The parasitic plant known as the dodder is a familiar weed in many areas of the world. Dodder - Cuscuta epithymum - is a leafless parasitic vine that lives off other plants. There are many different species and varieties of the dodder - all of them are characterized by a parasitic mode of life. The dodder attaches feeds off other plants through its reddish and orange threadlike stems which possess suckers to draw out nourishing fluids from the stem of the other plant. The dodder bears pinkish white colored flowers from July through September. A dodder flower is characterized by possessing five sharp and spread out triangular lobes. The dodder flowers grow in dense clusters on the vine. Dodder spreads very fast and the seeds are viable for a long time, often staying in a dormant stage up to eight years at a stretch - this capability of maintaining dormancy for extended periods of time is an adaptation to the parasitic mode of life. Unsurprisingly the dodder is a major nuisance weed for many farmers. This is particularly true of farmers who cultivate alfalfa and clover on their fields.
The parasitic plant is a nuisance in many countries and has always been a very unpopular plant. The parasite plant is known by many local names including the “hell weed” and the “devil's guts,” these names are allusions to the tendency of the dodder to overrun, overwhelm and strangle the plant it parasitizes. Dodder parasitizes many useful herbs including the gorse and the thyme; it also parasitizes agricultural crops like the beans - not to mention many economically valuable tree species. There is a silver lining to all this, in that the dodder does posses some medicinally beneficial properties. Dodder actually finds mention in the “Materia Medica” written by the Greek physician Dioscorides around the 1st century AD. The ancient physician states that the dodder was used in the ancient world in an herbal combination with honey to purge out "black bile" from the body and as an herbal aid to dissipate melancholy humors in the body. The dodder was also used as a medicinal herb in the Middle Ages in Europe, the European herbalist Nicholas Culpeper in his writing in 1652 recommended the use of the dodder "to purge black or burnt choler" from the body. Dodder plucked from the thyme it was parasitizing, was according to Culpeper the most effective in treating such problems. This early herbalist thus makes an interesting inference that at least some of the medicinal benefits found in the dodder are determined by the host plant it parasitizes.
Contemporary herbalists still consider the dodder to be a valuable remedy for the treatment of some specific disorders. For example, while rarely used these days, the dodder is still a valued herb for treating problems that affecting the functioning of the liver and the gallbladder - this is connected to its old use as an herbal purge for black bile. Herbalists still recommend the use of a remedy made from the dodder to support the functioning of the liver function and the herbal remedy is till used to treat jaundice these days. The herbal remedy made from the dodder is also used in treating different urinary problems; dodder is known to posses a mildly laxative effect when ingested.
The remedy made from the entire plant has carminative and anti-bilious properties, it is also considered to stimulate the appetite, as well as a cholagogue, a mild diuretic, a laxative and hepatic as well as being anti-scorbutic in action. An herbal decoction prepared from the stems of the dodder is employed in the treatment of urinary complaints, as well as to treat complaints affecting the kidneys, the spleen and different disorders of the liver including jaundice. This stem decoction is also used in treating sciatica and scorbutic disorders in patients. The dodder herbal remedy is also reputed to posses as an anti-cancer effect and is a specified herbal remedy to treat gout. A person suffering from hemorrhoids must avoid using a dodder based herbal remedies. The dodder is also used in the preparation of a homeopathic remedy.
Habitat and cultivation
The dodder is found growing in many countries as quick spreading and hated parasitic plant. Plant populations in European countries, in some Asian countries, as well as countries in Southern Africa are in particular heavily affected by the growth of this parasite species. The parasite tends to spread along coastal and mountainous regions, and is harvested in the summer time in areas where it is used in herbal remedies. The plant is mostly taken off plants and burnt in other areas.
The dodder is a parasitic plant species and has typical parasitic adaptations, it does not have any leaves or roots and devoid of the plant pigment chlorophyll, it is thus absolutely dependant on the host plant for its survival. The dodder uses its parasitic suckers to suck nutrients and to clamber over other plants. It is thus a climbing plant and has to grow close to the host plant. Once it reaches a plant, the dodder twines itself and penetrates the stem of the host with the suckers obtaining nutrients and growing on the plant. Dodder can be recognized even by the smell of the flowers, these possess a penetrating sweet perfume like smell that is particularly strong in the cool evening air.
The dodder is normally propagated using the seeds in places where it is actually cultivated. The best time to sow the dodder seeds is when the seeds ripen during the fall. The dodder tends to grow very fast and can spread from one plant to another in thickly wooded areas.
Dodder contains flavonoids (including kaempferol and quercitin) and hydroxycinnamic acid.