Sore Throat

HONEYSUCKLE has been used to treat a sore throat (Conway), a use going back at least to Gerard's time it is good against soreness of the throat. Gypsies use the berries to cure the condition, and also canker in the mouth (Vesey-Fitzgerald). Gargles can be made from SANICLE's astringent leaves (Wickham), or those of SUMMER SAVORY and RIBWORT PLANTAIN (Schauenberg & Paris). Verjuice, the very sour liquid made from CRABAPPLE, was once used for sore throats and all disorders of the mouth (Hill)....

Southernwood

(Artemisia abrotanum) The smell of Southernwood is well enough known like that of other members of the genus it is insect-repellent. Hence the French name Garderobe, for moths will not attack clothes in which Garderobe has been laid (Grieve. 1933). Bees do not like it either, and it is even claimed that southernwood, or wormwood for that matter, will keep adders from garden borders (M Baker. 1977). Roses do not mind the strong scent, apparently, for Cornish people claim that they grow best near...

Parsnip

If you want a parsnip good and sweet, Sow it when you sow the wheat. (Leather). The leaves were regarded as poisonous once (Graves), and the opinion in America was that it was poisonous when growing wild (Bergen. 1899). It seems to have been used in an English formula for witches' flying ointment. It is given as the fat of a newly born infant, eleoseline (which is wild celery), skiwet (identified as wild parsnip), and soot (Graves). Wild parsnip was used in Anglo-Saxon medicine for a difficult...

Goosegrass

(Galium aparine) This weed is considered excellent food for goslings, who are very fond of it (Akerman). The roots will dye red (Grieve. 1931), and the seeds, roasted, have been used as a coffee substitute (Barton & Castle), and still are, sometimes, in Ireland (Usher). Another use of the seeds, in the green state, was to adorn the tops of lacemakers' pins the young seeds were pushed on to the pins to make a sort of padded head (Mabey. 1977). This is a plant traditionally used to soothe...

St Johns Wort

(Hypericum perforatum) 'Perforatum ' means pierced with holes, but the holes are spurious in this instance. Hold a leaf up to the light and one sees dots that look exactly like holes. But they are oil sacs, and give the plant its aromatic smell when bruised (Salisbury. 1954). The holes were said to have been made by the devil, in anger at the power of the plant to thwart him (Browning). Another view is that they are drops of the saint's blood, appearing every year on St John's Day (Hole. 1976),...

Mandrake

(Mandragora officinalis) Elliot Smith derived the word from Greek mandros, sleep, and agpora, object or substance, the whole meaning 'sleep-producing substance'. The English word mandrake comes through the Latin from Greek mandragora, though folk etymology tends to associate the 'drake' part of the word with 'dragon' (Latin draco). The association man + dragon then is probably an allusion to the man-like form of the plant's root. Sorcerers of the Middle Ages looked on it as something half-way...

Caper Spurge

(Euphorbia lathyris) The fruits are quite often used green as a caper substitute (Browning), hence the common name, but it can be dangerous to eat them, poisonous as they are. It is the purging quality that most spurges have that causes trouble, and they have been known to be fatal (Salisbury. 1964). Goats are quite liable to eat quantities of it - then, it is said, their milk had the poisonous properties of the plant (Long. 1924). The toxin is in the milky latex, causing blistering and...

Diuretics

DANDELIONS are perhaps the best known of diuretics, and some of the vernacular names hammer it home. Pissabed is common enough, though no longer standard English (though pissenlit is still standard French). Children that eat it in the evening experience its diuretic effects, which is the reason that other European nations as well as ourselves vulgarly call it Pissabed (Britten & Holland). Would children have any particular urge to eat dandelions But it is said that even picking the flowers...

Shingles

HOUSELEEK is a protector against fire and lightning, so similar ideas would account for its use against the fiery diseases - they are good against 5 Anthonie's fire erysipelas , the shingles (Gerard), who made the same claim for OLIVE branches, leaves and tender buds. A Hertfordshire remedy was to mix the blood from a black cat's tail with the juice of houseleek and cream, warm it all, and apply it three times a day (Jones-Baker. 1974). It sounds like the fusion of two traditions, for styes on...

