Sunday, 17 January 2010

The Snowdrop: A cure for disease?






The Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) is the archetypal stalwart of the Winter/Spring Garden.  A small and delicate looking plant, with its fine foliage and nodding snow white heads tipped with green, which is truly deceptive in terms of its hardiness and sheer resilience against the elements.  This plant is always one of the first to emerge in my garden; a true sign that things are set to change.  I love the way that, unlike many other plants, a thick layer of snow does nothing to damage emerging shoots and flowers of the Snowdrop and as soon as snow has thawed the Snowdrop remains completely unaffected.  Totally unaware of the chaos and hardship the snow created.
Snowdrops are best planted in the green.  This means planting them after flowering when only the leaves are visible.  I have always read that this is the preferred technique, however, I planted mine as bulbs and they've taken off quite nicely.  I tend to prefer to plant these in drifts and let them to naturalise. The outcome of this is a blanket of white that can brighten up the darkest of gardens.




What you may not know about the Snowdrop is that it contains many compounds that may prove useful to science and medicine.  In a recent study a team of researchers from the Univeristy of Barcelona discovered that Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis and Galanthus elwesii, contain seventeen bioactive compounds including three alkaloids that are brand new to science.  The new discoveries may prove useful in treating Malaria and Alzheimer's.  You can read the full news report here.



The delicate Snowdrop appears to be not only beautiful but also potentially important in creating breakthroughs in the treatment of hard to treat medical conditions and a whole raft of other things.  After all, the most inconspicuous of new discoveries can produce groundbreaking outcomes.

13 comments:

  1. I have always been a huge fan of snowdrops. I think it is because I am starved for something growing as winter is so long in Canada. I seem to be alone in my desire here, they do not seem to be popular. There is no open gardens for snowdrop viewings, very few varities are listed in the bulb catalogues.
    Good news about them being helpful in medicine, beautiful as well as useful.

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  2. Snowdrops are, maybe even more importantly, also a cure for the dreaded O_MY_GOD_WILL_WINTER_NEVER_END-itis. This is something we suffer from greatly up here in the wilds of Canada, as Deb noted in her comment.

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  3. That is fantastic! Not only one my favorite little bulbs but they may help save people!

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  4. Ryan, you may be interested to know that as long ago as the mid eighties and onwards, galantamine underwent a series of clinical tests as a possible treatment for vascular dementia, and Alzheimer’s. The same chemical I understand is also found in daffodils. The history of the use of plants in medicine and the thought of what still might be discovered is a fascinating subject. Snowdrops are possibly my favourite flower - so much hope in their appearance at the start of the new gardening year. There is also now much debate about the optimum time to plant them. Many of the specialist snowdrops sellers actually prefer to sell when the bulb is dormant. The most important factor is that the bulbs do not dry out :)

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  5. Hi Ryan, I love your new header photo, it looks good. This post has me feeling very guilty as I actually dug up and composted loads of snowdrops last year as they were taking over a corner of my garden. Had I have been a member of free-cycle then I would have given them away, I am a member now and I know it's great to get freebie plants.

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  6. Hi Ryan, thanks for sharing this information. I love flowering bulbs. I just purchased six Japanese Iris bulbs today. I am going out into the rain and cold the plant them. Very excited. It has been years since I have been able to have them. I hope that scientists can actively and aggressively use Galanthus Nivalis to treat those awful, debilitating diseases.

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  7. Hi Ryan, I love snowdrops and many other flowers that start to poke up their heads when spring starts to arrive. However, when ever I have planted bulbs, they are always a bit of a failure. Is there a certain type of soil that they prefer?

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  8. Hi Ryan I love this post snodrops are such a favourite of mine and every year I promise I am going to plant more and then never do.

    I remember reading the research about use of Snowdrops for treating Alzheimer's and Malaria pity about patents though patents and money do so hold back progress with medicine GREED.

    I like to follow some of these sort of developments because Lyme Disease seems to have connections with many illnesses, one co infection is Babesia a Malaria type organism and DNA for Borrelia(Lyme Disease ) has been found in Alzheimer's brains but with all the politics going on science gets badly skewed for financial gain.

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  9. It would be great if these super little plants held the clue to treatment for malaria and alzheimer's. They're such a welcome addition to any garden.

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  10. Thanks for the great comments. As with most medications the research has to start somewhere and initial research looks positive. All I know is that the feeling from seeing a snowdrop in the garden after a hard Winter really does inspire me to put plans in to action for the year ahead.

    Natalie B: Generally snowdrops aren't all that fussy about soil types. I would suggest growing them in part shade, under shrubs or other trees. It's important not to plant them in locations that are likely to dry out.

    Ryan

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  11. Here in Toronto ( the balmy close to the lake part) there is no snow and Snowdrops are up and poised to bloom, weather permitting. Of course this only a temporary thaw and there will be lots more snow, but its good to know that the snowdrops are ready and waiting.
    Deborah and other canadians, let's get in touch and organize a snowdrop viewing.

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  12. Hi Ryan - Anna's right, the research dates back further and very close to your home! Cardiff Uni had a show garden at the RHS show 2 years ago containing plants which had a meaning for the university. Daffodils were proudly on display to represent the Uni's Alzheimer's research with both daffodils and snowdrops.

    And here's that very show garden if you're interested :)

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  13. Hiya VP!

    I remember that garden and I'm sure I have referred to it somewhere. The beauty of this recent article is that three new alkaloids have been identified thus creating a whole new set of opportunities. Prompting new research and much excitement.

    Plants are truly amazing!

    Ryan

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