Archangels (Lamiums) Red archangel (Lamium purpurea) White archangel ( L.album)
Henbit archangel ( L.amplexicaule) Yellow archangel ( Lamiastrum galeobdolon)
Through sun and rain, the country lane,
The field, the road, are my abode.
Though leaf and bud be splashed with mud,
Who cares? Not I!—I see the sky,
The kindly sun, the wayside fun
Of tramping folk who smoke and joke,
The bairns who heed my dusty weed
(No sting have I to make them cry),
And truth to tell, they love me well.
My brothers, White, and Yellow bright,
Are finer chaps than I, perhaps;
Who cares? Not I! So now good-bye.
Cicely Mary Barker
A delightful selection of plants often known as dead nettles as their leaves resemble the nettle but have no sting. I prefer the name archangel which seems more deserving and refers to the fact they are still in flower on Archangel Michael’s Day ( 29th September)- Michaelmas.
Archangels grow on cultivated and waste land. The yellow species ( considered less herbal although can be used) tends to grow on heavy spoils of wood and hedgerow and differs from the others with its more robust aerial shoots. The white species is not seen in more natural habitats and seems to crop up around areas which were early Norman settlements so may well have been introduced as food. The red and white can both be added to salads or cooked as a vegetable, they were both once eaten by humans and prepared as pig food.
As a tea the plant is uplifting and as a healer can aid green wounds, ulcers, bruises, burns and ‘draweth’ splinters. It has also been said it can be used magically to protect cattle and as a guardian against black magic and evil spirits.
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Apple tree - Malus sylvestris (Latin) - Quert ( Ogham)
Shelter of a wild hind is an apple.
Shelter of a hind, lunatic, death sense, a time when a lunatic’s senses come back to him.
Excellent emblem, protection.
Force of a man.
Book of Ballymote 1391
Like the Hazel tree, apple is a tree of knowledge and a provider of nutritious food.
The apple tree is known in many cultures and traditions including Greek mythology and Christian lore.
In Britain there are many tales and indeed warnings of the eating of apples. The general agreement amongst these traditions is that the Apple is connected to the Otherworld and can confer divine knowledge and inspiration but at a price for once that knowledge is known there is no going back.
Stories speak of Isles of paradise with sacred apple trees. Glastonbury is said to be a physical manifestation of Avalon from the Gaelic Evain avaloch meaning holy hill of apples. Thomas of Ercledoune was given the gift of prophecy by the Queen of the fairies and warned he may never return from the Other-lands.
The Apple is a symbol of office for those great souls such as Sweeny Geilt, Taliesin and Merlin who dared to risk their lives and especially the sanity of their minds to travel to the Other-lands.
Shamanic traditions across the globe speak of the healers or wise ones who risk their lives for the knowledge to help their tribe or community. The ogham letters for apple is QU or CU a synonym for a warrior in Celtic lore, in this case a spiritual warrior unafraid to face death or travel to the Other-lands.
Orchards come into their own at Samhain ( the time when the Otherlands are most accessible). Apples are piled high and eaten in abundance. Apples are wassailed (celebrated) with song, ritual and toasts. Often libations of cider are poured on the apple tree’s roots.
In ancient times Pliny recognised 22 varieties of apple but since then over 2000 varieties have made their way across Europe especially from France into Britain. Apples contain much goodness as they are full of sugars, amino acids, vitamins, pectin, mineral salts, malic and tartaric acids.
They are good for infections of the intestine, constipation, fatigue, hypertension, rheumatism, bronchial diseases, coughs and cholesterol etc etc…..
Our native Crab Apple is easily overlooked in woodlands as it is often grows as a single tree. The true native has long pointed thorns and a rather shrubby untidy appearance which is why it bears the name crab from the Norse word skrab meaning ‘scrubby’.
However its presence is announced in the autumn when you will often notice copious amounts of small bitter apples upon the tree and ground. The crab apple however is not to be dismissed by the seeker of better tastes as we must remember this tree is the ancestor of all our cultivated apples and is still the rootstock to which the grafts of cultivated apples are made. Crab apples also make a wonderful jelly when mixed with rowan berries.
Crab-apples, Crab-apples, out in the wood,
Little and bitter, yet little and good!
The apples in orchards, so rosy and fine,
Are children of wild little apples like mine.
The branches are laden, and droop to the ground;
The fairy-fruit falls in a circle around;
Now all you good children, come gather them up:
They’ll make you sweet jelly to spread when you sup.
One little apple I’ll catch for myself;
I’ll stew it, and strain it, to store on a shelf
In four or five acorn-cups, locked with a key
In a cupboard of mine at the root of the tree.
Cicely Mary Barker
In the spring it is also more easily noticed with its wonderful display of pink blossom which exudes a perfume at night to attract insects, not unlike honeysuckle.
The apple tree tells us it is a time of fruition, a time to gather our resources and feel abundant. It also protects us from the more negative states of the mind.
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Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scriptus)
My hundred thousand bells of blue, the splendour of the spring, they carpet all the woods anew with royalty of sapphire hue; the primrose is the queen, 'tis true but surely I am King!
Ah yes, the peerless woodland king.
Cicely Mary Barker 1925
Bluebells are often thought of as a symbol of the beginning of summer in England, forming dense carpets of azure blue. A blue haze can be seen throughout the woods, a breathtaking sight revealing the glory of our woods at this time. People flock from other parts of the world to witness this majestic display. The individual flowers hang from the stem as bell-shaped flowers with creamy anthers.
A typical sight in Hampshire and West Sussex is a hazel coppice filled with bluebells. Hazel has strong associations with the animal worlds and greater knowledge. The bluebell appearing at a key Celtic festival invites us into a land of exuberance, the Bright realms. Fox wanders through the woods as an animal that journeys between the realms and if the fox needs help she can ring the bluebell for assistance.