Love Charms

Fenland girls used YARROW as a love charm, by pinning it on the dress, and then taking every opportunity to get as near as possible to young men, in order to declare their love by means of the flowers. If a girl found that the man she was interested in ignored the hint, then she was likely to wait for a full moon, go to a patch of yarrow and walk barefoot among them. She would then shut her eyes, bend down and pick a bunch. If she found next morning that the dew was still on the yarrow, then...

Yellow Iris

(Iris pseudo-acarus) It was known as gillajeur in the Guernsey dialect, and was one of the favourite flowers used for strewing in front of the bride at a wedding (MacCulloch), and in Ireland, it is put outside doors at Corpus Christi (O Suilleabhain). Shetland children used to make boats seggie boats, of the leaves, seg, or seggie being a sedge name given to this iris. Children of Stenness, Orkney, were warned that if they chewed seg leaves, they would become dumb (Marwick), or at least have a...

Bark Fabric

The doctrine of signatures shows in a remedy for jaundice. The bark is yellow, and a decoction taken in ale or white wine was often used for the condition (Dyer. 1889). Irish folk medicine recommended the bark in stout, with sulphur, the whole cooked together (Moloney). Another Irish remedy involved brewing the root bark to a strong decoction that had to be taken every morning, fasting, for nine successive mornings (Wilde. 1890). In Lincolnshire, a tea was made from the twigs and bark for...

Horse Chestnut

(Aesculus hippocastanum) 'Horse' in a plant name usually denotes largeness and coarseness, and that is probably the case here, though the older writers obviously did not think so. Note, for example, the old name Castanea equina. Parkinson says The horse chestnits are given in the East country, and so through all Turkie, unto horses to cure them of the cough, shortnesse of winde, and such other diseases. Gerard also accounts for the name in the same way. Skinner suggests the derivation from the...

Marigold

(Calendula officinalis) The name of the genus derives from calends, for the Romans believed that marigolds flowered all the year round. In other words, they were to be found blooming on the first day of each month, the calends. Cf the French fleur de tous les mois, and the Italian fiore di ogni mese. Presumably its very ubiquitousness accounts for the Wiltshire name Nobody's-flower (Macmillan). What did Bloom mean when he said marigold was a favourite at funerals F G Savage does mention...

Peppermint

(Mentha x piperita) Fresh mint is used to flavour the Kentucky whisky drink Mint Julep, made in inverting (tops down) a small branch of young peppermint sprouts in the sweetened, diluted, whisky, so imparting the aroma of the leaves, but not the bitterness of the broken stems (Lloyd). This is the mint in Creme-de-menthe (Forsell), and it is also used for scenting soap (a sprig of mint used to be put in a bath at one time (Gordon. 1977)). Use peppermint to keep flies and midges away - rub the...

Red Clover

(Trifolium pratense) The commonest of the red or purple clovers. The seed was largely imported from Holland when it was being grown as a fodder plant, not only as cattle fodder, it seems, for Henry Mundy (1680), speaking of the Irish, said they nourish themselves with their shamrock (which is the purple clover), are swift of foot and of nimble strength (Britten). To dream of clover is a happy sign, indicating health and prosperity (Gordon. 1985). Pliny said that the leaves stand upright at the...

Palsywort

An old name for COWSLIP, which shows that it must have been used for that complaint. It must have been the trembling or nodding of the flowers that suggested it (Grigson. 1955). The Regimen Sanitatus Salernitanum had commended the cowslip as a cure for palsy or paralysis (hence another old name, Herb Paralysy). Gerard repeated the prescription - cowslips are commended against the pain of the joints called the gout, and slacknesse of the sinues, which is the palsie. PANACEA is defined as a...

Eyesight

An infusion of IVY leaves was still in use in Fifeshire during the 20th century as an eye lotion (Rorie) -interesting, for Gerard recommended the same usage four hundred years ago - the leaves laid in steepe in water for a day and a nights space helpe sore and smarting waterish eies, if they be washed and bathed with the water wherein they have been infused. Even more interesting is the fact that in homeopathy, a tincture of the young leaves is used to treat cataracts to this day (Schauenberg...

Coughs

LEEK juice was often used for whooping cough, or indeed any old cough. As Thomas Hill said, leeke amendeth an old cough and the ulcers of the lungs. It was used either on its own or mixed with something else, as in the Welsh custom of joining it with women's milk for coughs, a recommendation that appears both in the Book of Iago ab Dewi (see Berdoe) and in the Physicians of Myddfai. ONION juice was considered essential to cure a cough or bronchitis centuries before its use in various patent...

