Practical ecological knowledge for the temperate reader.

Buckbean - Menyanthes trifoliata

Family: Menyanthaceae (Buckbean family) [E-flora]

"Menyanthes trifoliata is a PERENNIAL growing to 0.3 m (1ft) by 1 m (3ft 3in) at a fast rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 3. It is in flower from May to July. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees, lepidoptera.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid and neutral soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers wet soil and can grow in water." [PFAF]

Status; Native.[E-flora]
General: " Perennial semi-aquatic herb from a thick rhizome, this covered with old leaf bases; stems prostrate or ascending, glabrous, 15-40 cm long/tall." [IFBC-E-flora]
Leaves: "Basal leaves alternate, divided into 3 elliptic leaflets, these short-stalked, coarsely toothed, 1-5 cm wide, glabrous, the leaf stalks 10-30 cm long, crowded near the base of the flowering stem; stem leaves lacking." [IFBC-E-flora]
Flowers: "Inflorescence of many flowers in simple or compound, terminal clusters on naked stalks 5-30 cm long; corollas white, purple-tinged, scaly-haired on the inner surface, 5-6 lobed, the lobes 5-7 mm long; calyces 3-5 mm long, cleft nearly to the base into 5 lobes."[IFBC-E-flora]
Fruits: "Capsules, oval, thick-walled, many-seeded; seeds brownish-yellow, smooth, shiny, buoyant."[IFBC-E-flora]

Habitat & Range

"Outside Britain the main area of distribution is circumpolar between 40° N and the Arctic Circle. The southern limit of its range runs through central Portugal and Spain (Palhinha 1939), Southern France (Bonnier & Layens n.d.), Northern Italy (Pollini 1822), Greece (Clapham, Tutin & Warburg 1952), the Caucasus and temperate Siberia (Komarov 1952) to Japan (Hooker 1861; Hegi Fl. 5 : 3). In North America the southern limit is California in the west (Munz & Keck 1959) and runs eastwards through Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri to Virginia and Maryland (Fernald 1950; Hanson 1951; Polunin 1948; Rigg 1925; Scoggan 1957; Transeau 1903). It grows north of the Arctic Circle in Greenland (Belcher, Holmen & Jakobsen 1957) and Norway (Hulten 1950) and probably in Siberia (Komarov 1952) and Alaska (Hanson 1951) as well." [Menyanthes]
"Found across coastal range; Oregon - Alaska coast; including Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii.[PCBC2004] Various locations around Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii. Reports from all areas of B.C., Alaska and Washington." [E-flora]
Bogs, fens, marshes, shallow ponds and lakesides in the lowland, steppe and montane zones; common throughout BC; circumpolar, N to AK, YT and NT, E to NF and S to MO, CO and CA; Iceland, Eurasia." [E-flora]

Ecological Indicator
"A very shade-intolerant, submontane to subalpine, circumpolar forb; (transcontinental in North America). Occurs on wet to very wet, nitrogen-medium soils within boreal. wet temperate, and cool mesothermal climates. Often dominant in aquatic communities along freshwater lakes; occasional on water-collecting sites. Characteristic of wetlands. [IPBC-E-flora]


Edible Uses

Emergency food in Russia; hops substitute in Germany; tea substitute elsewhere (WOI).[HMH]

Other Uses

Medicinal Uses

"Bogbean is closely related to the gentians, which are famous bitter herbs used as a digestive and general body tonic[238]. This plant can be used similarly, but it can irritate the digestive system of patients with gastric inflammation or infection[238].... All parts of the plant are medically active, but the leaves are the part most commonly used[4, 213]." [PFAF]
"The leaves are best harvested in late spring or early summer and dried before use[9, 222], the fresh plant causes vomiting[222]. An infusion is given in the treatment of muscular weakness in M.E., chronic infections with debility and exhaustion, indigestion, anorexia and rheumatism[238]. Given in small doses of about 10 grains it imparts vigour to the stomach and aids digestion[207, 222]. Using the plant helps a person to gain weight[254]. It s also believed to be an effective remedy for rheumatoid arthritis, especially when this condition is associated with weakness, weight loss and lack of vitality[254]. Bogbean is usually prescribed in combination with other herbs such as celery seed (Apium graveolens) and white willow (Salix alba)[254]." [PFAF]
"An extract made from boiling the roots or leaves of this plant was drunk by a person who was sick to his stomach. It was thought that this medicine made one put on weight. Mrs. Brown's brother gained weight after he took it for the flu (Boas, 1930; Brown, 1969). The stem and roots were ground, boiled, and taken three times a day for spitting of blood (Boas, 1966)." [Turner&Bell2]


