Sunday, 31 July 2011

Native herbs in Iceland, that we have identified

While living in Iceland, we tried to identity the native herbs, flowers and other plants, as we have done previously while living in Portugal and Austria. Below are some species that are growing in Southwest Iceland, where we live in Sólheimar Ecovillage (unless otherwise stated).

In the future, I will post the uses of several of these species; some for natural homemade skin and hair products (such as yarrow or chickweed), other for medicinal use (such as valerian), or edible uses.


NATIVE/NATURALIZED PLANTS IDENTIFIED IN ICELAND
(in black are all species found where we lived in Sólheimar; the remaining are in red, and their localization)

White flowers:
  • Trifolium repens, White Clover, Hvítsmári (widespread, often along road side, in open fields)
  • Achillea millefolium, Yarrow, Vallhumall (also with pale pink flowers, use for skin) (widespread, often along road side)
  • Myrrhis odorata, Sweet Cicely, Spánarkerfill (it is an alien species; aromatic but is quite identical to other species, some deadly - the nice anise scent of Sweet Cicely helps identification, it has also soft, hairy and light green colored leaves - extreme caution is recommended) (behind the swimming pool and the gymnasium)
  • Anthriscus sylvestris, Cow Parsley, Skógarkerfill (it is an alien species, very similar to Sweet Cicely, but the leaves have no hairs, and its smell is not appealing. Cow Parsley is also very similar to other European species, some deadly - extreme caution is recommended. I only found it growing in other areas, near houses and farms close to cities)
  • Ligusticum scoticum, Lovage, Saehvonn (aromatic and cooking herb) (only in my garden)
  • Angelica archangelica, Garden Angelica, Aetihvonn (aromatic herb) (widespread in humid fields, in the valley)
  • Angelica sylvestris, Wild Angelica, Geithvonn (similar to the common Angelica; this one has white flowers, in a flat umbel, and leaves that are green-bluish and more dentate, and with a celery-like stem with a cavity; the common Angelica has green flowers like a ball, and green leaves, without the cavity on the stem; the Wild Angelica is very similar to other European deadly species! - extreme caution is recommended)
  • Sorbus aucuparia, Rowan, Reynividur (grows along paths as a tree)
  • Filipendula ulmaria, Meadowsweet, Mjadjurt (aromatic flowers) (widespread in open fields, particularly in humid places)
  • Bistorta vivipara, Alpine Bistort, Kornsúra (flowers late) (grows a lot in the valley hillsides, as a small white flower, very widespread)
  • Galium boreale, Northern Bedstraw, Krossmadra (flowers late but easy to identify, four-parted tiny flowers in groups, Gallium have filiform leaves; this species in groups of 4) (very widespread, in open fields more in hillsides, in open locations)
  • Galium normanii, Slender Bedstraw, Hvítmadra (filiform leaves in groups of 6; much smaller plant) (more difficult to identify, in open fields)
  • Capsella bursa-pastoris, Shepherd's Purse, Hjartarfi (spreads agressively by seeds, which are heart-shaped) (especially in disturbed fields, for example gravel fields)
  • Stellaria media, Chickweed, Haugarfi (good use for skin, against irritation and itching, Stellaria species have five-parted flowers, with petals divided in two, thus appearing as tiny ten-parted white flowers. Stellaria species have non-hairy leaves) (grows in very fertile and humid fields such as in compost piles)
  • Stellaria crassifolia, Fleshy Stichwort, Stjornuarfi (has fleshy leaves) (grows in a gravel open field, near where the hot stream begins, to the northwest)
  • Cerastium fontanum, Common Mouse-ear, Vegarfi (Cerastium is similar to Stellaria, with tiny ten-parted white flowers, but these are more closed, and the leaves/stems are hairy, therefore giving the plant a grey appearance - flowers in June - sepals and petals about the same length) (widespread)
  • Cerastium alpinum, Alpine Mouse-ear, Músareyra ? (With gray hairs, smaller plant - petals about twice the length of sepals) (I am not sure about whether these two Cerastium species are correct; it is quite difficult to identify them when they are not in flower)
  • Spergula arvensis, Corn Spurrey, Skurfa (has filiform leaves and white flowers, similar to Bedstraw, but flowers are four-parted, while in the Bedstraws are five-parted)
  • Cardamine hirsuta, Hairy Bitter-cress, Lambaklukka (only a few)
  • Fragaria vesca, Wild Strawberry, Jardarber (not in our area, but I grow it now in our garden)
  • Dryas octopetala, Mountain Avens, Holtasóley (only common in mountain ravines, only found it in the west side of the valley)
  • Matricaria (or Tripleurospermum) maritima, Sea Mayweed, Baldursbrá (only common in sandy plains; of good use for the skin, grows in gravel fields in Olur and near the start of the hot stream)
  • Leucanthemum vulgare, Oxeye Daisy, Freyubrá ??? (alien species, not sure about this one) (close to my home)
  • Polygonum aviculare, Knotgrass, Blódarfi (not common) (in disturbed fields in gravel flat soils, near where cars pass, in front of Solheimarhus)
  • Epilobium lactiflorum, Milky Willowherb, Ljósadúnurt (tiny plant, up to 15cm high, near Solheimarhus)
  • Dabra incana, Hoary Whitlowgrass, Grávorblóm (only in proximity to our area)
  • Silene Uniflora, Sea Campion, Holurt (only in proximity to our area)
  • Lamium album, White Dead-nettle, Ljósatvítonn (only in other areas, in old cultivated fields, Alvidra)
  • Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, Bearberry, Sortulyng (not in our area, but widespread in the country)
Galium boreale, Bedstraw, this widespread native flower has been used as a contraceptive and has hormone-like compounds, making it very interesting for medicinal use. A red dye can be made from the root.


