Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Harry Potter's Garden

Of Magic and Medicine

When the young wizard battles vile Voldemort for the last time in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, he'll wield a wand made of ordinary holly. Only it turns out holly isn't so ordinary, even in the Muggle (or nonmagical) world. Long ago, healers made a tea of its leaves to induce sweating and relieve fevers. They also believed that juice from its berries could cure jaundice. many real plants studied at Harry's wizardry school have ancient or modern medicinal uses. But Potterites shouldn't brew any home potions: Though holly berries are said to ward off evil, their juice is toxic. 

For detailed information on holly, please visit  british-trees.com.

Voldemort's wand is crafted from this evergreen, a symbol of death in Renaissance literature and a cancer fighter in the medical world. The drug Tazol, prescribed to treat breast, lung, and ovarian cancer, was first synthesized from a compound in the tree's bark and needles.
 For detailed information on yew, please visit british-trees.com.

In fiction, stargazing centaurs burn the herb to bolster senses, In fact, sage has properties that disinfect; some herbal mouthwashes use it as an ingredient.

Sage leaves

Wizards use the stinging plant to cure boils. Scientists add it to anti-nosebleed medicine, and German doctors prescribe nettle products to treat enlarged prostate.

Harry's late mum, Lily, had a wand made from this tree, a traditional symbol of grief. Actually, folks once drank willow leaf tree for pain relief. In the 1800s, a forerunner of aspirin consisted of an extract from the leaves. But the modern pill is all synthetic. 

The toxic, tangled root helps Harry's teacher reverse a turn-to-stone spell. The Bible alludes to its use as an aid  in conception. Ancient Greeks added it to wine as an anesthetic. Today, eye-drops contain a mandrake derivative that temporarily paralyzes eye muscles so the pupil can stay open.

Mandrake lore: Its root seems to have a head and limbs, and it issues a maddening yell if yanked.

An ingredient in slleping potions in the potter series, this bitter plant contains santonin, a substance that expels parasitic worms from the body. The old-fashioned remedy fell out of favour as pharmaceutical treatments were developed.

Potter's potion makers use the plant, aka wolfsbane, to keep werewolves from going loco. Real doctors once pounded it to a pulp, diluted it with alcohol, and applied tiny doses to unbroken skin to relieve pain. Ingesting just one gram can be fatal; a Pakistani cricket team coach, found dead in March 2007, reportedly had traces of aconite in his system.        

The text is adapted from the article Harry Potter's Garden by Melody Joy Kramer in National Geographic, August 2007.

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