The Devil’s Apple (Solanum Linnaeanum)

•April 12, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Solanum linnaeanum 1

I bumped into this yellow fruit again the other day and was immediately told that it was highly poisonous. Apparently Solanum Linnaeanum is called Bolas del Dimoni by the Mallorcan country folks, as well as Metzines or Metzines de pometa. The Spanish call it Tomateras del diablo, Manzanillas or Pelotillas. The English call this plant Apple of Sodom or the Devil’s Apple. It took me a few days to find the plant on the Internet; here is the information I was able to gather:

Solanaceae are a moderately large family consisting of 90 or 91 genera and between 2,450 and 2,700 species, depending upon the source of information. The family is home to many plants familiar to most readers: Solanum (egg plant, potato, woody nightshade), Lycopersicon (tomato, now considered Solanum), Capsicum (peppers), Nicotiana (tobacco), and the decorative genera Schizanthus and Petunia. The most common genus in the family is Solanum itself with at least 1,250 species worldwide (quoted from floridata.com).

Solanum linnaeanum 2

This plant forms rounded fruits, like small tomatoes but yellow, which are also very characteristic. It can be found on its own or forming little circular groups, generally near farming houses and country residences. It can be in flower most of the year round, but especially at the end of winter and spring. It is a poisonous plant and native to South Africa and the Mediterranean basin. In Spain, Solanum Linnaeanum is found in the Balearic Islands, but also in Alicante, Barcelona, Castellón, Gerona, Tarragona and Valencia (quoted from herbarivirtual.uib.es).

Solanum linnaeanum 3

Mallorcan legend has it that this plant was occasionally used by ladies who wanted to rid themselves of their betrothed. A traditional Coca trempó could be prepared with tomatoes, green peppers, onion and garlic, all finely chopped and seasoned with salt and oil, with half a dozen Metzines tomatoes mingled well hidden amongst the other ingredients. Once baked it was very difficult to distinguish the pieces of Metzines; the victim would not notice anything unusual in taste. Upon eating the coca the person would suffer severe breathing difficulties, violent abdominal cramps, vomiting and severe diarrhea, leading to vomiting and defecating blood mixed with vomiting and diarrhea. One could even die from toxic hepatitis, pulmonary edema and cardiac arrest.

Please do not try this recipe at home and make sure not to feed such a coca to anybody.

Solanum linnaeanum 4

The almost identical plant Solanum incanum contains saponin steroids, in particular glycoalkaloids. I can not vouch that the same is true for the plant described above. Many of the medicinal uses of Solanum incanum are based on its analgesic properties. Throughout tropical Africa a sore throat, angina, stomach-ache, colic, headache, painful menstruation, liver pain and pain caused by onchocerciasis, pleurisy, pneumonia and rheumatism are treated with Solanum incanum. For these purposes, leaf, root and fruit decoctions are gargled or drunk, roots are chewed and sap swallowed, leaf paste, root infusions and pounded fruits are applied externally or rubbed into scarifications, leaf sap is used for washing painful areas, and ash of burnt plants is mixed with fat and applied externally. For relief of toothache a root infusion is used as mouth wash, fruit or root is rubbed on the gums or smoke of burning seeds is inhaled. Hiccups are suppressed by licking a mixture of the ash of burned leaves and salt (quoted from prota.org).

Apparently, it was attempted to develop a mixture of the alkaloids solamargine and solasonine extracted from Solanum linnaeanum as a cancer drug. Preliminary clinical trials were initially promising but the drug was ultimately discontinued.

The Mallorcan Bindweed (Convolvulus valentinus)

•May 17, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The Mallorcan Bindweed (Convolvulus valentinus) is an exquisite plant with a rather pretty flower. The bindweed is a hermaphrodite plant in the Convolvulaceae family which usually comes with a blue flower but, occasionally can also be of a pink colour as shown here. The semi-succulent flowering plant is ideally suited to the rocky conditions of the Mediterranean shoreline. The Mallorcan Bindweed is indigenous to Valencia, Alicante, Ibiza and Mallorca, and can also be found in Algeria.

According to Herbarivirtual, the Convolvulus valentinus is rather rare in Mallorca and is considered vulnerable. It is said to be found in only one place. Well, I happen to disagree; I have seen this flower near the coast line in the South East of the island, and also, in the North, on quite a number of occasions and in different spots. The plant flowers now (April, May and June) on sandy terrain near pine forests in coastal areas.

I could not find any information about possible medicinal or nutritional properties of this plant.

The Wild Gladiolus (Gladiolus italicus)

•April 30, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The Wild Gladiolus (Gladiolus italicus) is also known as Field Gladiolus, Italian Gladiolus, Cornfield Gladiolus and Common Sword Lily. The plant is native to Southern Europe and the Western Mediterranean, growing in open grass land and corn fields.

Gladiolus italicus has large, deep pink flowers with white stripes on the lower petals. The flower is very similar to Gladiolus communis ssp. communis, yet the seeds of Gladiolus italicus are larger and not winged, whereas those of Gladiolus communis ssp. communis are smaller and winged. This perennial plant from the Iris family grows from an underground bulb and flowers in May and June, here in Mallorca.

The Gladiolus italicus has 3 sepals (outer whorl) and 3 petals (inner whorl) which are identical, and thus, they are collectively referred to as 6 tepals or perianth segments.

No information was found about medicinal properties or toxic attributes of the plant.

According to Theophrastus (371 BC – 287 BC) and his Historia Plantarum:

The root of the plant called corn-flag is sweet, and, if cooked and pounded up and mixed with the flour, makes the bread sweet and wholesome. It is round and without ‘bark,’ and has small offsets like the long onion. Many of them are found in moles’ runs; for this animal likes them and collects them.

