Dog Rose

(Rosa canina) It is so-called not, as with many plant names with 'dog' or 'dog's, because it was regarded as inferior in someway to other roses, but because it was supposed to cure the bite of a mad dog (Rowland). As such it is a straight translation from both the Greek and Latin. Aubrey (Aubrey. 1696) quoted Pliny on the belief. He mentions that a woman had a dream that told her to send her son, a soldier, a decoction of the root of a wild rose, "which they call Cynorrhodon". The decoction healed a mad dog's bite. The belief is preserved to this day in the specific name, canina. Some, though, say that 'dog' may actually be 'dag', a reference to the dagger-shaped thorns (Freethy). It seems most unlikely, for this theory contradicts the historical record back to the ancient Greeks.

Mid-June was the time for the annual sheep-shearing, after the arrival of warm weather was assured by the blooming of the Dog Rose:

Must not shear the sheep of its wool

Before the Dog-rose is at the full (Jones-Baker. 1977).

Another piece of farming lore connected with the Dog Rose comes from Huntingdonshire. They used to predict the date of the harvest as nine weeks from the opening of the first wild rose (Tebbutt).

"... children with great delight eat the berries thereof when they be ripe, make chaines and other prettie gewgawes of the fruit; cokes and gentlewomen make Tarts and such like dishes for pleasure thereof . ; the making whereof I commit to the cunning cookes, and teeth to eat them in the rich man's mouth" (Gerard). The hips contain large amounts of Vitamin C, and they were systematically gathered during World War 2 so that the vitamin content could be exploited. The hips have always been used as a medicine in one way or another. The conserve "is of some efficacy against coughs" (Hill), or a tea made from them was taken for fatigue, and dropsy among other complaints (Fluck), including the common cold (Thomson. 1978). "To prevent a wound going bad: hips of Dog Rose chewed, then let it drop on the wound" (Cockayne). The leaves, too, were used to put on a cut in Essex (V G Hatfield), and a charm from Ireland to cure a stye required the stye to be touched nine times with a rose thorn (Buckley).

The galls made by the gall wasp on the dog-rose enjoyed a great reputation at one time. These "Briar balls", also known by more picturesque names like Robin Redbreast's Cushions in Sussex (Latham), used to be sold by apothecaries to be powdered and taken to cure the stone, as a diuretic, and also for colic. Boiled up with black sugar (the sugar used for curing ham), the result would be drunk for whooping cough (Page. 1978). That is a gypsy remedy, but country people generally used to hang them round their necks as an amulet against whooping cough (Grigson. 1955), or just hanging them in the house (Rolleston), not only for whooping cough, but for rheumatism, too (Bloom), or for piles (Savage). Putting one under the pillow was a Norfolk way of curing cramp (Taylor). In Hereford and Worcester the gall was carried round in the pocket to prevent toothache (Leather), while Yorkshire schoolboys wore them as a charm against flogging (Gutch); that is why they were known as Savelick there. Gerard mentioned the galls, his reference being Pliny, and reckoned that, stamped with honey and ashes, it "causeth haires to grow which are fallen through the disease called Alopecia, or the Foxes Evill".

Stray flowers appearing in autumn were taken as a sign of the plague (Addison. 1985). Another superstition connected with the Dog Rose, from Normandy, was that its smell causes consumption in anyone who does the smelling, or else it sends him mad (Sebillot). It also had the reputation of being able to repel vampires (Valiente). Another odd belief was that scratches inflicted by the prickles were particularly harmful and difficult to heal, causing, as it were, little cancers (Grindon).

Dog Rose seeds constitute the original itching powder with which children amused themselves by putting down each other's necks. They are called Itchy-backs in Leicestershire (Opie. 1959), and in Cheshire Cow-itches (Holland). In Scotland and Ireland, they are Buckie-lice (Grigson. 1955), 'buckie' being the name by which the hips themselves are known.

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