(Centaurea nigra) There are some love divination games played with knapweed. A young girl or man would pull the flower from the stalk, cut the top off the stamens with scissors, and lay the flower somewhere secret, where it could not be seen. She would think through the day, and try to dream through the night, of her lover, and then, on looking at the flowers next day, would judge of her success in love whether or not the stamens had shot out to their former length (Henderson). John Clare also described a similar charm in Shepherd's Calendar. May:
They pull the little blossom threads From out the knapweed's button heads And out the husk wi' many a smile In their white bosoms for a while Who if they guess aright the swain That loves sweet fancy trys to gain 'Tis said that ere its lain an hour 'Twill blossom wi a second flower ...
That description, though, is of a Buckinghamshire charm. The plant would bloom a second time if they could guess correctly the name of her future husband (Leyel. 1926).
Knapweed has a varied list of ailments for which it was used as a cure, from a general tonic to a cure for a carbuncle. The tonic, a decoction, was used in Sussex until recent times (Allen), but the carbuncle cure is ancient, and comes from the Welsh medical text known as the Physicians of Myddfai: "For a carbuncle ... take the flowers of the Knapweed or the leaves, pounding with the yolk of an egg and fine salt, thene applying thereto, and this will disperse it ...".
Russian folk medicine recommended a mixture of dried sage, knapweed and camomile flowers for all digestive disorders - one teaspoonful of the mixed herbs to a glass of water, boiled for 15 minutes and strained. The dose was a tablespoonful every two hours during the day (Kourennoff). Just chewing the flowers was taken as a cure for diarrhoea in Britain (Page. 1978). It has been used for rheumatism in Cumbria, the prescription just being described as "boiled horse-knops" (Newman & Wilson), horse-knop being one of the names for this plant. Lastly, there is an Irish gem: "this is dwareen (knapweed) and what you have to do with this is to put it down, with other herbs, and with a bit of three-penny sugar, and to boil it and to drink it for pains in the bones, and don't be afraid but it will cure you ..." (Gregory).
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