The commonly prescribed antidiabetic drug Metformin has it’s origins in a herb used as a folk remedy for hundreds of years. Galega
officinalis, also called Goat’s Rue, French Lilac, French Honeysuckle, Pestilenzkraut, Spanish Sanfoin, Professor-weed, False Indigo or Italian Fitch is a member of the pea family (leguminosae).
Goat’s rue has been used to treat the symptoms of diabetes since medieval times. It has also been used as a diuretic (substance which removes fluid) and galactagogue (substance which increases the flow of breast milk), from whence both it’s botanical name and one of its common names are derived. During times of plague, it was used as a diaphoretic (to increase sweating). Goat’s rue or an extract of it can be applied to wounds to help them heal faster, likely due to its antibacterial effects. It has also long been used to increase the production of milk in ruminant farm animals such as goats and cows.
The compound within goat’s rue which lowers blood sugar is galegine or to be more chemically accurate, isoamylene guanidine. Some of the other constituents in goat’s rue include hydroxygalegine, peganine, vasicinone and other quinazoline alkaloids, luteolin, carnavine, tannins, saponins, a bitter principle, flavonoids, flavone glycosides, flavonol triglycosides kaempferol and quercetin derivatives, norterpenoid and sesquiterpenoid glycosides, including a rare dearabinosyl pneumonanthoside.
In addition to lowering blood sugar through a variety of mechanisms, goat’s rue also stimulates digestive enzymes, increases fat utilisation leading to weight loss, inhibits the transport and absorption of glucose across intestinal epithelial cells, thins the blood through inhibiting platelet aggregation, has a liver-protectant effect and antibacterial properties against Staphylococcus aureus, Yersinia enterocolitica, Enterobacter aerogenes, Bacillus subtilis and Serratia marcescens. You might recognise some of those names – S. aureus is commonly known as “golden staph” and many strains are now resistant to many of the antibiotics in our pharmaceutical arsenal. Y. enterocolitica comes from the same genus as Y. pestis the bacteria which was responsible for the plagues – bubonic, pneumonitic and septicaemic. Goat’s rue is effective against both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria.
Whilst the whole plant has been used medicinally and in fact all parts of the plant contain guanidine derivatives, it would be safest to use only the flowers and seeds medicinally. Dosage is 2 grams or about half a teaspoon steeped in boiling water for 5-10 minutes to create a herbal infusion. Alternatively an alcoholic extract might be prescribed by a professional herbalist.
Goat’s rue is an attractive shrub with white, lilac, pale blue or pink flowers which can grow to around 1 metre in height or 3 feet. It is a hardy perennial, originating in southern Europe & western Asia. It thrives in temperate regions, preferring deep, moist, well-drained soil in a sunny or partially shaded location within the garden. It has a dense and spreading root system which sends up many hollow stems which bear a profusion of pea-like leaves and pastel flowers, though the plant has no fragrance, unless crushed when it emits a malodorous scent.
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