Columbine: McKana Giants (Aquilegia caerulea)
McKana Giant columbines were developed specifically for their large, striking blooms and many colors; this AAS Award winner first became available in the 1950's. The name “columbine” is derived from the Latin “columba,” or dove, since an upside down columbine bloom looks like a circle of doves around a fountain. The Latin genus name “Aquilegia” means “eagle,” a reference to the spikes on the back of the flower that resemble an eagle’s talons. These unique hollow spurs on the blossoms contain an abundance of nectar, though only hummingbirds and other long-tongued feeders such as the hawk moth can reach it. Ruby-throated hummingbirds especially love this plant. Its natural habitats are woodland areas, rocky slopes, or along streams.
Starting Columbine Seeds
Health Benefits of Columbine
Ease of Growing: Easy
Grown as: Perennial
Maturity (Bloom): Spring
Light: Full Sun to Part Shade.
Soil Moisture: Medium.
Attracts Beneficial Insects?: Yes. Bees, Butterflies, Hummingbirds, Pollinating Moths, as well as resisting deer and rabbits.
Sow Depth: 1/4"
USDA Zone: 3a-8b
Produces: dark green foliage and 4” spurred blooms in varied combinations of white, pink, blue, yellow, purple, and red.
Starting Columbine Seeds Indoors for Spring
Transplanting Columbine Seedlings Outdoors for Spring
Starting Columbine Seeds Outdoors for Spring
Starting Columbine Seeds Outdoors for Fall
Using companion plants as a border, backdrop, or interplanting in your garden beds will allow you to harness the ecosystem to its full potential. It is best to use plants native to your area so that the insects you seek to attract will know what to look for!
Phlox, a purplish-blue woodland flower, work well with columbines to form a shady border. Both types of flowers prefer light to moderate shade and bloom in the mid- to late spring. Another border option is the toad lily, which blooms just after the columbine wanes in spring, leading to a beautiful garden throughout the season.
A good vegetable companion to the columbine is rhubarb which, in addition to its nutritional qualities, deters the red spider mites which often prey on columbines. Rhubarb leaves can also form a natural deterrent to blackspot on roses when boiled.
Other light-shade lovings plants prove good companions to columbines. These include ferns, woodland flowers, Jeepers Creepers Tiarella, Chocolate Chip Ajuga and hostas. Cottage or prairie plants, such as False Indigo or Autumn Bluch Coreopsis, can be combined to create an informal feel while allowing varying soil conditions and light shade to yield blossoms.
Eliminate Pain: Columbine also works as an effective pain reliever on various parts of the body. The same sort of paste can be applied to bruises and strained muscles to reduce aches and pains, as a result of the same anti-inflammatory compounds found in the roots and seeds. Lotions made from the crushed root and the extracted oils is very popular for rheumatic pains as people age. Those suffering from arthritis can use these herbal lotions to significantly reduce their discomfort. Using columbine on open wounds is discouraged, as the toxicity could negatively affect the body if it gets into the bloodstream.
Headaches: One of the most popular uses of columbine has been in the reduction of headaches. Using tiny amounts of crushed seeds and often mixing them with wine or water, headaches can quickly be relieved. Again, the seeds contain toxic substances, so very small amounts are necessary for this treatment, and consulting an herbalist is highly recommended.
Respiratory Issues: Crushing the roots and mixing them with water has also been used as a treatment for certain respiratory problems, including congestion and sore throats. By eliminating the inflammation of the respiratory tracts, columbine can help to speed up the healing process, reduce irritation, and eliminate congestion, which prevents further illness or infection from bacteria in the phlegm and sputum.
Detoxify the Body: Columbine has long been used to stimulate perspiration, and is known traditionally as an effective remedy to break a fever. If you mix the flowers with water and drink this mixture, fevers can be rapidly eliminated. This same property also induces urination, so its role as a diuretic makes it valuable for detoxifying the body. By stimulating the elimination of excess toxins, salts, fats, and water, columbine helps relieve pressure on the kidneys and liver.
Stomach Issues: If the roots are prepared correctly, they can be consumed as a tonic for the stomach, as it can ease inflammation and irritation in the bowels that causes diarrhea and symptoms of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). It should be consumed in small quantities and prepared by a trained herbalist.
Menstrual Bleeding: The effects of columbine on women have been known for generations. A small tincture can be used to induce labor in pregnancy, and its properties as a coagulant and astringent can help to reduce bleeding after delivery. Also, columbine is used by many herbal practitioners to lessen menstrual bleeding and reduce some of the discomfort and symptoms associated with menstruation.
A Final Word of Warning: As mentioned many times in this article, columbine is a poisonous flower, so despite all of the health benefits we’ve just explained, you should not try to create decoctions, tinctures, or salves without proper training or consultation with an herbalist or traditional practitioner. Before adding any powerful herbal remedy to your health regiment, always consult a medical professional.