The species name, Circaea lutetiana, is a recent reclassification from the older name Circaea quadrisulcata, which has resulted in 2 sub-species (or some botanists refer to them as two varieties of C. lutetiana) being adopted. Scientific names for plants are typically based on one (or more) of that particular plant’s parts. Neither of the scientific names for this plant refer to any of its parts, which may help explain the dichotomy of camps of professional plant taxonists and botanists each choosing a different means of how to classify this plant. The genus name Circaea, is named after Circe, the powerful sorceress in Greek mythology who has abundant knowledge of herbs and magic. The species, lutetiana, is derived from the old Latin name for the city of Paris – Lutetia – which supposedly was known at one time as the ‘Witch City,’ possibly a reference to L’affaire des Poisons during the reign of Louis XIV. So, both names refer to enchantment or more darkly, bewitchment, but nothing about the plant seems to cause any such ‘enchanting’ effects. Therein is the mistake, says John Gerard:
“There is no use of the herbe either in Phisicke or chirugerie that I can read of, which hath hapned by the corruption of time, and the errour of some who have taken Mandragoras [Mandrake – Mandragora L., which plant can produce hallucinogenic, and hypnotic effects.] for Circea, in which errour they have still persisted unto this daie, attributing unto Circea the vertues of Mandragoras; by which meanes there hath not any thing beene saide of the true Circea.” – FROM The Herbal, 1597, page 280, by John Norton, London.
This perennial plant grows up to 2 feet tall usually as an unbranched stem. The stem frequently has white hairs especially in the upper part, although it may become hairless with age. The opposite leaves are up to 5″ long and 3″ across; they are oval with teeth along their margins.
The central stem terminates in a cluster (called a raceme) of flowers up to 6″ long. The raceme elongates as flowers open from the bottom of the spike to the top. The small flowers are sparsely, but evenly, distributed along a stalk with slender outward spreading branches (called pedicels) up to ½” long. Each flower consists of 2 notched white petals. Each flower is short-lived and replaced by a small bur-like fruit, which readily attach themselves to animal fur or human clothing for seed dispersion. When a plant’s seed pods have evolved for dispersion by such means, the process is called epizoochory.
The meanings associated with the flowers of this species are sorcery and witchcraft.
Culinary and Medicinal Uses:
There are no known culinary uses of this modest plant.
Traditional medicinal use of this plant is predominantly as an anti-inflammatory agent for the external treatment of skin conditions and wounds.
Where Found Locally:
- 100 Acre Wood
- Anchor Diamond Park at Hawkwood
- Ann Lee Pond Nature and Historic Preserve
- Ashford Glen Preserve
- Ballston Creek Preserve
- Balsam Way Natural Area
- Bauer Environmental Park
- Community Connector Trail
- Dwaas Kill Nature Preserve
- Fox Preserve
- Garnsey Park
- Hayes Nature Park
- Historic Champlain Canalway Trail
- Mohawk Landing Nature Preserve
- North Woods Nature Preserve
- Old Iron Spring Fitness Trail
- Settlers Hill Natural Area
- Shenantaha Creek Park
- Stillwater Multi-Use Trail
- Summer Hill Natural Area
- Town Park Nature Trail
- Ushers Road State Forest
- Veterans Bike Path
- Veterans Memorial Park
- Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve
- Woodcock Preserve
- Zim Smith Trail