In No Danger

Bistort
Bistort

Bistort gets its name from the Latin description of its twisted roots, twice twisted. Bent in two places, the roots are a strange S shape. As you can imagine, it has also acquired names such as Adderwort, Snakeweed, Dragonwort (my favourite) and Twice Writhen. It looks pretty innocuous in the grass at the side of the road, not at all the sort of plant that you might assume would keep the company of dragons, or even one so extrovert as to writhe about in public.

Things are not at all as they seem though. Powdered Bistort root is just the thing to have around, if you have something that needs exorcism on your hands. I had a chat with Google about exorcising – you never know when that sort of thing can come in handy – and he came up with any number of interesting details. To start with, watching ‘That Movie’ is not much good as a training ground. Other points to bear in mind: Don’t challenge the demons directly and don’t start chatting with them either as they will wheedle their way out of anything. If you’re going in for sprinkling Holy Water then a little powdered Bistort root mixed in it will increase its efficacy. (Or perhaps its Holiness?)  Hint: It could be a good idea to sprinkle yourself first, just in case.

Currently, my inner demons do little worse than write this blog, an occasional children story, and a poem now and again, so were’re learning to live with each other.

Bistort, leaf, flower and root is edible, but contains oxalic acid, bad news for people with gout. So, all in all, it’s in no danger from me.

Dog’s Dinner

Rosebay Willowherb About to Bloom
Rosebay Willowherb About to Bloom

As you can see the Rosebay Willowherb is just about to burst into flower. Rosebay Willowherb is called a first coloniser and it likes nothing better than a good fire to clear the air. In autumn they produce a mass of fluffy seeds for the wind to disperse. The seeds then lie around, sometimes for years, waiting for a nice comforting blaze.

Back in 1700-ish, Rosebay Willowherb was pretty rare here in the UK, but then they started building railways. It is entirely possible that the Rosebay Willowherb actually invented railways and just allowed Stevenson et al. think that they did it.

Just think about it. The swoosh of the passing train to carry those thistle-downy seeds far and wide and the sparks from the engine, starting fires along the track to exterminate the locals. They don’t call them colonisers for nothing, you know.

Wikipedia mentioned that the Dena’ina people of Alaska mix Rosebay Willowherb with their dog food. Dan Wall over on northierthanthou lives in Alaska. He pops in here from time to time. Hi Dan. Perhaps if you bump into a Dena’ina who is feeling conversational you could ask him/her if this is true – or do they just pop to the supermarket for a tin, like the rest of us?

I know the locals over there are supposed to have wandered across from Siberia, but we also know that in this part of the world, during our Ice Age, we lived by hunting and fishing along the edge of the ice sheet. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that when the ice sheets melted away (what a disaster global warming turned out to be) some of our relatives were left trapped on that side of the Atlantic.

You might like to mention that they left some of their bone sewing needles behind. We could post them on, I suppose.

Yellow Fidget

Yellow Hammer
Yellow Hammer

It was pouring with rain this morning and it was close to coffee time too, so The Dog and I agreed on just a potter up the road to the village green and back. A good part of the way is under the shelter of the trees that make up the other side of our wood, so we could avoid getting absolutely soaked. Just as we reached the end of the drive, the squirrel, who was also just popping home for coffee, appeared in the road. The Dog was busy checking ‘The Place’ by the gatepost, where every passing canine leaves their calling card, so she didn’t notice the squirrel about six feet away. I stopped, tightened my grip on the lead and looked at the squirrel. The squirrel stopped, looked at The Dog going about her own affairs, and looked at me. He raised one eyebrow, shrugged, then disappeared into the hedge. I released the tension on the lead and we wandered off into the rain.

For these last few days we’ve had the excitement of a Yellow Hammer and two chicks trotting around at the foot of the bird table. The chicks look just like sparrows and it’s only that they constantly harass their parent that gives them away. We must have taken a thousand pictures of the little family group or the brightly coloured parent but in not one of them have the birds been in focus. In frustration, here is one of the least blurred.

Really, they are such fidgets.

Jay Walking

Jay in the garden
Jay in the garden

This is actually, one of Jackie’s pictures. The bird table is in the back garden and the kitchen window looks out in that direction. One of Jackie’s self imposed tasks is to keep the bird feeders topped up. Our birds are very fond of Jackie and wouldn’t like her to feel unappreciated so they work hard at emptying the various feeders, to make sure that she always has at least one to refill. The bird who shows the most concern for Jackie’s emotional needs is the Great Tit. The minute she hangs a filled seed feeder on the hook on the bird table, two or three of them will appear and start to empty it, throwing seed right, left and centre to get the job done.

