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Cochlearia officinalis, the common scurvygrass, scurvy-grass or spoonwort, is a flowering plant of the genus Cochlearia in the family Brassicaceae. The plant acquired its common name from the observation that it cured scurvy, and it was taken on board ships in dried bundles or distilled extracts. Its very bitter taste was usually disguised with herbs and spices; however, this did not prevent scurvygrass drinks and sandwiches becoming a popular fad in the UK until the middle of the nineteenth century, when citrus fruits became more readily available.
Cochlearia officinalis is a biennial/perennial, growing to 10–50 cm (3.9–19.7 in). The stems are hairless and long stalked with fleshy leaves. The leaves are heart or kidney shaped, the lower stems leaves form a rosette around the base of the plant. It is in flower from May to August, they are small, and come in white or lilac, with four daisy-like petals. The seeds ripen from July to September, they are globe shaped. The small, round seeds are reddish brown. The flowers are hermaphrodite and are pollinated by bees, flies, and beetles. The plant is self-fertile. It is also noted for attracting wildlife and not being frost tender.
It has one known subspecies, Cochlearia officinalis subsp. integrifolia (Hartm.) Nordal & Stabbetorp.
Distribution and habitat
It is found within Eastern Europe, in the Russian Federation, (within the Administrative centre of Arkhangelsk, Komi, Murmansk and Nenets). In Middle Europe, within Belgium, Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland. In Northern Europe, within Iceland, Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Finland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. In Southwestern Europe within France.
It grows in the coastal and mountainous regions of Europe, including the Alps. In Ireland, it prefers saltmarshes, coastal cliffs and walls, and rocky, muddy seashores. In Northern Scandinavia, it grows in gravel beaches, crevices in beach cliffs and salt marshes.
It was once used as Herbalists as a cure for Scurvy, as the plant contains Vitamin C. Nicholas Culpeper wrote in his book 'Complete Herbal', of Scurvygrass that its chief good effect is when used 'by those that have the scurvy' and that it 'is of singular good effect to cleanse the blood, liver and spleen, taking the juice in the Spring every morning fasting in a cup of drink.
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