Parkinsons Disease

Apparently, THORN-APPLE can be used in the treatment of the disease (Scarborough). Herbalists also prescribe DEADLY NIGHTSHADE as a form of treatment (Schauenberg & Paris). Paronychia sp > WHITLOW-WORT PARSLEY (Petroselinum crispum) Old gardeners always planted some parsley, either for use, or as an aid to other cultivation, for it was said that if it were planted all round the onion bed, it would keep the onion fly away (Rohde). It was grown among roses, too, both to improve their scent...

Broad Bean

The Green Children captured near Wolfpits in Suffolk would only eat beans, but gradually became used to mortal food. The boy pined and died, but the girl lived, and eventually married a local man. By the same token beans are the food of the dead, or, according to another tradition, they contain the souls of the dead (Waring). At any rate, they were sacred to them. That is why they were prohibited in the Vedas as ordinary food. They were a favourite offering to...

Houseleek

(Sempervivum tectorum) or which must be the most picturesque of plant names. Preserves what it grows upon from Fire and Lightning, Culpeper said as good as a fire insurance, they say in Wiltshire (Wiltshire). John Clare noted that in his native Northamptonshire no cottage ridge about us is without these as Superstition holds it out as a charm against lightning. In Somerset the cover is extended to include witches (Tongue. 1965). So it is in the Isle of Man, where it is encouraged to grow as...

Rosemary

(Rosmarinus officinalis) Tradition has it that rosemary was introduced into Britain by Philippa of Hainault, Edward Il's queen, though it probably took place much earlier than that. One belief is that it never grows higher than the height of Christ during his earthly life after 33 years the plant may increase in girth but never in height (Rohde). Another legend tells how, during the flight into Egypt, the Virgin threw her cloak over a rosemary bush while she rested beside it. For ever...

Asthma

Was treated by a spoonful of NETTLE-juice mixt with clarified Honey, every night and morning (Wesley). Domestic medicine agrees on nettle's efficacy in chest complaints, from coughs to tuberculosis, but COMFREY root tea, taken for a variety of ailments, is not so well known (Painter). An infusion of ELECAMPANE roots has been used for asthma (Forey), as well as for coughs and whooping cough. Cockayne quotes a Saxon leechdom ad pectoris dolorem in which elecampane played its part along with many...

Camphor

But there is one old usage that is still current, that of using the dried flowers in shampoos for fair hair (it is the double variety (C nobile pl ) that is commercially grown). Or camomile water can be made at home. Simply steep the dried flowers in boiling water and strain off when cool (Hawke). On the Greek island of Chios, camomile is used to dye the hair a light chestnut colour, almost gold (Argenti & Rose). It is, though, in the field of medicine that camomile...

Castor Oil Plant

(Ricinus communis) It once had some very odd properties ascribed to it, affecting the very name of the plant and its by-product. It was thought to be proficient in assuaging the natural heat of the body, and it had the reputed power to soothe the passions, so it was called by the French Agnus Castus, Spanish agno casto, a name now reserved for Vitex agnus-castus, the Chaste Tree (Maddox). So 'castor' was originally 'casto', solely because of a dubious reputation, which, given its undoubted...

Witches

GARLIC, in older belief, holds witches at bay, by putting some under a child's pillow, as is the Polish custom (Leland), while the Bosnian belief was that everyone should taste garlic before going to bed at the time when witches were traditionally active. Around Sarajevo garlic was rubbed on children's chests, on the soles of the feet and the armpits at Christmas and Easter, which are the times when witches attack people and eat them. While rubbing children with garlic on those days, a formula...

Saffron

(Crocus sativus) The original home is doubtful, but it has been cultivated from very early times it was an article of trade on the Red Sea in the first century AD, being exported from Egypt to southern Arabia. The word Crocus, always taken to be saffron in early accounts, is from the Greek Krokos, the adjective from which, krokotos, means yellow, or dyed with saffron (Potter & Sargent). Earlier than the Greek word, though, is the Hebrew Carcom, or Karkom (Genders. 1972), mentioned in the...

