The pink lady's slipper orchid is one of nature's rarest and most spectacular wildflowers. I've been blessed to find her almost every spring since my first sighting as a child. Seeing her made me gasp in delight and my reaction hasn't changed decades later. If you have the fortune to come across her in the woods, she will most likely be growing in highly acidic soil. The months of May and June are the best times to search for her in the eastern United States.
The rhizomes of the plant, never the flower, have been used medicinally as a tonic for nervous disorders and insomnia. At one time the plant was used for protection against the evil eye, but as she has become more and more rare, it is our turn to protect her! Look but don't touch!
Her latin name, Cypripedium acaule, is loosely translated to mean a shoe of Venus. Native American Indians called her the moccasin flower.
The slipper like shape of the plant has inspired imaginative legends. One story from the Ojibwa tribe tells of an Indian maiden in search of medicine for members of her tribe who are desperately ill. As she wanders through the woods it begins to snow and her bare feet become bloodied from the sharp stones and debris along the snow covered path. After a long journey, she returns with the medicine. The following spring, pink lady's slippers spring up from her foot prints to honor her selfless journey.
Another legends tells of an Indian warrior who leaves his wife and daughter to fight in a battle. The daughter cries as he is departing and he consoles her by telling her he will bring her a pair of pink moccasins. Tragically, he dies in battle and his daughter then dies from heart ache. While visiting her grave site, her mother finds a pair of pink moccasins, the lovely lady slipper orchids, growing on her grave and is consoled that they have been reunited. My empathic nature couldn't help but wish for a happier ending for the mom!
There are so many legends associated with the Jack in the Pulpit that I'm hesitant to begin. Let's just get this out of the way upfront. There have been sexual references associated with this plant and I'm guessing you know what I mean. My grandmother had me convinced for years that he was an upstanding preacher, leading his flock on a Sunday morning from the pulpit.
His latin name is Arisaema triphyllum,. Arisaema combines aris derived from the Arum family [Araceae], and haema meaning blood, possibly referring to the legend stating that the plant grew underneath the cross of Calvary and the stripes are the splattered blood of Jesus. Triphyllum refers to the three leaves.
Years after my grandmother's initial introduction, I next met Jack in the woods where a couple of boys from grade school dared my brother to eat some "Indian turnip" or "pepper turnip". My grandmother had been wise enough to warn me all parts of the plant were poisonous, so I suggested he refuse. He did.
That leads me to an Indian legend that never quite made sense to me. Apparently, Indians didn't always use bows and arrows. Another tactic was to chop up parts of the plant, mix it with meat, and leave it out for their enemies to eat.
Here! I just found more information on Wikipedia!
"One account from the Meskwaki Indians states that they would chop the herb's corm and mix it with meat and leave the meat out for their enemies to find. The taste of the oxalate would not be detectable because of the flavored meat, but consuming the meat reportedly caused their enemies pain and death."
Hmm. If you were wandering through the woods and came across some meat, let's say it was deer meat for example, and it was chopped up, similar to our ground beef of modern days, how likely would you be to stop mid journey, build a fire and make a burger? Yeah, I didn't think so.
Even though the concentration of calcium oxalate crystals could result in indescribable pain and at times, even death, the Native American Indians decided that under certain conditions it would be fine to eat it. For example, if the corms were dried for a period of six months, peeled and ground into flour, they could be safely ingested as "Iroquois bread root". I can't help but wonder - who decided on the six month time line? Were there any problems with a three or four month trial period? I'm reluctant to try recipes that blend flavors I don't consider complimentary, so I would pass up any possibility of painful and poisonous.
But wait! There's more! The plant was used as a medicine to treat rheumatism, bronchitis, sore eyes, and snake bites. It was also reputed to be effective in ensuring sterility but no specific amounts or instructions were available. Ha!
There are numerous names associated with this fellow, including Memory Rood (if you eat it, you'll never forget), Dog's dilly, Parson-in-the-Pulpit, Priest's pintle, Cuckoopint, Dragonroot, Plant-of-Peace, and Cobra lily. Another name, Lord and Lady, refers to the outer part of the plant, spathe, wrapped around the spadix that's (Jack!).
If you are wandering through the woods and come across this little guy, I suggest you make a quick sketch or photo and keep moving! And if you pass any ground meat along the way, tempting as it might be, it would probably be best to leave that alone as well.
"Maybe it's just me, Mikell, but I kind of thought that to be alive in a world where every single moment of every single day birds fly, dolphins twirl, flowers bloom, snow falls, waves wave, rainbows rise, and antelopes... do whatever antelopes do, would forever silence doubters, inspire dreamers, and fill one's soul with absolute rapture."
Or am I being "punked"?
"Where every single day dreams come true, Mikell, friends are made, challenges are vanquished, and creme brule's flame."
"My mission is
to help others see and cherish the beauty,
romance and treasures within and around them
that are often dismissed or completely overlooked."
Mikell is a writer, artist and professional treasure hunter, finding the greatest treasures in the wonderful people who enter her life!