Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Doctrine of Signatures

The Doctrine of Signatures (DOS) is a philosophy from ancient Europe that:

"... held that plants bearing parts that resembled human body parts, animals, or other objects, had useful relevancy to those parts, animals or objects."
- Wikipedia: Doctrine of Signatures

Some still hold to this belief. Me, I'm a believer in clinical trials. But the DOS makes for great conversation. And I see its utility for, not exactly determining a medicinal purpose for a plant, but helping to remember an established purpose, a kind of utilitarian taxonomy. A visual cheat sheet.

Here's the flower of a plant known as ______. Can you guess, given it's shape, the ailments for which the DOS (not I) suggests this plant can be used?

Here's another plant that grows voraciously in my backyard.

Only recently I learned its name: pilewort (Ranunculus ficaria). I'm sorry I only have a photo of the leaves and flowers, for it's the roots of this plant that have earned it its DOS classification:
"If you dig up the root of it you will perceive the perfect image of the disease commonly called the piles."1
I've heard that an infusion of the root could be used as an ointment, but...
"... there be also who think that if the berbe be but carried about one that hath the piles, the pain forthwith ceaseth."
- Quotes from Botanical.com: Celandine, Lesser.
Does that mean if I see someone wearing a wreath of pilewort, I can assume...
1 Piles: hemorrhoids.
Photos: Homegrown.

No comments: