Our Aussie plant, ‘Old Man’s Beard’ (Clematis microphylla) is a totally different plant to the one you will see under that name in most herbals. Once again, common names, though very descriptive, can be misleading.
Ours’ is a climber, a very good one at that, frequently found covering plants in the bush with its vigorous growth and distinguishing bearded fruit. It is these ‘beards’ that give ‘Old Man’s Beard’ its name, as en-masse, they look like a whole lot of beard.
The way I show people to identify this Clematis when it’s not flowering (August to November) or in fruit is to look at the small leaves (‘microphylla’ means ‘small leaved’) which are always in groups of 3. Tha’ts the most distinguishing feature. There are two varieties, divided by the size of their leaves, but for our purposes, they’re essentially the same.
So, what good is it, you may ask. Well…
You can eat the roots. Raw, they have a biting, peppery taste, but taste just a little better cooked.
Crushing the leaves and inhaling their peppery aroma has been used by the locals as a way to relieve headaches. Steaming the leaves and placing them on arthritic and just plain achy joints can bring welcome relief quite quickly as the compounds cause local irritation and therefore blood flow to the affected area.
Of course, you’ll want to nibble on the leaves. Be careful here, as on first bite, they don’t seem that strong, but the longer you leave them in your mouth, the hotter and stronger they get. So be careful and only have a nibble…They can burn your mouth!