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The Cover
February 1, 2006

Still Life With Peonies

Author Affiliations
 

The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate, MD, Senior Contributing Editor.

JAMA. 2006;295(5):476. doi:10.1001/jama.295.5.476

For millennia the peony flower has been the stuff of fable and of myth. It is Apollo's flower and, by extension, that of physicians. Both Virgil and Ovid mention its restorative powers. Seeds worn around the neck protected the bearer from evil powers. The botanical history of the peony dates at least to the seventh and eighth centuries, where it was cultivated in China and in Japan and became a favorite motif in both literature and art. Even today it remains as symbolic of the Far East as the tulip is of Holland. Medieval Europe had a brief fling with the peony, using it mainly for medicinal purposes, cultivated most likely in monastery gardens. After that, mention of the peony more or less faded from view in the Western world until John Hall, Stratford physician and son-in-law to Shakespeare, recorded that he was using “extracts of peony” to treat epilepsy (Betts T, Betts H. John Hall and his epileptic patients: epilepsy management in early 17th century England. Seizure. 1998;7:411-414).

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