Tag Archives: herbalism
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Botanical Garden Düsseldorf

8 May
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Christmas Rose

14 Nov

“Then he who is about to dig out the plant turns to the East and prays that it may be accounted lawful for him to do this and that the gods may grant him permission.” – Pliny the Elder

Folklore: East is where the sun rises and considered to be the place in heaven where the good spirits dwell. According to Christian tradition the dead are buried facing East, which is the direction from which Jesus is believed to arrive on the day of the resurrection in order to take them with him into the kingdom of heaven. But already before the Christian custom pagans would bury their dead so they would face the rising sun.

“One part hellebore with as much artemisia placed beneath a diamond gives animosity and audacity, guards the members [of the wearer] and makes victorious over what you wish.” – Hermes Trismegistus, 15 Fixed Stars 15 Herbs 15 Stones and 15 Figures

According to Hermes Trismegistus black hellebore is attributed to the fixed star Algol, together with the diamond. Agrippa connects the plant further to Mars and places it also under the rule of Saturn:

“Hellebore is dedicated to Mars and the Head of Algol.” – Agrippa

In ritual, hellebore may be burnt for consecrating Saturnian talismans and conjuring spirits of Mars. Christwurzel is also a key herb in Faustian rites of exorcism and coercion, along with garlic and sulfur:

“Carry with you Aaronis and also Hellebore, so that he [the demon] cannot delve into you or possess you.” – Dr. Faust, Magia Naturalis et Innaturalis

The name Christmas Rose comes from its auspicious time of flower or from the Christian legend that it sprouted from a young girl’s tears fallen on the snow, when she was sad that she had no present for the Christ child in Bethlehem. Another legend tells of the goddess Freya, who rescued an abandoned child during a deadly cold winter night by transforming it into a hellebore flower. Hellebore is also a symbol of innocence. It was considered holy and believed to ward off evil spirits, help heal the black death and safe pigs from swine flu if a helleborus flower was placed on the animal’s ears.

The name hellebore is composed of the Greek word ellein = to injure and bora = food, whilst the Latin adjective niger = black, may refer to the color of the plant’s root, which is almost black when dried. The German name Nieswurz refers to its use in sneezing powders. In medieval medicine it was a cure against demonic possession. The plant has a long tradition in healing madness and epilepsy (also called the ‘divine disease’ if a person was possessed by a demon): Ovid writes in his Metamorphoses of the three daughters of king of Argos, who had been driven mad by Dionysos and were screaming and running naked all across town, being cured by the healer Melampus of Pylos with a drink of hellebore solved in milk. Hence the herb was also known by the name Melampodium. Alexander the Great on the other hand is said to have died of an overdose of medication containing hellebore. During the Siege of Kirrha 585 BC, the Greek were said to have poisoned the city’s water supply with hellebore and waited until the enemy was too weak to be able to defend it any longer due to the diarrhea caused by the plant’s poison.

Pliny the Elder mentions the existence of an opposite to the Black Hellebore (Helleborus niger), with the ‘White Hellebore’ or ‘False Helleborin’ (the plant referred to is probably Veratrum album).

Antiquarian: Aus dem Reiche der Drogen, 1926

7 May

Stumbled upon this book a few weeks ago at an antiquarian bookshop in Dresden and swore to myself if I returned and sold some stuff in the meantime I’d buy it. Turns out I did!

The book is from 1926 and published by Schwarzeck-Verlag Dresden. I was surprised to find such a publication here. It contains valuable information and references to the earliest herbals from the 15th century, which thanks to the invention of the letterpress printing were for the first time available to a larger audience, especially as they were not in Latin but in German language so that the common man could understand and use them. These books were richly illustrated with delicate woodcuts depicting each plant. Both pharmacology and botany would develop quickly during this time and soon would follow similar herbal books in other countries such as Belgium, Italy and England.

