Geranium robertianum or Herb Robert is also known by at least a hundred colloquial names, some of the most common being: Red Robin, Death-Come-Quickly, Storksbill, bloodwort, felonwort, Dove’s Foot, Crow’s Foot, or (in North America) Robert Geranium. It’s a common species of cranesbill.
There are several theories about how Herb Robert, or what was once known as Saint Robert’s Herb, earned it’s name, including that it was named in honour of Robert Duke of Normandy, who died in 1134; or St Robert of Molesme, a French monk and herbalist who died in 1110 and was renowned for curling various ills through using the herb; and was names in celebration of Robin Goodfellow or Puck, the mischievous elf in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” All that said, the Latin name Robertianum might simply be a corruption of ruber meaning red, rather than referring to any specific Robert, Robin or Rupert.
Herb Robert is actually a ubiquitous sprawling annual or bi-annual plant with fern-like leaves and often reddish stems; the leaves too tend to turn red at the end of the flowering season. It has five petalled vibrant pink flowers and, if the weather conditions are good, will flower from Spring to Autumn.
Herb-Robert is found in a variety of mainly shady habitats varying from woodland and canalside hedgerows, to rocky or exposed scree slopes and coastal areas. It doesn’t thrive in acidic soils.
In traditional herbalism, the leaves of Herb Robert are the main part of the plant used for medicinal purposes. An infusion of leaves was drunk and was thought to stop bleeding and to be a good gargle for sore throats and oral problems such as toothache and mouth ulcers. The infusion could also be used as a wash for the skin, and for inflammation of the eyes. A poultice of the leaves was used to relieve hardened breasts, to increase lactation in nursing mothers, to relieve irritated skin and the pain of rheumatism and reduce bruising, as well as being applied to herpes sores and ulcers.
Freshly picked leaves have an unpleasant odour resembling burning tires when bruised/crushed, and if they are rubbed on the body the smell is said to be strong enough to repel mosquitoes! Indeed in the US Herb Robert is known as Stinky Bob and classified as a noxious weed. It is also called the Fox Geranium, some say because of its “foxy” smell after rain. It is said that deer and rabbits give Herb Robert a wide berth!
Nicholas Culpeper, the English herbalist who wrote in the 17th century has this to say about Herb Robert:
It is under the dominion of Venus. Herb Robert is commended not only against the stone, but to stay blood, where or howsoever flowing; it speedily heals all green wounds, and is effectual in old ulcers in the privy parts, or elsewhere. You may persuade yourself this is true, and also conceive a good reason for it, do but consider it is an herb of Venus, for all it hath a man’s name.
This post was based on information gathered from the following sources: