These are one of my favorite herbs on our property. Lamb’s Ear, also known as Stachys byzantina. As you can see, it’s growing a bit un-manicured in a woodsy part of our property right now. I plan on tying them into a nice flowerbed border, but also planting them here and there around the property, hoping to encourage them to go wild and spread where they please.
Many people notice Lamb’s Ear popping up in their gardens and pull it immediately, thinking it’s a weed. Likely, it reemerges right away, as it’s highly resilient.
If you happen to notice Lamb’s Ear on your property, let it be! Not only is it a valuable plant to have in your garden, it offers hundreds of medicinal and culinary purposes as well.
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Lamb’s Ear Background
Lamb’s ear was originally grown in Turkey, Armenia, and Iran, but is now cultivated around much of the world because of its ornamental, medicinal, and culinary qualities.
It also has antibacterial properties and is even effective against Staphyloccocus aureus, the strain of bacteria responsible for various infections like sinus or skin infections. This bacteria is resistant to most antibiotics, so Lamb’s Ear is a godsend in the fight against it.
Used as a natural bandage in medieval times, this plant is super effective at healing wounds. It was one of the most important medicinal herbs to the Anglo-Saxons of early medieval Britain and is native to Europe and the Middle East.
However, it has spread widely to most parts of North America. Although it’s considered invasive, there are a ton of physical benefits to it that most people appreciate.
Mysteriously, some superstitious people even believe that lamb’s ear has the power to heal spiritual and emotional wounds!
This plant has been cultivated all over the world for its ornamental qualities. You might see it marketed by other names, too, including woolly hedgenettle, Stachys lanata or Stachs olympica.
There are several cultivars available, including:
- Big Ears: This variety, as you might expect, has leaves up to 25 centimeters long!
- Primrose Heron: This one has pink flowers and its leaves turn yellow in the spring.
- Striped Phantom: Striped Phantom is distinguishable by its variegated leave.
- Silver Carpet: Silver Carpet is a sterile plant that is asexually propagated and has grey leaves.
- Silky Fleece: Silky Fleece produces lilac-colored flowers along with small white woolly foliage. It propagates by seed.
- Sheila Macqueen: This is another sterile variety of lamb’s ear that produces large leaves.
- Cotton boll: Another sterile cultivar, this one is also asexually propagated and doesn’t produce flowering stems.
Commonly grown in children’s’ gardens, this plant is easy to grow and even more fun to touch! It’s used as an edible plant in a variety of areas, particularly in Brazil, and is known there as lambari. It can be used as a landscaping plant, too, as it’s perfect for edging and creating borders.
A perennial herb, lamb’s ear is covered with tons of gray or white tiny, silky-smooth hairs. The leaves are curved and covered with fur, much like the lamb of an adorable baby lamb!
The plant later produces flowering spikes up to 22 centimeters long, each of which has many flowers that crowd together on these spikes.
Lamb’s ear flowers in the late spring and early summer, giving your garden plenty of color at the perfect time of year. As evergreen plants, they tend to die back during exceptionally cold winters but later regenerate from their crowns.
How to Grow Lamb’s Ear
I started them from seed this past Spring, and they’ve already begun to readily multiply. They’re super easy to start from seed (I ordered mine from Horizon Herbs).
You should plant your lamb’s ear seeds in full sun to partial shade. It prefers soil that is well-draining and moderately moist or even somewhat dry. The pH should be mostly neutral at about 6 to 6.5. It grows best in zones 4 to 7 but may be able to tolerate some other climates, too.
Lamb’s ear is commonly used as a flower border but can also serve as an excellent groundcover. You can start it by seeds or you can dig up other plants that were created via self-seeding and divide them in the spring. You can even use them in rock gardens!
Just plant the seeds about 1/4″ deep in seed starting mix, and keep moist and away from direct sunlight until the seedlings emerge. Once they’ve popped up through the soil, make sure they get plenty of light for at least 6-8 hours a day.
If you’re planting started plants, space them at least a foot or so apart so they have room to sprawl. You don’t need to fertilize prior to planting, but it doesn’t hurt to add a bit of compost.
Water them as needed when you see the soil getting dry. (I suggest setting the pot, which should have drain holes in the bottom, in a container of water to absorb moisture as needed instead of watering from the top.)
Lamb’s ear is a super tolerant plant. It’s actually distantly related to mint, which is why it is so hardy and such a vigorous grower. A frost hardy plant, it produces downy leaves that make it super drought tolerant. Even when water is low and sunlight is intense, this plant will rarely droop.
Lamb’s ear has two phases of growth – in the first, it will grow horizontally and produce a cushiony mattress. In the second stage, it will send up stalks and flowers in spikes. It is truly a self-mulching plant!
The spikes will grow to up to 18 inches tall, with the rest of the plant spreading out about one foot wide, much closer to the ground. The blooms are usually light purple.
They can tolerate drought conditions as well as poor soil quality, but they don’t do well with standing water. Make sure wherever you plant them has excellent drainage.)
Caring for Lamb’s Ear
Once the plants have developed, you have to keep an eye out for rotting in humid conditions. Mulching underneath the leaves can help prevent this and other moisture-related diseases and fungi from developing.
You do not need to fertilize the plant at all, but you may find that it benefits from a light application of compost each spring.
When they have several sets of “true” leaves, they’re ready to be transplanted into a semi-shady to sunny spot of your choice. When planting, space your seedlings about a foot apart. Above is a picture of my seedlings on transplanting day.
They do nicely in containers, or in any well-draining soil. Actually, we have pretty hard red clay here, and they’ve adapted just fine when amended with compost.
Since we have hot, humid summers, I planted my lamb’s ear at the edge of the woods, in a semi-shady spot to prevent wilting. My plants haven’t flowered yet; I wonder if they may be a non-flowering variety.
