Spignel (Meum athamanticum), a Forgotten Medicinal Plant

Spignel is an old medicinal plant largely forgotten today. There hardly exists any clear reference to spignal in most herbal books of this century. Despite scant recognition today, the history of spignel root includes active appreciation by ancient physicians.  Records of meum athamanticum include recommendations for treating urinary disorders, stomach complaints, joint complaints, and mild rheumatism.

Baerwurz Spignel meum athamanticum

Typical German, Bavarian Bärwurz schnapps

The spignel plant bears close relationship to fennel and dill. It grows in the mountains, between 600 and 2000 meters above sea level. The ideal soils for spignel include acidic, nutrient-poor soils, and lean pastures. Traditional use of spignel root stocks includes processing into gentian-like schnapps and liqueurs or culinary food seasoning.

Hildegard and Meum Athamanticum

Meum athamanticum plays an important role in Hildegard Medicine. We have ranked it among her 11 Naturopathic Remedies for Common Health Problems. Among Hildegard’s writings, her best known tome, Physica, includes the following description.

“The spignel root is warm and has a dry strength. The powder is a remedy for high temperature fever and gout. The green root is crushed into vinegar and is used against jaundice.”  – Hildegard of Bingen

Meum Athamanticum – The Forgotten Medical Plant

Spignel (Meum athamanticum) appears in all of the important herbal books of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  At the advent of the 19th century, spignel fell into obscurity as a medicinal plant.  The remedy remains popular in veterinary medicine. And, over the last several decades, Germans have rediscovered the healing properties of this herb. 

In Germany today, health trends currently favor the rediscovery of  traditional German medicine and klosterheilkunde. And, as with many of Hildegard’s remedies, the primary curative properties of spignel apply to the stomach, addressing digestive issues, and promoting internal cleanse.

Spignel health benefits –  more than just an herb for digestion 

In Bavaria, spignel appears commonly as a basic ingredient in the production of a stomach-strengthening, digestive liqueur referred to as Baerwurz. The healing effects include mild aphrodisiac, appetite stimulant, anti-flatulence / bloating, detoxification, purification, diuretic, heart strengthener, stomach fortifier, menstrual stimulater, toner, and revitalizer.

This versatile medicinal plant also works as a spice or herbal salt in the kitchen. In contrast to dill, spignel retains its aroma even when dried. Spignel stimulates immediate appetite (but moderates long-term appetite) and promotes digestion. The fine dill-like foliage and the subterranean plant parts have a strong, intense taste.

Spignel in Folk Medicine 

Monastic medicine and folk healing often reference the spignel root to address mild forms of asthma, bladder conditions, kidney cleansing, mild rheumatoid arthritis, urinary tract infections, abdominal pain, flatulence, menstrual cramps, heart irregularity, stress, migraine, weakness of age, and to cleanse blood.

Meum Athamanticum (Spignel)

In addition, the leaves of the spignel plant work wonders in the kitchen as an aromatic spice, and a substitute for dill.  Unlike dill, the leaves of the spignel taste more like a mixture of fennel and lovage. Find more healing spices in our related post Hildegard’s 13 Healing Spices.

Topical application of spignel includes treating mild ulcers and wounds.

Spignel (Meum athamanticum) Uses

Folk medicine appreciates use of the spignel root only, and typically by excavating, cleaning, and drying in autumn. Before use, preparation includes boiling in water or wine, or grinding into powder. 

Detox with Spignel Pear Puree:

Hildegard von Bingen’s so-called peer puree cure works to detoxify the body, and plays an important role in a Hildegard fasting regimen. For the pear puree recipe see #5 on Hildegard’s 11 Naturopathic Remedies for Common Health Problems.

Baerwurz Spignel meum athamanticum

Traditional German pear puree herbal mixture with meum athamanticum

“This is the most delicious pear puree and more valuable than gold, because it expels the migraine and reduces the dampness, which raw pears cause in the breast of humans, and expels all bad juices in humans and cleanses the intestines of humans as one cleanses a pot of mold.” – Hildegard of Bingen

In addition, a Hildegard Fasting Cure can also help with permanent fatigue, hyperacidity of the body and digestive disorders.

Spignel honey

For stomach and abdominal pains, the powdered spignel root and honey are boiled into a mixture of 1:3. One teaspoonful of this mixture is used for internal discomfort, including ulcers. Ayurvedic tradition recommends against the practice of boiling honey. As an alternative to honey, replace honey with raw cane sugar and some water.

Spignel tincture

To make a spignal tincture at home, pour double grain or ethyl alcohol over the roots of the spignal in a screw cap glass until all parts of the plant are covered.  Allow the mixture 2 to 6 weeks to steep. Then strain and pour into a dark bottle.

Take 10-50 drops of this tincture one to three times a day. If overly concentrated, dilute the mixture with water.

Spignel tea

Pour 250 ml of hot water over 1 teaspoon of dried leaves and allow 10 minutes to infuse, then strain.  This remedy helps address mild digestive issues.

Meum Athamanthicum Spignel Detox Tea

Meum Athamanthicum eea

Pour 250 ml hot water over 1 teaspoon of seeds and allow 20 minutes to infuse before straining. This combination helps with migraine, lack of appetite, and mild bladder problems.

Growing Spignel at Home

Usually the meum athamanticum is propagated by root splitting after flowering, small root pieces are enough to grow a plant.  Difficulty often arises in growing spignel directly from seeds. If possible, sow in pots in Autumn or very early in Spring outdoors, the seeds will not germinate for long.

The spignel likes sandy, loamy or clay rich, lean and moist soil, the location should be sunny or semi-shady.  Spignel thrives in larger pots. Do not fertilize with calcium (chalk).

Since the plant loves consistent conditions, such as stable soil moisture, it is somewhat difficult to cultivate.

Contraindications and side effects of spignel/ meum athamanticum

When used moderately, there are no known side effects related to spignal. According to older writings, larger amounts of spignal root may lead to headaches.

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