Orchids have been used in traditional medicine in an effort to treat many diseases and ailments. They have been used as a source of herbal remedies in China since 2800 BC. Gastrodia elata is one of the three orchids listed in the earliest known Chinese Materia Medica (Shennon bencaojing) (c. 100 AD). Theophrastus mentions orchids in his Enquiry into Plants (372–286 BC).
Also known as the Moth orchid – which is much easier and less cumbersome to pronounce – this orchid is great for beginners because it is easy to grow and maintain. Appearing in lovely colors such as yellow, light pink, and spotted with burgundy, the Moth orchid blooms on and off throughout the year and can tolerate repotting efforts – again, making them a great plant for those who are new to planting flowers in their garden. They have long-lasting flowers and look great as an indoor plant, which are a few of the reasons why they are one of the most popular types of orchids.
Some orchids, such as Neottia and Corallorhiza, lack chlorophyll, so are unable to photosynthesise. Instead, these species obtain energy and nutrients by parasitising soil fungi through the formation of orchid mycorrhizas. The fungi involved include those that form ectomycorrhizas with trees and other woody plants, parasites such as Armillaria, and saprotrophs. These orchids are known as myco-heterotrophs, but were formerly (incorrectly) described as saprophytes as it was believed they gained their nutrition by breaking down organic matter. While only a few species are achlorophyllous holoparasites, all orchids are myco-heterotrophic during germination and seedling growth, and even photosynthetic adult plants may continue to obtain carbon from their mycorrhizal fungi.
The underground tubers of terrestrial orchids [mainly Orchis mascula (early purple orchid)] are ground to a powder and used for cooking, such as in the hot beverage salep or in the Turkish frozen treat dondurma. The name salep has been claimed to come from the Arabic expression ḥasyu al-tha‘lab, "fox testicles", but it appears more likely the name comes directly from the Arabic name saḥlab. The similarity in appearance to testes naturally accounts for salep being considered an aphrodisiac.
Once you develop more than a passing interest in orchids, you will quickly notice how diverse this exotic plant family is. Encompassing genera that yield both the vanilla you love to bake with and fragrances you love to wear, each flower has unique characteristics and care requirements. Compare your plants to some of the most commonly cultivated orchids to help you determine what type of orchid you are growing.