Species used: Lycopus virginicus (bugleweed), L. americanus (American bugleweed, American water horehound), L. europaeus (European bugleweed, gypsywort), L. asper, L. uniflorus, L. lucidus (shiny bugleweed, Asian bugleweed)
Family: Lamiaceae (Mint Family)
Other common names: Water bugle, water horehound, menta de lobo, gypsywort, gypsyweed, Paul’s betony, carpenter’s herb, wolf foot
The name bugleweed can refer to many different species of Lycopus, most of which occur natively in North America. The following serves as a description of Lycopus virginicus, one of the most commonly used members of this genus; there much similarity between the various species.
Bugleweed is an herbaceous perennial that spreads via underground stolons in the moist soil of meadows, thickets, swamps, ditches, and riparian areas. 1 Like many of its mint family cousins, it has square, upright stems (up to 60 cm tall) and opposite leaves (6-15 cm long and 2-5 cm wide). 2 The ovate, toothed leaves taper at their bases and have hairs and glands on their undersides, with longer hairs on the veins on both sides of the leaf. 2 Small white flowers (2 mm long) with tiny, linear, fuzzy bracts are found at leaf axils, and can be distinguished by only having two stamens, rather than the four that most members of the mint family plants have. 2 While it lacks a minty fragrance, the leaf does yield a mild, unique aroma when crushed.
Harvest: Harvest all aerial parts when the plant is in flower.
Preparation: Fresh plant tincture, fluid extract, infusion.
Infusion: Infuse 1 oz dried herb in 32 oz of boiling water; consume 2-3 ounces, up to 4x daily. 3
Fresh plant tincture: (1:2, 95% alcohol), 1-4 mL, 3-4 x daily. 3, 4
Fluid extract: 30-40 drops, 3-4 times daily. 5
Actions: Sedative, relaxant, respiratory antispasmodic, antioxidant, astringent, hemostatic, anti-prolactin, anti-glucagon, antithyrotropic, antigonadotropic. 3, 4
L. virginicus: 1,8-Cineole, alpha-pinene, beta-bourbonene, beta-pinene, caffeic acid, camphene, caryophyllene, chlorogenic acid, cis-isopulegone, delta-cadinene, ellagic acid, gallic acid, gamma-muurolene, germacrene-D, limonene, linalool, lithospermic acid, lycopin, myrcene, pulegone, rosmarinic acid, tannic acid. 6
L. europeaus: alkaloids , apigenin-7-monoglucoside , caffeic-acid, caryophyllene , caryophyllene-oxide , chlorogenic-acid, coumarin, delta-cadinene, ellagic-acid, ferulic-acid , flavonoids , germacrene-d, lithospermic-acid , luteolin-7-monoglucoside, rosmarinic-acid, sinapic-acid, trans-beta-farnesene , ursolic-acid 7
This bitter, cooling nervine is best known for its application in Grave’s disease, an autoimmune hyperthyroid disease. While not as common as Hashimoto’s disease (an autoimmune hypothyroid condition), it is not a particularly rare disease. Yet, most herbals commonly list only three herbs as suggested remedies: bugleweed and two other mint family relatives, lemon balm and motherwort. In fact, modern monographs for bugleweed often only mention its role in Grave’s disease, despite numerous other potential applications. This may be due in part to that bugleweed is specifically contraindicated for those with Hashimoto’s disease, and as that disease is very widespread, this does limit the breadth of folks who might be able to benefit from it.
For an herb that rarely garners even a paragraph in most modern herb books, it was written of extensively by the Eclectics and other herbal doctors of the 1800’s and early 1900’s, including C.S. Rafinesque in 1828, William Cook in 1869, Harvey Wickes Felter and John Uri Lloyd in 1898, the homeopath William Boericke in 1901, Fred J. Petersen in 1905, Finley Ellingwood in 1919, and Harvey Wickes Felter in 1922.