According to Pliny (Plinius Secundus, 23 – 79) and his Natural History:

Gladiolus, i. e. little sword. Some include among the class of bulbs Gladiobic the root of the cypiros, that is, of the gladiolus. It makes a pleasant food, one which, when boiled, also renders bread more palatable, and also when kneaded with, more weighty. Not unlike it is the plant which is called Thesium, and is acrid to the taste.

The Sea Onion (Drimia maritima)

•February 19, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The Sea Onion (Drimia maritima, Catalan: Ceba Marina, Castellano: Cebolla albarrana) is also known as Sea Squill. It is native to coastal regions of the Mediterranean area in sandy soil, but it is also widely cultivated.

The plant is known for its medicinal properties. The bulb contains cardiac glycosides which stimulate the heart and act as diuretics in moderate doses, and are emetic and poisonous in larger doses. An extract of squill is used as an ingredient in expectorant cough medicines such as buttercup syrup. The juice of the bulb causes blisters when put in contact with skin. The plant has been used as a rodenticide and may show promise as an insecticide. The most active chemical compounds in the plant are scillirosides, especially proscillaridine A. In the past, it has also been used as an abortifacient. This particular use is rarely seen today as it has been shown to be dangerous and largely ineffective.

The plant flowers from August to October. The flowers are white, and many emerge directly from the stem peduncle, which almost reach a metre in length. Flowers open sequentially from bottom to top and as a whole forms a very characteristic ovoid shape.

The plant is also planted in the vicinity of Arab graves, to protect them, according to tradition. The Egyptians call the plant Ein Sit, the god who resists the sun, since the plant only blooms in autumn. The Bedouin believe that whenever there is an abundance of Drimia maritima flowers, there will be a rainy winter.

The Yellow Sea Aster (Asteriscus maritimus)

•May 5, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The Yellow Sea Aster (Asteriscus maritimus, Spanish: Estrella de Mar, Catalan: Pare i fill), also known as Sea Aster, Sea Daisy or Gold Coin, is in flower now, between April and July. It can be found in coastal areas, here in the Western Mediterranean basin as well as in the Canaries. The good-looking flower can be cultivated in your very own rock garden, too, and keeps well in pots.

This species prefers a well-drained, preferably sandy soil with moderate levels of moisture and exposure to full sun. Propagation is by seed or cuttings. You may find it in your local garden centre.

The Mediterranean Heather (Erica multiflora)

•October 29, 2010 • 1 Comment

Between now and January, many Mallorcan hillsides are full of the Mediterranean heather of the Erica multiflora variety. The evergreen plant grows in abundance in Garrigues and pine woodlands. Now in the Autumn its spectacular and delicate pinkish flowers open, all clumped at the end of the branches.

According to the Herbario Virtual del Mediterráneo Occidental, the plant is called Bruguera or Brezo in Castellano, and is known in Catalan as Bruc d’hivern, Cepell, Ciprelló, Peterrell, Xipell or Xiprell.

As always, the plant is useful in a variety of ways. Bees love it and produce a very special honey from the Mallorcan Erica multiflora plant. Heather flowers and plants have been gathered for centuries to be made into herbal medicines. Heather tops were infused and used as a tonic to treat consumption, coughs, nerves, depression and heart complaints. Heather tea, liniments and ointments were used to help treat arthritis and rheumatism. The heather is used as one of the 38 Bach Flower Remedies.

Folk medicine considers the plant effective as a remedy for hyperlipidemia and in helping to reduce cholesterol. In mediaeval times it was thought that the plant could dissolve gallstones.

The heather is used in rituals to call positive spirits and energy. Heather flowers can be carried for good luck and protection. Heather blossoms are associated with beginnings and self-discovery.

In Mallorca, the plant’s wood is used in the process of furniture making and for producing tools. The rootstock can be made into musical pipes.

Rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum)

•July 13, 2010 • 2 Comments

Sea Fennel or Rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum) is known in the Balearics under the name of Fonoll marí (Catalan) or Hinojo marino (Castellano). In France, it is known as Criste marine. In Mallorca, pickled Fonoll marí (see photo bottom) is a common, almost indispensable embellishment of a traditional Pa amb oli.

The plant is in flower from June to October.

One is more likely to encounter the plant in its culinary variation in one of the local markets where it is sold by providers of aceitunas (olives), pickled garlic, capers and dried tomatoes, than out in the open nature. The plant is less abundant than it used to be due to some abusive and uncontrolled picking. Should you happen to find the plant whilst ambling along on a coastal walk or hike, you can take a few sprigs back home and try the fleshy leaves in its raw state as part of your summer salad. Don’t take more than a few shoots, though, as the plant is listed in the Catálogo Balear as being protected by law.

Crithmum maritimum is a strongly aromatic, salty herb; it contains a volatile oil, pectin, is rich in vitamin C and minerals, has diuretic effects, cleanses toxins and improves digestion.

The plant is quoted by John Gerard in his Materia Medica and Herbals (1597): “The leaves kept in pickle and eaten in sallads with oile and vinegar is a pleasant sauce for meat, wholesome for the stoppings of the liver, milt and kidnies. It is the pleasantest sauce, most familiar and best agreeing with man’s body”.

Nicholas Culpeper describes the plant in his Complete Herbal (1653) as having a “pleasant, hot and spicy taste”, but he deplores that it had in his days much gone out of fashion: “Out of fashion, this is deplorable, as it is a great digestive”.

The plant is probably the species mentioned by Shakespeare in King Lear: “Half-way down, Hangs one that gathers samphire; dreadful trade!”.

 
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