i.e., COMPACT RUSH (Juncus conglomeratus) or SOFT RUSH (Juncus effusus) "Not worth a rush" is a common enough saying, but it is far from the truth, for rushes used to supply, besides rush-lights, floor covering, including, in England, the stage, (J Mason), mats, chair seats, ropes and toys (Burton). They were strewn, along with herbs and flowers, at weddings, from the house of the bride to the church (J Mason). Rush-lights (there is an American name for rushes, Lampwick Grass) were made from second-year plants (those in flower, that is), and they were trimmed to about 12 - 15 inches. They were then peeled, while still leaving on a thin strip of rind to support the fragile pith. After drying, they were passed through hot fat. Of course, the resulting rush-lights were very fragile, so they were stored in a cylindrical tin called a "rush-bark" (or "candle bark"), originally a piece of bark, as the name implies, which could be hung on the wall. There was a custom in County Antrim, Ulster, when someone lay dying, for twelve rush-lights to be lit and stuck in a bowl of meal. These were left burning until death occurred. Then the rush-lights would be extinguished, and the bowl of meal given to the first poor person who came to the door (St Clair). If a rush-light curled over, it was a sign of death, and if a "bright star" appeared in the flame, a letter could be expected (Burton).
Twisted into ropes, rushes were used for securing thatched roofs, and for trussing hay and straw. It was claimed that they were stronger and more durable than ropes of hemp. They were used for bedding, too. An 18th century ballad has:
"Fair lady, rest till morning blushes,
I'll strew for thee a bed of rushes".
Rushes were once made into bridal rings, originally probably for bethrothal rings, but later for mock marriages. As early as 1217, Richard, Bishop of Salisbury, had to issue his edict against the use of "Annulum de junco" (Savage). Hassock is a Lancashire name for a rush, reed, or any coarse grass. The name was then applied to mats and cushions made from the stems, on which people kneel at church.
Finding a green-topped rush is as lucky as finding a four-leaved clover:
With a four-leaved clover, a double-leaved Ash, and a green-topped Seave,
You may go before the queen's daughter without asking leave (Burton).
"Seave" is the Yorkshire name for a rush (Hartley & Ingilny). Children make "arrows" of the stems, described as half-peeling a strip of the outer skin away from the pith, balancing the stem across the top of the hand, then pulling sharply on the half-peeled strip, which propels the arrow at a target. Girls make "Lady's Hand-mirrors", by bending the stem sharply at the middle at two points about a quarter of an inch apart. The stem is then plaited by bending each side in turn sharply over the other at right angles, and so on (Mabey. 1998).
A Devonshire charm for the thrush was to take three rushes from any running stream, and pass them separately through the mouth of the infant, then plunge the rushes again into the stream. As the current bears them away, so will the thrush go from the child. There is also a Cheshire charm for warts involving rushes. Take a long, straight one, tie three knots in it, and make it into a circle, Draw it over the wart nine times, say the required formula (not divulged), and the wart will disappear within three months (Burton).
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