Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Poinsettia/ Julestjerne/ Christmas Star

A popular Christmas flower in many countries

The Poinsettia / DK: Julestjerne  (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is a decorative plant which originally comes from Mexico. The Danish name Julestjerne means Christmas Star and the pretty plant has a name referring to Christmas in many countries. It is a commercially important plant species  and it  is indigenous to Mexico. It is particularly well known for its red and green foliage and is widely used in Christmas floral displays.

Euphorbia pulcherrima is a shrub or small tree, typically reaching a height of 0.6–4 metres. The plant bears dark green dentate leaves that measure 7–16 centimetres in length. The colored bracts which are most often flaming red but can be orange, pale green, cream, pink, white, or marbled—are often mistaken for flower petals because of their groupings and colors, but are actually leaves.The colors of the bracts are created through photoperiodism, meaning that they require darkness (12 hours at a time for at least five days in a row) to change color. At the same time, the plants require abundant light during the day for the brightest color. The flowers of the poinsettia are unassuming and do not attract pollinators. They are grouped within small yellow structures found in the center of each leaf bunch, and are called cyathia. The poinsettia is native to Mexico. It is found in the wild in deciduous tropical forests at moderate elevations. It is also found in the interior in hot, seasonally dry forests. There are over 100 cultivated varieties of poinsettia.
Poinsettia tree in Mexico/ pinterest

The Aztecs used the plant to produce red dye and as an antipyretic medication. In the language of the aztecs, the plant is called Cuetlaxochitl, meaning "Wilting flower". Today it is known in Mexico and Guatemala as Flor de Noche Buena, meaning Christmas Eve Flower. In Spain it is known as Flor de Pascua or Pascua, meaning Easter Flower. In Chile and Peru, the plant became known as Crown of the Andes. In Turkey, it is called Atatürk's flower because Atatürk, the founder of the Republic, liked this flower and made a significant contribution to its cultivation in Turkey. In Hungarian, it is called Santa Slaus Flower and it's widely used as a Christmas decoration. In the United States, December 12 is National Poinsettia Day.

It is one of the most polular Christmas plants in Denmark and is sold in millions, I presume. Eveyone wants to have the pretty red Christmas Star in their home in the month of December.  

Silver star, goldsmith F.Hingelberg, Århus (1960s)

The plant's association with Christmas began in 16th-century Mexico, where a legend tells of a girl, commonly called Pepita or Maria, who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus' birthday and was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar. Crimson blossoms sprouted from the weeds and became beautiful poinsettias. From the 17th century, Franciscan friars in Mexico included the plants in their Christmas celebrations. The star-shaped leaf pattern is said to symbolize the star of Bethlehem, and the red color represents the blood sacrifice through the crucifixion of Jesus.

 While the sap and latex of many plants of the spurge genus are indeed toxic, the poinsettia's toxicity is relatively mild. Its latex can cause an allergic reaction in sensitive individuals.
Poinsettias are susceptible to several diseases, mostly fungal, but also bacterial and parasitic.Cultivation areas outside are its natural environment, it is commonly grown as an indoor plant where it prefers good morning sun, then shade in the hotter part of the day. Contrary to popular belief, flowering poinsettia can be kept outside, even during winter, as long as it is kept frost-free. It is widely grown and very popular in subtropical climates.
Star of Bethlehem

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Scandinavian Woman in Viking Age

Viking grave site, Lindholm Høje, photo:GB

The Viking Age is often displayed as a violent time, dominated by  men who conquered countries and built kingdoms, but the image has changed during the latest 20 years. Archaeological finds from Scandinavia and the Continent bear witness  about the Viking women's daily activities, their power and status from slave to queen.

The daily Life of a Viking woman.