Protective Plants

SOW THISTLE - a Welsh belief was that the devil could do no harm to anyone wearing a leaf from this plant (Trevelyan), or as one of the Anglo-Saxon herbaria said (in translation) - so long as you carry it with you nothing evil will come to meet you (Meaney). CLOVER, too, is a protective plant, able to drive witches away (Dyer). Anyone carrying it about his person will be able to detect the presence of evil spirits (Wood-Martin). If a farmer carries one, all will be well with his cattle at that...

Elder

This is the familiar shrub with creamy-white flowers in summer, and black berries later on, widespread and very common, and actually planted, Gerard says it is planted about cony-boroughs for the shadow of the Conies, though he admits it groweth every where. So common is it, that there is a tendency to forget how important it was once in various mythologies. It was the tree under which the old Prussian earth-god lived (Farrer), presumably the same as the Latvian Priskaitis, who also lived under...

Baldness

NETTLE juice combed through the hair to prevent baldness has been a common folk practice (Baker). The Wiltshire cure for dandruff was to massage the scalp with a nettle infusion each day (Wiltshire). PARSLEY was recommended for baldness as far back as Pliny's time (Bazin), repeated a long time afterwards as powder your head with powdered parsley seed three nights every year, and the hair will never fall off (Leyel. 1926). Actually, it really does make a good lotion for getting rid of dandruff,...

Sow Thistle

(Sonchus oleraceus) Despised these days as a food plant, but it was not always so - whilst they are yet young and tender, they are eaten as other pot-herbes are (Gerard). And so it has been all over the world. All the sow thistles are edible (though not very interesting). They are probably best in soups and casseroles. Or cooked as a vegetable with something else with a stronger flavour. Some people actually eat them raw, as an ingredient in salads (Jordan). Unlikely as it may seem, this is a...

Divinations Marriage divinations

ALMONDS are significant as a fertility symbol at Greek weddings, and a further manifestation of this symbolism lies in the belief fostered by unmarried girls that involved taking some of the wedding almonds and using them for divination. Three of them put under the pillow would ensure dreams of the future husband. The same is occasionally said of PINE needles. One particular tree on the island of Bute served as a dreaming tree. Some of its needles were put, with some ceremony, under the pillow,...

Wound Herbs

GARLIC has always been used as an antiseptic, though its original use relied on the Doctrine of Signatures, its signature being the shape of its leaf. The word garlic is OE garleac, where 'gar' means spear, a recognition of the taper-leaved or spear shaped outline. So it soon became used to combat wounds inflicted by spears (Storms). This use as a wound herb, for which there are sound medical reasons, continued into the 20th century. It has always been applied externally as an antiseptic, and...

Eczema

BIRCH leaves have always been used for treating skin complaints (Conway), and they can be treated with birch tar oil made up into a soothing ointment (Mitton) or can be used in medicated soaps (Gordon) to treat eczema. The complaint was treated in Dorset with NETTLE tea (Dacombe), which is a well-established East Anglian remedy for any skin complaint (Porter. 1974). The sap of the GRAPE VINE is collected in some country areas when growth starts in spring, to be used for eczema among other...

Cuckoopint

(Arum maculatum) The scarlet berries are poisonous, and the whole plant has an acrid juice. Tricks used to be played on children and simple people by giving them a small piece of the root to chew. It tastes alright at first, but then the victim experiences a horrible burning sensation that lasts a long time (Carr). That acrid sensation is caused by aroine, an unstable toxin that is produced from the plant and can cause blistering of the skin. But the plant was once cultivated on the Isle of...

Arteriosclerosis

Artemisia ludoviciana > LOBED CUDWEED Artemisia maritima > SEA WORMWOOD Artemisia pontica > ROMAN WORMWOOD Artemisia tridentata > SAGEBRUSH Artemisia vulgaris > MUGWORT ARTERIOSCLEROSIS GARLIC is still prescribed for the condition, though its virtues seem to lie in reducing blood pressure, reports of which are recorded from Ireland, and Alabama. A decoction of HAWS , taken instead of tea or coffee is used for high blood pressure (Kourennoff) for it helps to prevent arteriosclerosis....

Orris

(Iris germanica Florentina ) Mixed with anise, orris was used in England as a perfume for linen as early as 1480 (see Wardrobe accounts of Edward IV). It smells like violets, and in fact is sometimes called violet powder (Hemphill). The root was also crushed and used as a substitute for dried violet in sachets and powder. It was once used for scenting tooth powders, too (Rimmel). It was used for this purpose in Alabama until quite recently - a tablespoonful of orris with seven tablespoonfuls of...

