Hard by a great forest
Wild healing

More folklore of the wild flowers

Wildflower path

Following on from Friday's wildflower post...

As the woods and fields, green hills and hedgerows continue to burst with color and bloom, here's a little more of the wildflower lore that's rooted in the land below our feet. I love knowing and passing on such things. "Re-storying" the land is, I believe, an important part of re-wilding the land, re-wilding our culture, and re-wilding ourselves.

In the springtime, writes herbalist Judith Berger,

"the earth herself seems overtaken with desire to create for the sake of beauty and joy, unveiling at an astounding rate those creations which were conceived and protected in winter's ground-dark womb. Young, delectable leaves shoot up out of the soil, becoming clorophyll-rich as they soak up the food of the sun's fire. Food and medicine plants carpet the ground abundantly, delighting the eyes and tastebuds with a palette of green hues and an array of distinctive earthy flavors. Daily, as light seeps into the unfurling leaves, the plants grow greener and greener with the blood of the sun. As we ingest these plants, we increase our inner fires and pulse with the blood of life, thus inspired to move through our days with the same abandon as the maiden goddess of spring."

Stichwort, buttercups, hound, and sun.

Stitchwort (below), appears in Devon in two distinctive colors: white and pink. Greater stitchwort, with its white star-like blooms, also goes by the name star flower, thunder flower (because picking it will cause a storm), Mother Shimbles, snick needles, and snapjacks (due to the popping sound made by its seed pods as they ripen). Lesser stitchwort, with its small pink flowers, is known as piskie, or piskie flower, here in Devon -- though in fact both kinds of stitchwort are under the special protection of the piskies (our local faery folk). They zealously guard the flowers against hedgewitches, who use them for making medicines and charms of protection against piskie mischief -- including a salve that heals the "side stitches" caused when mortals are hit by elf-shot.

White stitchwort

Pink stitchwort, nettles, ivy, and ferns.

Stickwort often grows among stands of nettles -- which is certainly one way to protect it from being picked. Nettles themselves are a wonderful plant (despite their sting), prized by witches, cunning men, herbalists, and wild food foragers. In Celtic lore, thick stands of nettles indicate that there are faery dwellings close by, and the sting of the nettle protects against faery enchantment, black magic, and other forms of sorcery. Historically, nettles have had a wide variety of uses, from making medicines to making cloth. "Nettle oil preceded paraffin," notes folklorist Margaret Baker; "the juice curdled milk and helped to make Cheshire cheese; nettle juice seals leaky barrels; nettles drive frogs from beehives and flies from larders; nettle compost encourages ailing plants; and fruits packed in nettle leaves retain their bloom and freshness." Today, many of us still harvest the tender top leaves of nettles in the spring. Rich in iron and vitamins, they are an excellent tonic for the immune system when cooked in soups and stews, or brewed for tea.

(For a lengthier discussion of the folklore and use of nettles, go here.)

Following her nose

Speedwell

Germander speedwell ( above), also known as birds-eye or angels-eye, is a flower associated with vision, with magical oinments allowing mortals to see faeries, and with healing afflictions of the eyes -- whether medical or caused by witchcraft. Although largely unmentioned by modern herbalists, it was once considered a valuable plant in hedge-lore here in the West Country. A tea made from its leaves and flower petals is said to be good for coughs (when brewed at strength), or settling the nerves (when brewed more delicately),  while also fostering clarity of vision, focus, and purpose.

Wildflower path

Welsh poppies

According to Welsh folklore, wild Welsh poppies (above) don't flourish outside Wales itself, but in fact they can be found throughout the West Country, and in parts of Ireland too. Although the Welsh poppy (Meconopsis cambrica) is somewhat different than the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum), it too is associated with sleep, dreams, the spirit world, and various forms of divination. Yellow poppies must never be brought into the house -- they will cause headaches, storms, or lightning strikes -- but wild poppy seeds placed under a pillow will show a young man or maid their future lover's face, or give the dreamer the answer to any question posed while falling asleep. The seeds can also be carried in one's pocket, or strewn in a circle around one's home, to provide protection from faery enchantments, especially those that cause confusion or memory loss.

Through the meadow gate.

Cuckoo flowers and buttercups

The cuckoo flower (above) is said to herald the first cuckoo of spring. It grows in damp, grassy meadows and bogs, its petals tinted pink or lavendar, and is also known by the names lady's-smock, milkmaid, May flower, and fairy flower. Associated with the revels of May, hedgewitches used various parts of the plant for love potions and fertility spells -- as well as for the opposite: charms intended to keep love and fertility at bay. Cuckoo flower teas and tonics restored appetites diminished by poor health, while also aiding digestion, treating survy, and easing bowel complaints. The leaves, when young, are edible, tasting peppery, like cress.

