Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis)
Synonyms: Fair Maid of February. Bulbous Violet.
The Snowdrop is usually spoken of as the first flower of the year, although it has never been of much account in physic, and has never been recognized. Gerard says 'nothing is set down hereof by the ancient Writers, nor anything observed by the moderne.' He calls it the Bulbous Violet, but adds that some call it the Snowdrop, the earliest mention of it by this name, and it was known to all the old botanists as a bulbous violet.
The generic name, Galanthus, is Greek in its origin and signifies Milkflower. Nivalis is Latin, meaning relating to or resembling snow. It is not a native of England, although it thrives over here, having been introduced from Italy. It is a native of Switzerland, Austria and of Southern Europe generally, but where naturalized here spreads into considerable masses, generally growing in shady pastures, woods and orchards. Eacb bulb sends up a one-flowered stem. The points of the leaves protecting the flower-head are thickened and toughened at the tips, enabling them to push through the soil. This simple device shows on the mature leaf like a delicate nail on a green finger. It's appearance in early February is seen by many as an indication that spring is on its way.
Gerard appears to be wrong in saying that the plant has no medicinal use. An old glossary of 1465, referring to it as Leucis i viola alba, classes it as an emmenagogue, and elsewhere, placed under the narcissi, its healing properties are stated to be 'digestive, resolutive and consolidante.' In the early 1980's it was discovered that there was a chemical contained in the plant which was a cholinesterase inhibitor called Galantamine. This is now produced commercially as Razadyne and Reminyl, used in the treatment of Alzheimers disease.