Great Plantain

(Plantago major) There is a well-known legend describing the persistent way that Great Plantain follows the tracks of man. More specifically, one superstition says that it follows Englishmen, and springs up in whatever part of the world he makes his home (Leyel. 1926). In this case, White Man's Foot, which is what the native Americans called the plant (see Longfellow's Hiawatha), becomes Englishman's Foot. The German story is that it was once a woman, who waited by the wayside for her lover...

Indigestion

Gypsies use a root and herb infusion of FIELD GENTIAN to relieve indigestion (Vesey-Fitzgerald), and TANSY leaves, chopped up and added to bread dough and cake mixtures, were a popular indigestion remedy in Cambridgeshire (Porter. 1969). In Ireland flatulence used to be cured by taking a tansy leaf decoction with salt added (Egan), and another Irish remedy is the simple expedient of eating CELERY (Maloney). LEMON VERBENA leaves, fresh or dried, are widely used as a tea for indigestion...

Cinnamon

(Cinnamon zeylanicum) According to medieval legend, the spice was found in birds' nests, particularly that of the phoenix, and may not be found, but what falleth by its own weight, or is smitten down with lead arrows. But these men do feign, to make things dear and of great price (Bartholomew Anglicus). It is often used as incense, when a little is burned on charcoal, which is good for aiding meditation and clairvoyance (Valiente). There is a ritual use in Rhodes at wedding ceremonies the...

Vervain

(Verbena officinalis) This is a holy herb, or to be more accurate, the Holy Herb. The Romans gave the name verbena, or more frequently, the plural form, verbenae, to the foliage or branches of shrubs and herbs which, for their religious association, had acquired a sacred character. These included laurel, olive and myrtle, but Pliny makes us think that the herb now known as verbena was regarded as the most sacred of all of them (Browning). He said it was gathered at sunrise after a sacrifice to...

Cudweed

(Filago germanica) Leonard Mascall, Government of Oxen, 1587, says that cudwort was given to cattle that had lost their cud (quoted in Grigson. 1974). This plant was the herba impia, Wicked Herb, of the old botanists, wicked because of its way of growth. The main stem has its flowers at the top, but underneath this grow two or more flowering shoots, all rising above the main stem. Therein lies the wickedness, for it conveys the idea that children were undutifully disposed to exalt themselves...

Blackthorn

(Prunus spinosa) Blackthorn is the first of the hedgerow shrubs to come into bloom in the spring, the white flowers appearing, according to where in the country it is growing, any time between mid-March to mid-April. One would think it would be a welcome and auspicious plant, but it is a thoroughly unlucky one. Even its early blooming brings talk of a blackthorn winter, but evidently not from those who believed it would bloom on old Christmas Eve (Folklore. vol 39 1928). There are often some...

Migraine

It is claimed that the condition can be allayed by holding a freshly cut slice of raw POTATO to the temples (R B Browne). BAY berries, too, at least according to Gerard, stamped with a little Scammonie and saffron, and labored in a mortar with vinegar and oile of Roses to the form of a liniment, and applied to the temples and fore part of the head, do greatly ease the pain of the megrim, and he also advised the juice of the leaves and roots of DAISY to help the megrim. CAMOMILE tea will help,...

Fenugreek

(Trigonella ornithopodioides) The conspicuous hornlike pod containing the seed, which provides the spice, gave the plant its Greek name Keratitis (keras means horn). The seed has been used in a number of different ways. It is one of the chief ingredients of Kuphi, the Egyptian embalming and incense oil (Sanecki), and a Nubian people, the Keruz, used to prepare a ritual drink on the birth of a child. One of the ingredients was fenugreek, which was said to relieve pain, as well as providing...

Veterinary Uses Of Plants

GARLIC - an Irish method of treating black leg in cattle is to make an incision in the skin and put in a clove of garlic. The wound is then stitched, leaving the garlic inside. Patrick Logan could think of no reason why this should have any effect, so perhaps the only reason for the garlic is to drive away the evil spirits that caused the disease, for in folklore garlic is the prime agent for combatting evil influences. ASH-Devon farmers believed that feeding infected cattle with ash leaves was...

