Viper’s Bugloss – Echium Vulgare: Edible & Medicinal Uses of Comfrey-like of Wild Plants

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Viper’s bugloss (echium vulgare) is an edible and medicinal plant that’s a lot like comfrey and borage in usage. It even has the same toxic PAs (pyrrolizidine alkaloids) as comfrey. That’s something to consider besides the spiny bristles covering this plant.

Viper’s Bugloss all bristly like a cactus
Viper’s Bugloss all bristly like a cactus

If you’re prone to roadside walks, I’m sure you’ve noticed this electric blue flowered plant from the borage family. It can grow in the most gravelly infertile spots. It blooms continuously all summer starting early June. Don’t go grabbing it barehanded – it’s covered in sharp spines that can lodge into skin. I almost subtitled this one as the “Cactus” of our local edible and medicinal wild plants. An herbal porcupine is a close third.

Viper’s bugloss – echium vulgare
Viper’s bugloss – echium vulgare

Edible Uses of Viper’s Bugloss

Similar to stinging nettle, carefully and finely chopped young leaves can be eaten raw. And they can be cooked or steamed instead. But..

It does contain PAs. Our Canadian Honey Council has advised against beekeepers planting it for bee food due to the PAs making it into the honey. Our comfrey article contains much more information about PAs. It’s much more of a concern if you’re livestock, and there are no human poisonings recorded from PAs. But it’s still toxic. Personally I might try a new plant despite PAs, out of curiosity, but I wouldn’t make it a regular occurrence.

Medicinal Uses of Viper’s Bugloss

Viper’s Bugloss is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Integumentary
  • Urinary

Medicinal tags include Diaphoretic, Diuretic, and Vulnerary. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes the juice of the whole plant for bites and other wounds on the skin. Like comfrey, it contains allantoin (aluminum dihydroxy allantoinate, sometimes referred to as 5-ureidohydantoin or glyoxyldiureide) too, specifically in the roots. Allantoin is used extensively in skin care products.

Alternative Uses of Blue Thistle

You can use the seeds for decorative beads.

A red dye can be obtained from the root.

Viper’s bugloss – echium vulgare
Viper’s bugloss – echium vulgare

Growing Echium Vulgare

I can’t blame you if you leave this stunner in your yard. It’s not native to Ontario, but it will still attract various bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds.

It’s easy to pull out if you wish too. There are sun loving, blue flowering plants that are native here to put in their place including blue vervain (verbena hastata) and false indigo (baptisia spp.) and wild lupine (lupinus perennis). In a moist spot great blue lobelia is a native all-star.

A great resource for similar ideas is


Wear gloves when handling the plant, due to the spiny bristles covering it. They cause contact dermatitis in some people.

Contains toxic PAs/pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

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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Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

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