Tag Archive | victorians

Peony: the queen of flowers and PMS

Paeonia lactiflora photographed by Ulf Eliasson

Paeonia lactiflora photographed by Ulf Eliasson

Based on my time working in for a florist there is but one flower that can rival the almighty Rose as the favored token of love: the Peony. Interestingly, peonies are the most requested flower for weddings and are a symbol of fertility in western mythology and wealth and good fortune in the east. However in the Victorian language of flowers the peony says that the sender is too bashful (or ashamed) to admit their amorous feelings.

There are many different species of peony within the genus Paeonia but it is the Chinese (or White) Peony (Paeonia lactiflora) that is most commonly used medicinally. Traditionally, the root is prescribed for dysmennorhea (often in combination with licorice) and PCOS as well as premenstrual syndrome. It works by preventing prostaglandin F2 alpha production. Prostaglandin F2 alpha is a lipid compound that is created by the uterus that stops progesterone production when there was no implantation during the menstrual cycle. When prostaglandin F2 alpha binds to its receptors in the body it stimulates uterine contractions and menstruation begins. In some women, an excess of prostaglandin F2 alpha is made which creates more contractions of the uterus causing the pain associated with dysmennorhea and PMS cramping.

Of course those uterine contractions can be taken one step further: white peony root has been used as an abortificient in both eastern and western medicine.

So this Valentine’s Day, if you want something instead of roses for your beloved, consider the peony bouquet and you Brides to Be take note: nothing says love and romance like the contractions of the uterus.

 

Cupid’s Dart: the Plant of Love Potions

February is upon us and that means it is the month of love. Certainly, there are the usual suspects when it comes to Valentine’s Day but I am hoping to dig a little deeper and find some of the other flowers of love and feature them this month.

And the first flower I want to highlight is known as Cupid’s Dart.

Cupid, of course, is known as the god of erotic love, desire, and affection in the Roman pantheon.  He was able to cause uncontrollable desire (or sometimes the opposite) to any individual who was struck with an arrow from his bow. So naturally a plant known as a Cupid’s Dart must cause unbridled desire.

Catanache caerulea photographed by Trisha M Shears

It doesn’t disappoint. The scientific name is Catananche caerulea.  The genus name comes from the Greek katanangke meaning strong incentive and references the prevalent belief that flower was best used as a base for love potions because of its extreme aphrodisiac qualities. In fact one of the best known qualities of this Mediterranean wildflower is the fact that Greek and Roman women used it in love spells. However, by the time the Victorian’s came along it had transmuted into a plant of purer love.

In more modern academia, there are new readings of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream which argue that the “little western flower” that Puck is instructed to fetch is not Viola tricolor as is commonly thought but is, instead, the Cupid’s Dart.

Under the Mistletoe

Wasn’t it just Thanksgiving? And yet here we are, days away from Christmas and the New Year. I’m already back in my home town for the holidays so you can expect updates from me this week, all centered around Yule, Christmas, and the New Year.

bulk_mistletoe

Mistletoe with berries

The first plant that “Santa Sexy Plants” will talk about this holiday is Mistletoe. Why? Mostly because in the long car ride across the great state of Pennsylvania yesterday my friend Chris asked me about it and I started lecturing him about this interesting plant (car rides are awesome for trying your material out on  a captive audience). But it really is a cool piece of botanic wonder. For starters, what we call mistletoe varies depending on your location. In Europe it refers to Viscum album and generally can be recognized by the white berries in clusters of 2-6. However in America, it most likely refers to the plant Phoradendron flavescens which  usually has clusters of 10 berries. These two different plants look incredibly similar and function similarly in their environments.

Mistletoes are usually parasites. They grow on trees, usually high up in branches where the seeds are deposited by birds, produce an appendage called a haustorium that penetrates the bark of the tree, and actually pilfer water and nutrients from the host tree. However, the correct term for these plants is “hemiparasite” since mistletoes are capable of photosynthesizing their own food if they do not find a host.

But the fertility folklore is probably the most interesting aspect of the plant. Continue reading

Pennyroyal Tea

This entry has been updated. Please see the new information on Pennyroyal located here.

“Sit and drink Pennyroyal Tea
Distill the life that’s inside of me
Sit and drink Pennyroyal Tea
I’m anemic royalty”

Was Kurt Cobain the poet of our generation? Nah, probably not. But what he did do was incite an entirely new generation to google (or, you know whatever teenagers did back in 1993 to get information… I think it might have been AOL chatrooms) this controversial and much maligned herb. 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.