Day 2, Physic garden: Highlight – Sage

Growing_leaves_of_garden_sage_(Salvia_officinalis).jpg

Salvia officinalis (sage, also called garden sage, common sage, or culinary sage) is a perennial, evergreen subshrub, with woody stems, grayish leaves, and blue to purplish flowers. It is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae. It has a long history of medicinal and culinary use.

Salvia_officinalis_-_Köhler–s_Medizinal-Pflanzen-126

Illustration of Salvia officinalis by Kohle from the book entitled Medicinal Plants.

Sage has been used since ancient times for warding off evil, snakebites, increasing women’s fertility, and more. The plant had a high reputation throughout the Middle Ages, with many sayings referring to its healing properties and value. It was sometimes called S. Salvatrix (sage the savior), and was one of the ingredients of Four Thieves Vinegar, a blend of herbs which was supposed to ward off the plague. John Gerard author of Herball (1597) states that sage “is singularly good for the head and brain, it quickeneth the senses and memory, strengtheneth the sinews, restoreth health to those that have the palsy, and taketh away shakey trembling of the members.” In past centuries it was also used for hair care, insect bites and wasp stings, nervous conditions, mental conditions, oral preparations for inflammation of the mouth, tongue and throat, and also to reduce fevers.

In modern days there has been some studies carried out on humans involving sage. It should be noted that these studies are not widely recognised and more research would need to be done to further their claims. The study involving healthy humans demonstrated improved memory, attention/executive function, alertness and mood following single doses of cholinesterase-inhibiting sage extracts or essential oils. Smaller studies on Alzheimer’s patients demonstrated improved cognitive functioning and behavioral function (Clinical Dementia Rating) following a 16-week administration of a Salvia officinalis alcoholic tincture.  I don’t claim to know much about this subject and would again caution that it looks like more research needs to be done in these areas. 

Illustration of Salvia officinalis by Kohle from the book entitled Medicinal Plants.

The Physic/ medicinal garden

Over the next four days I will add one post per day about our ongoing interest in the Physic garden in Trinity College Dublin.

lavender_ stoechas_in_our_physic_garden.jpgFor this first post I would like to give a brief background to the garden itself. Tomorrow I will highlight the sage plant. The following post will illustrate some of the SEM images we have already taken of the sage plant. Finally I will round up by talking about our dilemma in choosing which plant to focus are research on.

So to start off with Trinity College initiated a physic garden on the main college campus in 1687 to provide plant material to support the teaching of medicine. By 1173 this garden had become derelict, and was partly used to dump offal from the Anatomy Department.

In 2011 to mark 300 years of Botany, Chemistry and Medicine at Trinity College, Dr Henery Oakeley, Garden Fellow at the Royal College of Physicians of London opened the new Physic (medicinal) garden on the main campus of Trinity College. The garden features sixty plants of medicinal interest and aims to highlight where some medicines come from.

Although some plants are still used in herbal medicines, modern drug development relies more on finding novel chemical of medicinal value in plants and then reproducing this chemical through biosynthesis techniques on an industrial scale to produce the relevant drug. Botany is no longer taught to medical students however the links to drug discovery and development are still as strong as ever. The Physic garden showcases medicinal plants of ancient and contemporary medicinal relevance and regonises the linkage between the disciplines of Botany, Chemistry and Medicine. It is situated between the Hamilton and Llyod Building at the East end of the campus. (excerpt taken from – Trinity News and Events – 21st April 2011)

Lichen images from March sampling

Lichen – The Oregon Maple

We found some wonderful examples of different types of lichen growing on some of the trees that were chosen.  The images above were taken from the bark of the Oregon Maple.  See below for a different type of lichen which we found on the Crab Apple tree. 

 

Lichen – The Crab Apple

Champion Trees of Ireland

Champion Trees - a selection of Ireland's Great Trees- the tree council of Ireland

Two of the trees from Trinity College Dublin feature in this beautifully illustrated book Champion Trees, a selection of Ireland’s great trees.

Platanus orientalis (Oriental Plane Tree), Trinity College Dublin – 4.98 x 11.5 meters.

Acer macrophyllum (Oregon Maple Tree), Trinity College Dublin – 3.68 @ 1.05 x 16 meters – 2nd greatest girthed of its kind in Ireland.

Of note is that the two Oregon Maples in the main square are also thought to be the oldest trees on the Trinity College Dublin campus.

Tree buds SEM images

The following images from the tree bud of the Oregon Maple are really interesting. The undulating surface of the seeds are of particular interest to me. Many years ago I completed a five foot plaster sculpture inspired by a similar seed structure. We may look further at these seeds to get a closer look at the surface and interior structure.

The Oregon Maple

During the sampling process in March we also got some wonderful SEM images from the buds of the Snake Bark and the Cherry Blossom.  See below.  I love the hairy thread-like structures sticking out of the buds.

The Snake Bark – tree bud

Cherry Blossom

Trinity College Trees Booklet

Trinity Trees book - front cover- Oregon Maple.jpg

Trinity College Dublin have compiled and printed a booklet entitled Trees of Trinity College Dublin. A third edition was printed in 2011 and it lists many of the trees to be found on campus. This booklet was jointly edited by David W. Jeffrey and Daniel L. Kelly, the later of which we are delighted to say will be consulting with us on some of the botany aspects of this project.

The booklet groups the various trees on campus into three sections. Each section is called a circuit and lists all the trees to be found in a particular area on campus. Circuit A encompasses the Front Square and Library Square. Circuit B includes trees situated in New Square and House 40 gardens. The final Circuit C covers all the trees in College Park.

Trees of Trinity College booklet-List of trees-tcd map-three tree circuts

Trees of Trinity College booklet also gives specific details on a select number of significant trees, three of which will be included in our project. These trees are the Hop Horn Beam, the Oregon Maple and the Cabbage Tree (Cordyline Palm). See below images of two of the listings in the booklet.

Trinity Trees book-Hop horn beam tree information.jpg

Trinity Trees book - Cabbage tree information

Science Notes: Autumn Cherry Blossom

SCIENCE NOTES: AUTUMN CHERRY BLOSSOM

These scanning electron microscope pictures show a tiny part of a flower from the autumn-flowering cherry tree. It’s one of the stamens: the small round shapes are pollen grains.

Autumn Cherry Flowers fig1.jpg

Pollen carries the reproductive cells (gametes) produced in the male parts of flowering plants. It may be annoying to those of us who suffer from hay fever and other allergic reactions to airbourne pollen, but it’s vital for many plants to spread pollen around so that the male cells will encounter female cells in the pistils of other plants.

There are many different types of pollen, and the size and shape of pollen grains varies a lot from plant to plant, so the microscopic analysis of pollen can be very useful in forensics and archaeology. This SEM image shows some of the weird and wonderful shapes of different pollens (the colours are artificial – SEM doesn’t do colour but the colour can be added later just for fun):

Autumn Cherry Flowers fig2

Source: Dartmouth Electron Microscope Facility, Dartmouth College [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Bees and other insects eat pollen: for them it’s a vital food source. Lately some people have been selling bee pollen for human consumption. It probably won’t do you any harm (unless you’re allergic to it of course, in which case it might kill you) but there’s no scientific evidence that it will do you any good either, so I’m going to keep away from it.

David