(Anemone coronaria) Moldenke & Moldenke felt that this is the "lily of the fields" which surpassed "Solomon in all his glory". There is a legend that the flower originated at the death of Adonis, who was changed into the flower, or that it sprang from the mixture of the blood of Adonis and the tears of Venus (Rambosson). The name Anemone itself is, Frazer said, derived probably from Naaman, or "darling", an epithet of Adonis. The Arabs still call it "wounds of Naaman". More directly, it is the Greek "daughter of the wind" (Blunt. 1957). The death-of-Adonis myth makes this anemone the symbol of sorrow or death (Ferguson), and so it is found in Christian art in paintings of the Crucifixion.
Populus alba > WHITE POPLAR
Populus tremula > ASPEN (Populus tremuloides is the American Aspen)
Portulaca oleracea > GREEN PURSLANE Portulaca sativa > PURSLANE POTATO
(Solanum tuberosum) The fruit is poisonous, as are the vines, sprouts or peelings (Kingsbury. 1964), and so is the potato tuber itself if left to turn green on the surface (Young). That poison is solanine, which can be fatal to children (Duncalf). Potato originally came from the Peruvian Andes, and was held in such regard as to be almost sacred. Dorman describes a ceremony in which a lamb was sacrificed and its blood poured over potatoes. At the higher Andean levels, where the cold climate made preservation difficult, potatoes were converted into a flour called chuya, by an elaborate process of alternating freezing and warming which breaks down starch-containing cells. This "flour" could be preserved for long periods (Forde).
By the time potatoes had reached Europe, some very odd beliefs had become attached to them. Whoever would have thought of them as aphrodisiac? But Shakespeare was only echoing popular belief when he had Falstaff say: "Let the sky rain Potatoes, and hail Kissing-comfits, and snow Eringoes". Almost certainly he was talking about sweet potatoes, but no matter, the idea lingered after the introduction of our potato, and all because of a fundamental error. Being a tuber, it was mistaken by the Spanish who first came across both the potato (papa) and sweet potato (batata), for a truffle, and the truffle was the trufa, eventually meaning testicle, and so an aphrodisiac (Wasson). The other Spanish term for the truffle was turma de tierra, even more explicitly 'earth testicle'.
Putting a potato (or the peelings) outside a girl's door as an expression of contempt for her on May Day (Salaman) is probably a relic of the aphrodisiac belief, though a whole range was used then to express the villagers' opinion, ranging from hawthorn, a great compliment, through to nettles, which certainly were not.
Eat potatoes for good luck, they say in Alabama (R B Browne), probably a simplification of the undoubted dependence on potatoes in many communities, and not just in Ireland. When they were dug for the first time in the north-east of Scotland, a stem was put for each member of the family, the father first, next the mother, and the rest in age order. Then omens of prosperity for the year could be drawn from the number and size of the potatoes under each stem (Hartland). It was important for each member of the family to have a taste of the new crop, otherwise it would rot (Baker. 1977). If you dream of digging potatoes, and finding plenty of them, then that is obviously a good sign, with "gain and successes"; if there are only a few of them, then there is bad luck coming (Raphael). There is debate about the luckiest day for planting them. The Pennsylvania Germans say it should be St Patrick's Day if you wanted a good crop with large tubers (Dorson), but the general feeling is that the planting should be done on Good Friday, an odd choice horticulturally, as there can be as much as a month's variation in the timing. But of course the choice of day has nothing to do with reason - Good Friday is the one day on which the devil has no power to blight the growth of plants. Anyway, it seems to be agreed, from the Hebrides (Banks. 1937-41) to southern England (Goddard. 1942), that Good Friday is the great day for planting them. The Irish in County Galway say when you should not plant them - on a Cross Day, apparently, for that is unlucky. Cross days are any fourth day following Christmas, counting Christmas Day as the first of the four (Salaman). In a number of areas in Ireland church ritual is invoked to help the crop, on Ascension Day, for instance, when holy water is sprinkled on the growing crop. A burning faggot from the Midsummer Fires is thrown into the potato plot; moulding up is always done on St John's Day itself (Salaman). According to Iowa folklore, you should not plant them "in the light of the moon", for that would make them "go to vines" (Thomas & Thomas); but the best time to get them in was at the new moon (Hoffman).
Pregnant women should avoid potatoes, especially at night, if they want their child to have a small head (Salaman). Such a superstition is understandable once it is accepted that some ritual for getting a good, big crop of potatoes could have a similar effect on the head of the child in the womb.
Irish boxty bread was made from potato flour, and cooked on the griddle, and tattie bannocks used to be a Shetland delicacy, especially if they were dusted with fine oatmeal before being cut into rounds and baked on the griddle (Nicolson). Actually, if we are to believe Cobbett, potatoes for "flour" was widespread: "... think a little of the materials of which a baker's loaf is composed. The alum, the ground potatoes, and other materials; it being a notorious fact, that the bakers in London at least, have mills wherein to grind their potatoes, so large is the scale upon which they use that material" (Cobbett. 1822).
