Lithospermum ruderale

Just a quick one for today, as time is tight.

Known as both western stoneseed (Lithospermum literally means “stone seed”) and western gromwell, Lithospermum ruderale is a fairly common species of open, dry plains, hillsides and shrub-steppe in western North America.

According to Mabberley’s The Plant Book, the genus Lithospermum is distributed worldwide in temperate regions, except Australasia. Mabberley also notes that Lithospermum ruderale was the “inspiration for perfecting oral contraceptives”. A perusal of Daniel Moerman’s Native American Ethnobotany reveals that both the Navajo and Shoshoni peoples used it for that purpose. Wikipedia elucidates on Lithospermum, via Tilford’s Edible and Medicinal plants of the West: “Gromwell contains estrogen-like compounds that disrupt the female hormonal reproductive system and suppress the normal menstrual cycle. Gromwell has been used for centuries as a female contraceptive, and Lithospermum arvensis is currently used in Europe for that purpose. Gromwell has dramatic and dangerous hormonal effects on the body and is not approved for use in the United States.”

Lithospermum ruderale
Lithospermum ruderale

11 responses to “Lithospermum ruderale”

  1. Cindy

    A wonderful delicate plant, thank you.

  2. Taina

    My grandmother, who grew up in Southwest Utah, made a medicinal tea out of Lithospermum ruderale (which she called gravelweed). She inherited this practice from her own mother and grandparents, who were sheep-herding settlers of Southwest Utah and northern Arizona. When I quizzed my mother and grandmother about the use of gravelweed tea, it seemed that the purpose was somewhat lost in the mists of time, but that it had to do with “feminine complaints.” They did not know the botanical identity of the plant, but my grandma had a big jar of it (how old, I don’t know!), and I was able to identify the plant from the glossy white seeds scattered among the dry leaves. I don’t know whether my settler ancestors brought the medicinal use of Lithospermum with them from England, or whether they adopted it from the Navajo people they encountered in the Southwest.

  3. annie Morgan

    Most interesting text and Taina’s comments too!

  4. Janet

    I wonder if this is the plant that Ayla from Clan of the Cave Bear made tea from every morning???

  5. Elizabeth R

    Thank you. I am always interested to read of these traditional uses – and the comment that this one is banned in the USA because of its dangerous hormonal effects should be educative for those who won’t use “prescription medicines” because they are “chemicals” whereas herbal remedies are automatically “good”…
    How old was Taina when she was asking her elders? Perhaps they just didn’t want to reveal all to a young one?
    All else aside, what a charming and starry plant – I love the radiating leaves!

  6. Cyndy Henderson

    Ah, we enjoy these beauties in the Okanogan Highlands of North Central Washington, now I have a name for them!

  7. Janka

    It’s also known as Puccoon.

  8. Keith

    Daniel:
    Thank you. Both beautiful and informative.

  9. katemarie54

    fabulous entry- does it remind anyone of lavender as the stem dry and what is the aroma? would it,,in homeopathic dosage, still be a benefit/ support? i set these as my daily desktop to keep the inspiration and grateful energies flowing…

  10. elizabeth a airhart

    fine picture write ups and comments
    we are many centurys away from the natives
    and my own people who came to this country
    hundrerds of years ago,i now find that
    the stories and comments i heard were
    grounded from direct experience
    lots of pictures of this plant oregon flora
    i am finding going to the state or state edu
    is most helpful and a good many images
    to view thank you daniel the end of the
    year is just a busy time

  11. LeGrand Dilworth

    I have been acquainted with the usefulness of Western Gromwell (Lithospermum ruderale) for a number of years. I was introduced to this plant by a remarkable lady who’s life spanned 3 centuries (1898 to 2002). She gained her knowledge from Shoshone Indians and through her own experience as a doctor and midwife. It has many uses, but primarily is a diuretic and will alleviate kidney and bladder problems. It can be found in most of the western states and some of the plains states.

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