Friday, 19 November 2010

Lichens & Fungi

Week 7

Pharmacology 1 – taking us further into the deep realms of science we began to break down the constituent parts of herbal remedies to understand what works where and how. Like the 7 steps to self-enlightenment, 12 to abstinence, 13 stations of the cross there are 14 components that make up a Herbalist’s cabinet of cures:
  1. Acids
  2. Alkaloids - Antraquinines
  3. Bitters
  4. Carbohydrates
  5. Cardioactive glycosides
  6. Coumarins
  7. Cyanogenic glycosides
  8. Flavinoids & antrocyanidins
  9. Glucosilinates
  10. Gums & Mucilaages
  11. Phenols
  12. Saponrins
  13. Tannins & Pseudotannins
  14. Volatile Oils

Louise Olley
Briefly outlining their qualities and uses we identified the plants containing these essential elements and how they worked, but further exploration will take place in 2 weeks. The morning had other delights in store.

Lousie Olley, Lichen Curator of the RBGE arrived with her own special box of tricks – in her case, plastic bags of sticks, twigs and branches covered in a hairy variety of green, yellow and brown lichens. Lichens are the result of symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae – one provides protection and the other nutrition. Rumour has it that the fungi might actually be ‘farming’ the algae for its own gain, but let’s not go there…there’s enough to divert us elsewhere.

Lichens are divided into different types: fruticose, foliose, crustose, and leprose and each clings to life in a unique way. And we in turn use them in a variety of ways: for fibre, fuel, tanning, fermentation, dyeing embalming, poison, perfume, food and of course, medicine. Best known to us all are:
What kind of lichen is it?

  • Icelandic Moss (Cetraria islandica)  - in cough syrups and eye-makeup remover
  • Usnea filipendula  - for wound dressing, uterine complaints and model-making
  • Wolf Lichen (Letharia vulpine) – used to poison wolves in Scandinavia
  • Dictyonema sericeum – a hallucinogen used by native S Americans to curse people.

Useful, I know!

The afternoon we moved up the food chain (well, maybe) to the fungi kingdom. Professor Roy Watling, Maestro Mycologist, took us through a repertoire of helpful, useful and down-right dangerous mushrooms. The uses for fungi and mushrooms are bewildering! Hats, handbags, deodorants, razor sharpeners, elasto-plasts (band-aids to my compatriots), snuff, horse brushes, painter’s tableaus and aphrodisiacs. Fungi (Fomes formentarius) was also used to carry fire – a type of living tinder box – from ancient times and indeed evidence of such was found at Skara Brae on Orkney and on the person of the famous Öitz skeleton, the 5,300 year old man found in the alps.

Professor Watling & his fungi collections
Our final lesson required a tonic – one of our own harvest of Sea Buckthorn gathered from the sandy banks above Gullane bents.

Buck Up! - Honey Tonic

1.      Heat several cups of Sea Buckthorn berries over a medium heat, mashing with the back of a spoon until you have a thick orange pulp.
2.      Strain through a sieve and return to the pan. 
3.      Add a cinnamon stick and honey to taste and melt together.
4.      Strain into bottles. Stores in the fridge for about 1 month

A herbalist version of Sunny Delight: no E colours, but loaded with vitamins C and A.
Tonic makers

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