Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden
It is purest coincidence that this herb, like the last, has (or at least had) a reputation as an aphrodisiac. The reason for sea holly’s inclusion at this point is because it’s another holly (which was covered on Christmas Day), whereas the previous herb, viper’s bugloss, was the third of three buglosses to be discussed (the others being borage and alkanet).
Sea holly, Eryngium maritimum, is not related to holly at all, and only resembles it superficially due to its spiky leaves, but the color is completely different – a sort of grayish blue. I think it’s a very attractive plant, although it has to be said that it is a bit fierce! It is closely related to field eryngo, which also has a reputation as an aphrodisiac. Sea holly will grow almost anywhere, even in very alkaline or saline soils – hardly surprising, as its natural habitat is on the seashore. It’s happy in poor soil, but will not grow in the shade, though strong or salty wind will not affect it at all. It’s a hardy perennial which reaches a height of about 18 inches (45cm).
To grow sea holly, the seeds should be surface sown and can take up to 3 months to germinate. Although they resent being interfered with, it’s also possible to divide existing plants with care in spring or fall. Root cuttings in fall or winter are another method of propagation.
However, it is the root which is most often used, usually as a decoction made by putting 2-3 teaspoonfuls of the root and 2 cups (500ml/16 fl oz) of water into a saucepan, bringing it to a boil and then simmering until the liquid reduces by half. After straining, this can be used to treat urinary problems, including kidney stones, cystitis and urethritis, prostatitis, and as a very good expectorant for the treatment of coughs. In all these cases, the dosage is one third of a cup, 2-3 times a day as required.
As for using sea holly as an aphrodisiac, though I have no idea whether they actually work, it is the roots which are supposed to have this power, so a decoction as described would be the way to go. Alternatively, you could copy the Elizabethans and candy the roots, sucking the lozenge so produced when the need arises.
Like all other herbs grown for medicinal purposes, sea holly intended for herbal medicine should be grown organically so as not to corrupt the medicinal properties with foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic sea holly visit the Gardenzone.