"Dosages (Bogbean) — 0.5–1 tsp chopped leaf one-half hour before meals (APA); 10–25 grains powdered leaf (FEL); 1–2 tsp (1.5-3 g) leaf in hot or cold tea (MAD); 1–2 g, perhaps in tea, 3 ×/day (CAN); 1 tsp (= 0.9 g) or 0.5–1 g/cup tea, 1/2 cup before each meal (PH2); 1–2 ml liquid extract (1:1 in 25% alcohol) 3 ×/day (CAN); 1–3 ml liquid extract (1:5 in 45% alcohol) 3 ×/day (CAN); 1–15 drops tincture with sugar for seasickness (MAD); 0.5–1.5 ml liquid herb extract (PNC). Food farmacy; emergency food in Russia; hops substitute in Germany; tea substitute elsewhere (WOI). Roots used for making mission or famine bread." [HMH Duke]


Because it is a bitter and promotes gastric secretion, the drug is used for loss of appetite and peptic discomfort. Unproven Uses: Folk medicine uses, particularly in European countries, include diseases of the digestive system and fevers.[PDF]




"(Menyanthes trifoliata) The roots used to be pounded up to provide an edible meal (J G D Clark), while the Chinese pickled them to use either as a food or as a sedative (F P Smith). There was one other use, in brewing, and the leaves this time, not the roots – “one ounce will go as far as half a pound of hops” (Thornton). The point is that this is an intensely bitter plant, and that is the reason for its use as a substitute for hops in brewing (C P Johnson). Bitter or not, the leaves used to be shredded and smoked in the Faeroes in times of tobacco scarcity (Williamson). Where bitter tonics were needed medicinally, the root, gathered in August, and the seeds, were used. Gypsies made a leaf infusion to take as a blood purifier (Vesey-Fitzgerald)."[DPL Watts]

"Scurvy is the disease with which Buckbean is most often associated. Other skin diseases were treated with it, boils, for example, in Ireland (Ô Súilleabháin), while in Orkney, the crushed leaves would be applied for scrofula (Leask). A decoction of the seeds was used to treat rheumatism (V G Hatfield. 1994), or to prevent it (Sargent), it was also used for gout and dropsy – there is a recipe from South Uist, in the Outer Hebrides, that involved cleaning and boiling the whole plant, putting the juice in a bottle, to be drunk daily (Shaw). This may be doctrine of signatures, of course, given the plant’s preference for wet, marshy ground. Perhaps the same argument could be used to explain its use for malaria. Hill, in the mid 18th century, mentions this use for the dried leaves, and it also crops up in Russian domestic medicine for the same complaint. Four or five tablespoonfuls of the dried herb in a gallon of vodka, kept for two weeks, and one small wineglassful to be taken daily (Kourennoff)."[DPL Watts]

"It used to be a Highland remedy for all kinds of stomach pains, and herbalists still give the leaf decoction for stomach disorders, loss of appetite and the like (Schauenberg & Paris), an interesting usage, for the Kwakiutl Indians of the Pacific north-west of America use the water from the boiled roots for some kind of stomach trouble, briefly translated as “when the pit of our stomach is sick” (Boas). Even stomach ulcers were treated, in Scotland, successfully apparently, with infusions from this plant (Beith). They even used it for constipation on South Uist. They took the root, cleaned it and boiled it in water all day until the juice was dark and thick. It was strained, and a teaspoonful given to the patient; it was even given to calves for the same complaint (Shaw), though the dose must have been increased."[DPL Watts]

