Archive for September, 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pretty Poison

Nerium oleander Nerium oleander (detail)

Above, from left to right: Nerium oleander, a tender evergreen shrub native to the Mediterranean, is grown in pots at The Cloisters and brought indoors for the winter. Oleander belongs to the Apocynaceae, or Dogbane family, which contains many poisonous species. The five petals of the oleander flower are fused at the base and form a tube; the form of the flower is typical of this botanical family. Photographs by Corey Eilhardt.

Nerion, which some call Rododaphne, some Rhododendron . . . grows in enclosed greens and sea-bordering places & in places near rivers. But ye flower and the leaves have a power destructive of dogs & of Asses & of Mules & and of most four-footed living creatures, but a preserving one of men, being drank with wine against the bitings of venemous beasts & ye more if you mixed it with Rue, but ye more weak sort of living creature, as goats & sheep, die, if they drink ye maceration of them.

—Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, Book IV, 82

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fed on Fennel

Black Swallowtail Fourth and Final Form Black Swallowtail Dorsal View Black Swallowtail Ventral View

The Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) butterfly is commonly found in fields, gardens, and open spaces in the Northeastern United States. Above, left: The body of the fully developed caterpillar with its bold, bright bands of yellow, green, and black, is conspicuous against the feathery foliage of the fennel which is its favorite food; center: a female Black Swallowtail at rest on a salvia in Cuxa garden, as seen from above; right: the same butterfly seen in profile with its wings folded upward. Photographs by Corey Eilhardt.

We found several large, boldly marked caterpillars feeding on a stand of fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) in Bonnefont garden last month. We left them undisturbed, knowing from past experience that they would grow up to be beautiful eastern Black Swallowtail butterflies. Read more »

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Salvia, Save Us

Salvia officinalis Detail from The Unicorn is Found Salvia fruticosa

Sage, known by Latin epithets such as Salvia salvatrix, was a healing plant of great renown throughout the Middle Ages, although it was also valued as a culinary herb. Above, left: Salvia officinalis, the common garden sage, growing in a bed devoted to kitchen plants in Bonnefont garden; center: a detail from The Unicorn is Found, showing Salvia officinalis in flower; right: Greek sage or three-lobed sage (Salvia fruticosa) is not hardy in our climate, and is grown in pots and brought under cover in winter. The medicinal properties of this species were celebrated in antiquity and were conflated with those of S. officinalis.

Why should a man die in whose garden grows sage?
Against the power of death there is not medicine in our gardens
But Sage calms the nerves, takes away hand
Tremors, and helps cure fever.
Sage, castoreum, lavender, primrose,
Nasturtium, and athanasia cure paralytic parts of the body.
O sage the savior, of nature the conciliator!

—From Page Ten of the Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum (A Salernitan Regimen of Health). See the Gode Cookery website to read the entire poem.

Cur moriatur homo cui salvia crescit in horto? (Why should a man die who has sage growing in his garden?) This much-quoted Latin adage is from the famous medieval didactic poem on maintaining good health, the Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum. Read more »