Herb: Early Spider Orchid


Latin name: Ophrys sphegodes


Synonyms: Ophrys aranifera


Family: Orchidaceae (Orchid Family)



Medicinal use of Early Spider Orchid:

Salep (see above for more details) is very nutritive and demulcent. It has been used as a diet of special value for children and convalescents, being boiled with water, flavoured and prepared in the same way as arrowroot. Rich in mucilage, it forms a soothing and demulcent jelly that is used in the treatment of irritations of the gastro-intestinal canal. One part of salep to fifty parts of water is sufficient to make a jelly. The tuber, from which salep is prepared, should be harvested as the plant dies down after flowering and setting seed.

Description of the plant:



Plant:
Perennial


Height:
45 cm
(1 foot)

Flovering:
April
to May


Scent:
Scented
Perennial

Habitat of the herb:

Grassy slopes, banks and field borders on chalk or limestone.

Edible parts of Early Spider Orchid:

Root - cooked. It is a source of "salep", a fine white to yellowish-white powder that is obtained by drying the tuber and grinding it into a powder. Salep is said to be very nutritious and is made into a drink or added to other cereals and used in bread etc. One ounce of salep is said to be enough to sustain a person for a day. The salep can also be made into a drink.

Propagation of the herb:

Seed - surface sow, preferably as soon as it is ripe, in the greenhouse and do not allow the compost to dry out. The seed of this species is extremely simple, it has a minute embryo surrounded by a single layer of protective cells. It contains very little food reserves and depends upon a symbiotic relationship with a species of soil-dwelling fungus. The fungal hyphae invade the seed and enter the cells of the embryo. The orchid soon begins to digest the fungal tissue and this acts as a food supply for the plant until it is able to obtain nutrients from decaying material in the soil. It is best to use some of the soil that is growing around established plants in order to introduce the fungus, or to sow the seed around a plant of the same species and allow the seedlings to grow on until they are large enough to move. This species only rarely forms new offsets and so division is seldom feasible, the following methods can be tried, however. Division of the tubers as the flowers fade. This species produces a new tuber towards the end of its growing season. If this is removed from the plant as its flowers are fading, the shock to the plant can stimulate new tubers to be formed. The tuber should be treated as being dormant, whilst the remaining plant should be encouraged to continue in growth in order to give it time to produce new tubers. Division can also be carried out when the plant has a fully developed rosette of leaves but before it comes into flower. The entire new growth is removed from the old tuber from which it has arisen and is potted up, the cut being made towards the bottom of the stem but leaving one or two roots still attached to the old tuber. This can often be done without digging up the plant. The old tuber should develop one or two new growths, whilst the new rosette should continue in growth and flower normally.

Cultivation of Early Spider Orchid:

Grassy slopes, banks and field borders on chalk or limestone.

Known hazards of Ophrys sphegodes:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.