Asphodeline lutea

The Virtues

For a plant originally grown in a physic garden, Asphodeline lutea seems remarkably useless as a medicine. It may have been grown in the Oxford Botanic Garden because of its curiosity value, however: as the species was introduced to the British Isles from the Eastern Mediterranean it would not have been well-recognised in 1648. Certainly, this explanation is more plausible than justifying its cultivation by way of its healing properties. Neither the herbalist John Gerard nor the apothecary John Parkinson – both of whom had considerable knowledge about medicinal plants – could think of any use for it, Parkinson saying it was “not... used in Physicke for any purpose” and Gerard that “it is not yet found out what use there is of any of them in nourishment or medicines”. Intriguingly, however, Parkinson cites a report from a Dr. Anthony Salver of Exeter who had asked the local people about its uses and had found “no... propertie appropriate unto it but knavery”. Quite what this alleged ‘knavery’ was, though, we will never know – Parkinson declined to go into any further details.

Asphodeline luteus illustration in Gerard's Herbal

The Names: Alternative endings

Asphodeline lutea is listed in the Botanic Garden’s 1648 catalogue as ‘Asphodelus luteus minor’, and as ‘Asphodelus luteus’ in the edition of 1658. The latter name is found on several dried specimens and would have been quite commonly used, so was adopted by Linnaeus as the species’ binomial in his landmark book Species Plantarum, published in 1753. The name later had its endings tweaked, and the accepted scientific name has become Asphodeline lutea.

Asphodeline luteus herbarium specimen