"Bogbean is stated to possess bitter and diuretic properties. It has been used for rheumatism, rheumatoid arthritis, and specifically for muscular rheumatism associated with general asthenia." [HerbalMed3]
"Buckbean is for cold, deficient, achy conditions. It is not for hot, inflamed or excess states. It is a widely used bitter tonic, paricularily in Europe, but it is not for indigestion, dyspepsia, or acid indgestion when the throat is red, the tip of the tongue inflamed, and the mouth hypersecreting. Rather, it is for indigestion with a dry mouth, a heavy sensation in the stomach, poor digestion of proteins and fats, and a tendency for hemorrhoids and pelvic congestion. This is an herb for a lot of folks who need to eat carefully or combine foods to avoid intestinal problems, or who eat the wrong kinds of food and develop a bit of rectal aching (if not an overt hemorrhoid flare-up) followed by costiption; Buckbean by itself or with Yellow Dock, taken just before meals (or before lunch, dinner, and retiring) will distinctly aid this condition." [MPPW]

"Those with arthritis or chronic allergies aggravated by food will find Buckbean particularly useful. It combines well with Baneberry or Bock Cohosh for use when you have aching of joints, or with Figwort when you have swollen joints. If the skin is dry and/or scaly, or there is eczema or psoriasis combined with the arthritis, add a little Bittersweet or Oregon Grape root to the Buckbean. Give the herbs at least a couple of weeks to work." [MPPW]

Chinese Medicine
Insomnia, weak stomach and intestines, spleen disorders, intermittent fever, headache, breathing difficulties, amenorrhea, earache, jaundice, edema, gout, scabies and furuncles are among the applications in Chinese medicine. [PDR]

Medicinal Folk Use in Europe
Distribution of the plant: Europe, northern and central Asia,Morocco,North America. [MPFT] Wherever Menyanthes trifoliata occurs in any quantity, mainly in the boggy regions of the north and west of the British Isles, it has constituted one of the staples of the folk repertory and in some parts has been the most prized herb of all. Its intense bitterness has led it to be used as a substitute for hops in brewing or for adulterating beer, and it was probably in that connection that large quantities of the plant’s pressed leaves and stems found round some of the ancient Irish raths are thought to have been deposited.75 Whether or not that interpretation is correct, it is highly likely that bogbean was in favour for medicine as well at the same period. [MPFT]

"As it ‘helps to open up the tubes’, bogbean has been a natural choice in Lewis in the Outer Hebrides for asthma 93 and elsewhere in Scotland for persistent coughs (Argyllshire 94) and pulmonary tuberculosis (the Highlands 95), while in the nearby Isle of Man it has been favoured for fevers. 96 More exclusively Scottish has been the use of a decoction of the root for easing the pain of a stomach ulcer in the Highlands, 97 the plant’s application as a poultice to the sores of scrofula in Orkney 98 and to those caused on the necks of fishermen in the Highlands by the friction of nets and ropes, 99 and a conviction in Lewis that the ribbed side of the leaf was good for drawing pus from a septic wound and the smooth side for healing it 100 (a property elsewhere ascribed to the leaves of other species, in particular, plantains)." [MPFT]

Medicinal Folk Use in Alaska
Symptoms: General ill health [MFAN]
Plant Application: Infusion/decoction [MFAN]
"This medicine is "good for hurt of any kind," this woman explained. She said that she had drunk an infusion of the plant when she was sick, and had also given some to a relative of her husband, when he had "poison blood" and sores on his legs which the hospital had been unable to cure. He drunk a cupful before meals....Angoon people are said to use only the roots, but she boiled all the plant and prefers the buckbean to the yellow pond lily" (de Laguna 1972)." [MFAN]
"Frederica de Laguna lists this plant as a "medicine with great power". Protocols for plant collecting must be followed to employ full medicinal capabilities of the plant." [MFAN]


Bitter, diuretic, cholagogue, antirheumatic.[MH Hoffman]

