Autumn crocus and gout

It looks like an overgrown crocus, its name is ‘Colchicum autumnale’ or ‘deer crocus’. Colloquially one speaks of ‘naked Beguine’ or ‘naked lady’. The German herbalist Bock mentions “Some call these flowers naked whores, because they appear without clothes or leaves.” In Thuringia they are a little more romantic and call it Spijnblume, when the autumn season begins to bloom, it used to be the time to take out the spinning wheels for the long winter evenings.
The Latin name Colchicum indicates the country of origin: Colchis, a region in Georgia, located near the Black Sea where the plant is said to have originally come from. It was the place where, according to Greek mythology, the sorceress Medea lived and, according to legend, the plant was created from the drops of the drink that Medea prepared. According to legend, the Golden Fleece is also hidden there. The Golden Fleece is said to be the fleece of a golden lamb, symbol of both innocence and the sun, which Zeus had hung on the tree of life in Colchis.
The active ingredients of the plant are contained in the fleshy bulb and in the seed, which has been used as a poison for centuries. The seeds were finely ground and mixed into alcoholic drinks. Dioscorides already warned about the poisonous properties. The active substance is colchicine, an alkaloid that has an inhibitory effect on the inflammation of gout.

Some botanical data about Colchicum

The Colchicum family consists of about 30 species of hardy bulbous flowering plants, most of which occur in Europe, Asia, North Africa, Iran, India and the Himalayas. One of these species, the autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale) is also called autumn crocus, which already indicates that this bulbous plant is very similar to the crocus. Another Latin name for this plant was Colchicum crociflorum. The autumn crocus produces lilac-like flowers and can be distinguished from the crocus by the six stamens (the crocus has only three) and the three thread-like styles and the fact that the autumn crocus has no green leaves during flowering, the lilac-red flowers shoot straight up from the top. The leaves and capsule with seeds do not appear until the following spring. This remarkable growth cycle, which does not seem to be affected by the seasons, gave the plant the name ‘timeless’, corrupted to ‘timeless’.
Autumn crocus is a protective native plant, it is lime-loving and is common locally, including in Limburg and in the south of Belgium. Especially in moist forests on nutrient-rich soil and in moist grasslands. Is easy to grow in the garden.

History: Colchicine and gout

Colchicine, the active substance, is best known as a remedy for gout pain and acute gout attacks. Aretaeus, a second-century Greek physician, writes: “There is no pain worse than this, not from iron pins, not from strangling cords, not from the wound of a dagger, nor from burning fire .” Over the centuries, gout has been described as a disease associated with a decadent lifestyle, middle-aged men and the use of alcohol (port). The excess of uric acid was said to be caused ¬≠by a lack of exercise. Famous gout sufferers were Alexander the Great, Kublai Khan, Michelangelo, Martin Luther, Isaac Newton, Henry VIII, William Harvey, Thomas Jefferson, members of the Medici family and Charles Darwin.
The principal symptom is an intense, burning pain in the joint of the big toe. The Latin name gutta (drop) for gout (English: gout) has its origins in the fact that it was believed that a drop of phlegm had been instilled into the big toe. Throughout its long history, gout has been the subject of numerous effective and less effective treatment methods. This includes rest and ­relaxation until the pain disappears, use of wine or an alcoholic elixir and warming the foot. In the last century, all kinds of chemical medicines were developed, such as probenecid, allopurinol, cortisone and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), including ibuprofen and indomethacin.
But the drug with the longest history against gout is colchicine. Two other remedies that have been produced against gout for two centuries come from the Asian scammonium (Convolvulus scammonia, the purgative bindweed) and white hellebore (Veratrum album).
The Ancient Greeks called the tubers Colchicine Hermodactyli and considered purging as the best and easiest method to get rid of the pain of gout. The autumn crocus tubers were also referred to as Hermes dates. Hermodactylus means the finger of Hermes, the boatmaster god, the name referred to the rapid action of autumn crocus. Dioscorides (68 AD) in his ‘De Materia Medica’ described the Kolchikon mainly as a poison and did not mention any medical use. It is not clear whether he meant Colchicum autumnale or Colchicum variegatum (variegated autumn crocus). Later writers such as Nikander and Theophrastus speak of ‘ephemerum’ or ‘ephemeron’ and not of colchicum when they talk about the poison tubers; but in the Medea saga it would certainly be Hermodactylus, autumn crocus.
Autumn crocus is now only used diluted in homeopathy, but it remains a special plant because of its great history.

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