(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on October 5, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)

Lungwort is a flowering plant of the Pulmonaria genus; it is native to Canada, Europe, and Western Asia. Pulmonaria has been introduced in other areas, such as the United States. Common names for lungwort are Soldiers and Sailors, Spotted dog, Joseph and Mary, Jerusalem Cowslip, and Bethlehem Sage. According to some estimates, there may be between twelve and eighteen different varieties of Pulmonaria found in the wild.[1] There is however, some confusion in classifications of the species. Below is a list of the plants that have been confirmed as Pulmonaria.

Pulmonaria affinisImage

Pulmonaria angustifolia
Pulmonaria filarszkyana
Pulmonaria kerneri
Pulmonaria longifolia
Pulmonaria mollis
Pulmonaria mollissima
Pulmonaria montana
Pulmonaria obscura
Pulmonaria officinalis
Pulmonaria rubra
Pulmonaria saccharata
Pulmonaria stiriaca
Pulmonaria vallarsae
Pulmonaria visianii

Pulmonaria is a rhizomatous plant. The plant has been used for centuries as a medical herb. It was believed the spotted leaves represented diseased lungs. Therefore, the plant was used to treat ulcerated and diseased lungs following the
Doctrine of Signatures.[2] However modern scientists consider the doctrine to be superstitious and have referred to is as nonsense. According to the Center for Disease Control there has been no scientific proof that lungwort aids in or is in any way beneficial to those with lung diseases or disorders.
The lungwort is a small plant that grows to be approximately one foot tall. It grows in tight clusters having speckled deep green, spear shaped leaves, similar to the shape of a lung. The leaves are either bristly or may simply have soft hairs on them. It is a perennial which means it will return year after year. It has "hairy" stems without branches that are topped with flowers. Some varieties appear to have blooms of both pink and blue at the same time. In actuality, the blooms emerge a pink color and deepen into a shade of blue-violet as they age.

Lungwort should be planted in partial to full shade as it will wilt severely with too much sun. Plants should be placed approximately 15 to 18 inches apart to allow for adequate growing space. Soil should be rich and moist with good drainage. Humus rich soil tends to work extremely well, although the plant has shown to do well in soil enriched with black peat.[3] Plumonaria blooms in early spring and is
recommended for USDA zones 3 to 8.
It is best to purchase lungwort from a nursery in the spring. This way you will be assured the plant has the bloom color you want for your garden. Pruning is important with the lungwort. Trimming old or browning leaves allows for a fresh flush of foliage to emerge. It is also a good idea to trim the stems after the flowers have finished blooming. To do so, cut them at the base of the stem being careful not to cut into the main plant stalk. Lungwort needs to be watered regularly in average garden conditions. In areas that have dry climate or are prone to drought conditions, watering as much as three times per week is beneficial. It is generally good practice to mulch well around the plant in the fall. It is helpful to the plants growth to add a thin layer of organic fertilizer in the spring; taking care not to put directly onto the plant as even organic formula may burn the roots and sensitive new growth.
Lungwort is a beautiful plant; with a little effort many of us may enjoy in our gardens. Growing it is also a way to incorporate a bit of an earlier time into our lives today.

[1] Pulmonarias by Jennifer Hewitt, 1994. Hardy Plant Society.

[2] Holysmoke.org

Doctrine of Medicine is the concept that the key to humanity's use of various plants was indicated by the form of the plant. The red sap of the bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), for instance, was believed to cure diseases of the blood, while the fused leaves of boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) were used to heal broken bones. The concept was employed by the herbalists of the Renaissance, and was accepted until the latter part of the 19th century.


For more information on Pulmonaria please check out Pulmonarias and the Borage Family by Masha Bennett.
All photos are courtesy of public domain from
http://www.wikipedia.org/ and http://www.morguefile.com/