Buttercups

In the folk tradition of the West Country, buttercups (above) are a benificent plant -- associated with the sun, yellow butter and the dairy, and ease in domestic labor. On May Day, farmers rubbed the udders of their cows with buttercup flowers to increase the yield and richness of their milk; this also protected them from theft by faeries -- who were always eager to improve their herds of fairy cattle by interbreeding with cows from mortal fields. Buttercups are toxic to ingest so medicinal use of the plant is limited, although some old herbals suggest that a poulstice made of the crushed flowers and leaves is helpful in relieving colds, coughs, and bronchial complaints. "Buttercup water," made by infusing the flower petals in water heated by the sun, was used to bathe sore eyes, and "sweeten" the complexion. Buttercups are part of Rananculus family, related to spearwort, crowfoot and lesser celandine. It was once believed that swallows fed their young on a diet of these flowers, giving them prophetic abilities and clear sight.

White stitchwort and hound on Nattadon Hill

Red campion in the bracken and briars.

Red campion (above and below) -- also known as ragged-robin or robin flower -- is associated with Robin Goodfellow (or Puck), a faery Trickster who is charming, sly, amoral, and rather dangerous to encounter. In some parts of country, the picking of campion is discouraged, for this invites the faeries' attention -- but here in the West Country, it's a lucky flower. Campion in the house represents the faeries' blessing, provided it's been picked with care and respect. Red campion is not edible, and its herbal use is limited -- but the roots have been used to make a soap substitute, and the flowers for charms and spells to ward against loneliness. 

Hedgerow flowers

In Norse myth, wild columbine (below) is the flower of Freya, goddess of love, sensuality, and women's independence; in Celtic lore, too, it's a flower associated with women and their Mysteries. Columbine's primary use in hedgerow medicine was as an abortificant: its seeds were ground and mixed wine and other herbs to produce this effect; and then used with wine and a different set of herbs to restore the woman's strength. Also known as Granny's bonnet, lady's shoes, sow wort, and lion's herb, the flower is linked with both the dove and the eagle, with peace and war, and the balancing of opposites: strength in fragility and fragility in strength. Columbine was used for spells invoking courage, wisdom, and clarity in making choices. 

Wild columbine

Herb Robert (below) is a modest little flower, but it's become one of my favorite sights in the hedgerows...and in our garden too, where it kept appearing in spaces that I'd intended for other things. At first, I confess, I pulled it out as a troublesome weed, until its gentle persistence caused me to look a little closer at this tiny wildflower. I learned that the plant was once much prized by herbalists (and magicians!) in medieval times; and that herbalist today hail its ability to boost the immune system (precisely the thing I most needed). In folklore, according to Margaret Barker, herb Robert is known as "the plant of equality, all its parts being equal and harmonious." It's also another faery plant: its appearance in the garden betokes the blessing of the particular spirits who "quicken" all green living things. The great mystic and herbalist Hildegard of Bingen extolled the virtues of this humble flower, recommending its use (in a powdered form, eaten on bread) to strengthen the blood, balance the mind, and ease all heartbreak.

Herb Robert

Valerian (below) is another that has moved itself from the hillside to our garden, rooting firmly in a sunny front slope. "Valerian's botanical name (Valerianna officinalis) comes from the Latin word valere, 'to be strong,' " writes Margaret Baker. "It is said to be a witch-deterrent, to provoke love, and to be a telling aphrodisiac. In the West of England a girl who wore a sprig would never lack lovers." Well. You can't beat that.

Pink valerian

In her lovely book Herbal Rituals, Judith Berger envisions the springtime as the Goddess in her maiden aspect:

"In Hebrew the word for life, chai, is also the root of the word meaning wild she-animal, (chaiya), and this is how I see the spring: as a wild, untamed maiden bounding over the dark earth, her footfall touching all life with more life. Hair flying behind her, she leaves in her wake a trail of color, scent, and nourishment, her mood of wicked delight spreading across the ground like green fire. Roused by her passion, the green nations leap toward the sun, brimming with sheer joy, until everywhere we turn our heads we find life unfolding, changing shape, and blossoming, each form in nature dripping with beauty and transformed by the nurture of sun, rain, earth, and air."

Welsh poppies

Above, the Lady of Bumblehill (a statue made by my friend Wendy Froud) stands in our back courtyard with flowers at her feet. The flowers change a little every year, as Welsh poppies, foxgloves, columbine and other plants self-seed and move about the land.  I love these untameable flowers...and so does Tilly. Here she is at just ten weeks old, mesmorized by a hawkweed's bloom. Entranced by its colour. Scenting its magic. And listening closely to its stories.

Tilly and her flower

The passages quoted above are from Herbals Rituals by Judith Berger (St. Martin's Press, 1998) and Discovering the Folklore of Plants by Margaret Baker (Shire Classics, 2008).  All rights reserved by the authors.

Comments

Gorgeous posting Terri. I dragged my family off to look a medieval meadow in Derbyshire this weekend; one brought to my attention by Emma Mitchell and her book Natural Remedy. It was just as lovely as she alleged and full of nearly every species you post above. We were a few weeks too early for the orchids sadly so will go back (the meadow is on Derbyshire limestone so is excellent for orchids)

We keep a number of these "weeds" in the garden too, herb Robert and herb Benedict; Acturia which I believe was a Roman import and used for dye. Thanks to these we also have an abundance of bees.

