The Carnivorous Plant FAQ v. 11.5
- courtesy of -
The International Carnivorous Plant Society

Q: Do carnivorous plants have ethnobotanical uses?

U. foliosa
U. foliosa

Nepenthes hybrid
Nepenthes hybrid
A:Ahh, but of course they do! But this should be no surprise, since there are several hundred species of carnivorous plants. Below I have listed but a few of these purported uses. (Incidentally, on this page, I use the phrase "ethnobotanical use" to indicate a nonmedicinal application. For medicinal uses, check the previous page.)

Here are a few ethnobotanical uses for carnivorous plants:

Oddly enough, the most common uses you hear about involving carnivorous plants involve Pinguicula vulgaris being used in Nordic countries. For examples, I have heard of it being used as a way to curdle milk, as a balm for the udders of milk-producing ungulates, and even (somehow) as a method of enhancing a sheen on the hair of Nordic blondes. This last factoid was provided by a FAQ-reader from Denmark, who told me that there is some connection with Pinguicula vulgaris and meade, and that some concoction of the two--called Vibefedt--was used to enhance some sort of visions, much like you might get from mixing Tequila and Rum. My Denmark informant says there is an ancient pair of runic inscriptions that reads:

"I had a dream last night, of fair summer. I was a little bird above the sea. Far, yet clear, the Vibefedt let me see",

and

"Drinking the Vibefedt make colors vivid and gives dreams of pleasure."

By the way, Vibefedt means "lapwing grease", and apparently derives from the fact that greasy little Pinguicula vulgaris lives in cold places that also support lapwings--a small plover with crazy head feathers. Damn, I couldn't make up stuff this weird, unless maybe I was slamming down the Vibefedt myself!

A really fine ethnobotanical use involves Nepenthes mirabilis in New Guinea. There, the pitcher is used by men as an attractive sheath for their penises. Oh yes, very nice. If you don't believe me--and why would I lie about this?--google "koteka". Usually the koteka is made out of a hollowed troot, but sometimes Nepenthes are used instead. Then, think of me the next time you see Nepenthes mirabilis pitchers. Especially if the pitchers are large. Really large.

I am sure I have overlooked dozens of other ethnobotanical uses of carnivorous plants. Do you know of one? E-mail me! (barry(at)sarracenia.com)

Page citations: Alm, T. 2005; Clarke, C. 1997, 2001; Gibson, R. 2000 (personal communication); Lee, C. 2000 (personal communication); Juniper, B.E. et al. 1989; Rice, B.A. 2006a; personal observation, reader contributions.

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Revised: July 2011
©Barry Rice, 2005