Hjerl Hede, photo:GB
Silkeborg Bymuseum, photo:GB
Most people in  Viking Age were farmers -  or they lived in farms. The management was maintained by a household: the family, some slaves, farm workers and servants, although the knowledge about a Viking household like this is limited today. The economy of the farm was (in Dk) based upon livestock, agriculture and production of textiles and other things for own use. All members of the house took probably part in the daily doings - the archaeological finds show that the production of textiles and metal objects and timber work were gender based for respectively women and men.

Textiles, Silkeborg Bymuseum, photo:GB

textiles, photo:GB
Women could work as craftsmen in the cities, often with the production of textiles for trade, and  they might also take part in doing the trade on behalf of the family. It seems that some women were specialized textile workers since the production- techniques were complicated. The production and trade of textiles were an important part of the economy.

The daily life in the city and on the farm was lived both inside and outside the house. Women took care of the children and of the elderly, they made food and conserved food, like dairy-products and other processing of raw products. The textile production included also processing of wool, spinning and weaving. Unfortunately the textiles from Viking Age are rarely preserved up till today, but some small fragments are found and they show a wide width in the techniques they used and in the quality of the textiles.

The gender roles via the burials of the Vikings tells something. Men and women were often buried in
Højstrup viking graves, photo: GB
their prettiest clothes with grave goods and eventually with sacrificed animals. During the 9th century and in the first half of the 10th century wealthy women wore a dress held together with two oval clamps on the shoulders and with more grave goods  like broches and pearl necklaces and spindle-things - often also with small chests containing textile equipment. Keys are also a common thing in women-graves - maybe marking the status of a house wife. But rich women-graves and rich men- graves were in general rather few. The rich graves seem reserved to the highest class in the social hierarchy. Common people were buried with one or two objects or nothing.

Silkeborg Bymuseum, photo:GB
The ideal Viking woman was a woman between 16-40 years of age. At 16 she was ready to marry and have children and she could take part in the physical hard life on the farm.She enjoyed to some extent more freedom than women in other parts of the medieval contemporary Europe. Written sources represent the Scandinavian woman of Viking age as independent and with rights. Runic inscriptions, especially from Mid Sweden, bear witness about the woman's right to dispose over her property and her rights to inherit. The married couple was jointly responsible for the household and had to trust the partner's willingness to cooperate. An apparently good relation was between a Swedish couple, Holmgaut and Odendisa, since Holmgaut let carve runes in a memorial after his wife "no better housewife will come to Hassmyra to look after the farm" This inscription describes the woman's role in the management of the farm, the organisation of the household and maybe the control of people, animals and ressources. If the husband was out on a Viking expedition the responsibility of everything at home fell to the woman.

Monday, December 05, 2016

The Famous Cat Maru on the Sofa

If you're stressed  and need to relax here in these busy Christmas preparations -  then look at Maru.
He knows how to relax...................

Maru on the Sofa 

Friday, December 02, 2016


Scandinavian Jul in the Viking period and in the early Middle Ages.
(source: Middelalderhistorie, Århus Universitet)

Candle in Vor Frue Kirke, Århus/ GB
The word Jul or the Old Norse Jól was used long before Christianity came to Denmark and Scandinavia. Jul was the term for the winter feasts when days of the year again began to grow longer - but today it is difficult to know what these ancient feasts really meant to people. 

Carl Larsson, Midvinterblót, (wikipedia)
The linguistic history of the word Jul are somewhat lost, but it has probably German roots. An early example of the use of the word is in the Gothic language spoken in Central and South Eruope in late Antiquity and in the early Middle Ages. The word Jul is first seen in the 300s. It was among others used in the form jiuleis which was the name for November or December. A few centuries later it is seen in Old English where it occurs as goiuli giulæi or youle  - as a description  of the period December-January. In Old Norse ( the language in Scandinavia in the Viking Age) the word seems to have had several meanings, but everything points to that the Old Norse Jól can be translated into feast. The word seems to have spread in Europe in Antiquity and early Middle Ages, the periods which in Denmark are named Iron Age and Viking Age. It was everywhere used about the same time of the year, but it is uncertain what the word actually covered -  also in the Nordic context.

