The common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris) is one of those lowly weeds that seem to have taken a liking to mankind, following him wherever he settled. It is perhaps best known as a favorite food of the canary and other small birds, both caged and wild, but is also considered "a source of endless vexation" by gardeners because it springs up everywhere, and a single plant can produce one million seeds! It is also remarkably hardy, blooming almost year round in all but the coldest climates. I found two blooming plants today after my father finished plowing the snow. They had been buried for over 2 weeks and we have already had temperatures as low as -7 F!
The name Groundsel is derived from the old Anglo-Saxon grouneswelge, meaning literally, "ground swallower", and in Scotland it is still called Grundy Swallow and Ground Glutton. Anyone the least bit familiar with this plant will guess why! (Fortunately for gardeners it is easy to pull up, but if it sets seed once you will be weeding it out continuously). Its Latin name Senecio is derived from Senex (an old man) because, as one old writer puts it: "the flouer of this herbe hath white hair and when the wind bloweth it away, then it appeareth like a bald-headed man". The specific name vulgaris simply means "common".
Although neglected by most herbalists today (to my knowledge anyway), it was once considered quite useful. In his book The English Physician (1652), Culpeper writes that it is "as gallant an universal Medicine for all diseases coming of heat, whatsoever they be, or in what part soever of the body they lie as the Sun shines upon". Groundsel was used as a gentle purgative and diuretic, and has also been used in poultices. One old herbalist claimed that smelling the fresh roots was an excellent remedy for headaches, but the roots had to be dug up with an iron tool to be effective! An old-fashioned remedy for chapped hands is made by pouring boiling water over the fresh herb.
Sometimes even the most despised weeds can brighten our days, and finding this little one blooming in the snow certainly brightened mine!
I'm joining Clay and Limestone today for Wildflower Wednesday.
I am a passionate gardener and seed-saver, who also enjoys playing the violin and accordion, running, spending time with my 4 golden retrievers, keeping chickens, photography, and reading.