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European Birthwort

Aristolochia clematitis

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Aristolochiaceae (Birthwort)
Also in this family:
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
90 centimetres tall
Gardens, grassland, wasteland, woodland.

Yellow, 1 petal
The flowers are pale yellow or brown and tubular. The upper lips are pointed and curved. Pollinated by flies.
A pear-shaped capsule. The seeds are flat and triangular in shape.
A perennial plant with darkish green heart-shaped leaves. The leaves alternate along an erect stem. The leaves appear from May to November.
Other Names:
Birthwort, Common Birthwort, Creeping Birthwort, European Birthwort, Upright Birthwort.
Frequency (UK):
Rarely seen  

Other Information


Aristolochia clematitis, also known as birthwort or European birthwort, is a perennial herb native to Europe and Asia. It is a member of the Aristolochiaceae family and is closely related to plants such as Dutchman's pipe (Aristolochia durior) and Virginia snakeroot (Aristolochia serpentaria). Birthwort is characterized by its unusual, tubular flowers and heart-shaped leaves. It is a herbaceous plant that grows in a variety of habitats, including forests, meadows, and riverbanks. Birthwort has a long history of use in traditional medicine and is believed to have a number of health benefits. It is sometimes used as a natural remedy for digestive disorders, skin conditions, and respiratory problems. In addition to its medicinal uses, birthwort is also grown as an ornamental plant due to its attractive flowers and distinctive appearance.


European Birthwort (Aristolochia clematitis) is a species of flowering plant that belongs to the Aristolochiaceae family. It is native to Europe, particularly in the Mediterranean region, and is commonly found growing in wet, marshy areas.

Appearance: European Birthwort is a herbaceous perennial plant that can grow up to a height of 1-2 meters. It has heart-shaped leaves and distinctive yellow-green flowers that resemble a human's head and body, with a long curved tubular structure.

Cultivation: European Birthwort is a low maintenance plant and is easy to cultivate. It prefers moist soil and full sun to partial shade. It can be propagated by division in the spring or by seed sowing. It's important to note that European Birthwort is toxic to humans and animals, and care should be taken when handling the plant or its seeds.

Traditional Medicine: European Birthwort has a long history of use in traditional medicine and is believed to have medicinal properties. In traditional European medicine, the plant was used to stimulate childbirth and ease labor pains. However, modern medical research has shown that the plant contains toxic compounds and should not be consumed.

Ecological Significance: European Birthwort is an important nectar source for many species of insects, including bees and butterflies, and is also known to attract hoverflies. It provides a valuable food source for the larvae of some species of butterflies and moths.

Conservation Status: Although European Birthwort is widely distributed and common in Europe, its populations are declining due to habitat destruction and degradation. It is considered a species of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

Toxicity: European Birthwort contains aristolochic acids, which are toxic compounds that are harmful to humans and animals if consumed. These toxic compounds can cause kidney failure and cancer. The plant is considered a hazardous plant, and it's important to handle it with caution and avoid consuming it.

Traditional Uses: Despite its toxicity, European Birthwort has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. In ancient Greece, it was used to treat snake bites and digestive problems. In traditional European medicine, the plant was used to stimulate childbirth and ease labor pains. In some cultures, it was believed to have supernatural powers and was used in spells and magic.

Phytotherapy: European Birthwort has been extensively studied in modern phytotherapy and has been found to have anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and anti-tumor properties. However, due to its toxicity, it's not recommended for use as a medicinal plant.

Wildlife: European Birthwort is an important food source for the larvae of some species of butterflies and moths. The flowers are also a source of nectar for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators, making it an important plant for the ecosystem.

Garden Plant: European Birthwort is a beautiful and ornamental plant that can be grown in gardens. It's a hardy plant that is easy to cultivate and can be propagated by division or seed sowing. However, due to its toxic nature, it should be grown with care and not be consumed.

Conservation Efforts: As populations of European Birthwort decline due to habitat destruction and degradation, conservation efforts are being made to protect the species. Conservation organizations are working to restore wetland habitats, which are crucial for the survival of the plant. Additionally, seed collection and cultivation programs are being implemented to conserve the species and maintain its genetic diversity.

Medicinal Properties: Despite its toxic nature, European Birthwort has been found to have several medicinal properties. It has been found to have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, which make it useful in treating pain and inflammation. In addition, studies have shown that it has anti-tumor properties and can help to prevent the growth and spread of cancer cells.

In traditional Chinese medicine, a related species of Birthwort (Aristolochia fangchi) is used for various ailments, including rheumatoid arthritis and cancer. However, it is important to note that the toxic aristolochic acids are still present in this species, and its use is not recommended.

Garden Design: European Birthwort can be used as an ornamental plant in the garden, adding an interesting and unique touch to the landscape. It can be planted along streams, in wetland gardens, or in rock gardens. It's important to keep the plant away from areas where children and pets may come into contact with it due to its toxic nature.

In conclusion, European Birthwort is a unique and fascinating plant with a rich history of traditional use and medicinal properties. Despite its toxicity, it is important to conserve the species and its habitats, as it is an important part of the ecosystem and has ornamental value in the garden. However, caution must be taken when handling or consuming the plant.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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