Maize

(Zea mays) The name Corn is used more frequently than Maize in America (A W Smith), often varied to Indian Corn, or even to Indian Wheat (Britten & Holland) in England. It has also been dubbed Welsh Corn, Asiatic Corn or Turkish Corn (Turner, in 1548, also called it Turkish Millet). "Asiatic", and "Turkish", because the early herbalists of the 16th century believed the plant had been brought by the Turks from Asia. The Turks invaded Europe about this time, and brought many new plants into the west. Anything unusual was labelled "Turkish", or perhaps it was confused with buckwheat, which was at one time specified as turcicum for some reason (Bianchini & Corbetta). "Welsh", of course, must simply mean "foreign" (OE walch, or something like it).

A supremely important plant like maize was bound to attract many origin myths, often, as with the other cereal grasses, with an incident of human or divine sacrifice involved. The idea was that one death, that of the god itself, would provide life to countless thousands by the gift of agriculture. Sometimes the death would be not of a divine personage, but of an often unnamed hero or precursor of the human race. Such a myth is this Menomini Indian one: an old man had corn, which he kept hidden from mankind. It took a young boy, his nephew, to kill the old man and by so doing release the corn for the benefit of all (A Skinner). An example of a different type of origin myth is this one from Mexico: a childless woman, who went to fetch water, saw the reflection of an egg on the cliff above. Her husband fetched it, and in seven days it hatched a small child with golden hair, which was soft and silky, like maize. The child grew quickly and was well developed after seven days. But people teased him because he was "only a little egg taken out of the water". Venetia Newall described this as "an inversion of the idea that the life-giving water causes the grain to grow, so that there must be its origin". Naturally, there would be some ritual, leading to superstition, in the planting of the grain. You should plant maize with a full stomach, Malayan peasants say, and use a thick dibber, as this will swell the maize ear (Skeat) (and see Hatt for further examples of the origin myth).

Maize is apparently toxic to cattle (Kingsbury. 1964), and a narcotic effect is produced when Peruvian Indians inhale the smoke made by burning the female styles. The effect is intense mental excitement, close to delirium (Schauenberg & Paris). The Tewa Indians used maize in a remedy for glandular enlargements in the neck. An ear of corn was laid on the warm hearth near the fire, and the patient put his foot on it and rubbed it to and fro. In the course of two or three days, so it was said, the swellings would subside (Youngken), surely an example of searching for an exterior cause of a natural cure. In Trinidad folk medicine, a tea made from the husks is taken for amenorrhea (Laguerre), and African-Americans made "corn shuck tea" to treat their influenza and colds (Fontenot).

Derbyshire well-dressing displays (see under WELLS) used the grain, called Hen Peas there, often dyed, in the pictures produced for the displays (Porteous).

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