Common Bugle is a mostly erect introduced perennial forb, growing 4 to 12 inches high on square stems that are smooth on two sides and have fine hair on the other two sides.
The leaves are both basal and stem. The basal leaves are tufted, obovate in shape (widest in the center, length around 1.5x width) with rounded tips, the margins with scalloped teeth, and taper to a short stalk with a thin wing. The stem leaves are similar, but smaller and more rounded and usually stalkless. Leaves near or in the inflorescence may have marginal hair, fine surface hair, and edges without teeth. From the tufted basal leaves emerge creeping stolons, up to one foot long. These may also have smaller stalked leaves. The stolons root at the nodes where the leaves form. The stolons then die in winter but a new plant forms the following spring where the stolon rooted. In warmer climates the basal leaves are evergreen.
The inflorescence is a terminal spike of separated flower clusters, typically 6 flowers to a cluster, but there maybe only 4. In the mint family this arrangement is called a 'verticillaster' where the flowers look like a whorl arrangement but are actually in cymes that rise from the axils of opposite green hairy bracts. Only a few flowers in each cyme open at one time. The spike elongates as flowers open from the bottom upward.
The flowers have a tubular corolla ranging from various shades of blue to white. The corolla forms two lips, the upper much smaller of two fused petals forming two lobes. The lower petals forming three rounded lobes of the lip, the middle lobe larger with a notch at the tip. The lower lip has darker colored nectar guide lines with a whitish patch in the throat of the middle lobe. There are 4 stamens, arranged in unequal length pairs, with yellow anthers. The ovary is 4 sectioned with a single style. The outer calyx of the flower is green, hairy, with 5 teeth. Each whorl of the raceme is subtended by leafy bracts which take on a bluish to brownish color when the flowers are blue but remain green when the flowers are white.
Seed: Fertile flowers produce a 4 chambered seed capsule formed from the base of the calyx, each chamber with a single dark brown wrinkled nutlet. Many of the seeds do not mature. Plants are pollinated by bees which can reach the nectar deep in the corolla.
Habitat: When Common Bugle is found outside of plantings, it is usually in waste places and fields. In gardens it needs fertile loamy soil, with adequate moisture and partial shade. It grows from a fibrous root system with a crown. It can spread by re-seeding but since most seeds do not mature, it propagates mostly by the rooting stolons, which allow it to form a tight colony of plants.
Names: The genus name Ajuga of of ancient origin and obscure. Mrs. Grieve (Ref.#7) writes that Linnaeus applied the name in the belief that the plant was that referred to by Pliny and others by a very similar name, probably corrupted from Abija, meaning to 'drive away; as the plant was used to treat some diseases. She further states that some early writers called the plant Bugula and that may be the source of the English common name of Bugle. The species, reptans, means 'creeping' and refers to the creeping stolons. The author name for the plant classification - 'L.' refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy.
Comparisons: Common Bugle is similar to Heal-all (Self-heal) (Prunella vulgaris) in size and flower arrangement but Bugle has larger leaves and the stolons.
Medicinal Lore: See bottom of page.
Above: The inflorescence of Common Bugle. Drawing courtesy Kurt Stüber's Online Library
Below: Flowers of the mint family form in a whorl-like arrangement around the upper part of the stem. Like most mints, flowers have the five petals formed as two lips - one smaller on the top and one much larger with 3 lobes on the bottom.
Below: The stem leaves are opposite pairs without stalks while the basal leaves are stalked and from which area grow the creeping stolons that can root at the point where the stolon has a pair of leaves.
Common Bugle is a native of Eurasia and commonly found in North America in gardens. It has sometimes escaped and is known to have naturalized in most of the eastern half of North America. There are no known escaped populations in Minnesota.
Medicinal Lore: The fresh parts of the plant were used to make an infusion to treat hemorrhage and for coughs and spitting of blood. The chemical action was said to be similar to digitalis in that it lowered the pulse.
Culpepper wrote in 1652 (Ref.#4b) : "The decoction of the leaves and flowers made in wine, and taken, dissolveth the congealed blood in those that are bruised inwardly by a fall, or otherwise, and is very effectual for any inward wounds....It is wonderful in curing all manner of ulcers and sores, whether new and fresh, or old and inveterate; yea, gangrenes and fistulas also, if the leaves bruised and applied, or their juice be used to wash and bathe the place; and the same made into a lotion, and some honey and allum, cureth all sores in the mouth and gums, be they ever so foul, of of long continuance; and worketh no less powerfully and effectually for such ulcers and sores as happen in the secret parts of men and women"... and more.
He goes on to say that if you are troubled by too much drink: "Many times such as give themselves much to drinking are troubled with strange fancies, strange sights in the night time, and some with voices, as also with the disease ephialtes [that is - the demon that causes nightmares], or the mare. I take the reason of this to be a melancholy vapour made thin by excessive drinking strong liquor, and so files up and disturbs the fancy, and breeds imaginations like itself, viz, fearful and troublesome; these I have known cured by taking only two spoonfuls of the syrup of this herb, after supper two hours, when you go to bed."
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Identification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"