GREEN ALKANET (Pentaglottis sempervirens)

Green alkanet is a member of the Boraginaceae, a family which includes not only borage, but such as comfrey, lungwort and viper’s bugloss. Like them, it has broadly lance-shaped, undivided and roughly hairy leaves. It is a perennial, growing fairly erect to 2 feet high. The flowers, in small clusters, are bright blue, with white centres, and appear from April to July or later. Originally a native of south-west Europe, it was introduced into this country and is now quite widespread as an escape, found usually near gardens or on hedge-banks.

The name alkanet is of Arabic origin, meaning henna, and it was probably brought here because of the reddish-brown dye derived from its roots, this being a cheaper alternative to the true henna.

Why is it called green alkanet, when the flowers are blue? Well, it’s presumably to distinguish it from another alkanet (Anchusa officinalis), of which some of the varieties (including those cultivated in gardens) have flowers likewise of a beautiful blue.

Alkanet in School Street

Text by George Metcalfe. Photos by Colin Wootton.