsatilla Pratense as it acts on the mucous membrane, skin and sensory nerves (7). Rheumatoid disorders, as well as acute catarrhal affections, appear to also be a similarity between Polygonum Hydropiper and Pulsatilla Pratense(7).
Besides the homeopathic provings Dr. W.E. Payne a homeopathic Physician gives a clinical observation:
The Patient appeared in line with the proving(7)s:
“Cutting, lancinating, griping pains with great rumbling as if the whole intestinal contents were in a fluid state, and in violent commotion, the movement proceeding from below upwards, producing nausea, and disposition to vomit with liquid feces which were discharged with considerable force together with pain in the loins..…..”(7) “When given Polygonum Hydropiper fifteen drops of the tincture to 8 ounces of water a sensation of warmth diffused itself throughout the abdomen, with immediate diminution of the symptoms and at the expiration of about an hour the whole disease had disappeared, except soreness on pressure which gradually passed away”(7).
“Probably no indigenous plant is in such general, almost universal use, in domestic practice in the country and city and no remedy is so popular in a great variety of complaints. It may be one of the many popular delusions, but certain it is, that the remedy gives satisfaction to the patient in a majority of cases.”(7)
Used for gravel, colds, and coughs. (1)
If you are an eclectic in North America a hot decoction made from the whole plant then added to a cold sheet which is wrapped around the patient immediately as symptoms start (1).
Simmered in water and vinegar has shown its usefulness in gangrene(1)
“Used as a fomentation in hysteritis (Inflammation of the uterus), cystitis, nephritis, peritonitis, pneumonia, pleuritis (Inflammation of the pleura of the lung), articular rheumatism, local pains, sprains, indolent and painful tumors, etc., one of the best in use (7).”
Hemorrhoids & poison ivy poisoning is yet another useful fomentation made from Polygonum Hydropiper(7).
If you are a Mexican person suffering from Rheumatism then a hot bath with Polygonum Hydropiper will be a good idea.
If you are a woman in Assam, a North-Eastern province of India then the root of Polygonum Hydropiper will be your birth control.
2″-O-(3,4,5-trihydroxybenzoyl) quercitrin (galloyl quercitrin) showed high-yield occurrence and the strongest antioxidant activity”. (3)
Polygonolide, an isocoumarin from Polygonum hydropiper possessing anti-inflammatory activity (4)
Being that P. hydropiper has anti-cholinesterase within its structure opens the idea of its use for neurological disorders. (5)
In fact, the root extract ( at a dose of 1 g/kg body weight/day for 12 days) of Polygonum hydropiper was given to adult cycling female (6). After mating with males the females in their estrous cycle resulted in a failure of gestation. The results reveal that the root of Polygonum hydropiper contains steroidal/estrogenic compound(s) which can affect the female reproduction in the rat (6).
Alicia who tells me that her community has given this herb to each other for years. I hadn't heard of someone else who used Smartweed until I was Speaking at the Bronx Community Green Fair this past October 2018. During a section of my lecture, I grabbed a smartweed in my local vicinity and asked if anyone had used smartweed before. A woman raised her hand and exclaimed: “That is how I had my daughters!”. She then said, “I drank the tea of the whole plant and after not being able to get pregnant, it helped me to finally conceive”. What is interesting about this story is that Indian folk medicine would disagree and suggest the opposite. This gives credence to the fact that everyone is different, our human organism is widely varied and an understanding of the plant as well as the constitution of each individual is imperative because in reality plants are living organisms with a multitude of healing properties as are we.
So much of our knowledge has been lost. An understanding of what our elders have to say about plants, what is in the literature as well as having an understanding of some of the actions of each plant's common species can slowly build back the bridge toward understanding the healing herbal world around us. Also, remember that herbs throughout history have had conflicting and even opposing actions as in the case with smartweed where one person calls the herb her saving grace for allowing her to get pregnant, while in India it is used to help promote temporary sterility. So begin following your elders who have used these herbs and allow our worlds herbal lore to begin to grow again even if some of the messages are conflicting.
Word of caution
**Make sure to ask the advice of a licensed professional before considering the use of any herbal formula. I myself have not used the Polygonum species in my practice, but am representing what has been shared by Alicia Cook**
1)Grieve, M. A Modern Herbal: The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic, and Economic Properties, Cultivation, and Folklore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs, & Trees with All Their Modern Scientific Uses: Complete Volume. Stone Basin Books, 2016.
2)“Doctrine of Signatures.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 25 June 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctrine_of_signatures.
3)Zhao Feng Peng, et al. “Antioxidant Flavonoids from Leaves of Polygonum Hydropiper L.” NeuroImage, Academic Press, 27 Nov. 2002, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031942202005046.
4)Takuya Furuta, et al. “Polygonolide, an Isocoumarin from Polygonum Hydropiper Possessing Anti-Inflammatory Activity.” NeuroImage, Academic Press, 20 Mar. 2001, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031942200855132.
5) Muhammad Ayaz, et al. “Phenolic Contents, Antioxidant and Anticholinesterase Potentials of Crude Extract, Subsequent Fractions and Crude Saponins from Polygonum Hydropiper L.” BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, BioMed Central, 3 May 2014, bmccomplementalternmed.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1472-6882-14-145.
6)Hazarika, A., and H. N. Sarma. “Effects of Crude Root Extract of Polygonum Hydropiper on Estrous Cycle and Induction of Reversible Sterility in Female Albino Rat.” BIMS International Journal of Social Science Research, informaticsjournals.com/index.php/jer/article/view/2132.
7)Hale, Edwin M. (Edwin Moses), 1829-1899: Homoeopathic materia medica of the new remedies: their botanical description, medical history, pathogenetic effects and therapeutical application in homeopathic practice