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Transcript
Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn), mistletoe (Viscum album
(L.)) and bladder-nut (Staphylea pinnata (L.)) - mysterious plants
with unusual applications. Cultural and ethnobotanical studies
Jacek MADEJA1, Krystyna HARMATA1, Piotr KOŁACZEK 1, Monika KARPIŃSKA-KOŁACZEK 1,
Krzysztof PIĄTEK 2 and Przemysław NAKS 3
1
Department of Palaeobotany, Institute of Botany, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland
Department of Plant Ecology, Institute of Botany, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland
3
Department of Plant Taxonomy and Phytogeography, Institute of Botany, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland
2
Abstract
Rośliny od niepamiętnych czasów nie tylko pomagały zaspokoić głód i uzupełnić dietę. Na przestrzeni wieków człowiek zdobył
i przekazywał wiedzę o ich właściwościach leczniczych, czy trujących. Ale ten bezpośredni kontakt z roślinami miał też inny
wymiar, nie tylko materialny, ale i duchowy związany z wierzeniami w niezwykłą moc niektórych roślin. Rośliny miały swoje
miejsce w sztukach magicznych, w zwyczajach, albo w ustalonych formach religii. Tu przyglądniemy się trzem wybranym
przez nas gatunkom na różnych płaszczyznach związanych z człowiekiem. Kłącza Pteridium aquilinum w ciężkim dla człowieka
czasie ograniczonego dostępu do pożywienia były wykorzystywane do celów konsumpcyjnych. Z nasion Staphylea pinnata
sporządzano biżuterię oraz różańce, natomiast Viscum traktowana była jako roślina magiczna, a także lecznicza.
Plants for ages have helped in satisfying hunger and
supplementing a diet. For centuries man has gained and
handed on knowledge about their properties, both
curative and poisonous. However, this close relationship
with plants had also different meaning, not only a
physical one, but also spiritual that was connected with
beliefs in extraordinary power of some plants.
Plants had their place in magical arts, customs or
certain forms of religion. Here we take a closer look at
three chosen species in different areas connected with
humans. Bracken rhizomes, during difficult times of
limited food availability, were used for culinary
purposes. Seeds of bladder-nut were popular in
adornments and rosaries, this shrub was also considered
to have magical power. Mistletoe established its
reputation as a cult plant, moreover it was and still is in
use in medicine.
1. - Distribution of bracken (Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn) in
Poland (Zając and Zając 2001).
Pteridium
Pteridum aquilinum is a cosmopolitan species with
an almost worldwide distribution apart from
mountainous, desert and arctic areas. P. aquilinum subsp.
aquilinum occurs mainly in the northern hemisphere,
whereas P. aquilinum subsp. caudatum dominates in the
southern hemisphere (Thomson 2000; Thomson and
Alonso-Amelot 2002). Pteridium reproduces mainly
vegetatively. Its rhizomes are located deep underground
so that they are protected both against frost and fire. On
burnt areas Pteridium produces leaves very quickly,
blocking the light available to other competitors
(Stickney 1986; Taylor 1986). Additionally, it has the
ability to release allelopathic phytotoxins to prevent or
moderate other plant growth in the nearest vicinity
(Brown 1986). The present distribution of Pteridium
aquilinum in Poland is presented on fig. 1 (Zając and
Zając 2001).
Because acid substratum facilitates the germination
of spores (Page 1986), in fire-prone areas, especially in
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MYSTERIOUS PLANTS WITH UNUSUAL APPLICATIONS. CULTURAL AND ETHNOBOTANICAL STUDIES
2. - Spore of bracken (Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn).
places where forest fires occur, the occurrence of a large
number of young Pteridium specimens has been
observed (Oberdorfer 1990), contributing to a decrease
in substratum pH. Pteridium aquilinum is a pioneer plant
which does not tolerate shading. It occurs in disturbed
localities (Jackson 1981), in forest clearings and forest
edges. It frequently occupies moors, drying swamps and
appears in fields under cultivation.
