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Marsh Lousewort

Pedicularis palustris

Please keep in mind that it is illegal to uproot a plant without the landowner's consent and care should be taken at all times not to damage wild plants. Wild plants should never be picked for pleasure and some plants are protected by law.
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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Orobanchaceae (Broomrape)
Life Cycle:
Annual or Biennial
Maximum Size:
60 centimetres tall
Bogs, ditches, fens, heathland, marshes, meadows, moorland, seaside, swamps, wetland.

Purple, 2 petals
Deep pink-purple flower with two lower lips and an upper lip, 5-toothed.
Brown elliptical capsule which splits open only on one side.
Alternate, feathery leaves. Basal leaves are long-stalked.
Other Names:
European Purple Lousewort, Red Rattle, Red Rattle Grass, Swamp Lousewort.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Pedicularis palustris, also known as marsh lousewort, is a herbaceous perennial plant that is native to wetland habitats such as bogs, fens, and marshes across the Northern Hemisphere. It is known for its distinctive, bilaterally symmetrical flowers that are typically pink, purple, or white in color. The leaves are also lanceolate and opposite. The plant typically grows to a height of 20-60 cm. It's a hemi-parasite plant, meaning it depends on other plants to get some of its nutrients. It attaches itself to the roots of other plants, such as sedges and grasses, and takes some of its nutrients from them. It's not considered an invasive plant and it's not poisonous.


Marsh Lousewort, scientifically known as Pedicularis palustris, is a beautiful flowering plant that belongs to the Orobanchaceae family. This perennial herb is native to Europe, North America, and Asia, and it can be found growing in damp meadows, bogs, and wetlands.

The Marsh Lousewort plant can grow up to 60 cm tall and has a straight stem that is slightly hairy. The leaves are deeply lobed and have a fern-like appearance. The flowers are a vibrant purple or pinkish color, and they bloom in the late spring to early summer. The shape of the flowers is reminiscent of a bird's beak, which is where the plant gets its common name, "Lousewort."

One of the most interesting features of the Marsh Lousewort plant is its parasitic nature. This means that the plant obtains its nutrients from other plants rather than through photosynthesis. It attaches its roots to the roots of other plants and absorbs nutrients from them. This makes it a partial or hemiparasite. The plant's roots are also believed to release chemicals that inhibit the growth of neighboring plants.

In addition to its unique growth habits, the Marsh Lousewort plant has also been used in traditional medicine for centuries. The plant has been used to treat a variety of ailments, including headaches, fever, and respiratory issues. It contains several compounds, including flavonoids and alkaloids, which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.

However, it's important to note that the plant can be toxic if ingested in large quantities. It contains compounds called glucosides, which can cause vomiting and other gastrointestinal issues. Therefore, it should only be used under the supervision of a qualified healthcare professional.

The Marsh Lousewort plant is also an important food source for certain species of insects, such as bumblebees and butterflies. The plant produces nectar and pollen that these insects rely on for their survival. This makes the plant an important part of the ecosystem and highlights the need for conservation efforts to protect it and its habitat.

In some cultures, the Marsh Lousewort plant is also considered a symbol of love and commitment. It has been used in wedding ceremonies and is believed to bring luck and happiness to the couple.

Unfortunately, the Marsh Lousewort plant is threatened in many areas due to habitat loss and degradation caused by human activities. Wetland drainage, land reclamation, and agricultural practices have all contributed to the decline of this plant. In addition, the plant's parasitic nature makes it vulnerable to the decline of its host plants.

Conservation efforts are underway to protect the Marsh Lousewort plant and its habitat. Wetland restoration projects and the establishment of protected areas can help to preserve this unique plant for future generations.

The Marsh Lousewort plant has also been used in traditional folklore and superstitions. In some cultures, it was believed that the plant had magical powers and could ward off evil spirits. It was also thought to have healing properties and was used in various rituals to treat illnesses and protect against disease.

In modern times, the Marsh Lousewort plant has been the subject of scientific research. Studies have shown that the plant contains compounds that may have potential therapeutic applications. For example, the plant's alkaloids have been shown to have anticonvulsant and sedative effects, and may have potential in the treatment of neurological disorders.

In addition, the plant's flavonoids have been found to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which may be beneficial in the treatment of various diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Overall, the Marsh Lousewort plant is a fascinating and versatile plant that has played an important role in human history and continues to offer potential benefits to modern medicine. Its unique growth habits, stunning flowers, and medicinal properties make it a valuable plant that should be protected and studied.

Another interesting aspect of the Marsh Lousewort plant is its use in traditional dyeing. The plant contains compounds that can be used to create beautiful purple and pink dyes. Historically, these dyes were used to color textiles and clothing, and were highly valued for their vibrant and long-lasting hues.

The plant has also been used in traditional culinary practices in certain cultures. In some parts of Europe, the plant is used to flavor beer and wine, adding a unique and slightly bitter taste. It has also been used in traditional dishes, such as soups and stews.

Finally, the Marsh Lousewort plant is an important indicator species for wetland ecosystems. Its presence is an indication of the health and biodiversity of these important habitats. By monitoring the population of this plant, scientists can gain insights into the health of wetland ecosystems and identify potential threats to their survival.

In conclusion, the Marsh Lousewort plant is a fascinating and versatile plant that has played an important role in human history and continues to offer potential benefits to various fields, including medicine, dyeing, culinary practices, and ecological studies. Its unique growth habits, stunning flowers, and medicinal properties make it a valuable plant that should be cherished and protected. By continuing to explore the potential benefits of this plant, we may uncover new uses and applications that can help to improve our lives and ensure its survival for future generations.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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