At this time of the year walkers of the Fife Coastal Path and elsewhere in the county’s countryside should look out for the appearance of the Snowdrops. The Common Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) is often the first floral harbinger of spring, sometimes sprouting in January, but can also make appearances as late as April.
The snowdrop is a short plant which belongs to the genus Galanthus and grows to a height of between 7 – 15 cm. It is a herbaceous perennial, i.e. one which sprouts from its root stock every year and has a single stalk ending in a characteristic, brilliant white, bell flower.
Snowdrops often form huge carpets on woodland floors and parklands. Although native to many parts of Europe, the snowdrop is a naturalised plant in the British Isles. Some believe it was first brought to our islands by the Romans, whilst others claim Italian monks brought it with them round about the 16th Century, to be grown in the grounds of monasteries.
Whether it was the Romans or the monks, the import of this lovely little flower had more to do with medicinal purposes, rather than aesthetic appeal. In more recent times it became regarded as an attractive garden plant but also grows wild in many places.
Traditionally snowdrops were used as a rub-on treatment for headaches, as a pain killer and even as an antidote for some poisons. However, it is only in very recent times that the medicinal benefits of snowdrops are starting to be realised. The substance “reminyl” is derived from galantamine, one of the compounds found in snowdrop bulbs, and is used to treat mild to moderate dementia and traumatic injuries to the nervous system. Snowdrops are also being studied with regards to potential benefits against aids.
Nevertheless snowdrop plants are very toxic, especially the bulbs, and should never be eaten. Consumption can result in a person suffering from dizziness, nausea or diarrhoea and in some cases of over-consumption, death can result. They are avoided by many insects and can be used as a powerful insecticide. However they produce white seeds which contain a substance very attractive to ants which help to distribute the seeds.
Of course, one should never attempt to use snowdrops they’ve picked as medicine themselves and are better left as a beautiful ornament of the countryside.
Snowdrops: Health benefits proven by medical science
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Plant of the month: Snowdrop
What do blooming snowdrops have to do with Alzheimer’s disease treatment and Homer’s Odyssey?
Galanthus nivalis improves memory and has many other health benefits
How to grow snowdrops:
Places to see snowdrops:
Snowdrops at Cambo Estate
Scottish Snowdrop Festival