In Poland, Pteridium aquilinum spores have been
recorded since the end of the Vistulian (fig. 2). Their
greatest abundance in pollen spectra is noticeable
between 8000-5000 BP, during which Pteridium
constituted an important element of pine and mixed
deciduous forests (Madeja et al. 2004). Undoubtedly, the
frequent occurrence of Pteridium aquilinum at this time
was connected with forest clearing by Mesolithic and
Neolithic human groups.
The Polish name “orlica” refers to the vascular
bundle arrangement in the stipe which on cross-sections
is reminiscent of a flying, double eagle.
Pteridium aquilinum is one of the many members of
the plant world that have practical and diverse uses.
Despite its worldwide distribution, the range of basic
applications is very similar across its range and is
connected mainly with use as a food source. In Europe,
western bracken rhizomes were consumed most likely
even in the Middle Stone Age (Göransson 1986).
Its poisonous qualities have been known for a long
time. Ptaquiloside - the main toxin of bracken - causes
frequent intoxications and even leads to death of
domestic animals, while thiaminase, another active
agent, causes disturbance in the absorption of vitamin
B1 (Fenwick 2006, Yamada et al. 2007). In Japan and
Korea, where bracken is an important dietary element,
an archaic method of disposing of the toxic substances
from young plant parts is used even today. This method
consists of soaking bracken in water for a day with the
addition of ash, and boiling afterwards; young plants can
then be consumed as a vegetable or as a soup (called
“warabe”) (Pieroni 2005). A similar way of discarding
the toxic residues and bitter taste is given in the
guidebook entitled: Dzikie rośliny jadalne Polski.
Przewodnik survivalowy (Wild edible Polish plants.
Survival Guidebook, in Polish) (Łuczaj 2004).
Because bracken’s rhizomes contain up to 60%
starch, they were often dried and used as a valuable
starch source. Unfortunately, they have a bitter,
unpleasant taste that is hard to get rid of. One way of
eliminating the taste involves drying (in this state they
can be stored for years), removing the black peel and
threshing with the use of a stick, causing the
disintegration of the dry farinaceous parts from among
the hard, oblong fibers (Łuczaj 2004). Rhizomes
grinding yielded similar results. Flour obtained in this
way was commonly added to bread baking, especially
during periods of famine. In France this kind of bread
was baked during the Great Famine (Coquillat 1950).
The oldest written information related to using ferns
as a source of food in Great Britain reads as follows:
«Poor people made the bread of fern roots» (Caxton
1480).
During the First World War, which significantly
limited food availability for people as well as for
animals, greater attention was paid to the possibility of
using rhizomes of bracken as food. Such observations
were initiated in Scotland and conducted also in other
countries (Hendrick 1919). Recipes for boiled bracken
leaves appeared in British newspapers at that time (Braid
1934). Suggestions included using green, still twisted
leaves as an asparagus substitute and also the possibility
of using young rhizomes for brewing.
Both bracken rhizomes and leaves were used as
fodder for domestic animals. In Wales, shredded dried
leaves mixed with straw or hay were given to horses and
mules pulling trams during winter. Leaves were also
given to rabbits.
Because of its chemical properties, bracken was used
in folk medicine for a long time. Dried, powdered
rhizomes were utilized most often. Powder was added
to wine or water sweetened with honey. A drug prepared
in this way was known for its anti-ascaris and antiparasitic properties. There is also a known analgesic
property of the aqueous extract made from bracken
rhizomes (Pieroni and Quave 2005); in Poland there is a
conviction that compresses made of dried bracken leaves
bring relief from rheumatic pain (personal information).
Pteridium was also used as an abortive agent in
domestic animals (Viegi et al. 2003).
