flowers and medicine

I just answered a wonderful little reference question.  See, there’s all these flowers all over the office because yesterday was Assistant’s Appreciation Day or something.  So, of course, it takes me twice as long to walk anywhere because I have to stop and admire and smell everything.  One woman had these great little berries in her arrangement and she said she just wanted to eat it!  So I offered to find out what it was for her. 

I live for this stuff.

I searched for berries on flower shop websites and quickly found Hypericum, which looked just right.  Then I followed up and discovered that St John’s wort is a variety, so I looked into that since “St John’s wort” is a more interesting answer than “Hypericum genus.”  St John’s wort (so named because it tends to flower and be harvested on the saint’s day in June) has been demonstrated to be effective in treating depression and may also be an abortofacient (I wish I knew how to pronounce that).  Also, if you’re trying to identify a plant you’ve got in your hand, it is supposed to produce a purplish-reddish stain when you crush it.  So of course I smashed the berry, and it’s vaguely purple, but I think that was supposed to be identification for the flower.  Oh well.  I tasted it too and it tasted like green and a little spicy.  (It’s only harmful in really really large doses, like when your livestock get into it and eat it for a week before you notice their skin peeling off.)

And I realized…

I am in awe of the ancient people who smashed, ground, infused, boiled, and combined plant bits, and then tried them on different symptoms until it did something.  How many thousands of years did it take?  And how cool is it when modern science can verify it?– because often, traditional medicines are shown to be pretty much worthless.  But still, all that experimentation!  All that curiosity and observation and note-taking and passing it down to the children.  Us humans really are amazing.

Or, from another perspective, we’re exploitative sons of bitches, but oh well.  It’s still a wonderful world.


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