Ballota nigra (*)
Ballota nigra L.
Linnaeus, C. (1753). Species Plantarum, Tomus II: 582.
Ballota nigra (Black Horehound) is a perennial herb of the family Lamiaceae. It is native to the Mediterranean region and to central Asia, and can be found throughout Europe and the Eastern United States. It blooms from may to august.
Ballota nigra has a very strong smell, and can be recognised by its clusters of hairy, reddish-purple flowers. It can grow up to 3 feet in height.
Stem and root
It has herbaceous ascending stems, wooden and branched at bottom, covered by down folded hairs. The plant has a taproot system.
Leaves are opposite and decussate, and range from oval-lanceolate to heart-shaped, with crenate or dentate border. Leaves, dark green and usually pubescent, measure 3-8 cm per 2-6 cm, and have 1-3 cm petiole. Upper face is wrinkled, with a net-like vein pattern.
Flowers are organized in verticillasters, subspherical to about one-sided, with 15 to 30 flowers. Each verticillaster consist of two condensed dichasial cymes at axils of normal leaves.
Flower has an actinomorphic calyx (length 9-10 mm, width 7 mm), made up by five sepals fused together in a tube with five teeths; and a labiate corolla of 12-13 mm, ranging from pink to pale purple to withish. The corolla consist of a tube of about 6 mm and two lips; the upper one slightly concave (like a hood) and externally hairy; the lower one glabrous, with two minor lateral lobes and a major central bifid lobe. There are four didynamous stamens, running parallel under the upper lip, with glabrous filaments and yellow anthers. Ovary is superior, with a single white style and a 2-parted stigma.
Below the calyx there are five filiform bracts, 8 mm long.
Each fertilized flower produces a tetrad of black nutlets, cylindrical to ovoid, 2 mm long, partially or fully covered by the calyx. The basal end is flat and attached to the receptacle, while the top end is rounded or pointed.
Ballota nigra contains diterpenoids like marrubiin, ballonigrin, ballotinone, ballotenol and 7-acetoxymarrubiin. Also, it contains phenylpropanoids that have shown to be antioxidants.
The plant was described by Linnaeus in Species Plantarum (may 1753). The name Ballota comes from the greek ballo (to reject), because of the strong offensive odor of the plant; cattle will not eat it. The specific name nigra could refer to the black colour of dried leaves.
The common name comes from the Old English words har and hune, meaning downy plant. This name refers to the hairs that give the herb its distinctive appearance. It is also suggested that horehound takes its name from Horus, the Egyptian god of sky and light.
Distribution and habitat
Ballota nigra is a nitrophilous plant; it grows in ruins, fallows and hedges, up to 1300 m. It prefers loose, calcareous (alkaline) soils. It tolerates temperatures as low as -5°/-10° C.
It is a garden plant that has medicinal properties, and also acts as a mild sedative.
The plant is an antiemetic: it's effective against nausea and vomiting especially when the cause resides in the nervous system, like motion sickness or morning sickness, but also in case of dyspepsia. This plant is also believed to be expectorant, vermifuge, a menstrual normalizer and a remedy for gout and arthritis. Again, it's an astringent for the skin.
Usually, the plant is used dry, harvested when blooming; sometimes syrups are made from fresh plants.
Conti, Fabio; Carlo Blasi, Alessandro Alessandrini, Giovanna Abbate (may 2005). An annotated Checklist of the Italian Vascular Flora. p. 60. ISBN 88-7621-458-5.
Source: Wikipedia, Wikispecies: All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License