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The Carletonian

Arb Notes: Saved by the Bellwort

Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora) is a native wildflower of Minnesota, with large, yellow, conical, pendant flowers. It gets its common and scientific names from the shape of its flowers, which resemble bells (if you have ever seen a bell before) or uvulas (if you have an overactive imagination or an obsession with uvulas).

Bellwort has many medicinal uses, and was frequently used by the Ojibwe, Forest Potawatomi, and pioneers for a range of different ailments. It was a key ingredient in treatments for snakebites and was also used to reduce swellings and alleviate skin inflammation. You might worry that bellwort would get a metaphorical sore back from figuratively carrying the pre-modern medical industry, but that wasn’t a problem since it was used as a cure for backaches too—as well as to generally alleviate soreness in the muscles and tendons.

Some Europeans followed a medical philosophy called the Doctrine of Signatures, which assumed a plant’s shape to indicate its use. Thinking that the bellwort flower looked like a uvula, they attempted to utilize it as a cure for sore throats and other throat diseases. Shockingly, this was unsuccessful—probably since it doesn’t actually look like a uvula. In my expert medical opinion, they should have tried to use it to fix the liberty bell or something, since that is what it clearly much more closely resembles. The roots, leaves, and uppers stems can be cooked and eaten for a little bit of nourishment if you are in a real jam, but don’t expect it to cure your sore throat unless you mix it with some herbal tea with honey and acetaminophen. Note, though, that we like the bellwort that we have in the Arb, so please don’t eat it—it probably doesn’t taste that great anyway.

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