This afternoon, I ventured out in the back garden to uncover the liverlilies (Hepatica nobilis), since they will be in bloom before most other plants. This is the first picture I took in the garden last spring. Unfortunately, most of my 2006 early- spring garden pictures were lost when my hard drive crashed last June. That was a good lesson to learn about making copies of pictures. (And please note that there isn’t a single thing blooming in my garden this April 2007….so I resorted to a 2006 pic. )
Liverlilies have a fascinating history which is probably why they are one of my favourite flowers. For such a a delicate and cheerful flower, I have always been puzzled by their name (which reminds me of the tough fried liver of my childhood … I hope my mum misses out reading this post!) Supposedly, the plant’s name is derived from its three-lobed leaves that resemble a human liver.
Of course, me being me, I embarked on a quest to learn more about how liverlilies received their name. Henriette’s herbal website is a treasure trove of fascinating information for plant lovers. If you love leafing through old plant books, you will have a blast at Henriette’s site. The full text of several classic herbal medicinal books dating from the 1870s can be read there.
From Henriette’s, I headed over to Michael Moore’s website, and spent some entertaining time reading the 1924 edition of The Working Man’s Model Family Botanic Guide by William Fox. Moore describes this guide, as follows:
This book may have been the most widely used herb book of its era in Great Britain. A peculiar mixture of American Thomsonian and physiomedicalist philosophy, “Muscular Christianity,” and common sense …. It is a refreshing glimpse into late Victorian alternative, and by inference, Standard Practice Medicine.
On Paghat’s website, I learned much about the ‘doctrine of signatures’, which gained popularity in diagnosing and treating disease in the 1700s. Mixed in with astrology, it was thought that certain plants could be used to heal different organs because of the shape of their leaves or flowers.
In the context of liverlilies, Paghat explains how they became associated with treating liver conditions.
After the astrological diagnoses was completed, the illness would be treated on the basis of plant “Signatures.” At the height of this idiocy, American herbalists convinced themselves God’s “mark” on Hepatica was that its leaves turned liver-colored in winter & by a stretch of the imagination looked like little slabs of chicken livers. Ipso facto, hepatica benefits the liver, though the treatment also required knowledge of the position of Jupiter who had authority over the liver & kidney.
Yet again, I spent an enchanting few hours lost in the world of plants and their history. And now it is time for bed where I am planning to continue reading Anna Pavord’s wonderful book, The Naming of Names. And yes, it is all about how plants got their names.