Human Flower Project


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Listening to Chinaberries

Once prized for its wood, shade, vigor and medicinal properties, this immigrant to the Southern U.S. is now nationally maligned.


Flowers of the chinaberry tree (Melia azedarach)

March 2011

Photo: Human Flower Project

How did a tree that once inspired gratitude in the U.S. become a pariah? All of us who treasure (or covet) good repute want to know.

In the case of the chinaberry (Melia azedarach) it has something to do with 21st century nativist snobbery – the chinaberry being an 18th century “immigrant” from Asia. Also, since chinaberries reseed easily and grow up fast, they possess that happy heedlessness that sends much of the gardening and landscape crowd into a fit of irrelevance.

The chinaberry is an insult to American vanity, to be sure. But in our opinion it was American technology that really turned popular sentiment against these trees.

After their introduction in Charleston, South Carolina, chinaberries seem to have spread rapidly across the South. In the many decades before air-conditioning (which became commonplace only in about 1950), they were valued as fast-growing shade plants. In some places, including parts of Texas, they’re even called “umbrella trees.”

An anonymous writer for Wood Magazine wrote this lively encomium:

“Introduced to the sundrenched American Southwest and Mexico centuries ago for shade, the chinaberry embraced its arid new home and flourished. This cousin of mahogany from China relished the hot, dry climate and responded to it with rapid growth in even the worst of soil.

“Native Americans, Mexicans, and new settlers in the barren land welcomed the new tree. Indeed, people cooled off beneath its branches, but didn’t hesitate to fell it for wood they worked into rustic furniture and tool handles, and burned for fuel.”

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Posted by Julie on 03/27 at 10:37 PM
Gardening & LandscapeMedicineSecular CustomsPermalink

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Neroli Beats Xanax by a Nose

Scientists in Taiwan have shown that the essential oil of bitter orange flowers is a more effective anxiolytic than Xanax. Stop popping. Start daubing.


A study of neroli’s psychic benefits was carried out by/on gerbils; swimming makes them anxious.

Photo: Still Breathing

We’re as socially anxious as the next person, perhaps a little more so. So we sympathize with those who habitually “take the edge off” with chemical power tools.

We also sympathize with those who’ve “tooled” themselves dull (or newly edgy). Good news from Taiwan for us and for all those numb next-people. A group of researchers has found that neroli – the essential oil of Citrus aurantium var. amara or Bigaradia, enjoyed as a relaxing fragrance for more than 400 years - has proven more potent against anxiety than Xanax.

Granted, the experiment was done on swimming gerbils, but it’s still a very hopeful result.

Ying-Ju Chen, a nutritionist at Providence University, Taiwan, and a research team tested the swimming duration and distance of three groups of gerbils: a control group, a group treated with Xanax, and a group that had inhaled neroli fragrance.

The rodents that had sniffed neroli oil swam longer and and less frantically (measured by the distance they covered) than did the control group or the Xanex-fed gerbils. (Being tossed into water tends to make gerbils anxious.)

“This study provides evidence-based data on aromatherapy using neroli in the treatment of anxiety,” Chen et al concluded.

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Posted by Julie on 01/06 at 06:02 PM

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mother’s Remedies from Jamaica

It’s cold season. Georgia Silvera Seamans and baby Robert catch the bug and glean home remedies from grandmother. Fetch the cauldron…


A mobile for the baby’s room? No, it’s bitter melon (Momordica charantia), used in Jamaican traditional medicine to make a tea that eases stomach ache.

Photo: wiki

By Georgia Silvera Seamans

My baby’s ear infection went away without his taking antibiotics.  Now, we both have colds.  He is not being given anything for his cold except liquids and rest.  I am gargling my sore throat with warm salt water per my mother’s instruction.  This morning, after putting my baby to sleep, my mother told me about home remedies of her youth.  My mother grew up “in the country” of Jamaica. 


Pick a lot of fever grass (a.k.a. lemongrass), boil it in a large cauldron, pour the hot liquid into a tub, and set a wooden plank across the tub. The feverish person would then sit on the plank and be covered by a sheet. The person would remain under the steam sauna until the water became lukewarm.  Prior to pouring the fever grass brew into the tub, a small portion would be sweetened with sugar or honey for the feverish person to drink.


As many cow-foot leaves (Piper umbellatum) as were needed to cover one’s head were gathered and then your head was wrapped with a scarf.

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Posted by Julie on 11/15 at 09:36 PM
MedicineSecular CustomsPermalink

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Trespassing for Power Fungus

In the disputed highlands along the border between China and India, a strange medicinal plant provides military cover.


Cordyceps sinensis, a fungus from the Himalayas,

inhabits and grows from the bodies of insects (here a

caterpillar)—and that’s just the beginning.

Photo: Heathen Healing

It’s referred to as the “Chinese love flower” but we don’t think that’s a very nice thing to say about the Chinese, or love—or flowers either. Just look at it.

This is a fungus, Cordyceps sinensis—an entomopathogenic fungus, meaning it grows on and, in time, into and out of insects. That’s hard on insects—lethal, as a matter of fact—as well as enormously weird and disgusting (just our opinion).

You might call its growth habit an “incursion.” But it’s human incursion into the fugus’s habitat, the very high territory along the China/India border, that prompted the Telegraph’s recent story about this plant.

Indian officials are claiming that small groups of Chinese troops, forces with the People’s Liberation Army, have been coming across “the disputed MacMahon Line” that separates the two countries. Dean Nelson writes that crossing the line “remains highly sensitive for both countries which fought a border war in 1962 in which China captured but later returned Tawang district, which it claims is part of Tibet” – also considered disputed territory. This moist, mountainous environment, between 10,000-12,000 feet in altitude, is where Cordyseps sinensis grows.

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Posted by Julie on 08/10 at 09:52 PM
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