Herb Robert

(Geranium robertianum) Who was Robert? Many suggestions have been made in the past. It is said to be dedicated to St Robert, whose feast day falls on 29 April. Perhaps it is Robin, and so Robin Hood? Or Robin Goodfellow? The seed vessels, with their sharp needles, are known as Pook Needles. In Germany, it was used to cure a disease known as Ruprechtsplage, said to be named after a Robert, Duke of Normandy. Another suggestion is that Herb Robert is derived from Robert, an 11th century Abbot of Molesne. Another opinion, more plausible than the rest, is that the name is from Latin ruber, red, i.e., a herb of a red colour.

This is an unlucky flower. Snakes would come from the stems if you went to pick it, witness the names Snake Flower, from Somerset, and Snake's Food, from Dorset (Macmillan; Vickery. 1995). Even more telling is Death-come-quickly, from Cumbria, for this is one of the flowers that if picked by children, would result in the death of one of their parents. That superstition is quite common. See, for instance, the name MOTHER-DIE, applied to a dozen plants, and always with an injunction not to pick the flowers (see Watts. 2000).

In Wales, Herb Robert was used as a remedy for gout, and it is recorded as a diabetes remedy in Ireland (O Suilleabhain) - a handful of the herb to a pint of water, in wineglassful doses, night and morning (Moloney). Culpeper says that it will heal wounds and stay blood. This sounds like doctrine of signatures, for the whole plant has a red look about it, particularly the stems and the fading leaves. In the same way, it was used in Scotland for erysipelas, or "rose". Scarlet cloth was also used (Gregor). But the medicinal use went beyond this, and still is used, by herbalists, to treat any skin eruption, herpes, etc., (Schauenberg & Paris), even skin cancer (Beith).

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