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Harpagophytum procumbens (Devil's Claw), Namibia

The MPSG's logo, Silphion, is an extinct medicinal plant from North Africa, known only from images on ancient coins.Two and a half millennia ago, the roots of a plant known as Silphion produced perfume and spices; the juice treated gynaecological and many other ailments. Silphion was so important to the local economy of Cyrene, now Libya, that its image was minted on coins. Today, we no longer benefit from the use of this plant, nor do we know its Latin name (except that it was possibly a relative of the carrot, a member of the family Apiaceae), because it is extinct. Why was it lost? We can only speculate: its geographic distribution was limited; attempts to cultivate the plant failed; demand grew. Management of the harvest may have shifted from permanent local residents to short-term governors who were watching the bottom line, maximizing near-term profits. Collectors were poor and needed the trade. By the first centuries AD, Silphion was gone from markets, and all that remains is the image on a coin.

Source: Schippmann, U. (1995) The Silphion story. Medicinal Plant Conservation (Newsletter of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Medicinal Plant Specialist Group) 1:2-4.

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