News / Arts & Entertainment

Beauty & Function: Orchids Have Medicinal, Food Uses

Not Just for Show, Orchids Have Medicinal, Food Purposes Tooi
X
February 28, 2014 4:38 PM
A new exhibit at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington features a vibrant collection of orchids from all over the world. Orchid experts at the Garden spoke with VOA reporter Julie Taboh about these elegant flowers - not just their ornamental value, but their importance in medicine and cooking.

Not Just for Show, Orchids Have Medicinal, Food Purposes Too

A new exhibit at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington features a vibrant collection of orchids from all over the world. This elegant flower is not solely ornamental, its uses also extend to medicine and cooking.

Sensory celebration

To walk into the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington is to encounter a feast for the senses.

Johann Strauss’s classic Blue Danube waltz fills the air as does the sweet aroma of hundreds of fragrant orchids. This sensory orchestra is part of a new exhibit fittingly called "Orchid Symphony," an annual collaboration with Smithsonian Gardens.

The garden chose Orchid Symphony as a theme so it could display a wide variety of orchids, while the symphony “suggested a feeling of elegance and grandeur that we thought was fitting with orchids and also the architecture of our conservatory,” said Nick Nelson, the landscape architect at the U.S. Botanic Garden. “We have fountains that we have computer programmed and synchronized with classical music [and] a lovely elegant orchid chandelier in the center of the garden."
The most famous edible orchid is the vanilla, a vine-form orchid native to Central and South America. (J. Taboh/VOA)The most famous edible orchid is the vanilla, a vine-form orchid native to Central and South America. (J. Taboh/VOA)
x
The most famous edible orchid is the vanilla, a vine-form orchid native to Central and South America. (J. Taboh/VOA)
The most famous edible orchid is the vanilla, a vine-form orchid native to Central and South America. (J. Taboh/VOA)

In keeping with the musical theme, there are also topiaries in the shape of a violin, a cello and other musical instruments “to add a bit of whimsy to the garden,” he said.

Nelson added that while the garden has a permanent orchid room within the conservatory, this time of year they have thousands of orchids coming into bloom, which provides a great opportunity to get the message of orchids across to the public.   

Orchid varieties

Orchids are found in almost every eco-system in the world.

Jungle orchids thrive in various tropical climates and there are desert orchids blooming in arid environments,  according to the garden's deputy executive director Ari Novy.

“The orchids that you’re likely to find growing either in a greenhouse such as this, or that you can buy at a garden center, are probably what we call epiphytic or tropical orchids, meaning they are orchids that in nature are found growing on other plants, especially forest trees,” he said. "But there are many other kinds of orchids as well.”  

He pointed to a flower that he identified as a Mexipedium orchid.

“It’s an orchid found in Mexico, that loves growing on rocks,” he said. “It’s therefore called a lithophyte, meaning a plant that grows on rocks.”

Just like a cactus or any other desert-adapted plant, this orchid can store moisture so that it can handle the long periods of drought in the arid environment.

Medicinal and dessert orchids

Novy also pointed to a batch of lovely purple flowers with elongated green leaves called Bletilla Striata, or the Chinese Ground Orchid.
The Bletilla Striata or the Chinese Ground Orchid, is used in Chinese medicine to stop excessive bleeding. (J. Taboh/VOA)The Bletilla Striata or the Chinese Ground Orchid, is used in Chinese medicine to stop excessive bleeding. (J. Taboh/VOA)
x
The Bletilla Striata or the Chinese Ground Orchid, is used in Chinese medicine to stop excessive bleeding. (J. Taboh/VOA)
The Bletilla Striata or the Chinese Ground Orchid, is used in Chinese medicine to stop excessive bleeding. (J. Taboh/VOA)

“Not only is it sold because it’s so beautiful,” he said, “but it’s also used in traditional Chinese medicine where it’s ground up into a powder and used to stop excessive bleeding.”
 
In addition to using orchids for medicinal purposes, many cultures eat them in food products, often unknowingly.

The most famous edible orchid is the vanilla, said Novy.  “Vanilla is a vine-form orchid that’s native to Central and South America, although vanilla production today is most famous in Madagascar.”

Madagascar is the largest producer of vanilla beans, but since the island lacks the plant's pollinating bee species, the flowers must be hand-pollinated.

First Lady orchids

Orchids, as with roses, are often created to honor someone famous. A large painting of a Cattleya ‘Michelle Obama’ orchid, by orchid artist Patricia Laspino, is on display in the entry foyer of the Garden. It is the latest in a line of First Lady orchids that began in 1929 with the pink bloom named for Lou Henry Hoover, wife of Herbert Hoover.

Ari Novy says, as a plant scientist, orchids occupy a very special place in his heart. “Orchids are absolutely gorgeous. They capture our imaginations. They showcase all of the colors of the rainbow in a way that’s just wonderful for us to see.”

“And so at the end of the day," he said, "what we’re trying to do here at the United States Botanic Garden is we’re trying to educate. But we know that we can educate best if we first put a smile on your face.”

You May Like

Photogallery Pistorius Sentenced, Taken to Prison

Pistorius, convicted of culpable homicide in shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, will likely serve about 10 months of five-year sentence, before completing it under house arrest More

UN to Aid Central Africa in Polio Vaccinations

Synchronized vaccinations will be conducted after Cameroon reports a fifth case of the wild polio virus in its territory More

WHO: Ebola Vaccine May Be in Use by Jan.

WHO assistant director Dr. Marie Paule Kieny says clinical trials of Ebola vaccines are underway or planned in Europe, US and Africa More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings

Joe Taylor sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to talk about his distinction as New York’s “Subway Idol,” and how he beat out thousands for that title. Joe performs several songs from his new CD, “Anything’s Possible.”