Viking House, Fyrkat/ GB
There are no contemporary written sources which describe the before-Christian Jul. A few Nordic sources like scaldic verses and sagas, which use the word jul/jól, were written down in the Christian period, and they therefore reflect the world view of the Christian writer. In most source-cases where jul is mentioned, it is used about the Christian celebration, but a few Nordic sources indicate that the jul in Scandinavia  - also in the time before Christianity -  was a special event in December or January.

Harald Haarfager/ wikipedia
This is seen in the probably earliest Nordic source which mentions the word jul. It is a scaldic verse ( ab. year 900) by the scald Thorbjørn Hornklofi,  composed to king Harald Haarfager of Norway (king ca. 872-930). The  verse sounds like this: "the king will drink jul out ... and make Frej's play". The first words probably refer to how a ruler in the Viking Age had to move around a lot if he wanted to keep his power. It is not clear what is meant by Frej's play, but the drink sacrifice took a central role in the before-Christian religion, where the Vikings drank to honor gods like Frej and Odin. Maybe the verse refers to a sacrifice like this.

Odin, Hugin and Munin/wikipedia
Another scaldic verse pays tribute to king Harald Hardrada of Norway (king 1046-1066) for his victory at the battle field. It was said that the king prepared jul for Hugin's hird. Hugin was one of Odin's ravens, so the verse refers probably to the men killed in the battle and being food for the ravens. Maybe here is also referred to the unusual numbers of food taken in at the feasts of jul.

Hakon the Good/ wikipedia
The Icelandic Christian chronicle writer Snorri Sturlasson mentions jul in a saga about the Norwegian king Hakon the Good  (king ab.
933- 959). The saga was written down in ab. 1230. He describes that king Hakon decides to celebrate jul at the same time as the Christians. The saga also tells the story about a Viking chief, who after being a Christian, still held on to the tradition to celebrate three big feasts during each year, three yearly sacrifice feasts: one at the beginning of winter, one in midwinter and one in the start of summer.
Snorri Sturlasson,C.Krogh/ Wikipedia
When he became a Christian he continued celebrating three feasts each year, which were now named gæstebud (banquets): one in autumn, a jul-feast in winter and one at Easter. How the feasts were celebrated is told by Snorri: "the Christian king Hakon was invited to a jul-feast by some heathen farmers, who according to tradition wanted the king to take part in the sacrifice. (blót) The Christian king would not take part in this, but he needed to have the support of the farmers, so he found a compromise: he eat a little horse liver and drank some memorial cheers without crossing his drinking cup. Making the sign of the cross was a Christian custom which the farmers would never accept.

Jolagjafir/ wikipedia
The sagas holds also the first example e of the word julegave (Christmas gift). It is seen in a description of Norway's king Hakon (king 1093-1095). He was supported by a part of the Norwegian population if he refrained from filing the traditional taxes which the Norwegian people had to give the king, including julegaver/jolagjafir. In other parts of the sagas are examples of julegaver which remind of the phenomenon, known today. Scandinavian Viking chiefs gave gifts to their families around the turn of the year, and thus he followed a custom which had spread in the European courts. Princes also used gifts traditionally to attract important people and thereby establish or hold on to their social status. In time these gifts were connected to the jule feast.

Jul in Lejre, Zealand/ wikipedia
The German history writer Thietmar of Merseburg wrote in the beginning of the 1000s about a sacrifice feast which was held each year at Lejre in the Danish isle Zealand. Archeologists have here found a very important place, which probably functioned as the royal court of the Danes. According to Thietmar the Danes sacrificed humans and  animals in Lejre at a time where Christians celebrated the Holy three kings on 6 January, these sacrifices were held in order to please the underground people. Thietmar's descriptions reflects a Christian's negative view upon a heathen society -  and it is not certain if his description can be connected to the before-Christian jul, but it indicates that people of Scandinavia in December or January celebrated ritual blót-feasts.

