My friend Andrew sent me a packet of seeds he’d picked up at the 2014 Chelsea Flower Show in London. It was a “woodland” mix (for “dappled shade” – just what I’m after to plant in a new bed in fall). I recognized most of the plants in the packet – buttercup, columbine, two sorts of foxglove, pasque flower, betony and prunella (known also as “self-heal” and renowned for its abilities to, among other things, clear up herpes).
The one I’d never heard of is Creeping Crosswort (Phuopsis Crucianella stylosa).
Apparently, Creeping Crosswort is not often encountered in gardens because it smells like skunk (not to be mistaken for marijuana, which is sometimes called skunkweed and can have a similar fragrance). But it also loves hot dry areas with lousy soil and is useful as a groundcover on slopes. Aside from that, I can find no references to it as a healing herb or any history of its use. This is odd, since the suffix wort (pronounced wert) – from the Old English wyrt or root — seems to be most common in the names used as food or medicine (for example, butterwort and woundwort).
I asked my husband what creeping crosswort might have been used for. My husband is not a botanist, so this is the answer he gave me: