Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Doctrine of Signatures

For years I used the scientific names of plants, eschewing the common names. This year, however, as I enjoy the spring ephemerals bursting in the woods, I am also enjoying the stories behind their common names, specifically the Doctrine of Signatures. This 16th century medical doctrine is based on the belief that God marked plants with his signature so we would know the purpose of the plant.

Today, I found the first blooms of trout lily, but the older common name is adder's tongue lily. According to the Doctrine of Signatures (DoS), this plant will heal snake bites because it looks like a snake's tongue.

Another spring wildflower is cut-leaf toothwort, whose roots were thought to resemble teeth, so this plant was used to treat tooth trouble. Even the genus name,Dentaria, reflects the DoS.

One of the most beautiful spring flowers is hepatica or liverwort. "God's mark on Hepatica was that its leaves turned liver-colored in winter and by a stretch of the imagination looked like little slabs of chicken livers."

On a sunny early spring day, the white blooms of bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) are charming. The roots produce a red dye, so this plant was thought to cure blood disorders.

The may-apples in my woods are just starting to unfurl their umbrellas leaves. Although not related to the Eurasian mandrake, its roots are similar and was called mandrake in the New World. Mandrake is suppose to promote sexual passion in females due to the shape of its roots.

The lungworts (Pulmonaria) are blooming in my cultivated garden, Their spotted oval leaves looked like spotty diseased lungs to someone, thus the common and scientific name. It was used to treat pulmonary infections.

The maidenhair fern will be emerging soon in the woods of Indiana. Of course, because of its fine fronds, it was used to cure baldness when the Doctrine of Signatures was the source of medical treatment.

There are many other examples of the Doctrine of Signatures, but these are blooming now in case you want to try some superstitious medicine.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Hoosier Wilderness

Driving through Indy, I could not suppress a squeal when I saw my first daffodils of the season, but I soon learned self-control as I was with my husband and our friend Ed to spend several days in Charles C. Deam Wilderness area in the Hoosier National Forest. Spring was evident everywhere.

Our first stop was Oliver Winery where we had lunch of smoked gouda, rosemary pink salt flatbread and Riesling.

After checking into a motel and scouting part of the 13,000 acres of Hoosier National Forest, we headed in for the night and another bottle of wine. Just then a large green shooting star streaked across the southwestern horizon.

Sunday morning, we headed out to explore Indiana's version of wilderness.

And discovered spring flowers, such as spring beauties with its edible tubers,

cut-leaved toothwort,

dogwood blooms (OK, I'm pushing this as a bloom but it's almost there),

and club moss and Christmas ferns carpeting the forest floor.

Cress, trout lilies and redbuds were in full bud, but I was liken' the lichen.

Terrill Cemetery was at the end of one trail. There were a few modern gravestones, but some stones were hand carved, such as this 1848 marker with the holes acting as guidelines.

Some stones were crudely hand-chiseled and some graves were marked only with a stone. I was amazed that WH is still remembered with a fading daffodil and a flag.

We left the marked trail to find a little lake.

It was time for a short rest, lunch and a nap.

Ed tried out his Katedyn water filter in the lake. I was very interested as a water filter has been on my wish list for some time.

Refreshed, it was time for some bushwhacking, using a compass and a topographical map. We stuck to the ridges and headed mostly south, avoiding ravines such as this one that was over 200' deep.

The ridges took us through some thickets of wild roses and the wind started to pick up. Gusts up to 50 mph were forecast. The tops of the trees were dancing up a storm while singing to us. We used extreme caution to avoid falling limbs and trees. Just as we hit the trail, a 50' hardwood tree came down about 25 ' from Steve.

Back at the car, we decided to take a brief look at T. C. Steele State Historic Site and then time for a hot shower. The temps reached 80 degrees and the hiking was strenuous, so the hot shower was a real luxury.

It was a great way to spend our anniversary weekend. (19 years)