A potent anxiolytic with a bitter flavor, bugleweed brings relaxation that particularly benefits those with insomnia, relieving hypervigilance, hypersensitivity, and irritation. It is an excellent remedy when experiencing indigestion stemming from anxiety or long term activation of the fight or flight response. 3 In this vein, Eclectics Felter and Lloyd emphasized its use for “painful and distressing forms of indigestion”, and specific as a tonic for weakened patients. 8
It is a helpful respiratory antispasmodic for chronic, irritable coughs due to chronic bronchitis or pneumonia, and traditionally was valued for relieving the spastic coughing of tuberculosis infections. 8, 9 Late 19th century physiomedicalist William Cook attributed its benefits in consumption to its action in “equalizing the circulation and soothing the nerves”, which “relieves harsh coughs and arrests bleeding of the lungs;” Cook combined it with such herbs as Aralia racemosa, comfrey, and prunus in these cases. 5 Felter also noted its utility for any passive bleeding of the lungs, ascribing its action to the slowing of the circulation of blood to the lungs. 10 Bugleweed has significant hemostatic action body wide, with strength comparable to shepherd’s purse, and can be considered for conditions such as nosebleeds, heavy menstruation, or bleeding hemorrhoids. 3
For those whose experience of anxiety manifests as heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat, bugleweed can bring a sense of ease to the heart by slowing and regulating the rhythm. It can be a soothing remedy for rapid heart rate in tobacco smokers as well. 11 Initial studies on shiny bugleweed (Lycopus lucidus) show its triterpenoid oleanolic acids and ursolic acids, which are also found in other Lycopus species, can reduce heart rate, and Yarnell writes of his empirical experience in successfully using bugleweed for atrial fibrillation, at doses of 1-2 mL t.i.d. 12, 13 Early 20th century Eclectic doctor Finley Ellingwood cited its use for pericarditis and endocarditis, as bugleweed “lessens the frequency of the pulse, irritability, and its attendant inflammation, in a manner equaled by no other remedy.” 9 Felter described its benefits upon the circulation quite poetically, and painted the picture of the patient in need of bugleweed as lacking in “heart-energy”:
Apparently [bugleweed’s] force is chiefly expended on the vascular structures and the sympathetic nervous system. Its sedative action is most certain when the circulation is excited-even tumultuous-with lessened cardiac power. This evident want of heart-energy, with quickened velocity, is the most direct indication for lycopus. For this purpose especially it is greatly valued in the advanced stages of acute diseases with great debility, and in chronic diseases with frequent pulse. 10
Bugleweed can reduce body temperature via slowing of the heart rate and circulation, and it may benefit those experiencing night sweats or hot flashes due to hormonal imbalance, an action possibly mediated via inhibition of the secretion of LH and FSH. 3, 4, 8 Bugleweed is also a prolactin inhibitor. 3, 4
Many of these above actions, as well as its cooling nature, explain some of bugleweed’s special utility for Grave’s disease, a condition marked by weakness as well as increased metabolic activity, body temperature, heart rate, anxiety, hand tremors, and insomnia, among other symptoms.
While there are a dearth of human clinical trials on bugleweed, pharmacodynamic studies indicate there may be multiple mechanisms for action, including the inhibition of iodine metabolism and thyroxine release in the thyroid, inhibition of peripheral T4 deiodinzation, and blocking of thyroid stimulating hormone production. 3, 4, 14, 15 A non-randomized observational study (n=62) showed increased urinary excretion of throxine (T4) in patients receiving Lycopus europeus tablets. 16
In possible contrast to some of the above mechanisms, Yarnell also claims bugleweed’s main action is to prevent the thyroid stimulating antibodies that cause Grave’s disease from activating the thryotropin receptor, and that it doesn’t actually have direct thyrosuppressive action. 13 Michael Moore writes that bugleweed in fact only diminishes elevated thyroid function derived from stress, rather than overt thyroid disease. 3 Yarnell also notes that because there are a number of members of the mint family that can suppress thyroid function, then there may be common constituents responsible for this activity, and points to “hydroxycinnamic-acid–derived simple plant acids, such as lithospermic, rosmarinic, caffeic, and chlorogenic acids” as possible candidates. 13
In vitro, bugleweed was shown to enhance the efficacy of various antibiotic drugs against drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus known to possess multidrug resistance efflux mechanisms. 17 This lends some credence to claims by Eclectics, and a case study submitted by a Dr. Jensen to Ellingwood’s Therapeutist in 1909, where he described his extensive success in using L. virginicus in dysentery and enterocolitis cases where no other therapies worked. 18 Felter and Lloyd lauded its use for “acute gastric disturbances and inflammatory disease common to the drunkard.” 8
Fresh plant tincture is generally the most efficacious form, as alcohol most effectively extracts its active phenolic compounds, and hot water may damage some of the compounds responsible for thyroid or pituitary effects. 3
Hailing from the wild redwood forests of northern California, Selena Rowan has made her home in Portland for the past two years. A western and Ayurvedic trained clinical herbalist balancing a background in biology with a commitment to radical embodiment and reconnection to nature, Selena works to help restore reservoirs of resilience in those she supports. She strives to maintain an anti-oppression and trauma informed perspective, and she heartily welcomes people of color and LGBTQIA+ folks. Selena speaks some Spanish and warmly invites people who do not speak English as a first language. She is available to support you with range of health conditions.