Cabbage

(Brassica oleracea 'capitata') If thou desirest to die, eat cabbages in August. That was one of the medical maxims from the Book of Iago ab Dewi (Berdoe), and shows that cabbages were regarded with some suspicion at the time. Now it is difficult to see, or even think of, anything uncanny about a cabbage, but the Pennsylvania Germans used to say that a cabbage plant running to seed the first year, or one with two heads on one stalk, is a sign of death (Whitney & Bullock, Fogel). If one of...

Thornapple

(Datura stramonium) Found throughout most of the temperate world, but the fact that native Americans called it White Man's Plant (Sanecki) suggests that it is not native to North America. The capsules were, and, so it is claimed, still are, used in black magic (Summers), and it was certainly considered to be clearly associated with magic, witches, and also in the development of second sight (Trevelyan). In Puritan times, those who grew it in their gardens were in danger of being burned as...

Periwinkle

I.e., GREATER PERIWINKLE (Vinca major) and LESSER PERIWINKLE (Vinca minor) Periwinkle is the symbol of sincere friendship (Friend. 1883), and it is also said to typify excellence, as in an old ballad, a noble lady is called the parwenke of prowesse. In Germany, it is a symbol of immortality, as befits an evergreen plant (Fernie). There is a superstition that if the leaves are eaten by a man and wife, it will cause them to love each other. This is in Albertus Magnus, where it was said that...

Garlic

(Allium sativum) When the devil's left foot touched soil outside the Garden of Eden, garlic sprang up, and his right foot produced onions (Emboden). Naturally, with an offensive smell like garlic has (it is said applying it to the soles of the feet will still result in smelling it on the breath), it must be associated with the devil, but taken by and large, garlic is a protector, for all ages and for all purposes. Greek midwives made sure that, at the birth of a child, the whole room smelled of...

Childbirth

BIRTHWORT (Aristolochia clematitis) must be mentioned first in this connection. Aristolochia itself comes from two Greek words meaning 'best birth', and the association stems from the shape of the flower, which constricts into a tube that opens into a globular swelling at the base. The swelling was interpreted as the womb, the tube as the birth passage. So by the doctrine of signatures, it was used to help delivery, to encourage conception, and to purge the womb. Oddly enough, it seems that the...

Lightning Plants

Yggdrasil, the ASH tree, was sacred to Odin (Graves), and that would be enough to make ash a lightning tree BRACKEN must be included here - it will protect the house from lightning if hung up inside (but if you cut or burn it, it will bring on rain) (Waring). HAWTHORN too is a lightning tree, thought to avert lightning. In many parts of England, hawthorn gathered on Holy Thursday (whether that means Maundy Thursday or Ascension Day is not clear), was used as a protection against lightning...

Juniper

(Juniperus communis) This is a protective tree, indeed the very symbol of protection (Leyel. 1937). The wood and berries have been used all over Europe as a protection against evil influences and in containing witchcraft (Westermarck). Juniper canopied Elijah in his flight from Jezebel, and there is a legend that it saved the lives of the Virgin and Jesus when they fled into Egypt. In order to screen her son from Herod's men, the Virgin hid him under certain plants and trees, which naturally...

Mugwort

(Artemisia vulgaris) A common plant of waste places and roadsides in this country. Common it may be, but this is one of the most important plants in the folklore of Britain its ritual importance emphasised by its particular association with Midsummer. It is actually known as John's Feast-day Wort in the Isle of Man (bollan feaill Eoin (Moore) ), and in Europe, too, it is known as St John's Herb, and also as St John's Girdle - this is the medieval cingulum Sancti Johannis (St Johannesgurtel),...

Devils Plants

GARLIC when the devil's left foot touched soil outside the Garden of Eden, garlic sprang up, and his right foot gave rise to onions (Emboden). Naturally, with an offensive smell like garlic has, it must be associated with the devil, but taken by and large, it is a protector, holding the devil's works at bay. So too with SOW THISTLE. In Russia it was said that it belonged to the devil, but the Welsh belief was that the devil could do no harm to anyone wearing a leaf from the plant (Trevelyan),...

