Ecology – Hemi-parasite
Molecular phylogeny more recently placed the genus Pedicularis in the Orobanchaceae, when formally it had been in part of Scrophulariaceae.
Herbalist Michael Moore has written on the therapeutic uses Pedicularis spp., as has David Winston and 7Song.
The plant is an excellent skeletal muscle relaxant, with some of its specific indications as follows:
- Adrenaline-stressed or nerve impinged muscles
- Hypertonicity and muscular rigidity
- Children with highly excited flight or fight response
I’ve created formula with Pedicularis for massage therapist and chiropractors to increase “hold” of treatment. In particular, it combines well with other skeletal muscle relaxants include Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa), Kava kava (Piper methysticum) and Skullcap (Scutellaria).
Since it is a root parasite the plant can take up compounds from it’s host plant. Schnieder and Stermitz (1990) noted that several Pediculars.spp. uptake alkaloids from a variety of hosts: pyrrolizidine alkaloid senecionine from Senecio triangularis, anagyrine from Thermopsis montana, N-methylcytisine from Thermopsis divaricarpa and quinolizidines from Lupinus argenteus.
For this reason it’s unclear which therapeutic compounds are made by the plant and which come from host, which can make the safety profile a little trickier to predict. The host compounds can even alter the pigment of Pedicularis flowers. Best to find it growing alone in its own stand, or rely on a highly skilled wildcrafter to help identify a good stand.
Experimentation and observational studies have shown that two hosts can be parasitized simultaneously. Such threesomes seem to improve the overall growth performance and survivability of the parasite.
This is a fascinating plant that requires the deft touch of an herbalist, with science providing interesting data on how plant parasites interact with their ecosystem.