We all seen botanical plant names with the species “officinalis”. Lots of them, probably. I always thought it was a designation of the original or more common species of a genus. Kind of the boring, coarse variety. One step above vulgare. Turns out I was wrong.
Admittedly my knowledge of Latin comes mostly from the old Catholic mass. I know several ways to lament my many sins, but they weren’t big on descriptive phrases. Officinalis isn’t derived from the word official. It’s derived from the noun “officina” which rolled through many meanings from a healer’s workshop or laboratory to a pharmacy. Used as an adjective, “officinalis”, it means healing or used in medicine. In other words, an herb.
There are a lot of plants out there with the species officinalis that we don’t think of as herbs, certainly not medicinal herbs. But the next time you see Stachys officinalis or Paeonia officinalis or Cornus officinalis, I know I’ll be trying to imagine what on earth they were used to cure.