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These plants, funghi and insect illustrations
are part of my botanical oracle deck

Potentilla erecta | Tormentil

Botanical Overview of Tormentil

  • Scientific Name: Potentilla erecta

  • Common Names: Tormentil, Septfoil, Bloodroot, Five Fingers, Shepherd's Knot

  • Family: Rosaceae

  • Description: Tormentil is a small, perennial herb that typically grows to a height of 10-30 cm. It is characterized by its slender, erect stems and deeply lobed, palmate leaves that are often grouped in threes (trifoliate). The leaves are green and somewhat toothed at the edges. Tormentil is known for its small, bright yellow flowers, which usually have four petals (unlike many related species that have five). The flowers are about 1 cm in diameter and appear from late spring to early autumn. The rootstock is thick, woody, and red on the inside, which is notable for its astringent properties and historical use in dyeing.

potentilla erecta botanical illustrations

Properties of Tormentil

  • Chemical Constituents: Contains high levels of tannins (20-30%), phenolic compounds, glycosides, and triterpenes such as tormentic acid. The high tannin content is responsible for its powerful astringent properties.

  • Edibility: While not typically consumed as a food due to its bitter and astringent taste, the root of Tormentil has been used historically to make a red dye and to flavor certain alcoholic beverages. In some cultures, the root was used as a last-resort food during times of famine.

Distribution and Habitat of Tormentil

  • Native Range: Europe and Western Asia.

  • Preferred Habitat: Tormentil thrives in a variety of habitats, including meadows, heathlands, moorlands, and woodland clearings. It prefers acidic, sandy, or peaty soils and can often be found in well-drained, sunny to partially shaded locations. It is common in both lowland and upland areas and is often a pioneer species in disturbed soils.

Medicinal Properties and Uses of Tormentil

  • Traditional Uses: Traditionally, Tormentil was used as a remedy for gastrointestinal issues due to its astringent and anti-inflammatory properties. It was commonly employed to treat diarrhea, dysentery, and other digestive disorders. The root was also used to alleviate bleeding and was applied as a poultice to wounds, sores, and ulcers to promote healing and prevent infection. In some cultures, Tormentil was used as a gargle for mouth and throat infections and as a treatment for various skin conditions.

  • Modern Applications: Today, Tormentil is recognized in herbal medicine for its potent astringent and antimicrobial properties. It is used to manage conditions such as diarrhea, hemorrhoids, and gastrointestinal inflammation. Tormentil extracts are also included in formulations for treating mucous membrane inflammations, such as those affecting the mouth, throat, and gums. The root is often used in tinctures and decoctions for both internal and external applications. Additionally, Tormentil is utilized in some natural skincare products for its ability to tighten and tone the skin, reduce redness, and support the healing of minor cuts and abrasions.

Magical Correspondences and Uses of Tormentil in Magical Practice

  • Element: Earth

  • Planet: Mars

  • Magical Properties: Protection, grounding, healing, and strength.

  • Uses: In magical practices, Tormentil is valued for its protective and grounding properties. It is often used in rituals and spells to create a shield against negative energies and to provide stability and strength to the practitioner. Carrying or placing Tormentil roots in a home can guard against evil influences and bring about a sense of security. Its strong astringent qualities are symbolically linked to drawing together and fortifying one's spiritual or emotional resilience. Tormentil is also associated with healing, particularly in matters related to the blood and digestive system. It can be included in charm bags, incenses, or baths designed to enhance physical recovery and promote overall well-being. Additionally, the plant’s connection to Mars makes it a powerful aid in rituals focused on courage, assertiveness, and overcoming challenges.

Folklore, Legends, and Mythology of Tormentil

  • Historical Context: In folklore, Tormentil was often regarded as a plant of great protective and curative power. It was traditionally used in charms and remedies to ward off evil spirits and to heal various ailments. The plant's name, "tormentil," is derived from the Latin word "tormentum," meaning pain, reflecting its historical use in alleviating discomfort and pain.

  • Folklore: According to European folklore, carrying a piece of Tormentil root could protect against enchantments and malevolent forces. The plant was also believed to be effective in breaking hexes and curses, and it was sometimes used in rituals to dispel negative influences and cleanse a space of harmful energies. In some traditions, Tormentil was associated with faeries and was believed to attract these mystical beings when planted near a home.

  • Mythology: While Tormentil does not have prominent associations with classical mythology, its use in protective and healing practices has imbued it with a sense of magical potency. The plant’s robust and resilient nature is reflected in its mythological symbolism, often representing endurance, strength, and the power to overcome adversity. Its role in traditional medicine and folklore underscores its connection to themes of recovery and protection.

Historical Literary Sources

  • "Herbals of John Gerard" (1597): Details the various uses of Tormentil in Elizabethan England, emphasizing its medicinal and protective properties.

  • "Culpeper’s Complete Herbal" by Nicholas Culpeper (1653): Describes the healing qualities of Tormentil and its applications in early modern herbal medicine, focusing on its ability to treat gastrointestinal and wound-related issues.

  • "A Modern Herbal" by Maud Grieve (1931): Offers insights into the historical and contemporary uses of Tormentil, highlighting its importance in traditional European herbal practices.


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