- Botanical: Orchis militaris
- Family: Orchidaceae
- Hits: 445
Known asHelm-Knabenkraut, Salep. Saloop. Sahlep. Satyrion. Levant Salep.
This plant grows to a height of 20 to 50 cm with a robust stem with rather drawn up oblong basal leaves. The inflorescence forms a purplish dense cone consisting of from 10 to 40 flowers. In each flower the sepals and side petals are gathered together to form a pointed "helmet" (whence it gets its name), a lilac colour outside and a veined purple colour inside. The central tongue finishes in two lobes separated by a tooth.
Properties & Uses
Salep is very nutritive and demulcent, for which properties it has been used from time immemorial. It forms a diet of especial value to convalescents and children, being boiled with milk or water, flavoured and prepared in the same way as arrowroot. A decoction flavoured with sugar and spice, or wine, is an agreeable drink for invalids. Sassafras chips were sometimes added, or cloves, cinnamon and ginger. From the large quantity of farinaceous matter contained in a small bulk, it was considered so important an article of diet as to constitute a part of the stores of every ship's company in the days of sailing ships and long voyages, an ounce, dissolved in 2 quarts of boiling water, being considered sufficient subsistence for each man per day, should provisions run short. In this form it is employed in some parts of Europe and Asia as an article of diet. It is to the mucilage contained in the tuber that Salep owes its power of forming jelly, only 1 part of Salep to 50 parts of boiling water being needed for the purpose. To allay irritation of the gastro-intestinal canal, it is used in mucilage made by shaking 1 part of powdered Salep with 10 parts of cold water, until it is uniformly diffused, when 90 parts of boiling water are added and the whole well agitated. It has thus been recommended as an article of diet for infants and invalids suffering from chronic diarrhoea and bilious fevers. In the German Pharmacopoeia, a mucilage of Salep appears as an official preparation.
It is well distributed around Europe, reaching as far north as southern Sweden, but rather rare in the Mediterranean areas. It is extremely rare in Britain and a protected species, occurring only at the Rex Graham nature reserve in Suffolk and the Buckinghamshire Chilterns.
The constituents of Salep are subject to great variation, according to the season of collection. Raspail found the old tuber, collected in autumn, to be free from starch, while the young one was richly supplied with it. The most important constituent is mucilage, amounting to 48 per cent. It also contains sugar 1 per cent), starch (2.7 per cent), nitrogenous substance (5 per cent), and when fresh a trace of volatile oil. It yields 2 per cent of ash, consisting chiefly of phosphates and chlorides of potassium and calcium.