Sacrifice place, reconstruction, DK/ wikipedia
After the introduction of Christianity in Denmark several sources mention how Danish kings kept magnificent feasts in order to celebrate the Christian jul. German history writers like Arnold of Lübeck describe in the 1100s how Danish kings had great drinking feasts. Similar descriptions are also seen in the Danish chronicles. The history writer Saxo wrote ab.year 1200 about a jule feast at the Danish court. The king invited the greatest men of the kingdom to magnificent feasts where they eat and drak for several days.

Sacrifice of food,reconstruction, DK/ wikipedia
Some are of the opinion that the before-Christian jul was at winter solstice, 21 or 22 December, others that it was at midwinter night between 19-20 January. Both suggestions could be true. There were probably several ritual feasts, which were held on various times in December or January. The feasts have varied from district to district, maybe even from family to family in some cases. There was probably a summer solstice feasts,  a feast at midwinter, and in other cases a fertility feast. The jól of winter was regarded as one of the intersection points of the year.

Feast in Middle Ages/ wikipedia
The jul was a ritual event, connected to the middle of winter. It seems that great men from the social elite often were the focal point of important feasts. Like the king the powerful men of the kingdom were often central in the ceremonies which were connected to the practice of the before-Christian religion - and they played undoubtedly an important role in marking the Jul. They drank, eat and sacrificed, and the sacrifice was probably held in one of the great halls where the elite resided. The jul-feast contributed to hold on to and to develop the social and religious structures of society.

Earliest Danish cross, Vor Frue kirke, Århus/ GB
In Scandinavia the word jul survived the introduction of Christianity, while other parts of Europe began to use words, which came from Christianity, like the English Christmas, the German Weihnacht and the Spanish Navidad etc. Likewise the considerable intake of food and drink seemed to live on in new forms. People did not cheer in the honor of Odin and Frej, but celebrated the birth of Christ. Although it immediately looks as if central parts of the before-Christian jul continued after the introduction of Christianity, it is important to say that the informations were written down by later Christian writers. They saw the past through a Christian lens and might therefore have transferred a part of their contemporary jul-celebration to their description of the past.

Source:, Århus Universitet.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Coltsfoot/ Almindelig følfod

Tussilago farfara

Coltsfoot/ Almindelig Følfod is a low growing perennial herb in the daisy family Asteraceae. The name Tussilago is derived from the Latin tussis meaning cough, and ago, meaning to sast to or to act on. Tussilago farfara is the only accepted species in the genus tussilago although more than two dozen other species have at one time or another been considered part of this group, most of them are now regarded as members of other genera. Other common names include tasth plant, ass's foot, bull's foot, coughwort (Old English), farfara, foal's foot, foal's wort and horse foot. Sometimes it is confused with Petasites frigidus or Western Coltsfoot. It has been called bechion, bechichie or bechie from the Ancient Greek word for cough, also Urgula caballina: horse hoof,  pes pulli: foal's foot and chamæleuce.

Coltsfoot/photo:grethe bachmann
Coltsfoot is often found in colonies of dozens of plants. The flowers resemble superficially dandelions. They appear in early spring, march-april,  before the dandelions. The leaves resemble a colt's foot, they usually do not appear until after the seeds are set, so the flowers appear on stems with no apparent leaves and the later appearing leaves then wither and die during the season without seeming to set flowers. The fruits are nuts. The plant is typically 10-30 cm in height. The leaves have angular teeth on their margins. Coltsfoot grows on banks and in the edge of roads.

leaves of Coltsfoot/ wikipedia
History of agriculture/ wikipedia
Coltsfoot is native to Europe and parts of western and central Asia. The plant is widespread across Europe, Asia and North Africa, from Svalbard to Morocco, to China and the Russian Far East. It is also a common plant in North America and South America,  where it has been introduced most likely by settlers as a medicinal item. The plant is often found in waste and disturbed places and along roadsides and paths. In some areas it is considered invasive species.