A plant that is in such abundance you would have expected it to have been used. There are very few references to bluebell in the medicinal world; though it has been noted the roots were chopped, fried and applied as a plaster in Inverness.
The bulb is poisonous but can be made into starch and glue.
With extreme caution it can be used as a diuretic and styptic. Even in small doses it may not be safe to use.
Please do not use the bluebell yourself, this information is for your interest only!
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Hazel Fact File
Corylus avellana (Latin) Coll ( Ogham)
Hazel is a tree as well-used and known as the oak; it has played a huge part in the history of Woodsmanship in Britain. It spread effectively throughout Britain after the last ice age and probably helped form a staple food for early humankind. Known as the Celtic Tree of Knowledge it is not hard to see why the nuts (representing illumination) were so revered in a time when much of our native foods must have been bland in comparison. Hazel is connected to the life of the salmon which also represents illumination and must have also been a staple food fit for the gods! Hazelnuts are rich in mineral salts and can be ground to a powder to make flour. The hazelnut can also be used to soothe sore throats and relieve symptoms of a head cold. It is also thought hazelnuts bestow the gift of eloquence.
Not only did hazel provide a rich source of food, its wood was ideal for many crafts due to it being strong, flexible and easy to split and coppice. The wood can be used to make hurdles for fencing, walls for housing, springels to hold thatch in place, stakes and supports to grow plants, fishing rods, baskets, coracles etc...
No wonder it became so venerated and the traditional stories started to explore a deep spiritual aspect to its multi-faceted usage. The most famous story connected to hazel is of Finn McCuill (son of hazel) from the Fenian cycle who becomes enlightened merely from sucking the juice of the salmon of Fec which was caught in a pool surrounded by nine hazel trees, the nuts of which the salmon fed upon.
Hazel catkins mark the time of Imbolc or Oimelc (which means butter bag) as they resemble lamb’s tails and this season is traditionally the time when lambs are born and sheep begin to lactate. It is also the festival of Brighid who amongst other things is the muse of poets through the hazel tree.
The hazel is connected to the elements and has lightness about it. However there is also the story of the dripping hazel tree poisoned by the head of the giant Balor ( leader of the Fomhoire). This may well be a threshold tree acting as a guardian to the Other-worlds. To confront this tree is to experience your darker nature. Satire and keening can be associated with this tree in Celtic lore.
Hazel generally prefers a more acid soil and supports a rich flora; it will co-exist happily with honey fungus provided there is not too much shade and trees aren’t planted!
Commercial forestry does not employ hazel so extensively as it would have at one time partly due to a decline in the faggot trade although hazel is still in demand for wattle hurdles often now used for motorway fencing and in gardens.
Hampshire and Sussex are strongholds for hazel but on a national scale hazel is declining and is threatened due to its lack of regeneration. Neglected coppice means the tree will not flower and therefore fruit. When hazel does fruit the wood pigeons and squirrels will devour the nuts, often when they are still unripe meaning dropped seed will not grow.
The hazel tree as with so many of our trees needs our attention and protection as its habitat becomes neglected, this is a perfect example of how keeping our traditional crafts alive and using rather than neglecting the tree will help preserve it for future generations.
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Ribwort plantain Greater Plantain hoary plantain
Plantain (Plantago) Greater Plantain ( P. Major )
Ribwort Plantain (P. lanceolata) Hoary Plantain ( P.media).
Hullo, Snailey-O ! How’s the world with you?Put your little horns out;
Tell me how you do? There’s rain, and dust, and sunshine, Where carts go creaking by;
You like it wet, Snailey; I like it dry!
Hey ho, Snailey-O, I’ll whistle you a tune! I’m merry in September, As e’er I am in June.
By any stony roadside Wherever you may roam, All the summer through, Snailey, Plantain’s at home!
Cicely Mary Barker 1925
The four common species of Plantain are listed above. The greater has the broadest leaves followed by the hoary plantain which leaves are nearly as broad but are hairy where the greater is not. Ribwort Plantain has longer narrow leaves which are often downy. There are also two seaside species called buckshorn plantain (P.coronopus) and sea plantain ( P.maritima).
Plantain species treat piles and diarrhoea whilst the ribwort species is especially recommended to treat asthma and bronchitis. The leaves can be dried and taken as a tea for the above treatments. Fresh leaves are ideal to check bleeding of wounds and soothe burns and sores as well as insect bites. The leaves can also be dried to make an ointment which is also effective for wounds, burns and insect bites.
The greater plantain has the largest and most abundant flower spike of the plantain species. One may use the seed to make bannock and add to soups as an alternative to linseeds with mucilaginous and laxative properties. Birds also enjoy the seed given rise to local names such as bird’s meat and canary flower.
Five thousand years ago evidence suggests that early farmers cleared a lot of land for farming practice. One such evidence is the increase in plants such as the plantain which will grow in cleared compact ground and withstand heavy grazing. This is possibly why the plant is called Plantago from the root word Planta meaning sole of foot. A further reference is made to this theory by the Native Americans calling this plant white man’s footprint.
Hoary plantain is the only species which is insect pollinated using its delicate scent to attract bees.
This plant I have associated with the oak which also has benefited from human interference and has similar herbal properties.
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Poetry of flowers
Join me to explore the flora of the British Isles on this blog. My intention is to attempt to capture the unique quality and beauty of each species of flower, tree or shrub. For every species featured I will be growing many more wildflowers to celebrate the joy of their existence, their intrinsic conservation value and bewildering array of uses. For nearly 30 years I have noted, studied and explored wildflowers in the field much to the patience of the walker beside me. To share this passion is a heartfelt plea to respect, preserve and care for all British Wildflowers no matter how common they seem.