Saturday, May 23, 2009

glycosides in my garden

Memorial Day always has felt like an odd holiday for me. Growing up the only real memorial thing that would happen is that my mom and dad would each take their mothers to the cemetery to put flowers on the headstones of their spouses. There wasn't much for direct links to the military, it seems. But Memorial Day was always a day to work on some project outdoors. As an adult I still find myself planning for and doing work around the house during the holiday weekend.

So today I went to the nursery and bought some plants and tree bark for my yard.

I knew I wanted to get some digitalis, because there was some growing here when I moved in and I find it gorgeous in a showy kind of way. But I also love it that digitialis is the source of commonly prescribed cardiac glycoside digoxin. I didn't realize until I did a little web searching today that the plant actually is not just a little poisonous--it contains enough of the glycoside to really mess you up bad even if small amounts are ingested.

I also picked up some kinnickkinnick, which is Arctostaphylos. I bought it because it will look good and do well where it needed to go, but it turns out to be darned interesting, too. Turns out it is a relative of the familiar manzanita, and like digitalis, it contains a glycoside compound that is biologically active. In this case the glycoside is named arbutin. It inhibits the formation of melanin and has been used in herbal treatments for urinary tract problems. But these extracts have been the subject of some concern since they may be carcinogenic.