Selected Activities [HMH]

Antiseptic (f; PH2); Aperitif (1;APA; CEB; DAW; EFS); Astringent (f; FEL); Bitter (2; JAD; PHR); Cholagogue (f; DAW; EFS); Choleretic (1; APA; CAN; FAD); Deobstruent (f; DAW; EFS; PNC); Depurative (f; DAW; EFS); Diaphoretic (f; CEB; DAW); Digestive (1; APA; FAD); Diuretic (f; CAN; CEB;

DAW); Emetic (1; CAN; CEB; DAW; EFS); Gastrostimulant (2; KOM; PHR; PH2); Hepatoprotective (1; APA); Hypnotic (f; DAW; EFS); Hypoglycemic (f;MAD); Intoxicant (f; DAW); Laxative (1; APA;

CAN; DAW; EFS; FEL); Narcotic (f; DAW; EFS; WOI); Nervine (f; DAW; EFS); Sedative (f; DAW; EFS); Sialagogue (2; APA; KOM; PHR; PH2); Stomachic (1; CAN; DAW); Tonic (1; DEM; DEP; DAW; FAD; FEL); Vermifuge (f; DAW).

"The plant is anti-inflammatory, astringent, carminative, cathartic, deobstruent, digestive, diuretic, emetic, emmenagogue, febrifuge, hypnotic, stomachic, tonic[4, 7, 9, 13, 21, 165, 172, 174, 207, 222, 238]."[PFAF] "In Vitro and animal studies: Bogbean extracts have shown antibacterial activities. [HerbalMed3] The drug stimulates saliva and gastric juice secretion. An antimicrobial effect has been demonstrated in vitro."[PDF]
"All parts of the plant are medically active, but the leaves are the part most commonly used[4, 213]"[PFAF] Leaf. [HerbalMed3] Dried herb. [PDR] Herb. [ModHerbal]

Dosage [HMH]

Dosages — 0.5–1 tsp chopped leaf one-half hour before meals (APA); 10–25 grains powdered leaf (FEL); 1–2 tsp (1.5-3 g) leaf in hot or cold tea (MAD); 1–2 g, perhaps in tea, 3 ×/day (CAN); 1 tsp (= 0.9 g) or 0.5–1 g/cup tea, 1/2 cup before each meal (PH2);

1–2 ml liquid extract (1:1 in 25% alcohol) 3 ×/day (CAN); 1–3 ml liquid extract (1:5 in 45% alcohol) 3 ×/day (CAN); 1–15 drops tincture with sugar for seasickness (MAD); 0.5–1.5 ml liquid herb extract (PNC). [HMH]

Bogbean is a mot useful herb for rheumatism, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. However, because of its stimulating effects in the digestive system, it should not be used for rheumatism accompanied by colitis or diarrhea. It acts as an aperient by stimulating the walls of the colon and markedly promotes secretion of digestive juices and bile flow. It is thus useful for debilitated states related to sluggish digestion, indigestion and disorders of the liver and the gallbladder. [MH Hoffman]

