Scientific Name(s): Anagallis arvensis
What: flowers, leaves, stem
How: dried and powdered, tea
Where: sunny fields, yards,
When: spring, summer
Nutritional Value: medicinal
Dangers: contains small amount of saponins which can cause stomach upset. Some people develop skin rashes from contact.
Pimpernel before producing flowers.
Scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) plants. Note the square stems. Flowers are only 1/4 inch across.
Scarlet pimpernel, blue variety (Anagallis arvensis Forma azurea).
Close-up of pimpernel leaf.
The scarlet pimpernel has a tradition of medicinal use going back to the ancient Greeks. They considered it to be a "cure-all", capable of treating any sort of injury, illness, or infection of bone, muscle, eye or other organ. The plant was dried and powdered, this powder then consumed in a drink. The raw plant has a rather unpleasant taste, probably due to the small amount of bitter saponin compounds it contains. It was also used as a wash for bad skin. Perhaps more importantly the pimpernel was thought to raise spirits and dispel melancholy, for which tea made from the fresh plant was recommended.
The pimpernel flowers close up when rain approaches, allowing them to be used as a crude method of predicting bad weather. The flowers also close up in the evening and won't reopen until stuck by sunlight.
The young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, but generally they are too bitter. Also note that they can be fatal to small animals such as rabbits and rodents so don't feed them to pets. Also, don't mistake it for chickweed (Stellaria media)