Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Mayapples in May

...and you wondered how they got their name?? The flowers of the mayapple bloom in May, and my front forest is thick with them right now. Like virtually every native plant, this one also has medicinal uses, but it is also considered toxic. Apparently, a little of this goes a long way.

Native Americans ground up the rhizomes (the stem from which the roots grow) and used it as a laxative and to kill intestinal worms. In modern times, the plant extracts are used to create topical medications to treat some skin cancers and genital warts.

The fruit that appears after the flower is edible and can be eaten raw or made into jams and jellies. Its flavor is said to be sweet and a bit peculiar but agreeable. I think I’ll take their word for it. The seeds are poisonous.

The folklore surrounding this plant is long and diverse. One of its common names is witches umbrella because it was thought witches used it as a poison, and the story might even be a true one. The English variety of this plant is called manroot or mandrake, and it was thought that pulling the plant up would cause it to scream and that the sounds would drive a man permanently insane. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets made use of this legend. That’s not it’s only appearance in literature, though. From Genesis to Shakespeare to Ezra Pound to Rowling, the mandrake has a long history.


Seabrooke said...

I had no idea the mayapple was the mandrake of lore. How cool is that.

Ruth said...

I admire your photo. You must have been on the ground to take it. This is a most difficult flower to capture! Interesting history around it.

Dana Jones said...

thanks for the warnings! note to self, don't eat mayapples.

Carolyn H said...

Seabrooke: the Mayapple isn't exactly the same as the mandrake, but it's in the same family.

Ruth: Yes, I was on the ground to take the photo, as the flowers are underneath the umbrellas and aren't easily seen from above.

Dana: I felt the same way after reading about them. I'm not going to mess with mayapples!!

Carolyn H.