Select Indications [HMH]
Amenorrhea (f; MAD; PH2); Anorexia (2; APA; CEB; DAW; EFS; KOM; PHR; PH2); Cancer (f; CEB; JLH); Cancer, colon (1; FNF; JLH); Cancer, intestine (1; FNF; JLH); Cancer, liver (1; FNF; JLH); Cancer, skin (1; FNF; HHB; JLH); Cancer, stomach (1; FNF; JLH); Carcinoma (f; JLH); Constipation (f; APA; DAW; DEM); Cough (f; CEB; HHB); Cramp (1; APA); Dermatosis (f; APA; CEB; FAD); Diabetes (f; MAD); Diarrhea (f; CEB); Dry Mouth (2; APA; KOM; PHR); Dyspepsia (2; KOM; PHR; PH2); Fever (f; APA; CEB; DAW; EFS; FAD; FEL); Flu (f; DEM); Furuncle (f; PH2); Gas (f; DEM; HHB; MAD); Gastrosis (1; MAD; PH2); Glomerulonephrosis (f; ABS; FNF); Gout (f; CEB; PH2; MAD); Headache (f; MAD; PH2); Heartburn (f; MAD); Hemoptysis (f; CEB; DEM); Hemorrhoid (f; MAD); Hepatosis (1; APA; CEB; FAD; JLH); Inflammation (1; APA; FNF); Insomnia (f; DAW; EFS; PH2); Jaundice (f; MAD; PH2); Lethargy (1; DEM; FAD); Malaria (f; APA; FEL; PH2); Melanoma (1; FNF; JAD); Migraine (f; HHB); Nephrosis (f; ABS; FNF); Nervousness (f; DAW; EFS; MAD); Neuralgia (f; MAD); Otosis (f; PH2); Pain (f; CEB; DEM); Rheumatism (f; APA; CAN; CEB; DEM; FEL); Sarcoma (f; JLH); Water Retention (f; CAN; CEB; DAW; MAD); Worm (f; APA; CEB; DAW; FAD; FEL);


Malmer (1958) found that the sum of the concentrations of potassium, magnesium and calcium in the leaves of Menyanthes was rather constant with a mean value of 137 m.eq./100 g dry weight. All the species he studied took up potassium and phosphorus selectively to a greater extent than magnesium, calcium and iron.
A glucoside, menyanthin, has been isolated from the plant, the leaves of which may be used as a substitute for hops in brewing of beer and in herbal remedies (Sowerby 1880). Tests on storage material in the rhizome indicate it to be inulin. [Menyanthes]

Comparison of the methanolic extracts from leaves, stems, and rhizomes of Menyanthes tr(foliata L. by TLC showed that the main compounds are dihydrofoliamenthin, menthiafolin, and loganin, whereas foliamenthin was lacking. The monoterpene carboxylic acid of dihydrofoiiamenthin was determined to be a derivative of nerol and the configuration of carbon 7 of the secoiridoid skeleton was shown to be I by spectroscopic evidences.[BitterPrincipals]

fridoide monoterpenes (bitter principles): chief components 7', 8'-dihydrofoliamenthin, additionally including among others sweroside, loganin, menthiafolin, foliomenthin
Monoterpene alkaloids: including gentianin E
Flavonoids: including among others rutin, hyperoside, trifolin
Hydroxycoumarins: scopoletin, Caffeic acid derivatives
Pyrridine alkaloids: including gentianine, gentianidine
Triterpene glycosides: lupeol, beta-amyrenol, betulin, betulinic acid, alpha-spinasterol, stigmast-7-enol[PDF]

Anthraquinones (including emodin, aloeemodin, chrysophanol, and rhein glycosides);
flavonoid glycosides (hyperin, kaempferol, quercetin, rutin, trifolioside); alkaloids (gentianin and gentianidine);
coumarins(scopoletin); iridoids [169][MH Hoffman]

"Depending on the growth site of the plant, the amounts of rutin and hyperoside were 0.32-0.93% and 0.41- 1.15%, respectively (calculated on the absolutely dry weight of the raw material). This is the first time that information has been given on the amounts of rutin and hyperoside in the leaves of the bogbean." [Rutin&hyperoside]

Chemical Part Lo ppm / Hi ppm Reference [DukePhyto]

- Rhizome 1000 [PHYT13:2002, AllHerb1998]
- Root 1000 8000 [HHB PH2]
EO Leaf 670 700 [HHB WOI]

SINAPIC-ACID Plant [411]
TANNIN Plant 30000 [WOI]


The author’s results indicate that a one-time harvest allows plants to recover their original biomass. For Menyanthes trifoliata, the number of shoots increased but the mass of each shoot and leaf declined after six consecutive harvests.[PacificNorthwestForestTimberProducts]

