Military Orchid

The weather here is unseasonably cool and wet, but the grey skies and rain have brought some wonderful orchids up in the grass.

It is somehow easier to see flowers in dull light, their colours are more bright in contrast and details are fine when not flattened by glare.

These Military orchids Orchis militaris, get their name from the shape of the flowers, each one looking like a soldier with arms, legs and a helmet on his head. In German they are helm orchids and these lovely flowers were in a limestone meadow in Switzerland growing with a motorway under their feet.

This lucky meadow is so precious that the thundering road to Delemont has been put in a tunnel beneath ( where it should be!) and the meadow is used by joggers, buggy pushers and amateur botanists admiring the flowers from the path.

Military orchids are very rare and one of the reasons for their rarity is a drink that was once more popular than coffee. Orchid roots are dug up and boiled to make a drink called Salep or Salop depending on where you are in the world. It is still popular in Turkey and was an important part of Ottoman cuisine which spread around the world. It is drunk where ever orchids are (were) plentiful and was supposed to plump up young women and give fire to men! Orchid roots and testicles have the same shape and have given their name to each other, hence the aphrodisiac link .

The drink was sold widely in cafes in Britain and only declined in favour when it was used as a treatment for syphilis ( that visual simple link again!) and no one wanted to be seen drinking it in case it looked like they had the clap!

So, these particular little soldiers with their big helmets have just survived through a mixture of prudery and Swiss engineering!

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