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An Herbal Tour Of The World In 9 Tasty, Useful Plants

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Plants are hardly just the green backdrop to our animal antics. They’ve evolved an impressive array of chemical defenses, lures, and snares… some of which we’ve gladly appropriated for our own designs, ranging from medicine to accenting cocktails.

Shoots & Roots is a New York-based outfit started by a group of botanists who create biodiverse bitters. They’ll be bringing their magic to the World Science Festival Gala on Monday, and were nice enough to highlight some of the neatest plants in their arsenal:

Naga jolokia
Image credit: Asit K. Ghosh via Wikimedia Commons

Naga jolokia “ghost” pepper (Capsicum chinense x Capsicum fructescens)

Origin: South and Central America

Taste: Very spicy

Fun facts: This particular hybrid was once called the hottest chili pepper in the world (that crown has since usurped by the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion and the Carolina Reaper). But the ghost pepper still packs a huge punch, with a hotness rating ranging from 855,000 to 1,041,427 Scoville units (meaning that even if you diluted an extract of the pepper in sugar and water around a million times, you’d still feel the heat).

Chili peppers have long played a role in Native American medicinal practices as a way to stimulate blood circulation and as a topical pain reliever.

Devil's hand
Image credit: Stan Shebs via Wikimedia Commons

Devil’s Hand (Chiranthodendron pentadactylon)

Origin: Guatemala, Mexico

Taste: Earthy

Fun facts: This tree has significant religious significance for Aztec peoples, who have harvested the striking, claw-like flowers for ages. Devil’s Hand is sometimes used in traditional medicine to treat heart conditions.

Pilocarpus jaborandi
Image credit: tubmoobtojsiab via Flickr Creative Commons

Jaborandi (Pilocarpus jaborandi)

Origin: South and Central America, West Indies

Taste: Bitter

Fun facts: One of the side effects of jaborandi is increased saliva production. Shoots & Roots partner Ashley Duval, who moonlights as a trumpet player, once offered jaborandi extract to fellow horn players during a show at the Brooklyn Bowl to help them combat dry mouth.

Osha root
Image credit: JerryFriedman via Wikimedia Commons

Osha root (Ligusticum porteri)

Origin: North America

Taste: Spicy celery

Fun facts: There are reports that bears will dig up osha root and rub it on their skins to help relieve stomachaches and other pains. But be careful before you start harvesting it yourself – osha root bears a strong resemblance to poisonous hemlock.

Maca
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Maca root (Lepidium meyenii)

Origin: Andes mountains of Peru

Taste: Malty

Fun facts: Dried maca roots are super-nutritious, rich in magnesium, calcium, and potassium. Inca warriors supposedly ingested maca root before battle to enhance their strength.

White mulberry
Image credit: B. Navez via Wikimedia Commons

White Mulberry (Morus alba)

Origin: China

Taste: Sweet

Fun facts: Mulberries contain a compound called Albanol A that is being investigated as a possible treatment for leukemia.

Luo han guo / Monk fruit
Image credit: KasugaHuang via Wikimedia Commons

Luo han guo, Monk fruit (Siraita grosvenorii)

Origin: China, Thailand

Taste: Very sweet

Fun facts: The fruit of this plant is 300 times sweeter than sugar, making it a prime candidate for artificial sweeteners. Certain compounds in monkfruit have also been found to inhibit cancer cell growth.

Goji berries
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Goji (Lycium chinense)

Origin: China

Taste: Sour with a hint of sweet

Fun facts: Goji berries are rich in antioxidants. But before you wolf them down, be careful – they can interact poorly with certain medications, particularly the blood thinner warfarin.

Vetiver
Image credit: treesftf via Wikimedia Commons

Vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanioides)

Origin: India

Taste: Woodsy

Fun Facts: The aromatic grass is sought out for its aromas – over 90 percent of Western perfumes contain some extract of vetiver. Vetiver extract has also been shown to have anticonvulsant effects in mice.

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