Botanical and Common Names
- Family Ericaceae
- Calluna vulgaris (Heather, Ling)
- Family Lythraceae
- Cuphea spp. (Mexican Heather)
- Spanish: (Cancerina, Yerba del Cáncer, Alcancér, Calavera, Chanclana, Yerba del Coyote)
- Nahuatl: (Ayauhtona)
- None listed.
With the exception of a few Mediterranean islands, heather is distributed throughout most of Europe, Russia, and Asia Minor as well as on the Atlantic coast of North America. It is a small, branched shrub growing to about two feet with tiny leaves and white or pink to pale purple flowers that grow on spikes. It can be found on heaths, moors, bogs, and in open woods. The herb is gathered when in flower in late summer.
There are more than 200 species of Cuphea in the Americas and about 90 of them are found growing wild in central and southern Mexico from Durango to Chiapas. Like its English counterpart, Mexican heather grows profusely on hillsides and in fields. The small, bushy plants are covered with tiny orangy-red to purple flowers.
If the “erica” referred to by Dioscorides is heather, then the flowering tips were used in classical times for snake bites.
Galen (131-200 CE) wrote of the plant’s ability to induce sweating.
The rootstalk of the plant was used to make musical pipes. The foliage was used for mattress stuffing and the flowers eventually gave a delicate honey.
The Spanish name (Cancerina) comes from the plant’s traditional use for treating tumors.
- cleansing and detoxifying
- heals wounds
(b) Mexican Heather
- promotes healing
- alkaloid (ericodin)
- Flowering tips, shoots (Heather); stem, leaf, flowers (Mexican Heather)
- Ericodin is strongly disinfectant, especially within the bladder and urinary tubules.
Heather is used mainly as a urinary antiseptic and diuretic, disinfecting the urinary tract while increasing urine production. It was long used to treat cystitis and inflammatory bladder conditions, as well as for kidney and bladder stones.
A decoction can be added to a bath or used internally. A cleansing herb, it is helpful for such conditions as rheumatism, arthritis, and gout. The macerated flowering tips produce a liniment to be rubbed on affected joints.
A hot poultice made with heather tips is a traditional remedy for chilblains.
Heather is also used for enlargement of the prostate; for gastrointestinal disorders and colic; for liver and gallbladder disease; and for respiratory complaints, insomnia, agitation, and wounds.
Mexican Heather is used to treat indigestion, dysentery, wounds, bruises, and muscle pain.