Another mystery solved

The ferocious vine growing on my back fence is catbrier.

Back when I was still fooling with medicinal herbs, I bought a terrific little book called Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs, by Steven Foster and James A. Duke.

Dr. Duke is probably the most famous and most respected ethnobotanist in the world. I bought several of his books when I was trying to learn about herbs. I don’t use herbs (or any other kind of medicine) these days, but I still use this great little field guide all the time, because it has tons of full-color photographs of medicinal plants, many of which seem to show up in my garden of their own volition.

Looking through the section on vines, I found a picture of catbrier that looked exactly like that treacherous thing that’s climbing the back fence.

Dr. Duke says,

“American Indians rubbed stem prickles on skin as a counterirritant to relieve localized pains, muscle cramps, twitching; leaf and stem tea used for rheumatism, stomach troubles. Wilted leaves poulticed on boils. root tea taken to help expel afterbirth.

“… Science confirms anti-inflammatory, estrogenic, cholesterol-lowering, and anti-stress activity of various Smilax (catbrier) species.”

I don’t know about that “anti-stress” thing. I find catbrier awfully stress-inducing when I’m trying to figure out how to uproot it without ripping my hands to shreds. But maybe that’s just me.


“The world is not respectable; it is mortal, tormented, confused, deluded forever; but it is shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter; and in these, the spirit blooms timidly, and struggles to the light amid the thorns.”
— George Santayana

6 thoughts on “Another mystery solved”

  1. What was the name of that awful stickery plant that grew in the grass at Seba Station? I was trying to remember it the other day and kept drawing a blank. You said Scout got it between her toes when you first stopped there.

  2. I think it was just a good old-fashioned cocklebur. I never researched the actual name of it, but I’ve had ’em bite my ankles right through my jeans, and they embedded themselves in the actual skin on top of my feet when I made the mistake of walking along the side of the road in Birkenstocks to take a picture of the “RATTLESNAKES — EXIT NOW” sign near McLean, TX one time.

    Casper used to get them in his forelock. He’d get, like, 20 or 30 of them at once. When those things were in season, he’d spend a couple of months looking like Kramer from Seinfeld, with his hair all frizzy and sticking up in the front from having to have me pick umpteen cockleburs out of it every morning. He looked ridiculous. I wish I’d gotten a picture of it, because it was priceless.

  3. I’ve never known any name for those except cockleburs. I think maybe Sue called it a beggar’s tick. I always thought beggars’ ticks were the little round seeds that are just rough enough to hitch rides on shoelaces and fuzzy socks.

    I’ll look online and see if I can figure out another name for cockleburs.

  4. Did you ever figure out how to get it out?

    I’ve got a hellacious infestation of the stuff throughout two of my four acres, and it’s killing the trees. I’ve pulled out tons of it, but it just keeps coming back.

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