Filipendula ulmaria, Meadowsweet, is a very scented herb, that can be used as a tea, as a flavoring flower, it is a strong astringent and anti-inflammatory herb, similar to aspirin, being good for the skin and stomach (particularly ulcers and gastritis). It is very good for diarrhea and a diuretic. A strong decoction from the roots can treat external sores

Pink flowers:
  • Vaccinium myrtillus, Blueberry, Adalbláberjalyng (edible berries, present in mountain sides)
  • Valeriana sambucifolia, Hill Valerian, Hagabrúda (a native species, very similar to the common valerian, but distinguished by a terminal leaflet larger than the lateral ones, present near a water line)
  • Cuckoo Flower (common flower in spring, then difficult to identify, white or pink flowers)
  • Calluna vulgaris, Heather, Beitilyng (only in mountain ravines)
  • Geum rivale, Water Avens, Fjalldalafífill (very common summer flower)
  • Loiseleuria procumbens, Trailing Azalea, Saudamergur ? (not sure about this one)
  • Epilobium ciliatum, American Willowherb, Vaetudúnurt (alien species, and a weed, particularly by Olur)
  • Thymus praecox arcticus, Wild Thyme, Blodberg (aromatic herb, in both hillsides of the valley)
  • Cirsium heterophyllum, Melancholy Thistle, Purpurathistill (only behind Solheimarhus)
  • Erigeron borealis, Alpine Fleabane (also with pink flowers, and taller, up to 25cm; rare in our area, only found one exemplar, but it's common in mountains, in open fields in the northwest hillside of the valley)
  • Trifolium pratense, Red Clover ? (dark pink flowers, hairy calix and leaflets, not sure yet, northwest open fields of Solheimar, close to many houses)
  • Silene acaulis, Moss Campion, Lambagras (only in proximity to our area
  • Armeria maritima, Thrift, Geldingahnappur (only in mountains, so far not found in Sólheimar)
  • Chamerion latifolium, Arctic Riverbeauty, Eyrarós (widespread in the highlands and near rivers)

Thymus praecox, native Thyme of Iceland, a powerful aromatic and antiseptic herb, that can be used as a spice in the kitchen or a tea against colds

Purple flowers:
  • Geranium sylvaticum, Wood Crane's Bill, Blágresi (common purple flowers)
  • Viola canina, Heath Dog-violet, Týsfjóla (rare in our area, I only found one exemplar in our lawn, leaves are tapering to a point)
  • Prunella vulgaris, Selfheal, Blákolla (in northwest down in the hillside near the hot stream)
  • Veronica officinalis, Common Speedwell, Hárdepla (only found a few species, under a forest in west hillside, along a creek)
  • Thalictrum alpinum, Alpine Meadow-rue, Brjóstagras (leaves are bipinnate, long-peciole, a little bit like a tiny cress, very widespread but very tiny plant and leaves; when it flowers, the color is violet to pink)
  • Pinguicula vulgaris, Common Butterwort, Lyfjagras (only in mountains, good scent, so far not found in Sólheimar)

Geranium sylvaticum is a common purple flower to Iceland, a very cold hardy species


