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Thursday, May 3, 2012
SNAPDRAGONS, SYMBOLS OF PRESUMPTION: HISTORY AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF ANTIRRHINUMS
Snapdragons have been cultivated in Britain for centuries and they have now become naturalized in some parts of Britain, having long ago escaped form gardens. We had them in the gardens of my childhood and I loved the name and the fact that they actually could look like Chinese dragons (so I thought). In India they are called dog’s mouth which doesn’t have the same ring to it. I used to love waiting for a bee to come to the flowers and push its way into one to get at the pollen. Of course I also enjoyed opening the mouths of the dragons by pinching the back of the flowers between my thumb and fingers. We had yellow and orange ones as well as maroon and yellow ones and red, which were probably the original wild snapdragons which are thought to have come from the Mediterranean region.
As members of the Scrophulariaceae or figwort, family they are related to toadflax, water figwort which is sometimes called water betony, foxgloves, eyebright, brahmi or water hyssop and mullein. In the 17th century Nicholas Culpeper uses the term snapdragon for toadflax and the name calves’ snout, both of which are also used for snapdragons.
In the Victorian Language of Flowers, the snapdragon represented presumption. In the distant past in various countries the snapdragon was thought to be powerful enough to ward off spells and curses. Toadflax was also valued for similar reasons.
A snapdragon growing in a garden will usually only grow to around two feet tall, but in its wild state it could reach heights of six feet. They flower in Britain between July and September and seed between August and October. It has been reported that they have been cultivated for their seed oil, although the seeds in the garden snapdragons are so small as to make this seem unlikely- perhaps those cultivated for their oil have larger seeds.
The flowers and leaves are the main parts of the snapdragon to be used in traditional systems of medicine, and they have been employed in Europe and Asia for much the same purposes. In Iraqi traditional medicine the whole plant has been used in a decoction for its astringent, detergent properties, for wound cleaning and healing. It has also been used as a diuretic and treatment for liver diseases.
In Europe the plant’s leaves and flowers have been gathered in summer and dried for alter use, to be used in poultices in the treatment of tumours, abscesses and sores. This has also been used for piles and a decoction or infusion has been used to reduce fevers and inflammation.
In Asia the leaves and flowers have been used for pain relief and to reduce inflammation wile poultices are used for burns, scalds, piles and skin eruptions.
Snapdragons are attractive ornamentals which have health benefits too.