Devil’s bit scabious contains tannins, saponins, glycosides, starch, caffeic acid and mineral salts.
The plant was formerly known by the Latin name “scabiosa succisa” which refers to how the herb was used in the past to treat scabies (an itchy skin infection caused by mites). “Succisa” means bitten off or cut off and refers to the shape of the root.
The name originates from folklore that says that the devil got so upset over the medicinal properties of the plant that he bit off a piece of the root so it would lose its power to heal.
This legend reflects the English common name devil’s bit scabious.
The herb was probably used first as an herbal medicine in Europe in the Middle Ages, and for a while at least it enjoyed a great reputation as healing plant.
In that time the plant was known by the name “herba scabiosa”, meaning “scab plant”. But it was not only used to treat scabies, but also to treat external wounds, poisonous insect bites, ringworm, thrush, intestinal worms, epilepsy, and gonorrhea. It was even believed that someone could be cured of the plague by using the herb’s root.
Devil’s bit scabious was used as a medicinal herb well into the 1900s, but it is rarely used in modern-day herbal medicine. Some herbalist still use a decoction made from the rootstock to treat coughs, sore throat,bronchitis, fever and internal inflammation.
The thick, glossy leaves were once used to dye wool green.
It seems very likely that topical use of the fresh plant is effective in relieving itchy skin problems, but whether the plant has antimicrobial qualities or an immune strengthening effect is not yet proven.
There have been no scientific studies made that show whether the herb has any medicinal effect, but that does not necessarily mean the herb cannot be used as a medicinal herb. In the meantime, the plant has to be judged on its history and traditional use.