Turnips seem to have been first grown in the London area in the 16th century, but Norfolk was the first county in which they were extensively cultivated for cattle feed (G M Taylor). Gerard, at the end of that century, was rather disparaging about them: "the ... root .is many times eaten raw, especially of the poore people in Wales, but most commonly boiled. The raw root is windy, and engendreth grosse and cold bloud; the boiled doth coole lesse . yet it is moist and windy". The Regimen Sanitatis Salernii was equally scathing: "Turnips cause flatulence and spoil the teeth, stimulate the kidneys, and when ill cooked cause indigestion" (Hickey). There seems to have been some doubt early on as to what one should do with them -English travellers in Scotland in the 17th century complained that they got turnips (neeps) as dessert. ("The Scots had no fruit but turnips" (Graham)).
Nevertheless, this is a thoroughly useful vegetable, and its solid worth is recognized in superstitions, too, for to dream of being in a turnip field is a sign of riches to come, so it is said (Raphael), though the dream books were not unanimous about that. It is recorded that African Americans in the deep south of the USA used to scatter turnip seed round the house to keep witches away (R B Browne); they must have been growing right up to the doorstep! There is even a divination game played with turnips. It comes from west Wales, and involves a girl stealing a turnip from a neighbour's field (it must be stolen, not given). She peels it in one continuous strip, in the same way as the better known apple peel game, taking care not to break the peel, and then buries the peel in the garden. The turnip itself she hangs behind the door. Then she goes and sits beside the fire, and the first man who enters after that will bear the same name as her future husband (Winstanley & Rose).
Sow turnip seed thickly in a part of the garden infested with couch, and the latter will disappear, so it is claimed (Boland). Another piece of gardeners' wisdom comes from America:
Plant turnips on the 25 July, And you'll have turnips, wet or dry, is one of the adages from Kentucky, but they also tell one to plant them on the 10 August (and certainly not on the 7 August). To have good luck with them, say as you throw out a handful of seed: "One for the fly, one for the devil, and one for I" (Thomas & Thomas).
Turnips are diuretic, and were recognized as being so some centuries ago, and are still used for retention of urine among Irish people in County Mayo. They pulp a turnip and drink the juice (Logan). But in the southern states of America, and among black women in particular, there was a belief that if the mother eats turnip green while the baby is young, then the baby will die (Puckett), possibly because of the connection between greens and mother's milk, although Gerard was of the opinion that "they do increase milke in womens breasts". "Turnepes boyled and eaten with flessche, augmentyth the seeds of man" (G M Taylor) was a very early (1542) fiction.
Gerard again: "They of the Low countries do give the oile which is pressed out of the seed ... to young children against the worms, which it both killeth and driven forth". The early Welsh text known as the Physicians of Myddfai echoes this, though the procedure is different - "to destroy worms in the stomach or bowels. Take the juice of turnips, foment therewith, and they will come out". They provide a very well known cough cure, the usual practice being to cut one into slices, put them in a dish, and put sugar on them. Leave them for a day or two, and give a teaspoonful of the juice for the cough. That is the Wiltshire remedy (Olivier & Edwards), but it is virtually the same across southern England from Cornwall to Buckinghamshire (Hawke; Heather, for instance). Whooping cough was treated in the same way, and dried turnip grated and mixed with honey is an American cold cure (Stout).
Tussilago farfara > COLTSFOOT TUTSAN
(Hypericum androsaemum) The black berries are often viewed with suspicion by country people. In the Hebrides, for example, they say that if you eat them, you will go mad (Murdoch McNeill). The specific name, androsaemum, comes from two Greek names meaning man and blood, the reference being to the dark red juice that exudes from the bruised capsules. There is a belief in Hampshire that tutsan berries originated by germination in the blood of slaughtered Danes (Gomme. 1908). Anyway, this juice was taken as a representation of human blood, and by the doctrine of signatures the plant was applied to all bleeding wounds (Dyer. 1889). Actually, the leaves do have antiseptic properties, and they were certainly used to cover open flesh wounds before bandaging became common (Genders. 1971). Gerard said that "it stauncheth the blood and healeth them" (the wounds). He also mentioned "broken shins and scabbed legs" as conditions that tutsan leaves could heal, "and many other hurts and griefes, whereof it took his name Toute-saine or Tutsane, of healing all things", a panacea, in other words. He also recommended it for burns and there are other ailments that have been treated externally by either the leaves or roots in some kind of ointment. They range from chilblains to carbuncles, both Welsh usages, the former in the medieval text known as the Physicians of Myddfai ("... boil the roots, and pour upon curds. Pound the same with old lard, and apply as a plaster"). The carbuncle usage seems to be confirmed by one of the Welsh names for the plant, Dail fyddigad, carbuncle leaves (Awbery). Perhaps the strangest of the conditions to be treated with tutsan is, not surprisingly, in Gerard, and supposed to be a remedie for sciatica: "the seed ... beaten to pouder, and drunke to the weight of two drams, doth purge cholericke excrements, . and is a singular remedie for the Sciatica, provided that the patient drinke water for a day or two after purging".
When dried, the leaves have a very sweet smell, likened to ambergris. Picking the leaves and pressing them in books used to be a favourite pastime, resulting in the names Bible Flower or Bible Leaf (Grigson. 1955). Book Leaf, too, is known in Dorset (Macmillan). Incidentally, you can put them amongst clothes, too, to keep moths away (Genders. 1976).
The name Park-leaves, listed as a Somerset name (Macmillan), is by now used as the common name almost as much as tutsan. It is, of course, a corruption of Hypericum.
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