Daffodil

(Narcissus pseudo-narcissus) Daffodils that come before the swallow dares, and takes the winds of March with beauty (Shakespeare. The winter's tale 4, iii). Indeed they do - the church has appropriated it to the Feast of St Perpetua, which falls on 7 March (Geldart). Wild daffodils are out that early in damp woods and meadows. In some parts of Britain, Hampshire, for example, it was generally said that wild daffodils indicated the site of a monastery (Boase). Don't point at a daffodil, though -...

Willow

(Salix spp) The Latin word salix, so it is said, comes from salire, to leap, bestowed because of the extraordinarily quick growth of the tree. Not for nothing is there a saying, The willow will buy a horse, before the oak will pay for a saddle (Denham. 1846). Willows have for a very long time been symbols of sorrow, and of forsaken love in the Scriptures they are generally a symbol of woe and sadness (Dyer. 1889). Aubrey records the usage in Oxfordshire, albeit in a frolique, but Shakespeare...

Ashen Faggot

An East Anglian cure was to cut the initial letters of both one's Christian and surnames on the bark of an ash that has its keys. Count the exact number of your warts, and cut the same number of notches in the bark. Then, as the bark grows, so will the warts go away (Glyde). Another method was to cross the wart with a pin three times, and then stick the pin into the tree (Northall), and recite the appropriate rhyme. The Cheshire cure was to steal a piece of bacon, and to rub the warts with it,...

Poppy Anemone

(Anemone coronaria) Moldenke & Moldenke felt that this is the lily of the fields which surpassed Solomon in all his glory. There is a legend that the flower originated at the death of Adonis, who was changed into the flower, or that it sprang from the mixture of the blood of Adonis and the tears of Venus (Rambosson). The name Anemone itself is, Frazer said, derived probably from Naaman, or darling, an epithet of Adonis. The Arabs still call it wounds of Naaman. More directly, it is the Greek...

Shepherds Purse

(Capsella bursa-pastoris) Yorkshire children would open a seed vessel. If the seed inside is yellow, you will be rich, but if it is green, you will be poor (Opie & Tatem). Another children's game, if it can be called a game, was played with the seed pod. They hold it out to their companions, inviting them to take a haud o' that. It immediately cracks, and there follows a triumophant shout, You've broken your mother's heart (Dyer. 1889), or, in Middlesex, You've picked your mother's heart out...

Fennel

(Foeniculum vulgare) A Mediterranean plant, in Britain probably a naturalised physic herb, growing mainly by the sea and in some waste places inland. In Elizabethan times, fennel was used as a symbol of strength (Leyel. 1937), and also flattery, which is what Milton presumably meant, in Paradise Lost. Bk xi Grateful to appetite, more pleased my sense, Shakespeare probably had this in mind when he made Ophelia say, There's fennel for you, and columbine (Dyer. 1883). Grindon, though, had another...

Sage

(Salvia officinalis) A funerary plant in some areas, and graves were planted with it (Drury. 1994), something that Pepys noticed in April, 1662 To Gosport and so rode to Southampton. On our way we observed a little churchyard, where the graves are accustomed to be sowed with Sage. Gardeners' wisdom in America holds that it is unlucky to grow it from seed (Whitney & Bullock), and in Britain we are told to The sage will grow in any weather (Northall). In Wiltshire, they say that the rue will...

Warts

Many and varied are the remedies in medical folklore for getting rid of warts, some by direct application, and some by a ritual that can only be described as a charm, the best known being those connected with the ASH Ashen tree, Ashen tree, Pray buy these warts of me. That is a Leicestershire rhyme to accompany the charm, which was to take the patient to an ash tree, and to stick a pin into the bark. Then that pin would be pulled out, and a wart transfixed with it till pain was felt. After that...

Insomnia

A HOP pillow is the best known soporific and has been for a long time. The secret of success against insomnia lies in not packing it too tightly, and renewing the dried hops every four to six weeks (Thomson. 1976). The pillow's sedative action was used to combat other conditions, too. Lindley tells us that they were prescribed for mania. George III is said to have slept always on a hop pillow (Genders. 1971). Pillows are stuffed with the dried leaves of CATMINT, too, for the smell is supposed...

St Johns Eve

(23 24 June) The most widely held view was that all herbs, even poisonous ones, lose their evil on St John's Eve - they are all purified by St John's dew (Gubernatis). In fact, they actually gain power. See the Portuguese proverb That is, all herbs have power on St John's Morning (Gallop), for in Spain, Portugal and Brazil, herbs for curing should be gathered on the eve of Midsummer, for the season is at its most powerful on that day (P V A Williams). Even NETTLES, gathered tonight from the...

