Red Squill Root (Urginea / Drimia Maritima)
Drimia maritima (syn. Urginea maritima), commonly known as squill, sea squill, sea onion, and maritime squill, is a geophyte endemic to the Mediterranean Basin, where it survives the hot, dry summer months by becoming dormant. Growth happens throughout the cooler months, with the bulb growing annually until it blossoms late one year after reaching at least 6 years of age. Its flower stalk may grow to be 2 meters long, rising upward from a bulb that can weigh up to a kilogram and is tough to dig out from the ground.
Since ancient times, this species has been utilized as a medicinal herb. Because of its diuretic qualities, as well as it's laxative and expectorant characteristics, it was used to treat convulsions, asthma, and edema.
Toxic chemicals are present throughout the plant but are highly concentrated in the bulb (particularly it's center) and the roots. When the wide leaves of this plant entirely dry out, they lose their toxicity and are eaten by cattle and sheep.
Toxicity is most during the summer hibernation, as well as while the plant is blooming and fruiting. Scilliroside is the substance used to poison rats. In the summer, bulbs are gathered, cut up, and dried. The chips are crushed into a powder and mixed into rat bait. Because it is so bitter, most animals avoid it. Rats, on the other hand, quickly consume it and ultimately succumb to the deadly scilliroside.
Pythagoras and Dioscorides put the sprouting leaves outside the entrance in spring as spiritual protection against bad spirits.
The bulbs are still collected and displayed in the winter as part of Greek Christmas and New Year's customs today. Because squill grows after being dug up, it is seen as a sign of eternity. On New Year's Eve, Greek families hang a "skeletoura," as it is known in Greek, at the front entrance or leave a pot with the bulb in it next to the door, and then carry it inside the home to be maintained for the remainder of the year. It is supposed to offer longevity, health, and good fortune to everyone in the area.