Orchids





Our common English Orchids are the Early Purple, which is

abundant in our woods and pastures; the Meadow Orchis; and the

Spotted Orchis of our heaths and commons. Less frequent are the

Bee Orchis, the Butterfly Orchis, Lady's Tresses, and the

Tway blade.



[405] Two roundish tubers form the root of an Orchid, and give its

name to the plant from the Greek orchis, testicle. A nutritive

starchy product named Salep, or Saloop, is prepared from the roots

of the common Male Orchis, and its infusion or decoction was taken

generally in this country as a beverage before the introduction of tea

and coffee. Sassafras chips were sometimes added for giving the

drink a flavour. Salep obtained from the tubers of foreign Orchids

was specially esteemed; and even now that sold in Indian bazaars is

so highly valued for its fine qualities that most extravagant prices

are paid for it by wealthy Orientals. Also in Persia and Turkey it is

in great repute for recruiting the exhausted vitality of aged, and

enervated persons. In this country it may be purchased as a powder,

but not readily miscible with water, so that many persons fail in

making the decoction. The powder should be first stirred with a

little spirit of wine: then the water should be added suddenly, and

the mixture boiled. One dram by weight of the salep powder in a

fluid dram and a half of the spirit, to half-a-pint of water, are the

proper proportions. Sometimes amber, cloves, cinnamon, and ginger

are added.



Dr. Lind, in the middle of the last century, strongly advised that

ships, and soldiers on long marches, should be provided with Salep

made into a paste or cake. This (with a little portable soup added)

will allay hunger and thirst if made liquid. An ounce in two quarts

of boiling water will sufficiently sustain a man for one day, being a

combination of animal and vegetable foods. Among the early

Romans the Orchis was often called Satyrion, because it was

thought to be the food of the Satyrs, exciting them to their sexual

orgies. Hence the Orchis root became famous as all aphrodisiac

[406] medicine, and has been so described by all herbalists from the

time of Dioscorides.



A tradition is ascribed to the English Orchis Mascula (early Purple),

of which the leaves are usually marked with purple spots. It is said

that these are stains of the precious blood which flowed from our

Lord's body on the cross at Calvary, where this species of Orchis is

reputed to have grown. Similarly in Cheshire, the plant bears the

name of Gethsemane. This early Orchis is the long Purples,

mentioned by Shakespeare in Hamlet: and it is sometimes named

Dead men's fingers, from the pale colour, and the hand-like shape

of its tubers.



That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,

But our cold maids do 'dead men's fingers' call them.



It is further styled Cain and Abel and Rams' horns, the odour

being offensive, especially in the evening. It thrives wherever the

wild hyacinth flourishes, and is believed by some to grow best

where the earth below is rich in metal. Country people in Yorkshire

call it Crake feet, and in Kent Keat legs, or Neat legs. The

roots of this Orchis abound with a glutinous sweetish juice, of

which a Salep may be made which is quite equal to any brought

from the Levant. The new root should be washed in hot water, and

its thin brown skin rubbed off with a linen cloth. Having thus

prepared a sufficient number of roots, the operator should spread

them on a tin plate in a hot oven for eight or ten minutes, until they

get to look horny, but without shrinking in size: and being then

withdrawn, they may be dried with more gentle heat, or by exposure

to the air. Their concocted juice can be employed with the same

intentions and in the same complaints as gum arabic,--about which

we read that [407] not only has it served to sustain whole negro

towns during a scarcity of other provisions, but the Arabs who

collect it by the river Niger have nothing else to live upon for

months together.



Salep is a most useful article of diet for those who suffer from

chronic diarrhoea.





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