Often found in woodlands, shaded waste areas, and thickets, white avens can be distinguished by the five white petals separated by the green triangular sepals. This plant can grow to around 2 - 2.5 feet high, changing dramatically as it grows.
In the winter it grows as a basal rosette of odd-pinnate leaves with a green, but sometimes purplish hue. This is one of the first plants you may notice in the forest after the snows melt, however, it will not grow tall and bloom until June/July.
As it grows the color and leaf structure changes, upper stem is a light green, leaves begin to resemble those of strawberry leaves - trifoliate alternate cauline leaves (see image below).
As the plant matures the flower is replaced by a round cluster of "achenes with persistent styles that are hooked at their tips" - round groups of seedpods with hooks at the tips that will grab onto your clothing, pets, wildlife, and spread!
White avens are probably the most common in our area, but there are a few other varieties - Rough Avens looks quite similar but the petals of its flowers are shorter than the sepals as well as the flowering stalks on the white avens are finely pubescent, the rough avens have coarse spreading hairs.
There is also a yellow variety in our area as well.
As with many plants medicinal and superstitious qualities are abound.
The root of the White Avens has been used in Europe and England for a variety of purposes. It is said to have a clove-like flavor/scent. The root was to be dug up in the spring, and the old physicians were so particular that they marked March 25th as the day to dig the root (specifically only if the soil was dry).
The root has been used as an astringent, antiseptic, tonic, and other medicinal purposes. In the earlier days, however, it was used to flavor ale and to put among linen to protect from moths (think moth balls).
Boiling the roots in wine was used as a cordial against the plague and was said to "heal stomach ills and bites from venomous beasts".
A fantastic image showing the journey from the winter rosette to the summer pubescent leaves. Sourced from ANPS.org
Vogelpohl, Sid "Know Your Natives - White avens" ANPS.org
https://anps.org/2016/01/15/know-your-natives-white-avens/ [Jan 15, 2016]
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Emily is an Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist who spends her time exploring and learning about the unique history and nature in North East Ohio. She lives with her husband and cat in Wooster where she is also a family portrait and nature photographer as well as grows and cans her own vegetables. When she's not doing that, yoga and embroidery (not at the same time) are other things she enjoys.