Watercress

(Nasturtium officinale) or (Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum) A cress with exceptionally high Vitamin C content (Mabey. 1972), which explains why it has always been so widely eaten, especially as it is also iron-rich, so that it has long been used particularly for anaemia (Conway). Although it is possible to pick the wild plant, it is best, given that the water it grows in could be polluted, to buy it from the greengrocer. A Somerset legend has it that watercress will only grow near sewerage. Even...

Gardeners Wisdom

A single clove planted beside each rose will keep the greenfly away (Boland & Boland) and will enhance the scent. It is also said to contribute to keeping fruit trees healthy. They say, too, LILIES-OF-THE-VALLEY will only thrive with SOLOMON'S SEAL (their husbands) growing nearby (M Baker. 1974). FOXGLOVES, too, will stimulate growth on plants growing near them, and help keep them disease free. So does PARSLEY, which often used to be grown as an aid to other...

Cowslip

(Primula veris) An unromantic name for such a plant, for cowslip (OE cuslyppe) means cow dung. It must have arisen from observation that a meadow full of cowpats suddenly became full of cowslips as well. Oxlip has a similar derivation. What is clear is that cowslip is not cow's lip, in spite of Ben Jonson's Bright dayes-eyes and the lippes of Cowes. It is said that cattle have an aversion to the cowslip, and they will refuse to eat it. It is further said that cowslips would give them the cramp,...

Earache

In Ireland, the sap of an ASH sapling was use to cure earache. A sapling would be cut and put into the fire. One end was kept out so that when the stick started to burn, the sap came out and was caught in a spoon. This could be put on cotton wool, and put in the ear. This is actually a very old remedy take, for instance, this leechdom from the fifteenth century Take young branches of ash when they are green. Lay them on a gridiron on the fire, and gather the water that cometh out at the ends of...

Scarlet Leadwort

(Plumbago indica) Plumbago derives from the Latin plumbum, lead, so the common name of the species is Leadwort. There was some feeling at one time that the plant was a cure for lead poisoning (Hyam & Pankhurst). Scarlet Leadwort is an Indian and Malaysian species. The root is an abortifacient, well-known as such, apparently by introduction into the vagina. But this is dangerous, sometimes lethal (P A Simpson), for that use would cause violent local inflammation (Gimlette). This is the source...

Royal Oak

(29 May) A holiday in Britain once, popularly supposed to be in commemoration of Charles Il's famous escape from the Boscobel Oak, when the custom used to be to wear sprigs of oak in the hat, and to decorate houses with oak boughs, which were often gilded (Jones-Baker. 1974) for greater effect. The Charles II theme is particularly apparent at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, for 29 May is Founder's Day there. Every pensioner wears a spray of oak leaves as a memorial to the royal founder (Hole....

Toothache

Treating toothache by picking at the decayed tooth with a sharp twig of WILLOW, until it bled was recorded in Wales. After that the twig had to be thrown into a running stream. Simply chewing some willow bark would have been useful, for it contains salicin, from which salycilic acid was obtained. Later, this was compounded into acetyl-salicylic acid - aspirin, in a word. Applying a hot FIG to the tooth or the cheek used to be a Cumbrian remedy for toothache Newman amp Wilson , but the strangest...

Persimmon

Diospyros virginiana Its uses are mainly medicinal, but there is a note that the bark, mixed with that of Red Oak, gives a yellow dye R B Browne . Like sassafras, persimmon wood is unlucky to burn in the house they both pop and crackle a lot when burning . If you throw it in a man's fireplace, he will soon move away. So runs a belief that was current in all the southern states of America Puckett . Another belief, or rather charm, recorded there is to string the seeds and wear them as a...

Unlucky Plants And Trees

In Greek folklore, people have a fear of sleeping under a FIG tree. On the island of Chios they say that the shadows of both fig and hazel are heavy, so it is not good to sleep under either of them Argenti amp Rose . Another aspect of this mistrust of a fig tree comes from the belief in the south of France that John the Baptist was beheaded under one. That is why the branches break off so easily, particularly on St John's Day, when anyone who climbs the tree risks a dangerous fall. Similarly in...