Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Doll's eyes

A botanical picture from last summer I found while looking through my stored images.  It's a neat plant called doll's eyes or white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda).  The specific name pachypoda ("big foot") refers to its thick underground rhizome.

It was growing in the Mohonk Preserve near Spring Farm.  The berries are poisonous - they're cardiogenic, interfere with the function of the heart, leading to cardiac arrest and death (birds eat them without ill effect, however).  The name "white baneberry" should provide a clue that the berries aren't too good!

Supposedly Native Americans made a medicinal tea from the roots of this plant to relieve pain after childbirth - the roots have the active ingredient of β-sitosterol glucoside which reduces menstrual cramping.  This preparation is sometimes called white cohosh since it's similar to black cohosh (from the roots of the related plant Actaea racemosa) sold as an herbal supplement used to relieve vasomotor symptoms of menopause.

I wouldn't recommend use of this plant, however, since the entire plant is considered poisonous (most medicines are, after all, lower dosages of chemicals that will kill you - the problem is getting a correct dosage with something like tea from a plant root!).

I just thought it was a neat-looking plant that I had never noticed prior to this past summer.

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