It grows as a common weed in Australia, and is pulled out by the roots and left to die near garden beds or thrown on to compost heaps yet this incredible herb has been accredited with saving the life of a baby.
Such ignorance only exists because we don't know enough about weeds and this saddens me. This weed grows at my place and it's common names are Sida retusa and Paddy's Lucerne yet I only learned of its usefulness a couple of weeks ago when talking to a friend about herbal medicine. We were standing under the shade of the trees in her garden when she told me a true story that happened about sixty years ago.
A baby was suffering from diarrhea and had been taken to the doctor several times but was unable to be cured. Every attempt the doctor made failed to produce the desired result so he told the mother there was nothing more that could be done for the baby and it would die as a result of the diarrhea. When the heart broken woman went home she told an old aboriginal woman what the doctor had said. On hearing this the woman gathered the herb, Sida retusa, and gave it to the mother telling her to make a drink from it and give it to her baby. The mother followed the instructions and the baby lived.
While telling me this story my friend bent down to show me this nondescript weed growing at the edge of her garden and I recognized it immediately as a herb that grows at my place. I have pulled it out as weed too but always felt a tug in my heart as though it was the wrong thing to do. My friend gave me a leaf to chew and it turned to jelly in my mouth so I knew straight away it was high in mucilage. This is indicative of the mallow family that includes marshmallow root, a herb that herbalists use to soothe irritated and inflamed tissue. As soon as I returned home I looked the herb up in a precious reference book (see below) that my youngest daughter bought me some time ago and to my delight, found it in there.
Native to Australia and other warm countries Sida retusa is a tough fibrous plant belonging to the same family as Hibiscus and mallows. The toothed leaves are variously shaped and are often gray underneath while the flowers are pale yellow and 1.5 cm in diameter. Stamens are united in a central column and the ten-ribbed calyx is helpful when identifying the plant.
According to this book the herb is widespread and is one of the best known native plant remedies that many people still swear by as a cure for diarrhea and claim that its action is far superior to that of any patent medicine. Because of the plant's high mucilage content it was known as jelly leaf in colonial times.
Usually the young tips are chewed or the plant is taken as a decoction. In other countries the herb has been used to treat chest ailments including tuberculosis and it's been claimed that it contains ephedrine, which is used in the treatment of asthma.
In Malaysia Sida retusa is used in folk medicine. The extract of roots and leaves are used for fever and the pulped leaves or roots are used as a poultice for a variety of sores and ulcers. It is also used for toothache and headache and has magical attributes including protection when hunting elephants.
Now I know how beneficial this herb is I will let it grow undisturbed and when the time is right make a tincture from it.
Ref: Wild Medicine in Australia A.B. & J.W. Cribb
Proprietor, author, and tutor of The Home Herbalist Online Course.