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The Founding Fathers and Vanilla

Now that I am deep into this project, I am surprised at the amount of overlap between botany, human sexuality, and American history. The foundingĀ  fathers had quite a hand in the importation and exportation of plants for reasons of “health.” The story of vanilla is no different. Of course, like most history involving the formation of America, the native peoples had been aware of and utilizing vanilla for hundreds of years before Jefferson and the rest of the founding fathers showed up.

Vanilla Orchid Flower

Vanilla Orchid Flower

Vanilla (V. planifolia) is a species of orchid that is native to Mesoamerica. It rarely flowers, and when it does, pollination must occur within 12 hours of the flower opening to produce the coveted “bean” in which the vanillin compound is produced. In the wild, the Vanilla orchid has co-evolved with the Mexican Stingless Bee – the bee is the only known pollinator and resulted in Mexico being the only exporter of Vanilla until a process for hand pollination was discovered in 1841. Even now, there are only a few suitable climates for growing the orchid andĀ  planting to production can take upwards of 5 years, making vanilla second only to saffron in price of spices. Continue reading

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Sarah Sexy Plants!

Linus Van Pelt said it best, so I will let him say it for himself:

There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.

Yes, you read that right, welcome to the end of October and the obligatory Halloween episode of Sarah Sexy Plants. What mayhem will us meddling kids get into today? Why, pumpkins of course! Continue reading

Passionflower

passiflora incarnata

Is there a more exotic and coveted flower that can be grown outside of the tropics? I think not. The Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is a well loved garden specimen that provides the necessary food for many different butterfly larva and the fruit is enjoyed by wildlife as well as people. But if I asked you how it relates to human sexuality could you guess? Most likely you would deduce that it has been used as an aphrodisiac and you would be right, but not for the reasons you think…

The “passion” in passionflower doesn’t stand for any sort of amorous feelings at all. Instead, it is referring to the Passion of Jesus (passion literally translated from the Greek means “to suffer”) and the story surrounding the events of the crucifixion. Missionaries, attempting to convert the peoples of South America, discovered the passionflower and saw in it the symbols of the Passion: the leaves look like the lance that stabbed Jesus’s side, the tendrils were the whips, the five petals and five sepals represent the ten faithful apostles (no Judas or Peter), the ring of colored filaments represents the crown of thorns, and the three stigmas represent the three nails, etc etc etc. I think it might be a case of reading into things a bit too much, buy hey, the missionaries thought the presence of this flower was a sign from god to continue to convert the natives by any means necessary so… I don’t exactly trust their judgement, anyway. Continue reading

The Stinking Rose

Sorry it’s taken me so long to write this next entry. My phone was stolen and dealing with the loss of so vital (and expensive) a device really sucks the wind from your sails. But never fear, Sarah Sexy Plants is back and is ready to tell you about her personally favorite kitchen ingredient: Garlic.
Garlic for yeast infection cure

One of the most widely known herbs, garlic (Allium sativum) has roots in almost every culture and cuisine. It has been used by humans for over 7,000 years and while it is native to central Asia, it spread quickly throughout the settled world becoming a staple spice from the ancient Egyptians to the Chinese and (of course) the Romans. However it has been used medicinally for just as long.

Ancient Asian herbalists used garlic to treat high blood pressure and a Egyptian medical text from 1550 b.c.e. lists garlic as the cure for over 22 problems (including headache, intestinal worms, and heart issues). In the more modern era, doctors included garlic as part of their house call kit to disinfect prevent disease and by 1900 Dr. T. Sydenham claimed it was a cure for smallpox. Perhaps we shouldn’t go that far, but modern science shows that there are some beneficial properties of the garlic bulb. In World War I and II garlic juice was applied to moss and used to dress soldiers’ wounds on the battlefield. The reason? It prevented gangrene from setting in. The reason is the smell.

The characteristic odor of garlic is present because of the compound allicin. However this compound also has antibiotic and antifunigal properties in addition to its smell. It has been shown to exhibit the equivalent action of 1% penicillin. I bet you didn’t know that was laying around your kitchen.

Continue reading

Lusty Lovers and Chaste Love: Wild Pansy Throughout History

Heartsease Koehler-SchoepkeThe little Viola tricolor has had quite a life. It’s a little wildflower, native to Europe and introduced in North America where it has spread and naturalized in our open fields and transitional woodlands. It is one of the most well known wildflowers and yet it goes by a multitude of names: Johnny-Jump-Up (or the creepier Johnny Jump Up and Kiss Me), Love-Lies-Bleeding, Heartsease, Love-In-Idleness, Tickle-My-Fancy, Come-and-Cuddle-Me, Meet Me In the Entry, Kiss-her-in-the-Buttery or the somewhat less lusty Three Faces in a Hood or Wild Pansy.
It has been the topic of great literature and mythology. Roman myth states that one time Cupid missed his mark and instead the arrow landed on the wild pansy. It imbued the flower with powers of love and desire and has symbolized faithfulness in love since ancient times.