Herbs & Plants

Sharp-Lobed Hepatica

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Botanical Name:Hepatica acutilobasm
Family:Buttercup (Ranunculaceae)

Common name(s): Sharp-lobed hepatica, heart liverleaf, sharp-lobed liverwort, spring beauty, may-flower
Other Name:Liverwort, Herbally,

Range & Habitat: Sharp-Lobed Hepatica is occasional in wooded areas of central and northern Illinois; it is uncommon or absent in southern Illinois (see Distribution Map). Habitats include upland deciduous woodlands, rocky bluffs, the slopes of bluffs, and limestone cliffs (where some shade occurs). Sharp-Lobed Hepatica occurs in high quality wooded areas where the original flora is largely intact. Sometimes it is cultivated as a rock garden plant. While Sharp-Lobed Hepatica is native to North America, the typical variety of Hepatica, Hepatica nobilis nobilis, occurs in Eurasia.
Grows in moist woods, blooming in early spring.

Description: This native perennial plant is about 3-6″ tall. It consists of a tuft of basal leaves that develops during the late spring and persists through the winter. These leaves are up to 3″ long and across; they have slender petioles up to 6″ long. Each leaf is palmately divided into 3 lobes; the lobes are oval-ovate and approximately the same size. The smooth upper surface of each leaf can be green, brownish green, reddish brown, or contain patches of the preceding colors; usually, the upper surface is more green during the summer, but become reddish brown during the winter. The leaf margins are smooth; for var. acuta, the tips of the lobes are rather pointed in mature leaves.
A mature plant will produce a tuft of flowers on long stalks during early to mid-spring, by which time the basal leaves that persisted during the winter may have withered away. Each flower occurs on a naked hairy stalk about 3-4″ long; this stalk is often reddish green or reddish brown. The flower may be erect or it may nod on its stalk. Each flower is up to 1″ across, consisting of 5-11 petal-like sepals, a green cluster of carpels in its center, and numerous white stamens surrounding the carpels. The sepals are white, pastel pink, or pastel blue; each sepal is oblong-oval in shape. At the base of each flower, there are 3 leafy bracts that are lanceolate, ovate, or oval in shape. These bracts are reddish green or reddish brown, hairy across the outer surface, and shorter than the sepals. The blooming period occurs during early to mid-spring and lasts about 2-3 weeks for a colony of plants; however, individual flowers are short-lived. The carpels turn brown and become beaked achenes that are often pubescent. The root system consists of a tuft of fibrous roots. This plant spreads by reseeding itself.

Foilage: Broad and heart-shaped, the leaves get up to 2″ in breadth and width. They tend to be dark green and leathery with a smooth surface above, although the undersides are covered with dense hairs.
In autumn, the leaves turn shades of russet and purple to persist through winter. It is critical that the leaves remain during the winter months, as the plant continues to use them as a source of nourishment.

Taxonomic description: 3-lobed, acute or acutish, toothed or lobed again, 2″ long and broad leathery. Basal and long-stalked, densely pubescent below and smooth above.

Flowers:Ranging from pale pink or lavender-purple to pure white, these flowers seem to last forever. First opening in mid-March in the Chicago area, they last up to two months before fading. At up to 1″ in diameter, they’re fairly noticeable. Interestingly enough, this species has no petals, but instead presents showy bracts surrounding a large number of delicate sepals, which in turn frame dainty yellow stamens.

Taxonomic description: 1/2 to 1″ across, pale pink-purple or white, in spring. Apetalous, but 6-15 oblong or oval, obtuse, sepals and numerous small yellow stamens central. Perfect, calyx 3-lobed. Borne singularly on upright stalks.

Fruit:Supposedly a favorite of chipmunks, the fruit is present appears in early summer. Oblong and sharp-pointed, they can get up to 2″ long and are covered with silky hairs.

Taxonomic description: 2″ long hairy, oblong, and acute achenes in early summer.

Cultivation: The preference is dappled sunlight during the spring and light shade during the summer. The basal leaves should be left undisturbed during the winter. The soil should be well-drained, loamy, and can contain some rocky material, including pieces of limestone; a thin-layer of decaying leaves is also beneficial.

Medicinal uses: Hepatica has been used as a liver remedy, though not used in modern medicine. So named according to doctrine of signatures.
Although Hepatica is no longer popular as an herbal remedy, it does act as a mild astringent and diuretic. It is also supposed to stimulate gall bladder production, resulting in limited success as a laxative.
Although the leaves will stop bleeding, they are also extremely irritating to the skin and should not be placed on open wounds. Large doses can produce symptoms of poisoning.

However, not too long ago Hepatica was viewed as the cure-all for most ailments. The Greeks named the plant ‘heper’, meaning liver (named after the leaf shape), and prescribed it for liver disorders. It was believed that a dose of liverleaf cured all liver diseases or their symptoms: freckles, indigestion, or cowardice.

In North America, Native Americans used the plant as a tea to soothe coughs, irritated throats, and as a wash for sore breasts.

By the 1820’s Hepatica had fallen into disuse throughout Europe, but its popularity in America was rapidly growing. In 1859 it was the prime ingredient in “Dr. Roder’s Liverwort and Tar Sirup”, and was often used as a cure for kidney problems. In the 1883 over 450,000 pounds of dried leaves were harvested for export or domestic use, although its effectiveness was often a reason for debate amongst doctors. For this reason it eventually fell into disuse once again.

Disclaimer:The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

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