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J. MADEJA, K. HARMATA, P. KOŁACZEK, M. KARPIŃSKA-KOŁACZEK, K. PIĄTEK, P. NAKS
The charcoal (cinder), result of the burning of
bracken leaves, mixed with a small amount of olive oil,
was also used to treat bite wounds caused by wolves
(Guarrera et al. 2005).
Apart from the common use as a source of food and
medicinal substances, Pteridium also had a whole
spectrum of other practical, and sometimes amazing
uses.
Because of the high potassium content in ash, after
lixiviation bracken was a frequent additive in glass
production during the Middle Ages (Jackson and
Smedley 2008). Ash from bracken was also used as a
cheap washing detergent for clothes. Ash balls were
often bought as a universal washing agent (Morris
1947). After mixing ash with oil and suet, more
expensive washing detergents, soaps, were made. As a
highly energetic plant, bracken was used as fuel from
which briquettes burned in stoves were made (Callaghan
et al. 1981). Bracken leaves were used to thatch roofs
and also as bedding for cattle. They were also processed
for compost (Pitman and Webber 1998). In the
Mediterranean area bracken leaves are frequently used
by shepherds to filtrate sheep milk and for freshly made
ricotta cheese preservation (Pieroni 2005). The
germicidal and fungicidal substances contained in
bracken leaves make food wrapped in them resistant
from perishing. Some gardeners in Poland who avoid
available commercial chemical plant protection products
use an aqueous extract from bracken leaves for spraying
plants in order to control plant lice or for watering plants
as an anti-snail agent (personal information).
Human activity contributed to an increase in the area
occupied by bracken at least since the Middle Stone Age.
Observations from Finland (Oinonen 1976) show a
correlation between an increase of new areas occupied
by bracken and periods when warfare took place.
Warfare induced frequent forest fires that promoted the
spread of bracken. Today, the continuing expansion of
Pteridium species is troublesome and hard to control in
Europe and globally (Cox et al. 2007; Pakeman et al.
2005; Hartig and Beck 2003).
Human intervention made it possible for bracken to
spread to new areas, made use of the plant through
various applications, and frequently helped bracken
survive hard times. Now man is trying to find a way to
stop the expansion of bracken.
Viscum
Viscum is an amazing plant that lives at the expense
of its hosts which constitute various tree species. In
autumn and winter, when trees stand leafless, green
spheres of various size, formed by the twigs of Viscum,
can be seen from afar. Underneath the bark of the host
3. - Pollen grain of mistletoe (Viscum album (L.)).
tree, mistletoe forms a branched system of suckers used
to absorb water and mineral salts. Because of its
evergreen, olive-green coloured leaves and twigs that
seem to be dychotomically branched, Viscum can
assimilate self-sufficiently. Mistletoe’s shoots divide into
nodes and internodes. A new dichotomy appears every
year, so by counting these it is possible to determine the
age of the plant. Individuals can live for 30-40 years
(Stypiński 1997). There is considerable variation in
Viscum in the selection of tree species as hosts, particular
subspecies demonstrate important differences in this
regard. Viscum occurs on trees that are 20 years old at
least. It also shows preferences for trees that grow in
soils rich in calcium carbonate.
Mistletoe is dioecious and is usually in bloom from
February till April. Male flowers are characterized by a
single yellow-green perianth with four sepals that join
at the base and form a short tube. Instead of typically
formed stamens, at the base of the perianth occur up to
50 anthers that burst and enable the spread of pollen.
These flowers also produce a large amount of nectar.
