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Orthosiphon aristatus (Blume) Miq. 1858
pronounced: or-tho-SY-fon a-riss-TAH-tuss
(Lamiaceae – the lavender family)
common name: Cat’s Whiskers
The lavender family’s name comes from the Latin lamium (the dead-nettle). The family was formerly known as Labitae. Orthosiphon is from two Greek words, ορθος (orthos), straight and σιφων (siphon), a tube; aristatus is a Latin word meaning ‘having ears of corn’, i.e. with a long bristle tip.
This is a pretty, fast-growing perennial herb with open habit, growing to about a metre tall. The leaves are attractively toothed, and slightly hairy. Spikes of white tubular flowers, with exceptionally long stamens (like a cat’s whiskers) are borne for much of the year when it is grown in warm climates. The blooms can also sometimes be pink, lavender or blue.
The plant is native to south-east Asia and northern Australia, its natural habitat being dry rainforest. It likes a sunny, well-drained location, and is drought-tolerant; but in garden conditions it flowers better if the soil around it is kept constantly moist, and not allowed to dry out between waterings. It can be propagated either by seed or by softwood cuttings. It responds well to pruning.
It is much used in traditional medicine. It is believed to have anti-allergic, anti-hypersensitive, anti-inflammatory and diuretic properties. For centuries it has been a trusted medicine for treating kidney ailments, bladder stone, urinary tract infections, liver problems, diabetes, rheumatism and gout. It is believed to relieve spasms of the smooth muscle in the walls of the internal organs, making it useful for gall-bladder problems. It is also used to reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, and has been found to be mildly antiseptic. It is best for amateurs not to try these cures, as some parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested.
As well as all that, it is very ornamental when in flower, and is attractive to bees, butterflies and some birds.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2007, 2008
Page last updated 9th January 2017