Fourleaved Clover

Whoever has a four-leaved clover has luck in all things (even in love potions, according to the Channel Islands (Garis)). He cannot be cheated in a bargain, nor deceived, and whatever he takes in hand will prosper. It brings "enlightenment to the brain, and makes one see and know the truth". But it must never be shown to anyone, or the power would no longer exist (Wilde. 1890), and it must never be taken into a church, for then they would become very unlucky (Nelson. 1991). Bretons say it will drive away even the devil himself (it makes by its shape the sign of the Cross), and in the Vosges anyone who has it about him without knowing it can kill a werewolf with a bullet (Sebillot), something that in normal circumstances cannot be done. A four-leaved clover will enable the finder to see the fairies, and to break the powers of enchantment (Vickery. 1995). See, for example, the Irish folk tale in which a travelling magician, or perhaps master of hypnosis would be nearer the mark these days, made simple folk at a fair believe that his cockerel, on the roof of a house, was carrying a long block of timber in his beak. A girl carrying an armful of fresh cut grass came along and saw only normality. The magician was quick enough to realise what was going on, and immediately bought the grass from the girl. At once, she became as enchanted as the others; there was a four-leaved clover in her bundle of grass. It was said that fairy ointment was made of four-leaved clover (see Briggs. 1978).

In a story from Hyde's collection, a widow is told to put a piece of Mary's shamrock, presumably a four-leaved clover, in her sick son's drink. It cured him miraculously. The belief in its powers spread to American folklore - it is lucky to find or keep, but bad to give away. Another American belief is that whereas a four-leaved clover is lucky, a five-leaved one brings nothing but misfortune (Bergen. 1896). But there is a Scots proverb, "he found himself in five-leaved clover", i.e., in very comfortable circumstances (Cheviot). There is a Quebec superstition that if you put a four-leaved clover in your shoe, you will marry a man having the first name of the man you meet first after doing so (Bergen. 1896). Another example comes from Michigan: with a four-leaved clover in your shoe, you will meet your lover. From the same area comes another belief: if the finder of a four-leaved clover puts it in her own shoe, she will marry the first person with whom she crosses a bridge. From other parts of America, the injunction is to put the four-leaved clover over the door. The first person to pass under it will be your future mate (Bergen. 1896).

These days, in America, four-leaved clover is grown commercially. There are clover farms there, and each leaf is enclosed in plastic and sold as "good luck charms"! (Vickery. 1995). FOXGLOVE

(Digitalis purpurea) In Hartland, North Devon, foxgloves are associated with St Nectan. Wherever a drop of his blood fell, a foxglove sprang up. There is a foxglove procession there on the Sunday nearest the patronal festival, 17 June (Vickery. 1995). But everywhere else, the association is with the fairies, as many of the local names for the plant confirm. It is Fairies' glove, fingers, thimbles, hats, caps and dresses, and so on. When the plant bows its head, it is a sure sign that a fairy is passing (Boase). "Fairies have been seen dancing under foxgloves in Cusop Dingle within the memory of some now living there" (Leather). But of course they are seen to a much greater extent in Ireland - see Yeats (Irish fairy and folk tales) - "and away every one of the fairies scampered off as hard as they could, concealing themselves under the green leaves of the lusmore, where, if their little red caps should happen to peep out, they would only look like its crimson bells ..." Indeed, the Shefro, one of Ireland's more gregarious fairies, is always described as wearing foxglove flowers (Wentz). (Lusmore, the great herb, is the name normally used for foxglove in Ireland).