Female flowers usually occur in trios surrounded by a
small inconspicuous perianth, they also produce nectar
but, in contrast to male flowers, they possess very little
detectable odour. Flowers are probably pollinated by
insects among which bees probably play an important
role. Nevertheless some researchers claim that this plant
is also wind-pollinated. Mistletoe is a sparse pollen
producer (fig. 3) (Stypiński 1997). Berries grow on
female specimens after spring pollination. These mature
in late autumn or winter and can be distributed by birds,
mostly by waxwings and mistle thrushes, which swallow
whole fruits and enable long distance dispersal. Other
birds nibble fruits which can easily attach to the branches
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MYSTERIOUS PLANTS WITH UNUSUAL APPLICATIONS. CULTURAL AND ETHNOBOTANICAL STUDIES
4. - Distribution of mistletoe (Viscum album (L.)) in Poland (Zając
and Zając 2001).
of the host-tree due to their sticky flesh, afterwards they
form suckers and eventually roots.
Mistletoe is a phytoindicator of environmental
contamination with heavy metals (Stypiński 1981, 1997).
However, the branches of trees on which it parasitizes are
deprived of water and mineral substance inflow which
can lead to desiccation. If there are many specimens on
one tree, Viscum may cause the death of the host.
Fossil remains of the genus Viscum were identified
in the younger periods of the Neogene. They were
accompanied by tree genera including maple (Acer),
birch (Betula), lime (Tilia), elm (Ulmus), hornbeam
(Carpinus), beech (Fagus) and walnut (Juglans).
Mistletoe was the main component of mesotrophic
deciduous forests (Stuchlik et al. 1990). Viscum pollen
was found quite often in the interglacial flora (JanczykKopikowa 1977).
An examination of isopollen maps of Poland reveals
that mistletoe percentages in the pollen assemblages are
discontinuous and low (<0,6%). In the Holocene, Viscum
pollen appeared about 9000-8500 years BP in central
Poland, at the foot of the Tatra Mountains and in the
Sudetes. Between 8500-7500 years BP, Viscum
expanded gradually and about 3500 years BP its range
spread across the whole country (Granoszewski et al.
2004). According to Jacomet and Kreuz (1999) the
presence of mistletoe pollen grains indicates a mean
temperature of the warmest month over 15ºC and very
warm summer seasons. This taxon is also indicative of
a mean temperature in January higher than -7ºC.
Mistleote is a Eurasian plant; according to Hegi (1957)
it is a Boreomeridial-Euroasian-Oceanic species. The
present distribution of Viscum in Poland is presented on
fig. 4 (Zając and Zając 2001).
Many legends and customs are associated with
mistletoe and the attributes that it is believed to possess.
These have been used for practical and cultural purposes
for ages. Among the special features of mistletoe that
determine its cultural meaning, the most important is the
location of this hemiparasite high between the earth and
the heavens. This state of suspension means that
mistletoe is positioned in a boundary zone, and results in
a possibility of mediation and representation of the
sacrum order that has always been radically separated
from the mortal world. Another important feature is that
it never yields its green colour, even if the parasitized
tree loses its leaves. This everlasting green is a
demonstration of permanency, invariability, and a
defiance of the destructive influence of time (Kowalski
2007). Mistletoe was called a “golden branch”, because
if its leaves are dried it changes colour from green to
yellow-gold, associated with sunlight and eternity. It
may also be linked to the underworld, another sign of
mistletoe’s attachment to sacrum.
Pliny described the circumstances accompanying the
taking of mistletoe from oak by celtic Druids. A whitedressed priest would harvest mistletoe five days after a
new moon using a special golden sickle. The severed plant
should fall into white linen laid under the tree so as not to
touch the ground, because if it did it would lose its sacred
power. Later practises preserved this special care during
the gathering of this plant. According to the Herbarium of
Polish Marcin from Urzędów (in the original: Herbarz
Polski Marcina z Urzędowa), mistletoe is collected not by
cutting using metal tools, nor even by touching the plant
itself, but by snapping the twigs through linen and then
placing the plant onto another linen sheet laying on the
ground. In Slavic tradition mistletoe was gathered during
the evening before Christmas Eve. After climbing a tree
with mistletoe, the plant was broken off using the head of
an axe (not the blade) and was thrown to a man standing
under the tree, so as not to let it touch the ground.
