The Rose

Rosa gallica photographed by Radim Holiš

Rosa gallica photographed by Radim Holiš

No matter how you try to spin it, you cannot separate Valentine’s Day from the red rose.  It has been associated with love and beauty  in almost every culture for thousands of years. In classic Greek mythology the rose was stained red by the blood of the love goddess Aphrodite, herself. The ancient Romans cultivated Rosa gallica and featured its blooms in the wedding ritual both by decorating the bridal couple and decorating the centerpieces of the wedding feast.  In North America the native tribes gathered wild roses for courtship as well as medicinal use. A ghazal written by a Persian mystic Hafez tells it is the beauty of the rose that causes the nightingale to sing. By the medieval period, the rose was associated with the purity of the Virgin Mary in Christian mythology.

In the colonial period, William Penn brought English roses back to the Americas in 1699 and John Adams planted the first rosebush at the famed White House garden. This doesn’t relate so much to the history of the rose as a token of love, but I think it’s a cool fact. Continue reading

Argan Tree: goat poop and oil

The Argan Tree

The Argan Tree (Argania spinosa) is endemic to the country of Morocco with a few outlaying hectares of growth in

the easternmost townships of Algeria. It has been an important plant in the region for thousands of years and has recently exploded in Europe and North America as a luxury beauty care item. I actually use it myself, and decided to investigate exactly what this plant (and it’s precious oil) was all about.

Turns out there is a lot going on, especially in the last 100 or so years. Continue reading

Licorice: coughs, cramps, and cigarettes


Glycyrrhiza glabra (Image: Greg Kenicer, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh)

In any group of people there are the licorice lovers and the licorice haters. It’s polarizing. But whether or not you can stand the taste of this ancient herb, it has been used for thousands of years for a variety of ailments.

The medicinal use of the Licorice plant (Glycyrrhiza glabra) was first recorded on an Egyptian papyrus dating to the Roman Empire and the first Chinese herbal has an entry for the herb as well. Our friends Pliny and Hippocrates also wrote about the benefits of licorice. And what did all their recommendations have in common? Sore throats. Even today if you check out the ingredients of any herbal cough drop or syrup you will see licorice as an ingredient. Why? Because it works!

But Licorice also contains compounds that mimic estrogen. Specifically found in the root of the plant (which is where the flavor usually comes from, as well) the isoflavonoids glabrene and glabridin can act like estrogen in the body, making licorice an effective herb for both menopause and menstrual cramps. For this reason it is recommended to abstain from licorice while pregnant as it has been known to induce uterine contractions in large doses (but those doses can vary from person to person). Continue reading

One Wise(man) Gift: Frankincense

As my family collapsed in the living room last night, stuffed and exhausted from a day of visiting and eating and eating and presents and more eating my father asked me a trivia question (which is how my family celebrates every and all holidays and gatherings): “Hey Sarah, what is another name for Boswellia?”

I was stumped. “I’ll give you a hint,” he told me, “it’s an herb…” And still, I had nothing.

So then he retreats to the kitchen and comes back with his bottle of Boswellia serrata – Frankincense. Who knew? Of course it was Christmas themed plant trivia.

Boswellia sacra

Boswellia sacra

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