Posted by: Bystander PJ24 SEP 2009
As pharmacists, we are all aware of St John’s wort, Hypericum perforatum, and its use as an antidepressant. But we may not all know of its close relation H androsaemum, which also has medicinal properties.
H androsaemum has an odd-sounding vernacular name: tutsan. This turns out to be a corruption of the Norman French toute-saine, which literally means “all-healthy” — a surefire clue to its medicinal use.
Also known as sweet amber, purple St John’s wort and park-leaves, tutsan is a semi-deciduous bushy shrub with red stems, paired oval leaves and golden yellow flowers.
In the wild it grows in open woodland, in hedgerows and in the cracks of limestone pavement. Its glossy fruits ripen from green to reddish-purple and then purplish-black.
Tutsan is found naturally across much of Europe, including the British Isles, and also in south-west Asia and north Africa. It now is cultivated worldwide as a garden plant, being useful as ground cover or to fill awkward spaces. It seeds freely and in many countries it has absconded into the wild, where it is often treated as an unwelcome weed because it can displace native species.
Tutsan is said to share H perforatum’s action as an antidepressant, but its main medicinal use through the centuries has been in wound healing. In his 1653 ‘Complete herbal’, Nicholas Culpeper states that tutsan “stays all the bleedings of wounds, if either the green herb be bruised, or the powder of the dry be applied thereto”.
It is also, he says, “a sovereign herb to heal either wound or sore, either outwardly or inwardly” — apparently working just as well when taken by mouth as when used in a lotion or ointment.
Culpeper also writes: “Tutsan purgeth choleric humours, as St Peter’s-wort is said to do, for therein it worketh the same effects, both to cure sciatica and gout, and to heal burnings by fire.”
(St Peter’s wort is yet another hypericum, H terapterum, alias square-stemmed St John’s wort.)
A further use for tutsan is as a preservative for cheese, according to A. F. M. Willich, physician and dietitian, in his 1802 book, ‘The domestic encyclopedia’.
Willich says that tutsan leaves “have from experience been found to possess considerable antiseptic properties. They ought, however, to be employed only when moderately dry, in which state they should be placed upon, or at the sides of the cheese, in an airy situation.”