Mistletoe twigs were put into beehives in order to obtain
plenty of honey the following year (Kowalski 2007). In
the Mazovia region mistletoe was burnt and smoke was
spread around hives (www.bio-life.pl/art.7749). Mistletoe
protected the home from insincere people. It was also said
that you must leave a part of a branch on the host tree to
avoid misfortune.
According to present folk beliefs, a girl that refuses
a kiss under mistletoe may provoke bad luck for herself.
It was also believed that if a girl was kissed seven times
during a day by seven men, then she would marry one of
them that year (Kowalski 2007). Mistletoe is considered
to be an aid for people in love and lovers; today, when
there is so much tension, separation and divorce, this
feature should not be neglected. Thus mistletoe that has
been gilded or silver-plated, added to bouquets,
decorations and ikebanas enters homes during Christmas
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J. MADEJA, K. HARMATA, P. KOŁACZEK, M. KARPIŃSKA-KOŁACZEK, K. PIĄTEK, P. NAKS
time to bring us best wishes and joy. Surely mistletoe,
especially the berries, can be sticky; incautious people
may be caught as are flies. There is a well known saying
in Poland “to be caught on glue” (in the original: “złapał
się na lep”). Maybe this is mistletoe’s revenge for the
fact that its twigs are taken nowadays without ceremony
and with no respect for primeval rituals (Macioti 2006).
Particular species are used by communities as food
(Barlow 1987; Stypiński 1997). Leaves and twigs can
be used as fodder for cattle and other animals. During
famine, dried and ground mistletoe was added to flour
from which bread was baked. Bastiaens et al. (2007),
during investigations in a late-Mesolithic locality in
Belgium, found large amounts of mistletoe twigs and ivy
seeds. Researchers suggest that people collected these
evergreen plants for ritual purposes or as fodder for
animals during the winter.
Pliny bequeathed an opinion known in ancient times
according to which «Gauls believe that mistletoe used in
drinks ensures fecundity and is a remedy for all poisons»
(Questin 1994). In Polish folk medicine it is also regarded
as “an antidote to all poisons and heaven’s gift”.
Mistletoe taken from an apple tree or hawthorn protected
from fear, especially children, if twigs were placed into
a child’s bed then all nightmares were supposed to
disappear. The plant most holy for the Druids was oak
mistletoe. Pliny wrote: «For Druids there is no greater
holiness than mistletoe that on a winter oak is born.
Winter oak is for them a tree absolutely divine, it forms
sacred groves venerated by them, and its leaves are
essential at offering all sacrifices. If on one of the trees a
mistletoe shrub appears, it is a certain sign that it came
directly from heaven and the tree itself was chosen by
one of the gods».
The applications of mistletoe in medicine from
Druid times till the beginning of the 20th century were
summarized in a monograph by Tubeuf (1923). It was
used as a cure for epilepsy, convulsions and to lower
blood pressure. Extract from Viscum is helpful for
arteriosclerosis and the spitting of blood. It was also
prepared as injections that lower blood pressure. Often,
especially in folk medicine, mistletoe was used in
compresses for wounds and frostbites. Hence,
nowadays drinking extracts from mistletoe is worthy
of recommendation for many reasons. Likewise, wine
that is made from 40 mg of leaves macerated for 10
days in one litre of dry white wine is also recommended. After filtration 100 mg of wine should be
drunk twice or three times a day (Macioti 2006).
Farmers in villages added leaves of this hemiparasitic
plant to fodder, ensuring the fertility of their pigs,
increasing milk production in cattle, and augmenting
speed and strength in horses.
