Herb of the Month: Storksbill, Filaree

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Spanish: Alfilerillo

Family: Geraniaceae (Geranium family)

Genus & Species: Erodium cicutarium

Growing throughout New Mexico, and the world for that matter, storksbill is a member of the geranium family that was likely introduced by Spanish explorers to the Southwest.

The name storksbill comes from the shape of the ripening seed pods that look like the long-beaked storks that legends tell us bring our babies.

Other members of the geranium family called the cranesbills also have these seed pods, but storksbill is the only one that has the unique habit of changing its bird-like seedpod into a corkscrew shape and screwing itself into the ground to deposit its seeds firmly. The Spanish name alfilerillo, as well as the English name filaree both, come from the Latin word filum meaning thread, due to the almost thread-like delicate leaves of storksbill.

One of our earliest blooming herbs in Northern New Mexico, you will see its bright pink little flowers beginning in late April and continuing throughout the summer. Look for this delicate little plant in places that retain warmth overnight in the spring, giving the plant a head start along the south sides of buildings, in the untraveled center strips of dirt roads, and even in the cracks in sidewalks.

As a medicine, both the leaves and the root of storksbill are useful due to being astringent; the root is a strong astringent while the leaves are a less aggressive astringent. Astringents cool, tighten and reduce inflammation in the tissues with which they come into contact.

Astringents from herbs can be gentle or aggressive. Gentle astringents, such as rose petals, can be used in the eyes to reduce irritation and redness or as cosmetics to tighten and smooth the skin of the face. Stronger astringents, such as storksbill root can be used to treat sunburn, diarrhea and hemorrhoids, as a sitz bath for postpartum moms, and even as a tanning agent for leather. Astringents have an antiseptic property because they "denature" the protein cell wall of many bacteria, causing their demise by inhibiting the bacterium from taking on nutrients and excreting wastes.

The astringent properties of herbs are broadly useful. It is interesting to note, that while many herbal astringents were in use by Western medicine up until the early 1900s, they have fallen into almost complete disuse, with the exception of chemicals, such as boric acid, zinc oxide and Alum (Aluminum potassium sulfate).

Consult your health-care practitioner about the use of herbs or supplements (especially if you are pregnant or taking prescription medication) or administering herbs to children.

Rob Hawley is co-owner and herbalist at Taos Herb Company, (575) 758-1991 or taosherb.com.

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