Purple Loosestrife – Lythrum Salicaria: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Purple Marsh Eater of Wild Plants

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Purple loosestrife is causing a bit of strife here. This introduced edible and medicinal plant sure is pretty, but purple loosestrife is taking over our marshes and crowding out native plants necessary for a healthy ecosystem.

Purple loosestrife (lythrum salicaria) was rare here when Haliburton Flora was compiled. They only found it in two locations. At the time, it was likely imported by a beekeeper. It’s all over the county now.

Loosestrife is taking over multiple waters here, especially waters near roadsides and trails. When it chokes out a wet site like a marsh it effects water flow and also dramatically decreases the biological diversity in the area. It’ll even cause strife for cattails!

There’s a native swamp loosestrife (decodon verticillatus) from the same family, listed in Haliburton Flora as uncommon. And there is another native loosestrife to some parts of Ontario, winged (lythrum alatum). The native loosestrifes fit nicely into our local ecosystem.

Purple Loosestrife - Lythrum Salicaria
Purple Loosestrife – Lythrum Salicaria

Edible Uses of Purple Loosestrife

Young leaves can be eaten in small amounts. 

Medicinal Uses of Purple Loosestrife

Purple loosestrife is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Integumentary

Medicinal tags include Alterative, Astringent, Demulcent, Diuretic, and Styptic. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes the aerial parts as an astringent for diarrhea (including bloody diarrhea) that is safe for all ages. It’s also more recommended for an eye wash than eyebright, which I will bring up again when we post about eyebright ;).

It’s worth nothing that not many herbs are both astringed and demulcent.

Purple Loosestrife – Lythrum Salicaria

Alternative Uses of Purple Grass

The reason this invasive plant was introduced to North America may have been beekeeping, but misguided garden centers have been selling it as an ornamental too. And while sometimes cultivators are sterile, cultivators of this particular plant have been shown to produce pollen and seeds. Yikes. “Sterile” labels are not necessarily to be believed and I suppose this is a cautionary tale to be even more cautious about such claims. To make it even more confusing, this plant also gets marketed as “European wand loosestrife” (lythrum virgatum).

Growing Lythrum Salicaria

Native plants like cardinal flower, blue vervain, blue lobelia are marshy plants with similar looks and bright colourful flowers to consider for both bees and wet landscaping in cottage country, Ontario. Native fireweed is sometimes confused for loosestrife.

It’s hard to remove the invasive loosestrife. It is one of the plants “biological pest control” has been working against. Five types of beetles have been released on them and have shown effective in defoliating nearby loosestrife. My knee jerk reaction to this method (“is that really a good idea?”) may have been influenced by the regular reputation of “there was an old lady who swallowed a fly” as a child, and of course its early history in places like Australia. I am however trying to keep an open mind..

You can report strands of strife on the loose – “If you’ve seen purple loosestrife or other invasive species in the wild, please contact the toll-free Invading Species Hotline at 1-800-563-7711, or visit Ontario’s invading species awareness program to report a sighting.” Find out more here.


And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

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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A Modern Herbal (Volume 1, A-H): The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-Lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs & Trees with Their Modern Scientific Uses

The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published (Dover Cookbooks)

The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine

The Herbal Apothecary: 100 Medicinal Herbs and How to Use Them

Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: 550 Herbs and Remedies for Common Ailments

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