Modern medicine has not forgotten the magical
plant of the Celts. Indeed, it has even broadened its
5. - Distribution of bladder-nut (Staphylea pinnata (L.) in Poland
(Zając, Zając 2001).
usage. Preparations from mistletoe are used for curing
cancer (Kołodziejak-Nieckuła 1994). A drug prepared
from Viscum album called Iscador strengthens the
immune system and inhibits tumour growth (Stypiński
1997) in anti-cancer therapy and against HIV. Oak
mistletoe has the most extensive pharmacological
effects as the medication Iscador Q (Iscador Qu). The
most active components of this preparation are lectins
and viscotoxins. They suppress the divisions of cancer
cells and additionally mitigate the side effects of
radiotherapy and chemotherapy (www.henryk.gower.
pl/viscum.htm).
In cytology mistletoe extract was used to change the
cell division mechanism in maize seeds (Zea mays).
Enormous polyploid cells were produced under the
influence of different concentrations (0,1; 0,01; 0,001 %)
of this extract (Stypiński 1967).
Staphylea
The origin of Latin name of genus Staphylea comes
from shape of inflorescences, in greek language word
‘staphyle’ means bunch of grapes. Polish name
‘kłokoczka’ comes from characteristic sound called
‘klekot’ that can be heard when fruits are shaked by
wind.
If we take into consideration the aspects of
distribution (Domin and Podpera 1928; Domin 1949;
Gostyńska 1961a; Zając and Zając 2001) and ecology
(Browicz 1959; Gostyńska 1961; Tylkowski 2007),
bladder-nut is one of the most interesting Polish shrubs.
It is the only representative of the genus Staphylea and
the family Staphyleaceae in Poland.
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MYSTERIOUS PLANTS WITH UNUSUAL APPLICATIONS. CULTURAL AND ETHNOBOTANICAL STUDIES
pink color, they are pollinated
by flies. The fruit is two- or
three-lobed capsule 3-10 cm
long containing brown hardshelled seeds (fig. 6).
Fossil remains of seeds and
pollen grains of genus
Staphylea were identified
mainly in late Tertiary material.
Latałowa (1994) mentioned 4
localities dated to the Holocene,
whereas Środoń (1992) listed as
many as 43 localities dated to
Miocene and Pliocene from
Poland.
In the territory of Poland,
the earliest reliable excavations
where bladder-nut was found
dates back to the turn of the 3rd
and 4th centuries AD, comes
from Prószcz Gdański (Latałowa 1994). Its seeds,
threaded on a silver wire,
formed a part of a rich necklace
(fig. 7) (Pietrzak and Tuszyńska
1988, Latałowa 1994).
The most interesting folk
customs and religious rites
connected with this plant have
6. - 1. Fructifying shrub. 2. Bark -olive-grey or brown with oblong white furrows. 3.
survived the longest in the
Inflorescences. 4. Flowers. 5. Pollen grain. 6. Fruit -bladdery multiseed capsule, 3-5 cm long.
Podkarpacie region (S-E
7. - Seeds - with hard shells, containing oil substances. Photographs taken by: P. Naks (1,2,3),
M. Karpińska-Kołaczek (4), P. Kołaczek (5,7), K. Piątek (6).
Poland) (Gostyńska 1962),
where the density of natural
localities is the highest, and the
The issue of its natural territorial range in our country
populations are among the most numerous in the whole
is still disputable. One of the reasons is the questionable
country. Hence, this plant is often to be found there in the
status of particular localities, which is caused by the fact
household gardens.
that for the centuries bladder-nut has been used by
Bladder-nut’s wood was said to have the power to
people as a utilitary plant (Šistek 1932a, 1932b; Jarvis
keep away the evil spirits and the devil. Therefore it
1979). The presence of this species is limited to southern
used to be carved into crosses, which were later hung
and south-eastern part of Poland (Zając and Zając 2001)
above the entrance doors, or put in the corners of the
(fig. 5), at the northern limit of its range (Meusel et al.
fields in order to prevent natural disasters and ensure a
1978). According to Kornaś and Wróbel (1972) these
good harvest. The wood was also attached to the horns
sites are treated as natural, however many modern
of the cattle at the beginning of the pasturing season, in
localities of this plant are of an antropogenic origin.
