Continuing the series of white-flowered medicinal plants, Katherine writes:
Today’s image is of Vanilla roscheri, and was taken by Ton Rulkens (tonrulkens@Flickr) “in the wild on the north Mozambique coast (Mecufi District)”. The illustration of Vanilla planifolia is from Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen.
Vanilla roscheri is a rare orchid found in eastern and southeastern Africa. Due to deficient data, the conservation status of the species globally is unknown, but in South Africa it is considered endangered due to urban expansion, habitat degradation, invasive species and agriculture. Commonly known as Roscher’s vanilla, Vanilla roscheri is found in open bushlands, scrub, mangroves and open evergreen scrub to an elevation of about 1050m (3450 ft.). Sweetly fragrant, the flowers of the plants bloom in the (tropical and subtropical) winter. Plants are succulent vining climbers.
Medicinal information for “vanilla” almost always refers to the extract of vanillin from the commercial Vanilla planifolia, originally of Mesoamerica and northern South America. Vanilla roscheri also seems to contain the compound, as use of the species has been documented in traditional medicines of African indigenous peoples. An excellent article on the origin and use of vanilla is available from UCLA’s Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library’s Medicinal Spices Exhibit, where the following from Robert Bentley and Henry Trimen’s Medicinal Plants; being descriptions with original figures of the principal plants employed in medicine and an account of the characters, properties, and uses of their parts and products of medicinal value (London, Churchill, 1880) is quoted: “Vanilla is an aromatic stimulant, with a tendency towards the nervous system. It has also been regarded as an aphrodisiac. It has been employed as a remedy in hysteria, low fevers, impotency, etc. But its use as a medicine is obsolete in this country, although still sometimes employed on the Continent and elsewhere.”