Chionanthus virginicus (Virginia fringe tree)
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Painting by Eileen Malone-Brown
I am fortunate to have a male and female Virginia fringe tree on either side of the walk leading to my front door and have long admired their beauty. I planted the shrubs ten years ago after learning that they were one of the last flowering native shrubs in the spring with panicles of lacey aromatic flowers. I was told they were one of Thomas Jefferson’s favorite shrubs and was intrigued to learn that they were still valued medicinally in Europe. This project provided the perfect opportunity to study and record their seasonal faces in the nature journal I kept. I used watercolor and graphite to create the main picture, portraying the Virginia fringe tree branches from spring through autumn and used graphite to depict its medicinal components – the roots and bark – seen in the two vignettes below the main portrait.
The bark of Chionathus virginicus or Virginia fringe tree was used to make a tincture to treat jaundice, given to patients as 10 drops every three hours. The bark tincture was widely used by physicians in the late 19th c to relieve congestion of glandular organs and the venous system. Once considered a diuretic, alterative, cholagogue (increases the flow of bile), laxative, and useful tonic, it was used to treat conditions such as hypertrophy of the liver, wounds, nephritis and rheumatism. A popular remedy among U.S. eclectic physicians during the 19th century it was given the name “Chionia” and touted as an effective “stimulator of hepatic processes”. (Kress). American Indians made a root-bark tea to clean wounds and sores and associated inflammation and infections. Overdoses can cause vomiting, frontal headaches and a slow pulse. (Foster and Duke, p. 304)
Today, decoctions, infusions and extractions of the root bark are mainly used to treat liver and gall bladder ailments, such as gall stones, hepatitis, jaundice and other ailments related to poor liver function. In addition to the conditions cited, homoeopathy practices also use fresh root bark to treat migraine, headache, and depressive symptoms (Van Wyk and Wink, p. 95).