order to protect them from evil spells and sickness. In
Staphylea pinnata L. belongs to the east Mediterranean
some places, bladder-nut’s wood was used to make
pontic element (Hegi 1965).
walking sticks and plungers for churning butter
Bladder-nut is a termophilous calcicole shrub
(Gostyńska 1962).
growing up to 5 m. It is in blossom from May to June,
The amazing white flowers were also used to
and the seeds ripen from September to November. The
decorate churches on festive days. In some places
bark is olive-grey or brown with oblong white furrows.
inflorescences of this plant are components of palms
The leaves are arranged in opposite pairs, and pinnate
prepared for ceremonial Palm Sunday and wreaths
with 3-7 leaflets. The blossoms are hermaphrodite
prepared for Corpus Christi octave. There was folk belief
produced in drooping terminal panicles 5-10 cm long
that putting them into the handkerchief of a beloved one
with 5-15 blossoms on each inflorescence, the individual
secures his love. People trusted in its power of protecting
flowers are about 1 cm in their diameter, white and pale
houses from thunderbolts. For all these reasons bladder-
212
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J. MADEJA, K. HARMATA, P. KOŁACZEK, M. KARPIŃSKA-KOŁACZEK, K. PIĄTEK, P. NAKS
7. - 1. Adornments made of bladder-nut seeds dated back to 3rd or the beginning of 4th century AD found in excavations in Prószcz
Gdański (N Poland) (Pietrzak, Tuszyńska 1988 after Latałowa 1994, changed), 2. The rosary made by the Michaelite Fathers from
Miejsce Piastowe. Collection of the Museum of Botanic Garden in Cracow.
nut was often transplanted into gardens. As an outcome
of this popularity, Staphylea has disappeared from the
forests in some regions of Poland. Probably it was the
Celts who first started to plant it on their grave-mounds
(Heigi 1965).
Because of their beautiful colour, shape and
durability, the seeds were very popular. The
aforementioned Celts used them to make various
adornments. In the early Middle Ages (10th-12th century)
they could have been used as food, together with the
green parts of the plant. After the introduction of
Christianity, the seeds were used to make rosaries (fig.
7), that is why the bladder-nut shrubs can often be found
in cloister gardens. What is more, its seeds contain a lot
of fat and can be used as a source of oil. They used to be
ground and added into fodder, because it was believed
that they can provide good health and longevity for
farm animals. They were also used as medicine for
ill children, as they were believed to have healing
effects. However, overdosed they could cause vomits
(Gostyńska 1962).
At present, a research into the chemical compounds
contained in the bladder-nut’s leaves, flowers, and
seeds is carried out. It turns out that the flowers contain
mostly different oxygenated aliphatic hydrocarbons;
aldehydes, ketones, esters of higher fatty acids, and
hexadecanoic acid with dominating content of
tricosane and also of heneicosane, pentacosane,
heptacosane, and nonacosane and some nonaliphatic
hydrocarbons In the leaves one can found rutine and
two sacharides, glucose and saccharose. Plant extracts
possesses also many interesting secondary metabolites
(polyphenols, flavonoids, hydroxycinnamic derivatives) (Laciková et al. 2008). It is also known that
Staphylea pinnata possesses significant cytotoxic and
antibacterial activity (Jantova et al. 2001; Laciková et
al. 2007).
There are more plants that were satisfying spiritual
needs of man and were regarded as sacred, as a gift
from heaven, that could be mentioned. People were
making deal with them, sometimes full of adoration,
respect and admiration, sometimes full of apprehension
and fear; they were creating legends of them. All of
that probably resulted from the fact that people
considered themselves as an element of the
surrounding nature, in which plants played, besides
different beings, very important, practically an equal
to people role.
Acknowledgements
Financial support from the Ministry of Science and
Higher Education (grant 787/ Kultura 2007/2008/7).
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