Coltsfoot/ Danish: Følfod ( foal's foot), grows wild in Denmark, it is common in the whole country as a pioneer-plant and in raw soil with high content of potassium and magnesium, often on clay ground or calcareous ground with seeping water .Coltsfoot can become a nasty weed and is very difficult to get rid of.  The plant was once a terrible and troublesome weed in the winter crop. It was said that "Følfod is the worst trouble of all to the farmer", and in 1875 the farmers were by the parliament urged to establish parish unions which should work for the extermination of følfod and other difficult weeds - and prices were given to fields without weeds. Where especially many coltsfoot grow there is usually marl in the underground.

Simon Paulli, physician/wikipedia

Folk Medicine  in Denmark: The dry pulverized root  was used against pain in the heart ( beg. 1400s). Henrik Smid 1546: destilled water of the flowers to drink, and juice from the leaves and destilled water af coltsfoot, especially together with elderflower and nightshade as a cover upon plague- acbscesses, also used against all inflamed wounds and burns  and malaria. Simon Paulli 1648: good for those who are afflicted by cough. Upon the pharmacy was made juice from the fresh flowers, a syrup against hoarseness and cough. The pharmacy had also a coltsfoot-medicine for pain in the chest. The root was used as a decoction for breast disorders. Destilled water from the whole plant against hepatitis.The juice could be rubbed at spots and pimples in the face and upon sunburns
1700s-1800s Root, leaves and flowers were written into the pharmacopoeia in 1772. The leaves smoked as tobacco helped against tightness in the chest. Tea of leaves for a spring cold. A tea from the flowers stimulated spit up, and it helped in all lung-diseases and colds. Coltsfoot was often used against cough. A decoct from the first leaves, fresh or dried, against slime in the lungs. A leaf was bound on nose and mouth against rhinitis. A wise woman adviced to bind leaves upon erysepelas and with sugar upon excemia. It was said about the leaves of coltsfoot: "the upperside purifies, the underside heals".  Coltsfoot was also used to treat diseases of the livestock.

photo Mols Bjerge/grethe bachmann

Other Use: North Jutland farmers dyed black with coltsfoot (1686-1810). On the Faroe islands  they used it to dye green. The dried leaves were smoked or mixed into the tobacco or mixed in tea. In Jutland coltsfoot was put into the bed against flees and lice. The fresh leaves can be eaten as cabbage or spinach or be cooked and served with butter. Coltsfoot  is one of the best fodderplant for the cattle and it can also be used as a swine fodder.
Source to Folk Medicine in Denmark: Brøndegaard, Folk og Flora, Dansk Etnobotanik 

Info from wikipedia:Coltsfoot has been used in herbal medicine and has been consumed as a food product with some confectionery products, such as coltsfoot rock . Tussilago farfara leaves have been used in the traditional Austrian medicine internally (as tea or syrup) or externally (directly applied) for treatment of disorders of the respiratory tract, skin, locomotor system, viral infections, flu, colds, fever, rheumatism and gout. Coltsfoot is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera  species including the gothic and small angle shades.

Toxicity: please read Tussilago in wikipedia

Monday, October 17, 2016

Petasites / Common Butterbur, DK: Rød Hestehov

Petasites hybridus/photo grethe bachmann
Petasites hybridus

Butterbur / Rød Hestehov is in English also called  Pestilence wort, Bogs Rhubarb or Devil's Hat, in Danish Pestilensurt or Tordenskræppe. It is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant in the daisy family Asteraceae, native to Europe and northern Asia. The preferred habitats are moist, fertile soils, often by rivers, streams and in wet meadows. Synonyms include P. officinalis, P. ovatus, P. vulgaris and Tussilago petasite.

