A Survival Pharmacy in One Strange Plant

April 10, 2018

Finding yourself in a survival situation is bad enough. You might have to treat injuries sustained during whatever catastrophe got you there in the first place. Add to that an illness contracted from being exposed to the elements with added stress helping to lower your immune system and you could be facing a signed death warrant.

Or what if you are an essential part of a group trying to survive together and a member of your band suffering from a life-threatening asthma attack? Do you have the know how to keep your people on their feet?

Growing up I loved reading stories about epic quests to find rare and beautiful flowers growing on cliff faces. A flower rumored to have magical properties and collecting it would grant great power. A panacea, able to cure all manner of illness.

Don’t you love it when reality is even stranger then the fiction? Sometimes, the most amazing concepts a science fiction writer can come up with pales in comparison to how the real-world works. While it doesn’t exactly have magical powers, this unusual plant comes close.

The Drosera rotundifolia, or Sundew, as it is known to those of us without a botany degree, is native to North America, but grows in many other parts of the world as well. While there are many forms this family of plants take, the one this article is about is beautifully colored with red, green, and yellow paddle shaped leaves.

Protruding from these fleshy leaves are little appendages resembling soft tentacles, the tips of which glisten with a tiny drop of “dew”. Beautiful and strange to look at, this peculiar plant uses these leaves in a fascinating way. To catch food.

The Sundew is carnivorous, or more aptly, insectivorous (bug devouring). Insects are drawn to the sweet sticky fluid produced at the tips of the appendages. Once the insect is trapped in the glue, the leaves roll themselves around it and digestive enzymes are secreted to consume its prey.

The reasons plants develop carnivorous traits comes from where they live. All carnivorous plants grow in soils with inadequate nutrition, and most commonly it’s nitrogen which is in short supply. Plants capture and digest small prey to supplement the insufficient diet.

While this is interesting enough in itself, this remarkable plant has other properties which set it apart from almost all other plants in the forest. The Sundew had been used for many years by Natives in what they believed was aphrodisiacal. They brewed this plant in to love potions.

While this dubious claim has yet to be confirmed, research has concluded this plant is a veritable wilderness pharmacy and can be used to treat respiratory conditions such as chronic bronchitis, asthma, whooping cough, and incipient phthisis (tuberculosis). A tea is brewed from the leaves and used to relax the respiratory tract easing breathing, opening the airway, and reducing wheezing.

Not enough? The Sundew is also antibacterial, antibiotic, antispasmodic (reduces spasms), antitussive (cough reliever), demulcent (relieves inflammation), expectorant and hypoglycemic. If you drink this tea, don’t be surprised if your urine turns some weird colors. It’s harmless and no cause for panic.

External use, however involves the digestive enzymes which have been used to treat corns, bunions, and warts. The enzymes break down proteins, so if you’re ok with the idea that you are being digested, this could be an option for you. Also, boiling the leaves with milk will cause the milk to curdle. I’m not sure how this will help in a survival situation, but there you go.

The Sundew grows in moist soil which gets plenty of sunlight, but as amazing as this plant is, please don’t go out and dig them up if you find them in the wild. The Sundew, while not endangered yet, is threatened due to over collection.

Take only pictures and leave only foot prints, unless it’s a matter of life or death which of course, then I would recommend choosing life and using the Sundew.

If you are like me with a strange penchant for all things predatory and useful, there are plenty of places where you can purchase these incredible plants if you are so inclined. They aren’t even expensive, only running about $20 if you buy them online and shipped to your door.

Make sure to do your own research anytime you are pursuing anything as complicated and potentially dangerous as wild medicinal herbs and edibles.