Sunday, 29 June 2014

Aristolochia clematitis

"Aristolochia clematitis, European Dutchman's Pipe", drawing by Sarah "Sallie" Thayer, 2014

Aristolochia clematitis, also known as European Dutchman’s Pipe, Birthwort or pipevine, is a twining herbaceous plant in the Aristolochiaceae family, which is native to Europe. The leaves are heart shaped and the flowers are pale yellow and tubular in form. The plant seeks light by ascending the stems of surrounding plants.

This flowering plant, known commonly in Europe as Birthwort, is one of the very old healing plants already in use at the time of the ancient Egyptians and later by the Greeks, including Hippocrates and Pliny. It was an ingredient in a remedy which was used as a panacea against ulcers, fevers, and snake bites. The ancient Egyptian name for the plant translates as “anti-snake”. 

The Latin name Aristolochia is compounded from áristos “the best” and lóchos “birth”. It refers to the use of the plant in aiding childbirth. Hildegard von Bingen taught that Aristolochia opens the closed female inner organs and dissolves hardened menstrual blood. Lonicerus wrote in his 1564 herb book: “Birthwort powdered and mixed with so much myrrh and used with warm wine purifies the uterus and drives out the dead birth. Every woman in childbed should drink this herb and root.”   The species name clematitis derives from the Greek “klema” meaning “tendril”. 

This plant is one of the best examples of the problems arising from the belief that the look of a plant determines its use medicinally. The small yellow flower has a bulb at one end with a tube and a trumpet shaped opening. This was taken to be a representation of a womb and birth canal which led to the idea that the plant should be given to women in labour. It may well have been responsible for many tens of thousands of deaths since earliest times. 

While I find this to be an interesting and attractive plant with great leaves, I could not help thinking, as I worked on this drawing, of all the women and babies who have died through the centuries because someone with influence had decided that this plant had healing or restorative properties -- especially for pregnant women. Birthwort actually does have actual healing properties, but it is also a killer. 

So many stories have been told about this plant through the centuries -- I recall reading somewhere that Pliny is reported to have said that eating this plant with beef immediately after conception would definitely ensure that the woman would give birth to a male child!  Even today, in spite of the knowledge we now have about the effects of aristolochic acid on the human body, there are still people using this deadly plant in herbal and folk medicines in an effort to be cured of all sorts of ailments.



During the past week, we celebrated Braden's birthday.  Thanks to decent weather and my pain medication, I was able to attend!  It was truly a wonderful event and I managed to stay for almost 3 hours before I became too uncomfortable and had to come home.  I was, however, able to be there for the delicious meal, largely prepared by Braden's grandparents, as well as the opening of gifts. Braden was truly overwhelmed by all the stuff that he received from adoring family and friends and I am sure it will take him some time to get around to playing with all of his new toys.

Fortunately, there were plenty of people there taking photos and Braden's mom was kind enough to send some of them to me. Following are a selection of some of my favourites...

His birthday adventures began with a trip to a farm where Braden got to pretend to drive a tractor (this boy does love tractors!) and ride a horse (again).

Braden on a big red tractor!

Braden the equestrian!

Later in the afternoon came the gathering with family and friends for a BBQ followed by the presentation of Braden's birthday cake along with all of his gifts!

Braden taking a moment's rest in his grandparents' back garden (note tractor in hands)!

Braden looking oh, so, cool (note tractor close at hand)!

Braden's birthday cake!  He is more interested in the toys on top than in the cake itself!

A group shot which includes me (Braden wanted me to dispose of the napkin he had just used to wipe cake icing off his hands)!  The other folks in the photo are family members.



Suki being watchful and alert -- probably hoping
I was headed towards the kitchen!
There's not a great deal to report this week about either Suki or myself.

Suki hasn't done anything too terrible during the past 7 days. In fact, rather than Suki doing something outrageous, I am the one who managed to foil Suki in her efforts to awaken me in the early a.m.  Let me tell you what happened...

One recent morning, when I was awakened by Suki's rattling of the blinds on the balcony door at 4:45 a.m., I suddenly had a revelation about an easy way to get Suki to leave me alone so that I could go back to sleep.  I would simply open the balcony door just a bit!

You may well wonder why such an action would cause Suki to cease and desist in her efforts to get food.  I mean, cats usually like open doors -- especially ones that lead to the outside.  Well, it just so happens that Suki is afraid of the noises that she hears coming from that open balcony door -- the noises of a big city coming to life in the early morning.  Suki, remember, is a true indoor cat -- she has never lived outside -- and those street noises are foreign and rather terrifying to her.  She is used to living in a very quiet home where the windows and doors are always closed in order to keep our home quiet.

Well, I can report with delight that the plan worked.  I opened the door just a bit and Suki, after a moment or two of hesitation, retreated to the back of the bedroom closet where she stayed until I finally awakened again at 7 a.m. At that point, I closed the balcony door and almost immediately Suki presented herself to be fed! 

Since then, I have used this trick several more times and so far it has worked well each time.  All I can hope is that Suki never gets used to the noises and starts to ignore them.  If this happens, then I am right back to trying less effective methods to get her to leave me alone while I get my normal six hours of sleep uninterrupted by kitty cat "feed me now" tactics!

As for me, I did have one medical appointment this past week, but it was just a regular followup appointment.  You already know about my outing to help Braden celebrate his birthday. 

Unfortunately, I am still in the process of recovering from that experience.  However, it was well worth any extra tiredness as I got to be with Braden on his special day.  As well, I got to visit with his family and friends -- some of whom I had not seen since Braden's parents' wedding some years ago.  The party was a wonderful experience and well worth any extra pain and discomfort I may still be suffering.



"Icon Saints Peter and Paul", by the hand of Sarah "Sallie" Thayer, 2009

"I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16: 18-19

Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.


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