Environment | IN BLOOM

Dokudami (lizard's tail)

by Linda Inoki

“Only the very richest people could afford to call the doctor out to visit them if they were sick. Country people used to pick plants like green gentian, cranesbill and lizard’s tail when they went up into the mountains to avoid, as much as possible, having to rely on the services of a doctor.”

From an oral history gathered by Dr. Junichi Saga in the 1970sand published as “Memories of Silk and Straw”(Kodansha International, translated by Garry Evans)

Lizard’s tail (Houttuynia) is a handsome, useful and cheerful plant that pops up in empty lots, shady flowerbeds and almost anywhere it can. Picking a sprig releases a distinctive medicinal aroma. Although its Japanese name means “poison and pain” it is not because the plant is poisonous but because it purifies the blood and reduces painful swellings. Lizard’s tail is still widely used as a general tonic in herbal teas. The leaves are elegantly trimmed with red, and the four white “petals” are actually bracts. They help attract insects to the tiny yellow flowers on its central cone.