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Echium vulgare - L.

Common Name Viper's Bugloss, Common viper's bugloss
Family Boraginaceae
USDA hardiness Coming soon
Known Hazards The leaves are poisonous[20]. No cases of poisoning have ever been recorded for this plant[76]. The bristly hairs on the leaves and stems can cause severe dermatitis[207].
Habitats Calcareous and light dry soils, especially on cliffs near the sea[4, 7, 17]. It is also found on walls, old quarries and gravel pits[4].
Range Europe, including Britain, from Scandanavia south and east to Spain, the Urals and W. Asia.
Edibility Rating    (1 of 5)
Other Uses    (0 of 5)
Weed Potential Yes
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care (info)
Well drained soil Moist Soil Full sun
Echium vulgare Viper
Echium vulgare Viper


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Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Echium vulgare is a BIENNIAL/PERENNIAL growing to 0.9 m (3ft) by 0.6 m (2ft in).
It is not frost tender. It is in flower from July to October, and the seeds ripen from August to October. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is pollinated by Bees, flies, Lepidoptera (Moths & Butterflies). The plant is self-fertile.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map



 Cultivated Beds; East Wall. In. South Wall. In. West Wall. In.

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Leaves
Edible Uses:

Young leaves - raw or cooked[7, 9, 13]. They can be used as a spinach substitute[9]. Mild and mucilaginous[K]. Although somewhat hairy, when chopped up finely they are an acceptable part of a mixed salad[K]. Eating the leaves is said to stimulate sexual desire[9]. Use with caution, there is an unconfirmed report of toxicity[21].


Medicinal Uses

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Antitussive  Aphrodisiac  Demulcent  Diaphoretic  Diuretic  Emollient  Pectoral  Vulnerary

Viper's bugloss was once considered to be a preventative and remedy for viper bites[254]. It is related to borage, Borago officinalis, and has many similar actions, especially in its sweat-inducing and diuretic effects[254]. In recent times, however, it has fallen out of use, partly due to lack of interest in its medicinal potential and partly to its content of pyrrolizidine alkaloids which are toxic in isolation[254]. The leaves and flowering stems are antitussive, aphrodisiac, demulcent, diaphoretic, diuretic, pectoral and vulnerary[4, 7, 222]. An infusion of the plant is taken internally as a diuretic and in the treatment of fevers, headaches, chest conditions etc[244, 254]. The juice of the plant is an effective emollient for reddened and delicate skins, it is used as a poultice or plaster to treat boils and carbuncles[7, 254]. The leaves are harvested in the summer and can be dried for later use[7]. The roots contain the healing agent allantoin[222]. The plant is said to be efficacious in the treatment of snake bites[4]. When chopped up finely, the fresh flowering heads can be made into a poultice for treating whitlows and boils[7].


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Other Uses


A red dye is obtained from the root[7].

Special Uses

Attracts Wildlife


Cultivation details

Succeeds in any good garden soil but flowers best when the soil is not too rich[1]. Requires a sunny position[200]. The plant is very deep rooted[4]. A good bee plant[4].


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Seed - sow February-May or August-November in situ. Germination usually takes place within 2 - 3 weeks at 15°c. If the seed is in short supply then it can be sown in pots in a cold frame. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and plant them out in the summer.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Sechium eduleChayote, Mirliton, Cho Ko, Cho-Cho, Vegetable PearPerennial Climber12.0 9-12 FLMHSNM423

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Botanical References


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Readers comment

gavin patience   Sat Apr 21 2007

This crop is under consideration in the pharmaceuticals industry and can command a high price Similar use/applications to borage - member of same family but perhaps easier to capture seeds?

Ron Smith   Mon May 26 2008

1. Does anyone know if Echium vulgare can hybridize with other native or related species? Thanks for any information.

Kejian Pang   Wed Aug 13 2008

Echium vulgare L.has also distributed in the northwest of China, a kind of wild type plant.

david n   Fri Oct 24 2008

"Potter's New Cyclopedia of Botanical drugs and preparations" records Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (liver toxins in humans, loved by some catapillars) in this plant. Quite a few things people eat like Borage have been found to contain these, once discovered it always seems to be recomended don't eat them.

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