EDELWEISS: A UNIQUE ALPINE PLANT
If at the dusk, or in fact at any stage of your life, you feel depressed, dissatisfied with your achievements, or tired of facing hurdles at every step, then take a look at this delicate little wonder that thrives in the lap of mother nature. Edelweiss is a beautiful plant that grows in the harsh climatic conditions of the alpine region.
The name Edelweiss comes from the German language in which “edel” stands for noble, and “weiss” literally means white, which is the color of its petals (better known as bracts).
The scientific name for it is Leontopodium alpinum, a Latin adaptation of a Greek word meaning “lion’s paw.”
Edelweiss is a mountain flower belonging to the daisy or sunflower family Asteraceae. It prefers rock soil rich in limestone. This plant grows at high altitudes and is adapted to survive cold, dry harsh climates.
Edelweiss is also the national symbol of Austria and Switzerland.
WAYS IN WHICH EDELWEISS ADAPTS ITSELF TO ALPINE CLIMATE
This plant exhibits an ‘internal photon structure’ to absorb ultraviolet rays.
The leaves and petals (which are actually thick leaves called ‘bracts’) are covered with fine white hair and appear as if covered with wool or snow (tomentose). This is actually an adaptation to protect the plant from high-intensity ultraviolet rays, cold and arid climate in mountainous regions.
The stalk grows up to a size of 20 cms, with each bloom consisting of 5-6 small yellow clustered florets surrounded by fuzzy, white bracts in a double star formation. The flower blooms between July and September.
It is short-lived, lies dormant in winters when mountains are covered with snow. It can be grown from seed.
Edelweiss will flower year after year but must reseed itself. Continuous picking of flowers will cause it to die off.
The flower though adapted to mountain terrain but is very sensitive to pollution, and would not thrive without the fresh mountain air.
FACTS THAT MAKE EDELWEISS SO SPECIAL
- It is believed that giving an Edelweiss as a gift to a loved one is a promise of dedication. In medieval Europe, many men lost their lives trying to gather these flowers from steep mountains as getting a bouquet of it proved that the suitor was able-bodied, genuine and had serious intentions.
- It is a protected plant in many countries including Switzerland, Austria and Croatia, also available in greenhouses in the U.S. and as dried flowers in Canada.
- It is a symbol of Alpinism or mountaineering on the Alps.
- It has its picture on the two cents Austrian Euro.
- With time, it was forgotten in the pages of history, to only be revived back by the movie “The Sound of Music”. “Bring Me An Edelweiss” is a song still remembered for its melody.
- Such was the fame of Edelweiss that even the royal emperors in Europe had a picture of it on their coats.
COSMETIC USES OF EDELWEISS
It has been used as a traditional medicine to treat stomach upsets and respiratory problems. Its beneficial effects on the skin include the following:
- Protection from ultraviolet radiation – Sunlight is the most common cause of premature aging. Excessive sun exposure, especially during midday when the intensity of UV rays is very high, can lead to coarse wrinkles, solar lentigines, increased freckling, and a yellow cobblestone appearance of skin. Edelweiss extracts have a high concentration of flavonoids and phenolic acid that aid to fight UV-induced damage and make it an ideal constituent of sun blocks. The same constituents that protect the flower from strong ultraviolet rays at high altitudes also protect our skin from sun damage.
- Anti-aging properties – The flower is loaded with antioxidants that scavenge the harmful free radicals and can reverse the age clock. Tea made from an infusion of Edelweiss flowers is non-toxic and has antiaging benefits.
- Anti-inflammatory – It has certain active ingredients such as bisabolol, tricyclic sesquiterpenes, coumarins, and lignans present in its roots that are curative for dermatitis and fluid retention.
- Stem Cell Therapy – Edelweiss plant stem cells extracted from its apical meristem stimulate our skin stem cells and protect it in the same way as the plant defends itself against the harsh climatic conditions. It has a high concentration of Leontopodic acids A and B that have antioxidant properties. They stimulate increased production of hyaluronic acid and prevent collagen degradation, thus reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
OTHER HEALTH BENEFITS OF LEONTOPODIUM
- Bactericidal properties – Edelweiss infusions are used as a natural remedy against tonsillitis, pharyngitis, ear infections, and bronchitis.
- As a Digestive – It is used in a decoction with milk and honey to treat heartburn (reflux of acid from the stomach into food pipe due to a weak sphincter) and difficult digestion.
- For venous thrombosis – A chemical substance called Leo lignin obtained from its roots helps inhibit intimal hyperplasia and clot formation in human saphenous veins, thus preventing damage to venous valves and varicose veins.