Herb: Butterfly Orchid


Latin name: Platanthera bifolia


Synonyms: Habenaria bifolia, Orchis bifolia, Orchis montana


Family: Orchidaceae (Orchid Family)



Medicinal use of Butterfly 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:
50 cm
(1 foot)

Flovering:
May to
July


Scent:
Scented
Perennial

Habitat of the herb:

Grassy hills and open woods on base-rich and especially on calcareous soils.

Edible parts of Butterfly Orchid:

Tuber - 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 a starch-like substance with a sweetish taste and a faint somewhat unpleasant smell. It is said to be very nutritious and is made into a drink or can be added to cereals and used in making bread etc. One ounce of salep is said to be enough to sustain a person for a day.

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. Division in autumn. Make sure that you keep plenty of soil with each plant. It is also said to be possible to transplant orchids after they have flowered but whilst they are still in leaf.

Cultivation of Butterfly Orchid:

Grassy hills and open woods on base-rich and especially on calcareous soils.

Known hazards of Platanthera bifolia:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.