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An Examination of Nature’s Botanical Signatures
« on: September 24, 2023, 05:44:28 PM »
A documentation of a botanical essay is released for public perusal.

An Examination of Nature’s Botanical Signatures
And their relation to curing the sick and mending the lame in medical study
by Rosalie Épineux

In the current scope of botanical medicine, many practitioners will often look only to their almanacks and guides. They lack the want or need to consider further; to delve deeper into the origins of their knowledge. How was it that the botanists of old concluded that, say, euphrasia eyebright would find its purpose in the assistance of infections of the eye?

Examining the ‘why’ behind these early observations is at the heart of scientific inquiry, as it is through this exploration that we gain insights into the very foundation of our knowledge. The recurrence of older botanical discussions and theories ought only to benefit both the medicinal and naturalistic professions as a whole, as one could easily posture this knowledge as having the capacity to assist with the tertiary explanation of the medical or botanical properties of newly discovered flora, such as those recently located on the shores of Markovia, as noted in a recent academic article by Doctoresse Medb Neasa[1], issued to the public in the esteemed Dame Geneviève Chaboteaux’s gazette; La Marguerite Desineée.

A concept rooted deeply in natural philosophy, the theorem of the Doctrine of Signatures posits that the external appearances of various flora such as plants, fruits, and herbs is indicative of their innate medicinal properties and uses. At times, this may specifically relate to the potential they hold in healing specific ailments. In layman’s terms, the physical attributes of a herb or plant may be termed as a ‘signature’ left by nature or - in some versions of the theory - by a higher power. A sign from the natural world of which reveals the intended use for the herb in relation to healing or alleviating issues with one’s health.

The four key principles of which the doctrine functions consist of resemblance, colour and taste, habitat and growth patterns, and symbolic associations.

Figure 1. Pulmonaria Leaves
Figure 2. Woundwart
Figure 3. Belladonna

     1. Resemblance
Among the four principles that outline the Doctrine of Signatures and its hypothesis, the most straightforward is the concept of resemblance. Resemblance, according to the theorem, is the assertion that a herb or plant’s physical appearance bears a striking similarity to a particular section of the body, or to a specific organ. It is supposed that such a visual likeness serves as an imperative indication that the plant indeed possesses therapeutic properties that align well with the function or well-being of the anatomy it resembles.

Consider, for instance, the flowering plant pulmonaria officinalis; more colloquially known as lungwort or the Lamordian lungenkraut. The flora’s name itself hints at the unmistakable resemblance between the plant’s speckled leaves and the structure of the body’s lung when diseased (see: Figure 1), suggesting that lungwort might be particularly useful in the treatment of respiratory conditions. Interestingly so, the flora is well-used by current-day apothecaries and physicians to treat varying ailments of the lung from coughs, colds and catarrh to far more serious respiratory issues, notably those stemming from being taken with consumption. In relation to the practice of modern humoralism, lungwort is a known expectorant used to encourage the body to adjust or purge an excess of the Phlegmatic humor.

     2. Colour and Taste
The secondary principle within the doctrine revolves around the more intrinsic, sensory qualities of specific flora, particularly in relation to their colour and their taste. Similarly to the prior principle of resemblance, these attributes are believed to correspond to a distinct ailment of which they are able to address and heal effectively.

Take the vibrant red hue of the common woundwart. In the context of such a principle, the red coloration of the flora is seen as more than a simple aesthetic characteristic; it is considered a direct clue, a signature, from nature (see: Figure 2). Therefore, in correlation with the principle of colour, woundwart would be posited to address and regulate issues of the blood as well as those of the Sanguine humor. Similarly, a bitter-tasting herb such as the leaves of the succulent aloe vera is deemed suitable for addressing digestive ailments. The bitter taste is thought to be capable of soothing, cooling and balancing the digestive system, counteracting the embers of yellow bile.

It is intriguing to note how this principle in specific resonates with the theory of the eight tastes, in relation to the commonly practised humoralism, also known as the theory of the four humors. In this context, the bitterness is associated with the Choleric humor and its regulation of yellow bile. Characterised by the qualities cold and dry, bitter substances are well known to have the capacity to subdue and quell the innate heat of an aggravated Choleric humor.

     3. Habitat and Growth Pattern
Correspondingly, when studying current humoral theory we discuss the qualities of the environment in which an individual resides and the impact of these various qualities on the health of their body and the balance of their humors, a concept termed as ambient air. This resonates strongly with the third principle of the doctrine’s hypothesis, where it is said that the territory where a plant or herb thrives is viewed as an indicator of its potential uses in botany and herbalism. Flora growing in specific conditions such as wetlands or arid regions are thought to align intrinsically with the properties and qualities perceived in these environments.

The example of the commonly utilised herb allium sativum, also known as garlic, serves as an illustration of how the theory aligns with the qualities assigned to plants by both physicians and pharmacists. Garlic has long been recognized for its therapeutic properties, and its qualities align particularly well with those of its preferred environment; both being hot and dry, which may be used to treat a wide assembly of ailments.

Noting these qualities opens up an extensive catalogue of medicinal potential, ensuring the herb may be easily employed by those knowledgeable in the usage of these attributes and their correlating ailments.

     4. Symbolic Associations
The most spiritualistic of the principles, we fall to that of symbolic associations - both religious and mythological. In this context, plants are not merely viewed as simple flora, but also as carriers of symbolic significance. They have thus been associated with religious or mythological stories, figures, or rituals, and these associations have drastically influenced their usage in medical practices, often playing a large role in determining the use of the plant in question.

A notable example is that of atropa belladonna, a herbaceous plant employed heavily in Ezrite iconography as an association of the goddess Erza, symbolising her role as a healer (see: Figure 3). In this case, the symbolic principle of the Doctrine of Signatures may suggest that belladonna possesses similar properties aligned with concepts of health and healing. Accordingly, a physician or apothecary who adheres to this concept may consider belladonna as a treatment for a variety of conditions such as bronchospasms or a spastic bowel.

To conclude, as botanical scientists and physicians, we find ourselves at a crossroad where older theories tend to unknowingly intersect with that which we consider modern. Through the study of these ideas, most significantly the Doctrine of Signatures, we may be provided with a lens through which to explore further the intricate relationship between medicine and plantlife, gaining further knowledge of which shall undoubtedly cultivate the very future of medical study.

As we continue to explore the frontiers of medicine and botany, may we draw inspiration from the wisdom contained in the assumptions and hypotheses of those who practised before us, and in doing so deepen our appreciation for the boundless potential of botanical-medical science in its ability to soothe, heal, and alleviate that which ails.

1. Neasa, M. (777). Encyclopaedia Botanica: On Markovian Flora, or, A catalogue of the three plants newly discovered during expeditions to Markovia's jungles, presented by the Society of the Erudite for the year 777, persuant to the direction of Dame Geneviève Chaboteaux, Assistant Curator of the Musee du Port-a-Lucine, by Dr. Medb Neasa.
2. Drukker, W. (766). Humoral Imbalance and its Long-Term Effects
3. Drukker, W. (766). Humoral Study, notes, theories

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