Friday, April 16, 2010

Folklife Fridays: Mayapple

Anything posted here is for education and entertainment. I am not a doctor, just someone who loves folklore and learning about how people coped before
modern medicine. You are entirely on your own if you want to experiment.

Mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum, is all those green umbrellas you see on the roadside, and they are abundant this year.  Common names are mandrake, ground lemon, hog apple, love apple, umbrella plant, wild lemon.

Male plants have a single leaf.

Female plants have two leaves.

The blossom and fruit is produced where the leaves split.

The mature fruit is about the size of a small egg. I have found it tasteless, although some say it is lemon flavored, and some say they have made jelly from it.

The plants colonize, and sometimes, it looks like a green rug covering the woods.

Every part of the plant except the fruit is toxic. Folklore claims the dried roots were used as a purgative to remove worms in the intestines. In earlier days, mayapple was used as an ingredient for preparing laxative and sold over the counter as a medicine known as "Carter's Little Liver Pills", which is now banned by the FDA. Mayapple is used today externally by some herbalists for removal of warts and skin cancer.

Mayapple is one of the first wildflowers I learned to recognize. When my mom would take us for walks in the woods, she would point it out to us. She told us how during the depression, she and her siblings would dig the long, skinny roots, dry them, and sell them to a druggist in town to earn a little cash.

Mayapple is being researched and used today by doctors to treat certain kinds of cancer.

If you are wanting some herb tea today, don't use mayapple. Look for some sassafras instead!