To keep the cramp away, or to be free of rheumatism, or even to prevent train sickness (Stout), carry a potato in your pocket, a well-known belief that has travelled to America (see Davenport; Thomas &
Thomas, etc.,). It is reported in Spain, too. There it was believed that the disease would actually go into the raw vegetable (H W Howes). Two potatoes were needed in Maryland, one for each pocket (Whitney & Bullock). In Ireland, it is said that as the potato dried up the rheumatism will go away (Mooney). It has to be a new potato, kept until it has turned black and is as hard as wood (Waring). "It will draw the iron out of the blood", as a Somerset belief had it (Whistler). In parts of France, it was carried around as a general charm against pain (Sebillot), or, in Kentucky, to prevent a chill (Thomas & Thomas), or kidney trouble, as Illinois belief had it (Hyatt). Andrew Lang said that the potato had to be stolen, or the cure would not work (Lang). Devonshire superstition also required some ritual. Here, a member of the opposite sex had to be asked to put the potato, unseen, in one of your pockets. You could change the pocket at will after this had been done, but the potato had to be worn continuously, or the charm would not work (Hewett). Similarly, a peeled potato, if carried in the pocket on the same side as an aching tooth, will cure it as soon as the potato itself was reduced to crumbs (Salaman) -a long time to endure the toothache, surely! Another potato charm is practiced in South Africa by Europeans for, of all things, delirium. Slices of raw potato would be tied behind the ears with a red cloth till they turned black (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk), and in the same way a potato bound to the knee for rheumatism had to be kept there without change until the thing had become offensive through decay (Mooney). Sometimes the potato was changed annually, when the new crop was being dug (Heather). A potato was used for warts, too. Just rub it on and then bury it, without looking, some say. As the potato rots away, so will the warts disappear. Or you can throw it over your left shoulder. Another piece of wisdom tells that the wart should be rubbed with the potato each night, letting the juice dry in the warts. Another method is to tie two pieces of potato together and put them under the eaves. When the potato rots, the warts will disappear (Stout). An Irish charm was to cut a potato into ten slices, count out nine and throw the tenth away. Rub the warts with the nine and then bury them (Haddon). Even the water in which potatoes had been boiled was used. A notice that appeared in the Surrey Gazette for 5 January 1864, and quoted in FLS News.15; July 1992, publicized a rheumatism cure that involved bathing the affected part with water in which potatoes had been boiled, as hot as could be borne, just before going to bed (see also V G Hatfield).
These are all charms, of course, but mistaken observation may account for some so-called medicinal effects. In the 2nd edition of Gerard, there is "Bauhine saith that he heard the use of these roots was forbidden in Burgundy (where they call them Indian artichokes) for that they were persuaded the too frequent use of them caused leprosie". Bauhine is Gaspar Bauhin, whose
Prodromos of 1620 set out the theory. As late as 1761 this prejudice against the potato was still apparent in that area, and its cause is probably to be accounted for by the doctrine of signatures, for the skin of a potato reminded someone of the effects of leprosy. As the disease disappeared in western Europe, the potato acquired the signature of scrofula.
Are there any genuine medical uses of potatoes? Lady Wilde spoke of a plaster of the scraped tubers, constantly applied for a burn, and giving, she said, great relief (Wilde. 1890), while a record from County Cavan requires the victim simply to rub a slice of raw potato on the burn (Maloney), provided the burn was a small one, when Sussex practice would agree. But if the burn were larger, then the potato had its inside scraped out. This would be mashed, and the result would go on the burn (Sargent). The opposite is said to work, too, for an Alabama treatment for frostbite is to put a warm roast potato on the spot (R B Browne). It is still being claimed that slices of raw potato, freshly cut and applied to the temples, soothe headaches and migraines (Palaiseul), and from the same source, there is a note enjoining us, to make the hands soft and white, to rub them for several consecutive evenings with a paste made by boiling and mashing very white floury potatoes, adding a little milk, and, if you like, a few drops of glycerine and rose water. There is another use for the starchy juice of the potato - ferment it and distil it for pure alcohol, the cheapest kind of alcohol in fact, at least, in Europe. It can be diluted with water and drink as vodka, or it can be used as a cheap method of producing fortified wines and liqueurs. Most of the cheaper alcoholic drinks are now prepared from potato alcohol (Brouk).
Some of the names for potato are interesting. The word itself appeared in 1565. It is from Spanish patata, and that came from Haitian batata (Barber). Pratie, used in Ireland, is claimed to be Gaelic, but almost certainly is derived via prata from patata (Salaman). So is Frata, another Irish name (Salaman). Potatoes are Taters in Wales, Tateys in Yorkshire (a Tatey garth is where you grow them (Robinson)), and Tetties in Devonshire. Crokers is a well-known Irish name, in use as early as 1640. The reason, it is said, is that they had been first planted in Croker's field at Youghal (Salaman). A nod towards Ireland, or at least to the Irish surname Murphy, is implicit in the use of that name for potatoes, rendered as Murfeys sometimes (Salisbury). But the best known of all potato names is Spud. The word originally meant some kind of spade or digging-fork, more particularly the three-pronged fork used to raise the potato crop, which are thus "spudded-up". Spuddy is a slang term for a man who sells bad potatoes (Salaman).
Potentilla anserina > SILVERWEED Potentilla erecta > TORMENTIL
Potentilla reptans > CINQUEFOIL
POVERTY, or POVERTY-WEED, etc., Such names usually mean that the plants grow in the poorest soil, and hence are a sign to the farmer that they may well keep him in poverty, plants like CORN SPURREY (Spergula arvensis), or PEARLWORT (Sagina pro-cumbens), and their like. Cf Beggarweed, Pickpocket, etc., all of which carry the same import. FIELD COW-WHEAT is another plant bearing the name. Very rare now, but at one time it grew in cornfields, and if it got into flour it coloured it, made it taste bitter and also gave it a bad smell, owing to the glucoside in it. The name is given "with reference, no doubt, not only to the way in which it impoverishes the soil, but also to the fact that the seeds becoming mixed with the corn, rendered the latter of small value in the market" (Vaughan).
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