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What is Fumitory?

By O. Parker
Updated May 16, 2024
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Fumitory is an annual plant in the Papaveraceae family of flowering plants. Native species of fumitory grow in the Americas, Australia, Europe, the British Isles, and Asia. This herb has been used as a medicinal plant for centuries and is still a part of the modern herbalist's tradition. Fumitory self-propagates each spring from abundant seeds scattered in the fall. In a garden or formal landscape, it is often considered a weed; however, it does have positive applications as a ground cover in a planned, wild area of the garden or a meadow.

The Papaveraceae family comprises herbaceous plants from tropical and temperate regions of the world. The most well known and abundant member, the poppy, has earned this family the common name of poppy family. The species of fumitory are all within the Papaveraceae family but are further isolated under the Fumariaceae family. There are about 14 species of fumitory.

Fumaria officinalis, a low-growing, 1-foot-tall (30-cm-tall) plant with white or pale pink flowers is the most well known of the species and is found in meadows and sunny, arable land. Fumaria capreolata, commonly called white ramping fumitory, has white- or cream-colored flowers; this species is a climbing plant that scales walls and rocky areas. Fumaria muralis, called wall fumitory, is another common species identifiable by its pink and red flowers.

When planting fumitory in a garden or planned wild area, the seeds should be scattered in the spring after the ground has thawed. An area that gets full sun and has slightly damp, fertile soil is ideal; however, this weedy plant will grow in a variety of less suitable growing conditions. Once fumitory is established in an area, it will return each year from abundantly produced and self-scattered seeds. Though prolific, fumitory is not excessively invasive and can be controlled by simple hand weeding any time of year. To reduce a plant population, the adult plants should be pulled before they go to seed in the fall.

Fumaria is most commonly cultivated for its medicinal uses. Taken internally as a tonic, it used to treat liver and skin conditions, cleanse the blood, and as a diuretic. A variety of medicinal preparations are made from a white sap that is distilled from the leaves. It also can be dried and made into a powder or extracted for tinctures. In meadows and grazing areas, livestock enjoy the delicate leaves.

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