Lady's Smock (Cardamine pratensis) and Hairy Bittercress (C.hirsuta) ideal for spring salads.
Lady's Smock Cardamine pratensis
Where the grass is damp and green,
Where shallow streams are flowing,
Where the cowslip buds are showing,
I am seen.
Dainty as a fairy’s frock,
White or mauve, of elfin showing,
‘Tis the meadow-maiden growing-
Cicely Mary Barker
On the edge of an ancient woodland I used to visit in my teens was a brook and a wet meadow cheered by ragged robin, lady’s smock and a hedge of Blackthorn.
Lady’s smock is a delicate looking yet hardy plant, a spring addition to wet areas. Its subtle white or mauve flowers and soft foliage warm the heart in April through to June. It may be the time of year that it flowers that gives it the name of Cuckoo flower or the fact that it is home to the substance known as cuckoo-spit ( which is made from froghopper bug nymphs).
It's spring blooms also give rise to associations with milkmaids, their smocks and to the Virgin Mary.
Older spring traditions remind us to respect the lady of the land as picking the plant can lead to a snake bite and bringing it indoors can cause a lightning strike. Folk traditions urge us to treat her bounty with respect, the snake is a sign of spring and the lightning a reminder of elemental power.
This plant is closely related to Hairy bittercress ( Cardamine hirsuta) a very common weed which is a tasty alternative along with Lady’s smock as a salad. I may be the only person who grows bitter cress and chickweed in a poly tunnel but it does ensure an early salad crop.
In medical literature, as in the writings of John Ray, the plant is given a reputation for nervous afflictions ( as is mistletoe) believed to help with hysteria as a powerful antispasmodic. We would expect more evidence of this in folk traditions which speak of its ability to help fevers in the Highlands and for headaches in Gloucestershire.
The plant is rich in vitamin C which is probably why it has been used to ease scurvy and is a good tonic for coughs. Traditional uses also include breaking stones, restoring appetite, helping digestion and warming a cold and weak stomach.
Soft curls of innocent love,
Subtle blooms of a maiden’s heart.
Pink and white flowers of gentle persuasion,
Midst rough coarse grass and buttercup invasion.
Crisp cold winds, flat wet meadows,
Suffused with beauty, as she softly spreads,
Fresh new excitement, Spring's quickening pulse,
Tenacious young growth, love ever unfolding.
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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.