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In Ojibwe, wica’wasa’konek meaning “yellow light” is one word for an avens, specifically large-leaved avens. Our chocolatey title is after the edible usage of the purple avens. We’ve got many geum spp. in Ontario, Canada!
Avens (geum spp.) are in the rose family, closely related to cinquefoils and strawberries. In milder climates they are evergreen.
Our fairly common avens in the wilds of central Ontario are yellow (geum aleppicum) and white (g. canadense). Purple AKA water (g. rivale) is native here too, but sadly uncommon. Rare here are rough (g. laciniatum) and large-leaved (g. macrophyllum) as recorded in Haliburton Flora.
There is also an invasive nonnative avens, wood (geum urbanum), which is a look-a-like to the native yellow.
Edible Uses of Avens
The uncommon purple avens is sometimes called “chocolate root”. Its cinnamon-clove scented bitter roots can be used to make a cocoa-like drink, or dried and ground for spice. Its roots have also been used to flavour ale and prevent it from going sour. Of our 3 most common avens, I have yet to see purple avens in the wild. If you have a damp area for planting, it’d be a fun native to sow and perhaps get to see just how spicy the roots are.
The large-leaved avens leaves are edible too.
Medicinal Uses of Avens
Avens is primarily said to support these body systems:
Medicinal tags include Astringent, Febrifuge, and Styptic. See Medicinal tag key for more information.
Common usage includes the astringent rhizomes used in a gargle for a sore throat. It is yet another plant with the folk name “cure all” and typical astringent uses (like for gargles, skin compresses, tummy tea, etc.) The spicy roots of the purple avens could make a delicious stomachic mixed with brandy or wine. Note the urbanum species is the most common in Western herbals and it’s also the previously mentioned invasive one to Ontario, a look-a-like to our native yellow. It’s a great candidate to learn to ID the difference and harvest the invasive one for medicine; one difference being the native species has sharper teeth on its leaves. Points for sowing a native plant in urbanums place to help restore the food web.
As a styptic it’s used in lotions for hemorrhoids and internally for ulcers and other digestive or intestinal issues. It may be used as a vaginal douche too, depending on the condition.
Alternative Uses of Chocolate Root
Crushed avens seeds can be used for perfume. The “guem” part of the Latin name references this fragrance.
The dried root of purple avens may repel moths, but personally I’d much rather it attract them. Oh well.
Growing Geum SPP.
A hugely popular native avens being planted for pollinators for both pollen and nectar is the unique and beautiful looking “prairie smoke” (geum triflorum). I’ll include a picture once I’ve planted it, but I highly recommend searching out a picture! It’s gorgeous! For our pollinators sake, double check its this native species when shopping at your gardening center as there are cultivators too. People tend to fall in love with the look of prairie smoke immediately. The purple avens we’ve talked so much about in this feature is a quainter version, but there’s a notable resemblance.
Their hooked achenes/seeds will cling to fur and clothing. One of the many seeds that can cover your pants as autumn approaches! You may want to plant it in areas you don’t walk through due to this.
And the Usual Cautions:
1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.
2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.
3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.
4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.
5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.
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