Blue flowers:
  • Viola tricolor, Wild Pansy, Threnningarfjóla (rare in our area, also in other colors, probably an escape from gardens)
  • Myosotis arvensis, Field Forget-me-not, Gleymmérei ? (not sure about the exact species, Myosotis species can be tricky to identify, flowers in June; tiny flowers, pedicels ate longer) (Myosotis stricta, Strict Forget-me-not, Sandmunablóm, has very tiny flowers, and pedicels very short, the plant is also only 10cm tall)
  • Myosotis discolor, Changing Forget-me-not, Kisugras (flowers in August) (a long stem with flowers, that have flowers in different colors, as they open, yellow, pink, and later blue; very tiny flowers)
  • Lupinus nootkatensis, Nootka Lupin, Lúpina (invasive and introduced species, very widespread)
  • Mertensia maritima, Oyster Plant, Blálilja (often in coastlines, I found one example in a gravel field in Sólheimar, by Olur)
  • Comastoma tenellum, Slender Gentian, Maríuvendligur (only found in gardens)
  • Vicia cracca, Tutfed Vetch, Umfedmingur ? (only in other country areas, not sure yet, Vík)


Yellow Flowers:
  • Potentilla cramtzii, Alpine Cinquefoil, Gullmura (has orange color in center of the yellow flowers, only a few plants high in the eastern hillside)
  • Angentina anserina, Silverweed, Tágamura (similar to above, but hairy leaves, good for skin, often in low part of the valley in open fields)
  • Ranunculus acris, Meadow Buttercup, Brennisóley (very common, there are many other species of buttercups but I have not identified them yet) (very widespread)
  • Papaver croceum, Iceland Poppy, Gardasól (I have not found it yet, but I grow it in our garden, an alien naturalized in Iceland - obviously poppies flowers occur in all different colors)
  • Papaver radicatum, Arctic Poppy, Melasól (only in other country areas such as southeast and West Fjords - this poppy is hairy unlike the former one. Also gives pink and white flowers. West Fjords and Hofn)
  • Barbarea stricta, Small-flowered Winter-cress, Hlídableikja (an alien species from the mustard family)
  • Rhodiola rosea, Roseroot, Burnirót (only cultivated in front of Solheimarhus, Olur, my garden)
  • Galium verum, Lady's Bedstraw, Gulmadra (common yellow flower, especially in open fields, very widespread)
  • Taraxacum, Dandelion, Túnfiffill (has a hollow flowering stem, with only one flower each, and no leaves on it) (in lawns, very widespread)
  • Hieracium holopleurum, Bush Hawkweed, Runnafífill (tall plant, leaves with very long pecioles and slitghly dentate (only basal leaves), flowering stems tall and branched and with leaves on it) (northwest open fields in hillside)
  • Hieracium thaectolepium, Hillside Hawkweed, Fíffill (this species is much smaller, with very hairty leaves, and the flowering stems have some bracts) (same place as above, but more close to hot stream)
  • Leontodon autumnalis, Autumn Hawkbit, Skarifífill (similar to hawkweeds, but distinguished by shape of flower, which has a very gradual transition to the stem, and no leaves on it, and some tiny bracts instead) (widespread, particularly down in the valley in lawns and along paths)
  • Pilosella islandica, Icelandic Hawkweed, Íslandsfífill (distinguished by black hairs) (northwest hilldside)
  • Tussilago farfara, Coltsfoot, Hóffífill (agressive weed) (a widespread weed in areas close to Olur)
  • Senecio vulgaris, Groundsel, Krosfífill (another common weed, close to Olur and disturbed fields)
  • Rhinanthus minor, Yellow-rattle, Lokasjódur (not so common, only found a few exemplars in a mountain ravine, also a small plant, by eastern side)
  • Mimulus guttatus, Monkey Flower, Apablóm (unconfirmed identity, found one exemplar of this garden species with yellow and orange flowers, by Solheimarhus)
  • Caltha palustris, Marsh Marigold, Hófsóley (in other areas in proximity, in marshes, so far not found in Sólheimar)

Argentina anserina, Silverweed, has very soft silvery and hairy leaves, that can be used as a strong astringent and analgesic herb for treating external bruises, or as a tea for treating diarrhea, or as a gargle for sore throats


Galium verum is another good herb to use to skin complains, such as inflammation, wounds and infections. The leaves are also edible, diuretic, and the flowering stems can be used as a food colorant 