If and when your plants DO flower, you should clip off any dead flower heads. Healthy flowers attract bees as well as other pollinators, and also give off a pleasant, pineapple-like scent.
The plants don’t normally attract a lot of pests, except in damp, humid weather. Humidity can cause the foliage to become diseased, which can attract sowbugs. Remove dead or diseased leaves to prevent these (as well as other!) pests.
Lamb’s ear grows in zones 4-7, and will be happy to come back even bigger year after year. The plants will multiply; to keep them controlled, thin them as needed by dividing the crowns with a sharp shovel to transplant.
Wherever you plant them, make sure you are comfortable with them epxnading. They can be somewhat invasive and will create dense mats even in undesirable soil.
You might need to thin it every two or three years.
If you are reading this and haven’t planted lamb’s ear yet, I recommend selecting a location that you don’t mind becoming inundated with these plants – you’re going to have plenty on your hands so it’s a good idea to plan ahead.
Even if you choose not to divide it because it’s growing out of control, it’s a good idea to, at the very least, prune your plants. This can help prevent your flower stalks from becoming too tall and gangly.
If you think they look a little awkward, just cut them off. Otherwise, just divide your plants every four years or so, or leave them be if you want to maintain large, sprawling clumps.
Nevertheless, as I mentioned, they’re drought tolerant, and deer resistant (most herbivores find the ultra-soft leaves unpalatable). It’s also resistant to rabbits. They are also super easy to grow.
Uses for Lamb’s Ear
If you’ve never felt a leaf from this furry, silvery seafoam plant, imagine stroking a super soft puppy ear, or more appropriately, a baby lamb’s ear, and you get the picture.
Whenever I take a stroll through my yard and happen upon a cluster of Lamb’s ear, I’m always compelled to pluck off a plump leaf and rub it against my cheek. And smile. It’s just so stinking soft! Kids especially love to “pet” these plants.
This plant creates a gorgeous and verdant carpet in the garden, with a layer of tiny white hairs. The kids love to walk through the lamb’s ear and pet the leaves!
Lamb’s Ear makes a handsome border to any walkway or flowerbed. In addition to its lush foliage, it also produces lovely blooms. This plant grows up to three feet tall and up to four feet wide, and can produce flowers in colors like pink, purple, red, and even white. This plant attracts birds and makes a good cut flower as well.
But it’s also handy medicinally as well. Herbalists sometimes refer to it as ‘wooly woundwort’.
The whole plant is medicinal as an alterative, antibacterial, antipyretic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, carminative, diuretic, febrifuge, hypotensive, stomachic, styptic, tonic, vermifuge and vulnerary.
A cold water infusion of the freshly chopped or dried and powdered leaves makes a refreshing beverage, while a weak infusion of the plant can be used as a medicinal eye wash for sties and pinkeye. It is taken internally as a medicinal tea in the treatment of fevers, diarrhea, sore mouth and throat, internal bleeding, and weaknesses of the liver and heart.Wikipedia
For centuries, hunters and soldiers have used Lamb’s Ear leaves as a field dressing for injuries. With its antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and super absorbent properties, it makes a perfect make-shift bandage.
Wooly Lamb’s Ear causes the blood to clot more quickly and the fuzzy leaves absorb blood easily. It’s a good alternative to store-bought bandages if you’re trying to live a truly off-the-grid lifestyle.
Lamb’s ear is loosely related to Betony (both are Stachys), and is sometimes called woolly betony. Besides the sopping up of blood and use as a dressing, lamb’s ear has also been used as a poultice and has analgesic properties.
It was used either alone, or to help hold in other herbs like comfrey. It was often used in the aftermath of bee or wasp stings, and reduces the swelling from both.
It was used for centuries as a “women’s comfort” for hemorrhoids, menstrual flow, birthing, for nervous tension, and as a skin aid. It’s easy to see that with the invention of Tylenol, gauze, feminine hygiene products, cotton packing, and make up removal pads, the knowledge and use of lamb’s ear for this purpose kind of went out the window. However, now you know you have a natural substitute if everything goes wrong and supplies are not available.
Lamb’s ear has been used as a natural dye for wool. Boiling the leaves in hot water and then adding a mordant, brings out a fabulous, creamy, yellowish beige. Using the bracts (flower spike) instead of the leaves, a light mauve can be attained.The Chippewa Herald
The leaves of wooly lamb’s ear are perfect as makeshift bandages. Because they are so soft, you won’t mind putting them on your skin -plus, they’re antibacterial, absorbent, antiseptic, and antifungal.
Use them to treat scrapes, buts, burns, insect stings, and bug bites. For an even more powerful effect, combine lamb’s ear with a bit of plantain or yarrow.
It has also been said that Lamb’s Ear was used as the first toilet tissue! Remember that the next time you head out on a backwoods camping trip.
Not only is it useful medicinally, but it’s also edible! Some people enjoy Lamb’s Ear fresh in salads or gently steamed as greens. It tastes like a combination of apples and pineapples, with a delightfully fruity taste.
You can also make a very pleasant tea by steeping dried leaves in boiling water. Pick fresh, young leaves for best flavor when consuming.
This tea not only tastes great, but can be used to treat a variety of conditions. Among them, lamb’s ear can treat sore throats, internal bleeding, and even candida overgrowth. It’s also believed to boost liver and heart health and to treat staph infections, E. coli, and other diseases.
Here are some of the other things lamb’s ear can treat:
- Bladders stones
- Kidney stones
You can even use Lamb’s Ear for floral arrangements, wraths, and potpourris. With so many uses for this beautiful plant, we’d better plant a ton!!
Do you have Lamb’s Ear growing around your home? What’s your favorite way to enjoy it?
updated 11/22/2019 by Rebekah White