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Heath Milkwort

Polygala serpyllifolia

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Polygalaceae (Milkwort)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
30 centimetres tall
Bogs, grassland, heathland, moorland, rocky places, sand dunes.

Blue, 3 petals
Blue flowers in spikes of 3 to 10. Individual flowers are up to 6mm in length. Heath Milkwort usually has a deeper blue flower than the similar-looking Common Milkwort. Sometimes the flowers are white or mauve.
A slightly winged, flat, heart-shaped capsule.
A perennial flower similar to Common Milkwort but the leaves near the ground appear in opposite pairs. This is the distinguishing feature of Heath Milkwort as Common Milkwort has alternate leaves. The problem comes in that the opposite leaves are usually the lower leaves which are buried deep down in the grasses and other vegetation. The uppermost leaves usually run alternate along the stems. The leaves are more crowded towards the base than Common Milkwort.
Other Names:
Creeping Milkwort, Thyme-leaved Milkwort.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Polygala serpyllifolia, also known as thyme-leaved milkwort or creeping milkwort, is a species of flowering plant in the milkwort family (Polygalaceae). It is native to Europe and Asia, and is known for its small, pink or purple flowers. The plant typically grows in grassy or rocky habitats, and is known for its medicinal properties. The plant is a perennial herb that forms a low creeping ground cover. It has small leaves that resemble thyme, hence the common name "thyme-leaved milkwort". It is also known for its medicinal properties and has been used traditionally as a tonic, laxative and diuretic.


Heath Milkwort, also known as Polygala serpyllifolia, is a small, delicate plant that can be found growing in heathland, moorland, and grassland habitats throughout Europe and parts of Asia. Although it may not be as well-known as some of the more showy wildflowers, Heath Milkwort is a fascinating plant with many interesting features.


Heath Milkwort is a low-growing plant, typically reaching no more than 30cm in height. It has thin stems that are often reddish in color, and narrow, lance-shaped leaves that grow in opposite pairs along the stem. The flowers of Heath Milkwort are small and compact, and range in color from white to pink or purple. They are arranged in clusters at the top of the stem, and each individual flower has a distinctive shape that is reminiscent of a tiny bird in flight.


Heath Milkwort is adapted to growing in nutrient-poor soils, and is often found in heathland and other habitats where the soil is acidic and relatively infertile. It is a perennial plant, meaning that it lives for more than one year, and is able to survive the harsh winters that are typical of its native range. In addition to its adaptations for surviving in poor soil, Heath Milkwort is also able to cope with grazing pressure from herbivores such as sheep and rabbits, which may help to explain why it is able to thrive in areas where other plants struggle.


Despite its unassuming appearance, Heath Milkwort has a long history of use in traditional medicine. In particular, it has been used to treat respiratory problems such as asthma and bronchitis, as well as digestive issues such as stomach ulcers and diarrhea. Modern research has confirmed that Heath Milkwort contains a number of bioactive compounds that may have medicinal properties, although further studies are needed to fully understand its potential uses.


Heath Milkwort is not currently considered to be a threatened species, but like many wildflowers it is at risk from habitat loss and fragmentation. In particular, the conversion of heathland and other natural habitats into agricultural or urban land can have a negative impact on the populations of Heath Milkwort and other wildflowers. For this reason, it is important to conserve and protect these habitats to ensure that Heath Milkwort and other wildflowers can continue to thrive in the future.

Heath Milkwort may not be the most spectacular wildflower, but it is a fascinating plant with many interesting adaptations and potential medicinal uses. By conserving its natural habitats and studying its properties, we can continue to learn from and appreciate this humble but important species.

More Information

Heath Milkwort is a member of the Polygalaceae family, which includes around 1,000 species of plants found worldwide. Many species within this family have been used in traditional medicine for centuries, and several are still used today to treat a wide range of ailments.

One of the key bioactive compounds found in Heath Milkwort is polygalasaponin, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor properties. Other compounds found in Heath Milkwort include flavonoids, which are known for their antioxidant properties, and alkaloids, which have a wide range of potential uses in medicine.

In addition to its potential medicinal uses, Heath Milkwort is also an important food source for a variety of insects, including bees and butterflies. Its flowers produce nectar and pollen, which are essential for these insects to survive and reproduce. By providing habitat for Heath Milkwort and other wildflowers, we can help to support a healthy and diverse ecosystem.

If you're interested in growing Heath Milkwort in your own garden, it is generally quite easy to cultivate. It prefers well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade, and can be propagated from seed or by division. However, because it is a wildflower, it may not be readily available from commercial nurseries, and it is important to avoid harvesting plants from the wild.

Heath Milkwort is a fascinating and important plant that deserves our attention and protection. Whether you're interested in its medicinal properties, its role in the ecosystem, or simply its delicate beauty, there are many reasons to appreciate this unassuming but remarkable wildflower.

Heath Milkwort has also been used in traditional folk medicine as an herbal remedy for coughs and respiratory ailments. It has been used as a natural expectorant and has been shown to have a soothing effect on the respiratory tract. In some cultures, the plant has also been used as a mild sedative and as a treatment for anxiety.

In addition to its medicinal uses, Heath Milkwort has also been used for other purposes throughout history. In the past, the plant was used to create a natural yellow dye, which was used to color wool and other textiles. The plant's stems and leaves were also used to make a tea, which was thought to have a calming effect.

Heath Milkwort is not only important for its uses but also for its role in the ecosystem. The plant is a valuable food source for many insects, including moths, bees, and butterflies. The flowers provide nectar for these insects, which is essential for their survival. The plant's leaves are also an important food source for grazing animals, such as rabbits and sheep.

Heath Milkwort is also an excellent plant for gardeners interested in attracting pollinators. Because of its nectar-rich flowers, the plant is a popular choice for gardens designed to support bees, butterflies, and other insects.

Heath Milkwort is native to Europe, North America, and Asia, and can be found in a variety of habitats, including heaths, meadows, and open woodlands. The plant is a low-growing perennial herb, typically reaching a height of 10-30 cm. Its leaves are narrow and lance-shaped, with a bluish-green color and a slightly hairy texture. The plant's flowers are small and pink or purple, with a distinctive shape that has been compared to a bird's beak.

The plant's genus name, Polygala, comes from the Greek words "poly," meaning "many," and "gala," meaning "milk," in reference to the plant's historical use as a treatment for lactation problems in nursing mothers. The species name, serpyllifolia, refers to the plant's resemblance to thyme (Thymus serpyllum).

While Heath Milkwort is generally considered safe for most people, it is important to consult with a healthcare provider before using any herbal remedies, particularly if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking any medications. As with any wild plant, it is also important to be sure that you have correctly identified the plant before using it for any purpose.

In conclusion, Heath Milkwort is a unique and valuable plant that has played an important role in human history and continues to be important for its potential medicinal uses and its role in the ecosystem. By appreciating and protecting this remarkable plant, we can help to ensure that it continues to thrive and benefit future generations.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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