What is Menyanthes?

Mary McMahon

Menyanthes is a genus of aquatic to semi-aquatic plants with a single known species, M. trifoliata. It is native throughout the northern hemisphere and can be found in bogs, marshes, wetlands, and other consistently wet environments. Historically, this plant was used in the preparation of herbal remedies for scurvy and inflammation. It continues to be used in the production of herbal tisanes, and in some regions it is believed to have health benefits.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

This wetland plant has a very distinctive physical appearance. The stems take the form of fleshy rhizomes, producing leaves in arrangements of three. Menyanthes produces a single stalk of flowers in a clustered inflorescence, with flowers at the base opening first. These plants can grow partially underwater, as long as the leaves reach the surface, or in particularly boggy, wet soils. Like other bog plants, Menyanthes is tolerant of acidic growing conditions.

Known as bog-bean or buckbean in English speaking regions, this plant was historically used for a wide variety of medicinal purposes. It was added to general tonics and was believed to be a febrifuge and purgative, capable of reducing fevers and ridding the body of contaminants. It was also widely used in scurvy treatment. At least one medical use, as a treatment for inflammation, appears to have some basis in science, as Mentanthes preparations can address internal inflammation, as well as inflammation of the skin.

In addition to being used medicinally, historically the leaves have also been used as a flavoring for beer. Beer-brewing regions often used medicinal plants as flavorings, and there is a long history of brewing such plants with beers to add both flavor and perceived health benefits. For people interested in using this flowering plant medicinally, plain dried leaves are sometimes available at health food stores, along with preparations including Menyanthes designed for the treatment of specific issues. It is advisable to consult a doctor before using medicinal plants to check for any contraindications.

People hiking in boggy and marsh regions may be able to spot Menyanthes in the wild. It is very easy to identify because of its distinctive appearance. People should not collect wild plants unless they have been given authorization to do so, as it can disrupt wild populations as well as disturbing the environment. In regions where wildcrafting is permitted, often it is possible to take a collecting class with an experienced herbalist who can teach people about plant identification and responsible harvesting of medicinal plants.

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