Landscape Uses: Container, Ground cover, Woodland garden. Grow in a bog garden in wet peaty soil or in shallow water at the edge of a pond[187]. Prefers acid conditions[238]. Succeeds in water up to 30cm deep[24]. Dislikes shade. Plants can be very invasive, spreading by means of long-creeping thick surface rhizomes[187]. A very hardy plant, tolerating temperatures down to about -25°c[187]. Cats are very fond of this plant[174]. Special Features: Attractive foliage, North American native, Edible, Naturalizing.[PFAF]

Reproduction. Helophyte. During the winter, the plant has no aerial leaves and the rhizome is often submerged. Growth is resumed in spring from the apex with elongation of the flower shoot and production of leaves.[Menyanthes]

Vegetative reproduction is by branching and subsequent death and rotting of the older parts of the rhizome to separate the daughter plants. New plants may also grow in a similar manner from pieces of rhizome broken from mature plants and washed ashore during winter.[Menyanthes]

Viability of seeds: germination. The majority of seeds collected at any site were viable. Viable seeds could easily be distinguished by the orange-brown colour from non¬viable seeds which were usually dark brown and often wrinkled, instead of smooth and shiny.[Menyanthes]

The seeds have a hard coat and if a sample is placed in water, germination will not take place for at least 6 months. Many seeds are still buoyant and viable after 15 months. Seeds germinate within 10-14 days of allowing water access to the embryo, if sufficient of the seed coat is removed to allow the embryo to grow. A small hole to allow entry of water is insufficient. This suggests that physical retention of the seedling within the seed coat, rather than a chemical inhibitor exuded from the coat, prevents germination. It is not known if the seed germinates in the field.[Menyanthes]

Experiments with dissected seeds in the laboratory indicated that maximum germination was obtained with seeds not pretreated with low temperature (2° C) and grown in the light.[Menyanthes]

Effective reproduction. From the evidence available it is considered that reproduction from seed is not the most important means of reproduction for Menyanthes though new areas are probably colonized by seedlings. Vegetative reproduction from breaking and branching of the rhizome is thought to be more important where the plant is already established.[Menyanthes]

Mycorrhiza. The lack of mycorrhiza has been commented on by several authors in view of possible affinities with the Gentianaceae, e.g. Salisbury (Rep. Capac.) who men¬tions that mycorrhiza is 'apparently absent'.[Menyanthes]

"Do not allow the seed to dry out. Sow late winter to early spring in a pot in a cold frame and keep the pot just submerged in water. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in trays of water in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Division in spring. Very easy, the divisions can be planted straight out into their permanent positions if required. However, particularly with smaller divisions, we find it better to pot them up and grow them on in a cold frame for a few weeks until they are established. Cuttings taken in summer can be inserted into the mud at the side of the pond and will normally root well."[PFAF]

Misc Uses
Hesquiat Food (Forage) Deer put their heads under the surface of the water to get at the long, green rhizomes. [Turner&Bell2]

Veterinarian Uses Menyanthes trifoliata, Bovine tuberculosis (Kent,134 Orkney135); purge for calves (South Uist in the Outer Hebrides136); settling stomach in calves (Fife137); removing afterbirth from cows (Leitrim138); ‘pine’, i.e. trace-element deficiency (Doherty, 46) in cattle and sheep (Mayo139); cattle disease called ‘darn’ (Highlands140). [MPFT]

Menyanthes trifoliata var. minor Raf.[E-flora]


Additional Info

Buckbean (Root per 100g fresh wt.) 7.1mg calcium, 53mg sodium, 197mg potassium, 4.2mg magnesium, 58.4mg chloride. [Turner&Kuhnlein]

In the outer Hebrides, when there is a deficiency of tobacco, the islanders console themselves by chewing the root of the marsh trefoil which, has a bitter and acrid taste. [Sturtevant EPW]


1 sp. (Greek: disclosing, flower, from flowers opening in succession in inflorescence) [Jepson]

Local Species;

  1. Menyanthes trifoliata - buckbean [E-flora][PCBC][TSFTK]


[Jepson] Robert F. Thorne, C. Barre Hellquist & William J. Stone, 2013. Menyanthes, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora,, accessed on May 23 2014

Page last modified on Sunday, January 2, 2022 1:58 AM