Green flowers:
  • Lepidotheca suaveolens, Pineapple Weed, Hladkolla (widespread especially by Olur)
  • Alchemilla alpina, Alpine Lady Mantle, Ljónslappi (all Lady Mantle species are very similar, but this one has much smaller leaves and grows in more mountain areas, in both hillsides)
  • Alchemilla filicaulis, Hairy Lady Mantle, Hlídamaríustakkur (hairy leaves and stems)
  • Alchemilla glomerulans, Clustered Lady Mantle, Hnodamaríustakkur (apressed hairs on leaves and stems) (along a path to Olur)
  • Alchemilla wichurae, Rock Lady Mantle, Silfurmaríustakkur (no hairs, glabrous stems and leaves, reddish stems) (along the roadside to Vigdishus)
  • Alchemilla mollis, Lady Mantle, Gardamaríustakkur (easily distinguished by much bigger leaves which are also very soft and hairy, by swimming pool)
  • Urtica Dioica, Common Nettle, Brenninetla (good for the hair, also a vegetable when cooked) (near Olur and Sunna)
  • Betula pubescens, Downy Birch, Birki (good for the skin, and as a tea)
  • Betula nana, Dwarf Birch, Fjalldrapi (a dwarf mountain variety of birch) (a few in eastern hillside, high)
  • Salix lanata, Wooly Willow, Lodvidir (cotton-like white or yellow flowers, grey-haired leaves, grows up to 2m) (a lot in eastern hillside)
  • Salix arctica, Arctic Willow, Grávidir (dwarf variety, hairy green leaves, only grows up to 60cm) (high fields)
  • Salix alaxensis, Feltleaf Willow, Alaskavidir (can grow up to 8m, introduced species, soft and slightly hairy leaves which are wrinkled and oblong and narrow shape) 
  • Salix viminalis, Osier (cultivated species, probably escaped cultivation and naturalized, found by streams; leaves are very long and narrow, dark green, glabrous (but silky green and soft underneath), tree grows up to 6m)
  • Salix myrsinifolia, Boreal Willow, Vidja (tall willow, grows up to 12m, leaves are shiny green, with oval shape, and nearly glabrous). Possibly also Salix phylicifolia, Tea-leaved Willow, but these willows are quite similar. This one grows up 1-5m, with also glabrous leaves but less shiny (these 3 species grow mostly close to Olur by eastern hillside and close to the creeks there)
  • Populus trichocarpa, Black Cottonwood, Alaskaosp (introduced species) (cultivated by path sides)
  • Plantago major, Greater Plantain, Graedisúra (widespread especially in lawns)
  • Plantago maritima, Sea Plantain, Kattartunga (close to hot stream in northwest)
  • Rumex acetosa, Common Sorrel, Túnsúra (also similar to the alien Rumex acetosella, the lower extremities on leaves on this last are not pointing down but sideways) (widespread)
  • Rumex longifolius, Northern Dock, Njóli (especially by Sunna and compost piles)
  • Juniperus communis, Juniper, Einir (only found cultivated)
  • Empetrum nigrum, Crowberry, Kraekilyng (Edible black fruits)
  • Plantanthera hyperborea, Northern Green Orchid, Friggjargras (found only one growing in our area, but is common in the mountains, in forest in western hillside)
  • Eriophorum angustifolium, Common Cottongrass, Klófila (a cottongrass, having several spikes - cotton fruits - together in the same stem, marshes)
  • Picea sitchensis, Sitka Spruce, Sitkagreni (introduced but widespread tree)
  • Pinus contorta, Lodgepole Pine, Stafafura (not present in our area, introduced too, so far not identified in Sólheimar)

Alchemilla alpina, a native Lady Mantle, in Iceland, for skin use and as a tea to alleviate period pains in women

Horsetails and Ferns:
  • Equisetum arvense, Field Horsetail, Klóelfting (lateral branches erect, grows in more sunny places)
  • Equisetum pratense, Shady Horsetail, Vallelfting (lateral branches falling, grows in shadow places)
  • Equisetum fluviatile, Water Horsetail, Fergín (grows in water lines, no lateral branches, creek near chicken house)
  • Equisetum variegatum, Variagated Horsetail, Beitieski (only one stem, no lateral branches) (near the same place as above but under the forest)
  • Dryopteris filix-mas, Male Fern,Stóriburkni (secondary leaflets dentate, with 5-10 round sori in two rows underneath) (in a hill behind the gymnasium)

Equisetum arvense, Field Horsetail, is a very good herb to use for the hair

I have not looked at grasses, sedges, mosses and other aquatic species, and also pines and some small herbaceous species without significant flowers (like other species of Dabra, Sagina or Saxifraga). So far, 89 species have been identified where we live in Sólheimar ecovillage, plus 15 in the rest of Iceland (from about 338 vascular plants) (but not all of them confirmed as correctly identified).

It's quite impressive that the place we live, features about one quarter of all the species of vascular plants in Iceland!

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