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Plant of the week: Poisonous plant used to treat skin disease

Plant

Name: Glory Lily (Gloriosa superba)

Otherwise known as: Kanada, Flame Lily

Habitat: A tuberous climbing member of the Liliaceae family growing up to 5m in sandy soil at forest fringes in Africa and Asia. The plant has spade-shaped leaves that have hooked terminals to help the plant climb. Brilliant, wavy-edged crimson and yellow flowers measure 10cm across. The tubers are extremely poisonous.

What does it do: At one time the Glory Lily was best known as a method of committing suicide in Asian countries. The plant contains the alkaloids colchicine and gloriosine which are responsible for the highly toxic content in the roots. However, the leaves, flowers and stems that also contain a reduced form of the poison have been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries to treat a variety of ailments.

In Thailand the hooked leaves are split and the exuding sap is painted on to many forms of skin disease such as acne, erysipelas, herpes, and syphilis. Tinctures of Glory Lily are used by village medicine practitioners to treat arthritis, leprosy, intestinal worms, bruising, infertility, and impotence. It has mild analgesic properties and the tincture is rubbed into the gums before tooth extraction.

In Malaya midwives apply the sap to the abdomen of mothers who are late in delivery; Glory Lily will also induce abortion. The hill tribes of India dry and crush the tubers and apply the powder to snake bite and scorpion stings and make poultices to adorn the heads of those that are folically challenged.

In Australia the plant was introduced to prevent dunes spreading but it was so invasive that it is now a proscribed weed. In the Asian countries wild Glory Lilies are being harvested at such a rate that they are now an endangered species.

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