As so often happens in folklore, the fairies' favourite plant is also the one that offers most protection against them. In Ireland particularly, it can break the fairy spell (but can also cause the individual to be fairy struck (Wilde. 1902)). Nevertheless, it can cure any disease the fairies might cause (Logan). It is very useful when dealing with a changeling, a child "in the fairies", as is sometimes said. The child is bathed in the juice, and fairy-struck children had to be given the juice of twelve (or some say ten) leaves of foxglove (Wilde. 1902). Or a piece of the plant could be put under the bed. If it is a changeling, the fairies would be compelled to restore the true child (Mooney). Simpler still, put some leaves on the child itself, and the result would be immediate (Gregory). And instructions from County Leintrim advised a suspicious parent to "take lusmore and squeeze the juice out. Give the child three drops on the tongue, and three in each ear. Then place it [the suspected changeling] at the door of the house on a shovel (on which it should be held by someone) and swing it out of the door on the shovel three times, saying "If you're a fairy, away with you". If it is indeed a fairy child it will die that night; but if not it will surely begin to mend" (Spence. 1949).

The Irish also used it as an effective charm against witchcraft. The patient was rubbed all over with it -a dangerous practice, and the patient may die of it, especially if tied naked to a stake, as was the custom once (Wilde. 1890).

After all this, it is not surprising to find that it is an unlucky plant to have indoors, and just as unlucky to have on board a ship (M Baker. 1980). It is unlucky to transplant a foxglove, so it was said in Hampshire; but if one grows from a seed it should be nurtured, so that it will set as a lucky mascot (Boase). Gardeners say that foxgloves stimulate growth in plants growing near them, and help to keep them disease-free (Boland & Boland). Foxglove tea, we are told, added to the water makes cut flower last longer ( M Baker. 1980).

The dried leaves are the source of a very potent drug that has the effect of reducing the frequency and force of the heart action, so it is given in special cases as a sedative, especially in heart disease. It was Dr William Withering (1741-1799), from Wellington, Shropshire, who first introduced digitalin into general medical practice. He published "an account of the Foxglove and some of its medical uses" in 1788. It is said he got his information from a witch. But this is indeed a dangerous plant, which animals always avoid. All parts are poisonous, but especially the seeds. The leaves are more active before than after flowering (Long. 1924). There was another use of the toxic principle; that was in what the Americans call a "chemical jury". In other words it was used in ordeal trials to test guilt or innocence - if he survived he was innocent! (Thomson. 1976).

Gypsies use an ointment made from the fresh leaves to cure eczema (Vesey- Fitzgerald), and in early times the leaves were used mainly as an external application for wounds and ulcers in the legs (Clair), for the toxic potentialities were recognized very well early on. The gypsy usage for ulcers was certainly known very early, for in the Anglo-Saxon version of Dioscorides (in Cockayne's translation) we have "For inflammatory sores, take leaves ..., work to a poultice, lay to the sore", and also "for a pimply body, take this same wort and fine flour, work to a poultice, lay it to the sore". Much later, there are records from the Highlands for this use of the leaves on boils, and also on bruises (Grant), or to cure erysipelas (Polson. 1926), while on Skye a plaster made from them used to be applied to remove pains that follow fever (Martin).

Along with barley meal and some other herbs, it was included in an Irish preparation to treat epilepsy (Logan), but what herb was not tried at some time or other? As has been said (Thomson), desperate conditions demand desperate remedies! It must have been a quite dangerous practice, but there are other records of foxglove leaf infusions being taken. Gypsies use a very weak infusion of the dried leaves for fevers (Vesey-Fitzgerald), and foxglove tea was apparently a standard domestic remedy for dropsy (Beith). Irish people used to make a tincture for it with gin, and then use a very small quantity on loaf sugar (Egan). But given the known effect on the heart, there should be no surprise at that. But using the leaf infusion as an emetic, as was done in Ireland (Logan) is another matter. Other Irish uses, for lumbago (O'Súilleabháin), or for hydrophobia (Wood-Martin), for example, did not need internal consumption. But there is another case of an infusion taken internally; according to the Times Telescope, 1822, "the women of the poorer class in Derbyshire used to indulge in copious draughts of foxglove tea, as a cheap means of obtaining the pleasures of intoxication". Actually the practice was far from being confined to Derbyshire.

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