Another name is Sweet Coltsfoot. The Latin Petasides is derived from petasos, the Greek word for the felt hats worn by shepherds with reference to the large size of the leaves. The Danish name Hestehov means Horse's Hoof , also a reference to the large leaves. The English name Butterbur is supposed to have been given it because formerly the large leaves were used to wrap butter in during hot weather.
In the Middle Ages it was called Pestilensurt in Denmark, an indication of its value in time of the plague. The 'plague-flower' gained a succesful reputation among the few remedies during the time of the Black Death. It was used as a remedy against the plague by the monks in Denmark during the 1300s.

The flowers are produced in the early spring, before the leaves appear. They are pale pink, with sev
eral inflorescenes clustered on a 5–20 cm stem. The leaves are large, on stout 80–120 cm tall stems, round, with a diameter of 40–70 cm with petioles up to 1.5 m. Butterbur has special value for the bees because of the early flowering. In some districts the plant is considered  a landscape-weed, since it is able to spread heavily in optimal conditions.

Helix pomatia/ photo grethe bachmann
Red Hestehov was originally introduced in Denmark as a medical plant, maybe during the black death. It now grows wild from earlier cultivation by castles, manors, klosters and ruins. The plant is a characteristic mark for the gardens of these places, often together with the Helix pomatia (Burgundy snail), probably brought to Denmark by the monks in the Middle Ages. A snail dish was a favorite meal in the klosters

Hans Christian Andersen wrote about the huge leaves of Hestehov in the fairy tale "The Ugly Duckling":"In the midst of the sunshine there stood an old manor house that had a deep moat around it. From the walls of the manor right down to the water's edge great burdock leaves grew, and there were some so tall that little children could stand upright beneath the biggest of them. In this wilderness of leaves, which was as dense as the forests itself, a duck sat on her nest, hatching her ducklings. She was becoming somewhat weary, because sitting is such a dull business and scarcely anyone came to see her. The other ducks would much rather swim in the moat than waddle out and squat under the burdock leaf to gossip with her......."

Petasites hybridus/ wikipedia

The Danish name Hestehov refers to the leaves = like the hoof of a horse. Actually it was originally referring to a colts foot. Another Danish name is Tordenskræppe ("Thunder rumex"). The thunder name might be because the leaves were used as a protection in a thunderstorm -  or it was  referring to the flowering in the month of March, the month of the Thundergod, Thor. It might also refer to the size of the leaves and the rumble from heavy rain upon them.

In the Middle Ages it was known as Niels Bugge's Blood and Niels Bugge's Roses after king Valdemar's most dangerous opponent, the magnate Niels Bugge of Hald was murdered in the town Middelfart in 1359. This indicates that the plant was introduced in Denmark around that time. After hostile negotiations with king Valdemar Atterdag the Jutland magnate Niels Bugge of Hald was killed by fishermen at Middelfart, supposedly on the king's orders - according to the legend at a place near the king's castle where now grow many butterburs. The commoners believed that Niels Bugge's blood fled over the leaves, leaving the dark spots,  and the plant could never be destroyed. Three houses in the street were forever fined, the socalled Buggesmoney, which the town Middelfart paid right up to 1874, where the Danish parliament abolished the unusual punishment 

Petasites hybridus/photo grethe bachmann
In Denmark grow 5 species of Hestehov, most of them considered as introduced. Especially the Red Hestehov (P. hybridus) causes problems, among other places by water streams. Locally the Japansk Hestehov (P. japonicus) can also be very spread, while the White Hestehov (P. albus) is less common.Red Hestehov is considered invasive and can be defeated by mowing and grazing. When Red Hestehov withers in the autumn, the soil gets exposed, and when the plant grows along water streams this exposure of the soil might create erosion along the water in winter, due to that there are no plants to protect the banks and to hold on to the soil. Still in only few places the Red Hestehov is considered serious landscape-weed. In several communes the plant is not existent or very few.
Five Petasites in Denmark:
Petasites albus = White Hestehov
Petasites hybridus = Red Hestehov
Petasites japonicus = Japansk Hestehov
Petasites fragrans = Vellugtende Hestehov
Petasites spurius = Filtet Hestehov 

