Costmary

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Cotinus coggyria > VENETIAN SUMACH COTTON-GRASS

(Eriophorum angustifolium) It appears in a number of Irish and Highland folk tales as a powerful instrument against enchantment, for example in the one called The three shirts of canach down quoted by J G McKay. There the sister had to make each of her enchanted brothers a shirt of the moorland canach, which was the Highland name for the plant, ceannabhan mona in Irish. She had to remain completely silent until she herself, after making the shirts, had put them on her brothers to free them from the spell. The Irish version of the tale is quoted by Kevin Danaher in Folk tales of the Irish countryside. Nettle is the textile in some versions, a far better proposition for the hard-working sister. But cotton-grass heads were a crop on the Isle of Skye, gathered usually by the children. Dried, they were used to stuff pillows and quilts (Swire. 1961) (St Bride lined the bed of Christ with cotton-grass, even though the birth of Christ occurred in mid-winter (Swire. 1964)). Stuffing pillows must have been a tedious task, for when the heads were used whole they would be lumpy in a pillow, but the trick is to remove the tough base and use only the down. It can be spun like cotton, but the fibres are more brittle than those of cotton, so not so useful. Candle and lamp wicks used to be made of the down (Johnson), while children often use them like powder puffs (Bairacli-Levy).

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