The first chapter gives an introduction to these early herbals of the “Middle Ages” and their authors, such as Conrad von Megenberg, Otto Brunfels, Leonhart Fuchs, Hieronymus Bock, Petrus Andreas Mathiolus, Konrad Gesner, Tabernaemontanus etc., as well as illustrators, who designed extraordinary woodcuts for these books and publishers. Guess what, it wasn’t easy to publish a book at a time when there were no laws yet on coyprights so that reprints occured still within the same year and neither the original publisher nor author could do anything about it. To this add competition and price dumping amongst publishers once a larger number of similar books was available… Wait, that all sounds familiar doesn’t it? Even today… The authors describe all of this quite vividly and so this short discurse on the first herbals ever printed is a pleasant read, spiced with examples and quotes from these very first books on plants and their alleged medicinal properties. Simultaneously we learn how the first volumes on botany and pharmacognosy came into being.

As I cannot go into detail on each chapter I will instead just list the titles for reference:

  1. The Herbals of the Middle Ages
  2. The Doctrine of Signatures
  3. The art of distillation
  4. The spice wars
  5. The cultivation of drugs in Germany
  6. The China-Bark
  7. The Liquorice
  8. The tropein-containing Nightshades
  9. The Strophanthus
  10. The noxious and innoxious types of Strychnos
  11. The Elder
  12. The Indian Hemp (Cannabis indica)
  13. The Yohimbe bark
  14. The Guajacum tree
  15. The Sarsaparilla root
  16. The Shepherd’s Purse
  17. The Rhubarb
  18. The Aconite
  19. The Opium
  20. The Cantharides

I have not read through all of the 272 pages but whenever I skim over the text I find something new and interesting, which I have not read elsewhere. This book contains plenty of interdisciplinary references and I am glad to have bought it.

 

Plant Photography

30 Jun
Nostalgic St. John’s Wort, Echtes Johanniskraut (Hypericum perforatum)

Been out on a little herb search today, gathered seeds and foliage and photographed whatever caught my attention… The flowers of the St. John’s Wort were moving in the wind just the moment I released the shutter, leaving a shining signature on the image. The herb used to be hung above religious images on St. John’s to keep evil away from the home. Hence the name Hypericum, from Greek hyper =above and eikon =image.

During the past months (or actually years) I have been photographing a lot of different herbs, flowers, plants and trees, in various aspects, different weather conditions, in their wholeness as well as dissecting details from root to stem to foliage to flower and fruit. A selection of these photos is online at my Photography site wr-photography.com and in addition I regularly post new photos to Facebook, Pinterest, tumblr and Deviantart as well as Behance.

Seeking out, identifying and observing flowers, plants and trees through the camera, close-up as well as within their surrounding, is a way of learning, discovering, documenting and lastly also transmitting various aesthetically pleasing as well as repulsive aspects and sometimes also the visible effects of human interference with nature’s kingdom plantae. This branch of photography plays also a big roll for the Teufelskunst project where at least 50% of all time and work are dedicated to the gnosis of the green. Naturally, it is also a huge inspiration for my visual art, with contents not seldom being codified in and transported through abstract and/or symbolical linear floral forms (my own floriography or ‘language of flowers’).

Depending on the situation, mood and context you will find crisp, natural, slightly or heavily edited images in my plant photography. Some images play with motion blur and focus, others with color and contrast etc.

Below is a selection of some of my favorite recent and past nature shots:

Black Dhatura

Giant Aberrant Foxglove Flower (Pseudo-Peloria)

Her Fruit III (Scopolia carniolica)

Spring Impressions 2013:

Apple Blossoms

Bee on Cuckoo Flowers

Tulip Drops

Belladonna Sprouts

Trees:

Old Linden Alley, Dresden Friedrichstadt

Beech

Beeches and Ginkgo, Strasbourg

Tentacle Tree, Lilienstein

Traces

The Old Hag

Willow Bark

House

Beith

The Bleeding Tree

The Bleeding Tree

Black Poplar of Babisnau

Twogether

Autumn Trees, 2005

A series on Poisonous Flowers and their Pollinators:

Nightflight

Bumblebee, gathering nectar from a Wolfsbane Flower

Bumblebee crawling into a Belladonna Flower

How things got started:

Bilsenkraut Erntezyklus, 2010

Bumblebee on Henbane Flower

Listen to the Silence

To be continued…