Friday, 27 December 2013

Orchids in the past

If you’re interested in the history of orchids, there’s a fascinating academic paper on the subject, looking at the traditional medicinal uses of orchids in Europe.

In old treatises of medicine, doctors of antiquity deduced the pharmacological properties of plants, from observation of their shape, ‘similia similibus curantur, in comparison to the human anatomy and this well before Paracelsus (1493-1541) made the theory famous.

Frédéric Bonté, Veronika Cakova and Annelise Lobstein present a paper featuring some examples of European traditional uses of orchids as medicine, health food and even as skin care treatment.

There are some intriguing examples. In Roman medicine, the orchid-based aphrodisiacs drinks were called Satyrion but it seems that their properties were more due to the aromatics they contained.

In Europe until the Middle Ages, such as the Dr Vicat medicine treaty on Swiss pharmacopoeia, they are also sometimes described as having anti-pyretic and anti-diarrhoeal effects.

Later, in the north of Europe, some species of Dactylorhiza were described as having disinfectant, healing or diuretic qualities.

According to the French encyclopedia of Diderot and Alembert, the best preparation of the orchids is that of M. Geoffroy, described in a report of the French Academy of Science in1740. The dried bulbs, without skin, are thrown in cool water, are cooked then dried. Reduced thus, they were used as a drink to ease chest complaints. It was also considered a strengthening remedy for children and convalescents suitable “to repress the acridness of the lymph” and useful in the biliary phthisis and dysenteries.

The first phytochemical and pharmacological uses of purified extracts in skincare products arrive in the 20th century.

By Pamela Kelt

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