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It grows to 5–20 cm (rarely 30 cm) in height. The leaves have fine hairs, are green at the bottom and shade to purplish at the top; they are 2–4 cm long and broad, with a 1–2 cm petiole (leaf stalk), and wavy to serrated margins
The zygomorphic flowers are bright red-purple, with a top hood-like petal, two lower lip petal lobes and minute fang-like lobes between.They may be produced throughout the year, including mild weather in winter. This allows bees to gather its nectar for food when few other nectar sources are available. It is also a prominent source of pollen for bees in March/April (in UK), when bees need the pollen as protein to build up their nest.
Young plants have edible tops and leaves, good in salads or in stirfry as a spring vegetable. If finely chopped it can also be used in sauces, but there is little to recommend about its flavour. Undyed, the pollen itself is a red colour. The whole plant is astringent, diaphoretic, diuretic, purgative and styptic. A decoction of the plant is particularly useful for checking any kind of haemorrhage, whilst the fresh bruised leaves can be applied to external cuts and wounds.
Spotted on Apr 12, 2012
Submitted on Apr 13, 2012