Yellow Iris

(Iris pseudo-acarus) It was known as gillajeur in the Guernsey dialect, and was one of the favourite flowers used for strewing in front of the bride at a wedding (MacCulloch), and in Ireland, it is put outside doors at Corpus Christi (O Suilleabhain). Shetland children used to make boats "seggie boats", of the leaves, seg, or seggie being a "sedge" name given to this iris. Children of Stenness, Orkney, were warned that if they chewed seg leaves, they would become dumb (Marwick), or at least have a stammer (Vickery. 1995). The juice from the roots was thought to cure toothache, but it had to be inhaled through the nose (Leask). In County Cork, the leaves ofYellow Iris, called Flaggers there, were put on the doorstep and window sills, or used to decorate the dresser, on May Day. On Cape Clear Island, branches were put in the fishing boats for luck (Danaher).

Water Iris is claimed to be the origin of the heraldic emblem of the fleur-de-lys. The legend is that Clovis, having to do battle on the banks of the Rhine with an army of Goths that outnumbered his, made a surprise attack by crossing the river at a ford that he had noticed, because of the presence of yellow flags. Out of gratitude he adopted the water flag as his emblem. It was chosen, in stylized form, by Louis VII, as decoration for the royal escutcheon. in the Crusades. In Germany, the root is regarded as a luck-bringer, just as mandrake is (G E Smith).

The roots, boiled in water, with copperas added, were once used on Jura as a substitute for ink (Pratt), and it was also used for dyeing black, "Sabbath black", it was called (Macleod), using iron as a mordant (S M Robertson). The flowers will give a yellow dye, and the root is used for wool dyeing on South Uist. The instructions are to take the root when the flower is past, clean, scrape and break up the root, then boil it in water. Afterwards strain it and boil the wool with the juice for an hour or more, until the desired shade of blue or steel-grey is obtained. A little alum has to be used (Shaw). In Cornwall, the leaves were sometimes used as a substitute for reeds in thatching, especially when the latter were scarce (Barton. 1972). The seeds have been used as a coffee substitute (Ingram), especially so in the Channel Islands during the German occupation (Vickery. 1995). The root used to be dried and ground for snuff (Pratt).

In some parts of Sotland, Mull, for instance (Beith), the root is chopped up and used for the relief of toothache. A 14th century recipe prescribed the leaves, stamped with honey, and applied to the cheek (Henslow). In one case, the instruction was to put the juice in the ear on the same side (Langham). The root was used in Ireland for dressing cuts and wounds (Wood-Martin), and they have been taken for constipation, too. They are certainly laxative, but in large quantities they are toxic (Schauenberg & Paris).

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