Black Death/wikipedia
Folk Medicine: The plant came originally to Denmark as a medical plant in the Middle Ages. It is known from the Viking period in the Aarhus-area. The crushed leaves were used against plague-abscesses and wounds in the Middle Ages, later the plant was/is used against cough, cramps and pain in stomach and  abdomen. Beer-essence from the roots was drunk against gout
Simon Pauli 1648: "Butterbur  has a special hidden power to resist the infection from plague". At the pharmacies was made an essence from the root, which was taken in together with  hartshorn jelly. This medicine was better than the pulverized root or a decoct of it. The extract could also be used against malaria.  

Hartshorn jelly or a decoction of burnt hartshorn in water was used to treat diarrhea. Hartshorn was used to treat insect bites, sunstroke, stye  and snakebites. When people went outdoors they chew the root as a protection against infections, especially in the days of the black death. From the plant oil was made a balm which was placed into a container, which delivered a good scent in times of the plague  - or people rubbed their nostrils and temples with the balm as a protection.The leaves were bound around the legs in order to remove dropsy. The root of Petasites was written into the pharmacopoeia in 1772. Tea of Petasites was sold at the Danish pharmacies still in 1946.
Livestock: The root was used against liver and lungdisease of horse. A part of vinegar and beer decoct against the swine disease in 1600-1700. The leaves were also used as cattle fodder, evt. mixed into the hay. 
Play: Children used the big leaves as an umbrella or as a an apron.

Gerard writes of the Butterbur:
'The roots dried and beaten to powder and drunke in wine is a soveraigne medicine against the plague and pestilent fevers, because it provoketh sweat and driveth from the heart all venim and evill heate; it killeth worms. The powder of the roots cureth all naughty filthy ulcers, if it be strewed therein.'

Culpepper says:
'"t is a great strengthener of the heart and cheerer of the vital spirits: . . . if the powder thereof be taken in wine, it also resisteth the force of any other poison . . . the decoction of the root in wine is singularly good for those that wheeze much or are shortwinded.... The powder of the root taketh away all spots and blemishes of the skin. " Another species are known as the Winter Heliotrope, or Sweet-scented Coltsfoot (P. fragrans)

Potential medicinal uses (see wikipedia for more info)

Preliminary trials have shown a preparation of Butterbur root to be effective in reducing the frequency and severity of migraine attacks. A commercial extract Petasol butenoate complex
ZE 339) has proved helpful for allergic rhinitis An evidence-based 2005 systematic review including written and statistical analysis of scientific literature, expert opinion, folkloric precedent, history, pharmacology, kinetics/dynamics, interactions, adverse effects, toxicology, and dosing is available
from the Natural Standard Research CollaborationButterbur extracts may contain harmful alkaloids if the preparations are not carefully and fully purified. These chemicals are toxic to the liver and may cause cancers. Thus, due to the potential for contamination, taking butterbur supplements is not recommended during pregnancy or breastfeeding. It is safe practice to consume butterbur extract that has been prepared by a reputable laboratory.Long-term health effects and interaction of butterbur with other drugs have not been well documented. (Please read further information in wikipedia about Butterbur)

Source: Brøndegaard, Folk og flora, Dansk etnobotanik.

photo grethe bachmann
photo from wikipedia 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Eupatorium: Bonesets, Thoroughworts, Snakeroots/ DK: Hjortetrøst

Eupatorium purpureum, Sletterhage/photo:gb

Eupatorium is a genus of flowering plants in the aster family Asteraceae. They have from 36-60 species depending on the classification system. Most are herbaceous perrennial plants. A few are shrubs.

Most Euparium are called bonesets, thoroughworts or snakeroots. The genus is named for Mithridates Eupator, king of Pontus.

The habitat for Eupatorium is Asia, North America and Europe.

