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Common viper’s bugloss, it bites away at pesky ailments

Benefits of echium vulgare

Despite its rather uninviting name, this biennial plant boasts lovely bluish flowers. Viper’s bugloss offers a range of therapeutic properties. Calming, diuretic, expectorant… Explore the benefits of Echium vulgare and learn how to cultivate it in your garden!

Viper’s bugloss: Echium vulgare

Why this peculiar name? Its fruits resemble snake tongues. Its tall stems have long lance-shaped leaves covering them.

Delicate, fine foliage, coated in a fuzz, gives it a gray shade. Floral spikes stand 6-12 inches high at the stem ends. Overall plant height is getween 24 and 36 inches, adding volume to a garden bed. Viper’s bugloss is very hardy, down to tolerates down to 5°F (-15°C), which makes it one of the best cold-hardy plants for the garden.

Here’s a fun fact: Viper’s bugloss attracts butterflies!

Therapeutic benefits of Echium vulgare

  • Expectorant: Echium clears respiratory passages, making it great against coughs, bronchitis, and colds.
  • Diuretic: Helps eliminate excess water and salt from the body, enhancing urinary system performance.
  • Calming: Soothes the skin and has a relaxing effect on the nervous system.
  • Fever reducer: People love Echium for its anti-inflammatory properties; it combats fever and headaches.
  • Healing: great for treating wounds and boils.
  • Relieves arthritis and rheumatism: quite a boon when you suffer from this…

How to use Echium?

  • As a tea: Echium tea, made from its leaves, is recommended for its expectorant, fever-reducing, and diuretic properties. Toss some flowering tops in simmering water to specifically target that pesky cough.
  • In a poultice: Best skip the leaves; they can sometimes irritate. In this case, what’s more relevant are the roots with their emollient and healing properties. Finely chop them and place between two cloths or apply them directly on the wound.
  • Oil form: Many facial care products have Echium oil as an ingredient, bringing flexibility back to skin.


Beware: consuming viper’s bugloss in large amounts isn’t recommended. Indeed, it contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids that might give your liver a hard time. Pregnant and breastfeeding women shouldn’t use it either.

Viper’s bugloss growing and care

Planting Echium vulgare

You’ll often find viper’s bugloss just sprouting on a roadside, on wastelands, or rocky hillsides.

How to plant echium vulgareIt does great in pretty much any soil type, as long as it’s well-drained and not too rich. Limestone, sea spray, drought, it’ll cope with these challenges without any problems. However, soggy soil is a definite no-go: it can’t deal with too much water. Regarding exposure, give it direct sunlight!

In colder regions, consider growing in pots. That way, you can bring it inside when winter rolls in, if ever it gets very cold.

Caring for echium vulgareWhen sowing this annual or biennial beauty in April (after frost threats subside), bury the seeds a few inches deep (3-5 cm). Press down, water, and keep the soil moist till you see sprouts. When 3-4 leaves have appeared, thin out to about 12 inches (30 cm) apart.

It’s also possible to start a bit earlier in nursery pots, and some garden stores also sell seedlings. Once your plant reaches five leaf pairs, transfer your container to its final growing bed. If going with potted containers, a drainage layer at the bottom such as clay pellets or gravel is key.

Echium vulgare care:

For viper’s bugloss, less is often more. A bit of watering after planting, then let it be!

Winter care for Viper's buglossPotted ones, however, dry out much faster. They’ll need bi-monthly water sessions with a dash of liquid fertilizer.

If you’d prefer not to have self-sown seeds sprout in the following year (which they will!), snip off faded flowers.

Over winter, bring your potted plant to a cool, lighted spot. For those overwintering outdoors, cover the soil with them a layer of mulch and wrap them with a winter veil.

Images: CC BY 2.0: tsiegretlop, CC BY-SA 2.0: Andreas Rockstein; dreamstime: Nadezhda Andriyakhina; Pixabay: Hans Braxmeier
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