Desert Anemone

March 11, 2008

This is the desert anemone, Anemone tuberosa.  It is a close relative of the wood anemone (A. nemorosa) of the Eastern forest, but the desert plant is more succulent and usually has some pink shading on the flowers.  Today I gathered anemone leaves for a tincture.  The active compound is anemonin, which slows the heart rate and relaxes smooth muscle.  It is used in tiny amounts, since too much can easily be toxic.  It is surprisingly effective for calming anxiety or even for treating panic attacks. 

Anemone tuberosa

Seeing the plant, this use is not surprising, since the flowers seem to glow, pouring out the loving, living radiance of the early spring earth itself.  They appear in the most unlikely places – the dry, gravelly bajada slopes where their companions are the most drought-tolerant cacti, such as this Needlespine (Echinomastus erectocentrus var. erectocentrus). 

Echinomastus erectocentrus

The cactus in the photo is a giant of its kind, since most plants of this species have only one stem.  If you look closely, you can see anemone leaves at the base of the cactus.  Each anemone plant has several leaves (usually three) and a single flowerstalk with a tiny leaf on it.  The tiny tuber is several inches underground, where it can endure extreme heat, occasional hard freezes, and months without rain.  In very wet years, plants grow several leaves and may be over a foot tall, but even in such ideal conditions, they vanish by mid-April.  In dry years, such as the past two springs, the plants do not appear at all.  This year, the anemone plants are two to six inches tall, and the leaves are quite small.  For the tincture, I collected a single leaf from half a dozen plants, leaving the flowers, roots, and remaining leaves undisturbed.

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