How joyful I feel when seeing Tilly as a pup, after she appears in in almost every photo you share. It's a treat!

I agree, seeing Tilly as a pup was a morning treat!

What a lovely post, packed with interesting information. We have all these growing in our field, and I am tempted to try some of the teas. I don;t suppose hogweed is good for anything is it?

Mother Shimbles is a great name!

What a beautiful and interesting read - thank you so much :)

Hi Terri

I could spend hours in the "greenwood" exploring the flowers, mosses, trees and fabled spirits that haunt its various nooks and corners. Everything in these photos from that tree to the flowers to the adorable stance of Tilly enchants. And , of course, the lore of wildflowers expressed in these writings are pure magic, pure enchantment for one's mind and heart.

Lately, I have been reading about the woods and the lore of "the hedgewitch". Her story fascinates as well as her craft. We need more of her insight, her connection to nature and its diverse creatures, her ability to divine (not so much the water underneath the ground} but the energy that cleanses our imagination and carries off the digital debris. We need to instill in our children the tangible aspects of magic and how transformative its landscape can be -- from woods to mountains, from rivers to marshland and beyond. Once again, thank you for bringing us alive with the beauty and the enchantment of myth and moor.

The Hedge Witch To Her Child.

Come my lovely daughter
cut a willow branch
and find clean water,

pluck a primrose
from its moonlit bush
and soothe your female woes,

kindle a flame
with some hill-grown moss
and see what spirits claim

about everything
from the rainfall
to a bird's molting wing,

unravel wool
from the cattail stalk
and stuff your mattress full

to dream of marsh and glen
where spider, snail and moth
are sly craftswomen

who spin, etch and fly.
They'll teach you how to cast
spells with skilled hand and eye.

So come my lovely child
leap from hedge to hedge;
your soul is young and wild

enough to revive --
the roots of raw magic
we need to heal and thrive.
_________________________________

Take care,
My Best
Wendy

Magical post, yet again. I love the folklore of plants and I included it in my flower pressing and plant ID assignment for a countryside conservation degree course.Ragged Robin and Red Campion are two of my favourite flowers and both are in my garden.

Pure magic.

Try Sycorax, ajournal that loves poems about women and magic.

Jane

Speedwell


You saved none for yourself,
dear man,
gave it all to me


That bird's eye, and song
you cultivated
till the very end.


You who did not believe
in angels
was left with no protection.


Mortality was your choice,
not healing,
not Heaven.


You do not dance now,
but stride
with the wild hunt


Across endless greens
whistling up ouzles,
calling down owls,


While I sit
on my lonely bed,
writing poems of longing,


growing ever deaf
to bird song,
till I can speed,


well at last,
into the green
of your waiting arms.


© 2019 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Simply delightful! I love hearing all the comments name's for plants and flowers. They bring to mind so many ideas for paintings.

We don't have many of the same plants here in our Iowa woodland and prairie, but the plants have just as much spirit and history

Hi Jane

This is so beautiful that I can't pick a favorite set of lines. They all flow so beautifully together to form this lyrical sense of reflection and yearning. The last three strophes touch so deeply, make me cry but in the way an excellent poem should, extracting personal memory, experience, longing etc. from the one who reads it.

Thank you so much for sharing!
Please take care
My Best always
Wendy

Hi Jane

Thanks so much for reading and taking an interest in my work. I deeply appreciate it; and yes, I will look into Sycorax. Sounds like a great magazine.

Take care,
Wendy

This post was fascinating! Thank you! I even saved it for future reference.

Oh, how serendipitous that Natural Remedy has been on your mind too! It's such a beautiful book, and I hope it reaches the hands of all who need it.

I don't know herb Benedict, but now I'm going to have to go and find out more about him. Thank you for that, dear!

She was such a sweet little thing! And she's still a sweet little thing. I'm so glad she chose us.

Thank you dear Wendy.

I find I am clear of mourning for days on end, and then some one thing reminds me. . . .

Jane

Herbalist Theresa Green says:

"Common hogweed was once employed in medicine, although its use has been long out of favour. Long ago the seeds were boiled in oil that was then recommended for application to running sores and to treat the rash associated with shingles. Culpeper recommended a decoction of the seeds to be applied to running ears.

"Hogweed shoots have a high vitamin C content and the plant is still eaten in some places. The young shoots are collected early in the season and the tender young stems, cut into pieces about 15cm long may be boiled in salted water for about 15 minutes, then drained and served with butter. Apparently they make an ideal accompaniment to meat dishes.

"(WARNING! This family of plants contains many poisonous species and correct identification is essential before even thinking about eating them.)"

Her blog, Everyday Nature Trails, which she writes from North Wales, is lovely. https://theresagreen.me/

Brilliant. It is really interesting. Photos are looking good as well. Looking forward to seeing some other posts from you. Nature,life and herbs are looking like your kind of thing. Keep up the good work.

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