In Denmark are four species of  Eupatorium: (growing wild or cultivated:

Eupatorium purpureum, Red Hjortetrøst (introduced in DK in Middle Ages by monks)
Eupatorium cannabinum, Hamp- Hjortetrøst
Eupatorium rugosum,White Hjortetrøst (Ageratina altissima)
Eupatorium japonicum, Japansk Hjortetrøst
The Danish name Hjortetrøst ( meaning "consolation of the deer") refers to that people and hunters in the old days believed that a deer hit by an arrow was healed by eating the plant.

Eupatorium purpureum, wikipedia

Eupatorium purpureum, Red Hjortetrøst  is a vigourously growing  perennial with a stiff,upright growth. It is a fine garden plant. The pink flowers are gathered in small baskets, they are seen from July. The seeds sprout willingly.  It grows in the river valleys in the eastern and central USA and Canada. It  was introduced in Denmark in the Middle Ages by the monks in their kloster gardens. 

Eupatorium cannabinum, Hamp-Hjortetrøst , a perennial herb that grows on moist ground. It is wild-growing in Denmark but is also used as a garden plant. The pale red or pink flowers are seen in  July-September. The fruit is a nut. It is spread in North Africa, the Middle East, Asia Minor, Caucasia, Central Asia., Himalaya and China and in most of Europe. In Denmark it is common in the Isles and in East Jutland - or else very rare. It is overall connected to light-open and moist or wet ground with nutrient soil. It is among other places found at the banks of Gudenaa river. It is used as a garden perennial at garden ponds or along water streams and is much used in swampy areas in natural gardens.

Eupatorium cannabinum in old Danish folk medicine: It is said to contain similar healing properties as Agrimony. A decoct was recommended for liver and spleen. The plant was useful against malaria, jaundice, mange and itching. The juice was given for children's intestinal worms.Some meant it healed wounds. If a deer was hit by an arrow it was cured if it eat the plant. Hunters claimed that wounded deer eat the plant.  The flowerstalk was written in the pharmacopoeia in 1772. The plant was also mentioned as a means for horses with liver and lung disease.

Eupatorium rugosum/ Ageratina altissima, White Hjortetrøst or White Ageratina is an upright growing perennial with one or few hairy or smooth stems. The snowwhite flowers are seen in July- October . The fruits are dry nuts. It has its habitat in the northeastern USA and Canada where the plant is a part of the vegetations along forest glades and in the zone between forest and prairie . Grows wild in Denmark.

Eupatorium japonicum, is native to China, Japan and Korea. It grows wild in a few places in Denmark


Medieval garden, wikipedia
The common names for the plants are all based on the previous usage of one species, Eupatorium perfoliatum, as an herbal medicine. The common name apparently derives from the herb's use to treat dengue fever, which was also called breakbone fever because of the pain that it caused. The name thoroughwort also comes from Eupatorium perfoliatum, and refers to the perfoliate leaves, in which the stem appears to pierce the leaf (i.e. go through, note that in older usage "thorough" was not distinguished from "through", compare for example the word thoroughfare).

Eupatorium rugosum contains some chemical connections, which are not poisonous in themselves but they change in the liver into very poisonous connections. Cows eating the plant excrete these poisonous conections in the milch, which then is deadly poisonous to humans (and the calves). The poisoning was called the milch-disease.Boneset, although poisonous to humans and grazing livestock, has been used in folk medicine for instance to excrete excess urid acid which causes gout. Caution is advised when using boneset, since it contains toxic compounds that can cause liver damage. Side effects include muscular tremors, weakness, and constipation; overdoses may be deadly.

Bjerreskov/photo GB

Eupatorium are grown as ornamental plants, in particular in Asia. Tobacco leaf curl virus is a pathogen occasionally affecting plants of this genus. The foliage is eaten by some Lepidoptera larvae, including those of Orthonama obstipata.

photo from wikipedia

photo: Hjortetrøst Sletterhage and Bjerre Skov: grethe bachmann