[This is a pre-posted entry: see the April 4th blog for an explanation. If things are going as planned (I certainly hope they are!), I'm heading north into North Carolina, with events in Charlotte today, Gastonia and Salisbury tomorrow, and Sylva and Asheville the day after. You can read about it here.]
Bridal wreath and aspirin. The Bridal wreath spirea (Spiraea cantoniensis) that grows along the creek is blooming just now, mounds of white blossoms spilling over the green bank at the foot of the cypress tree.
I love this plant for the purity of its blossoms, the white grace of its arching branches, and for its interesting history. Willow (Salix sp.) is widely known to provide a good natural remedy for headaches, fever, and muscular aches. In fact, it is the source from which aspirin (salicylic acid) was derived, back in 1828. That’s when Johann Buchner, professor of pharmacy at the University of Munich, chemically isolated a minute amount of yellow, needle-like crystals, which he called salicin. His discovery didn’t encourage people to abandon willow as a pain-killer, though, because salicin (the word was coined from the Latin salix) upset the stomach and left a bitter taste in the mouth. Ten years later, it was learned that the herb meadowsweet (Spirea alba, now called Filipendula ulmaria) also contained salicin—as does Bridal wreath and other Spiraea. The extraction process was improved, salicin was "buffered" with additives, and a compound called acetylsalicylic acid was produced, which had fewer negative side effects. It took more tinkering, but on March 6, 1899, the Bayer Company was ready to apply for a patent. The new drug was to be called aspirin: a for acetylsalicylic and spirin for Spirea. Think about that the next time you see one of these beautiful plants gracing the landscape.
Reading Note. "Traveling to a strange new landscape is a kind of romance. You become intensely aware of the world where you are, but also oblivious to the rest of the world at the same time. Like love, travel makes you innocent again.—Dianne Ackerman