Selena is grateful for the teachers who have supported her on this path: Christa Sinadinos, Greta de la Montagne, Traci Webb, K.P. Khalsa, Janet Czarnecki, Erico Schleicher, Sabel Regalia, and others. Selena dreams of a world where ideals of mutual aid, earth renewal, and love guide us in all we do.
1. Lycopus virginicus. Missouriplants.com website. http://www.missouriplants.com/Whiteopp/Lycopus_virginicus_page.html. Accessed August 27, 2018.
2. MedPlantId: Lycopus virginicus L. American Botanical Council. http://cms.herbalgram.org/MedPlantID/BotanicalEntries/Lycopus_virginicus.html. Accessed August 27, 2018.
3. Moore M. Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. 2nd ed. Santa Fe, NM: Museum of New Mexico Press; 2003.
4. Yarnell E, Abascal K. Botanical Medicine for Thyroid Regulation. Alternative and Complementary Therapies. 2006; 12(3):107-112. doi: 10.1089/act.2006.12.107
5. Cook WMH. The Physio-Medical Dispensatory. Cincinnati, OH: WM. H. Cook; 1869. Accessible at http://medherb.com/cook/cook.pdf.
6. Lycopus virginicus (Lamiaceae). Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. https://phytochem.nal.usda.gov/phytochem/plants/show/1219?part=&_ubiq=&ubiq=on. Accessed August 27, 2018.
7. Lycopus europaeus (Lamiaceae). Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. https://phytochem.nal.usda.gov/phytochem/plants/show/1216?part=&_ubiq=&ubiq=on. Accessed August 27, 2018.
8. Felter HW, Lloyd JU. King's American Dispensatory. Cincinnati, OH: Ohio Valley Co.; 1898. Accessible at: https://www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/kings/lycopus.html. Accessed August 27, 2018.
9. Ellingwood F. The American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy. 1919. Republished: Bisbee, AZ: Southwest School of Botanical Medicine. Accessible at http://www.swsbm.com/Ellingwoods/Ellingwoods_plants_only.pdf
10. Felter HW. The Eclectic Materia Medica, Pharmacology and Therapeutics. Cincinnati, OH: John K. Scudder; 1922. Republished: Bisbee, AZ: Southwest School of Botanical Medicine. Accessible at http://www.swsbm.com/FelterMM/Felters_Materia_Medica.pdf.
11. Boericke W. Materia Medica: The Tinctures. 1901. Republished by Christopher Gilbert and Paul Bergner. Accessible at https://www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/boericke/lycopus.html.
12. Garner-Wizard M. HerbClip: Re: Herbal Medicines Show Promise for Adjuvant Treatment of Atrial Fibrillation (Yarnell E). American Botanical Council. 2018. http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbclip/586/071748-586.html. Accessed August 27, 2018.
13. Yarnell E. Herbs for Atrial Fibrillation. Alternative and Complementary Therapies. 2017; 23(3):Published online. doi: 10.1089/act.2017.29114.eya.
14. Easley T, Horne S. The Modern Herbal Dispensatory: A Medicine-Making Guide. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books; 2016.
15. Webb G. HerbClip: Re: Monograph on European and American Lycopus (Bugleweed) (Harvey R). American Botanical Council. 1997. http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbclip/111/review41256.html. Accessed August 27, 2018.
16. Oppel MN. HerbClip: Re: Observational Study Examines European Bugleweed's Effects on Thyroid (Beer AM , Wiebelitz KR, Schmidt-Gayk H). American Botanical Council. 2008. http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbclip/359/review030687-359.html. Accessed August 27, 2018.
17. Gibbons S, Oluwatuyi M, Veitch NC, Gray AI. Bacterial resistance modifying agents from Lycopus europaeus. Phytochemistry. 2003 Jan;62(1):83-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12475623. Accessed August 27, 2018.
18. Jensen T. Lycopus Virginica in the Treatment of Dysentery and Enterocolitis. Ellingwoods Therapeutist, 1909. Accessible at https://www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/journals/elth/elth1909/01-lycopus.html. Accessed August 27, 2018.