The Lamb's Ear Plant – Decoration, Food, Or Noxious Weed?
The Lamb's Ear plant (Stachys byzantina) is one of those all-purpose plants you will find in the wild or in a neighbor's carefully cultivated garden. The name is appropriate, as the leaves are shaped somewhat like the ear of a lamb, and they are soft and fuzzy to the touch, definitely like a lamb's ear. The plant is not all that beautiful too look at, although that is a very subjective opinion, and it can pop up as a weed in places you really don't care for it to be. Most farmers don't have too many friendly things to say about the plant if it is continually popping up among their crops, as it can be quite invasive, and can also be very difficult to permanently get rid of. Small children are quite fascinated by it however, not because of its beauty, but because its leaves are so nice and cuddly. It is an ideal plant for a child's flower garden.
Excellent For Bandaging Wounds - The Lamb's Ear has a number of medicinal uses. It is sometimes used as an herb might be, although it is technically not an herb. The leaves of the plant have an astringent quality, and can be used as an emergency dressing or bandage for a wound, since they are large and thick, as a good bandage should be. In fact, the leaves were often used for just this purpose in past wars. While the leaves are every bit as good today for such a purpose, should a First-Aid kit not be handy, they are more likely to be used, by those who are familiar with the plant, to provide relief from a bee or wasp sting, as well as bringing down any swelling.
Pineapple Tea - There is some disagreement as to whether the Lamb's ear plant is edible or not. It is said the leaves have a taste somewhere between the taste of an apple and the taste of a pineapple, but you'd be hard put to find anyone who regularly munches on the leaves, or even uses them in a salad. The leaves are edible however, although somewhat bland in spite of their fruit flavor. They are used as food in some parts of the world, though the use is generally restricted to the young and more tender leaves. It is a known fact that deer don't like the leaves at all. One can make a tea from the dried leaves, and if indeed there is a hint of an apple or pineapple taste in them, they should make a decent tasting tea.
When used in a tea, the Lamb's ear is said to be useful in treating fever, sore throat, diarrhea, and various other ailments. Other claims, such as the tea being good for a weak heart or liver, may be open to question. As far as the entire plant is concerned, it was noted above that the leaves have an astringent property. Taken together, the leaves, flowers and stalks, have antiseptic, diuretic, and antibacterial properties as well.
The plant's botanical name, Stachys byzantina, is based on the fact it is a species of the Stachys genus, and it's native habitat is in the geographic area once the home of the Byzantine Empire, in this case, Turkey. The word Stachys is from the Greek, and means an ear of grain, referring to the flowering spike characteristic of the Lamb's Ear and a number of other plants belonging to the Stachys genus.
Uses In The Garden - If you are a property owner, you may be a bit hard pressed to decide whether to cultivate the plant or to kill it, since it is both invasive and decorative, and is both a weed and a useful plant. A few in the garden can be both attractive and useful, not to mention the fact that they attract children and do not attract deer. The Lamb's Ear plant is not really attractive enough to be used as a specimen plant, but a number of them can look nice on borders.
The leaves of these plants spread out to around 12'', and the plant is roughly 6'' high, except when in bloom as the stalk usually grows to around 18'' high. When used as a border plant, most gardeners simply cut the stalk off once it begins to form. Other gardeners prefer to keep the stalks, as the blossoms, which can vary from pinkish purple to white, are quite attractive. It grows well in USDA Zones 4 through 10. It is not quite so invasive in cooler climates.
The plant can be propagated by dividing the root ball, which should be done every couple of years, as the center of a mature plant tends to dry out. Also, by planting the Lamb's Ear in well drained soil, they are not so apt to spread out of control, and can easily be pulled up should they begin to do so. There are varieties of the Lamb's Ear plant on the market that do not produce flowering stalks.