As soon as they have a reasonable amount of the seed spread over the ground at the base of the bird table, the Lower Story Clean-up Squad will put in an appearance. Members include the Stock Dove family, an occasional Wood Pigeon, the Back Garden Blackbird and, when the Blackbird isn’t looking, a Robin or two – and of course, we must also mention an assortment of Chaffinches and Sparrows. These last few days they have been joined by the Jay. We have seen him around before, but he is usually too shy to stop and chat. In the Autumn he gathers acorns, his favourite food, and hides them. He’s not above stealing a squirrel’s hoard, if he spots him in the process of hiding some.

I guess that by now, the cupboard is bare.

Buttons

Tansy - good for gout
Tansy

The Dog has been a trifle indisposed for the last couple of weeks. She had started limping and a thorough examination of her pads revealed nothing untoward, nor did she object to having her joints prodded and twisted. Nonplussed, we made an appointment with the ‘Dogtor.’ He agreed with us – she was quite definitely limping, but didn’t seem to have any tender or delicate parts. He sent her home with some ibuprofen and said to come back in two weeks or so, if she didn’t improve. Well, two weeks passed and she didn’t seem to be that much better, so we steeled ourselves for another vet visit. That was yesterday. Today she is better. Animals are strange creatures, are they not?

While she has been limping we have confined our daily exercise to a short amble up the road and back, I’ve put on weight and I’ll bet she has too. Today, with no sign of the limp and a spring in her step, I thought we would venture a little farther afield. So we pottered up to the railway crossing and, as that seemed to go all right, we went on a little bit more.

Here, to put the good news into context, I had better add that I have just been through a bout of gout, so The Dog hasn’t been the only one who was content to limp locally.

Just past the level crossing, we came across this peering at us over the top of the knee-high, roadside grasses. It’s Tansy (also known as Buttons) and yes, you’ve guessed it – it’s good for gout.

The Moon in June

Supermoon In June
Supermoon In June

Sometimes it’s hard to resist the urge to rhyme things with moon.
Especially when it’s full and especially when it’s a full moon in June.
It’s now as near as it can be, cuddled up for a close harmony croon.
It doesn’t do this very often, so I hope I can remember the tune.
As it’s thirty thousand miles nearer,  it’ll look like a wrinkled old prune
and we’ll probably be able to smell the Green Cheese from which it’s hewn.
So if that cow is ever going to jump, she better be doing it soon.
Close cupboard doors tightly otherwise the dish will be off with the spoon.

That’s It Then

Hogweed
Hogweed

So here we are. It’s all over now. The Solstice has been and gone and we’re on the slippery downhill slope into Winter. If the week or so that Spring was allocated is anything to go by, then Summer has had it already, this must be the Autumn it feels so like and Winter will be back soon, to pick up where it left off – not much more than a month ago. It seems no time at all since I stopped wearing my gloves to take The Dog out for our morning constitutional. It certainly feels as if it won’t be long before I need to put them back on.

And what about all those people who took their warm underwear off when the May blossomed? What indeed. If they were quick enough to get it into the washing machine, the world’s underwear is probably at least clean, I can’t say that they’ve had much opportunity to hang it out to dry though. Then, there are the moths. If the world’s underwear is just going to dried, ironed and put back on, without being tucked away in the bottom drawer, where will the moths lay their eggs? There will be a global shortage of moths next year – you mark my words.

Come on Global Warming – get your act together. The use-by date on my sun screen expires soon!

PS It’s not all doom and gloom – here’s a nice cheerful picture of Hogweed flowers to cheer you up.

Mystical

Poppy
Poppy

Poppies are amazing plants, if you have the right variety you can have opium, morphine and codeine, providing you pick them at the right time. By twenty days after the flower blooms, the opiates have mostly dissipated. Poppies were grown for, at least, their medicinal properties, by the Ancient Egyptians and it is sobering to think that all those thousands of years ago, the doctors would prescribe a couple of poppy seeds for a pain in the neck, much the same as they would today.

The Goddess Demeter was known as The Mistress or The Earth Mother and She had introduced men to the art of growing crops and farming generally. She was often depicted with a sheaf of barley in one hand and a poppy in the other. This might have been because poppy seeds will lie dormant until the soil is newly turned and so poppies are often found in barley fields, but it might be for other reasons.

For around three thousand years the annual festival, known in the ancient world as the Eleusinian Mysteries, was held in late summer, making it a fore-runner of our Harvest Festival, perhaps. The best thing about these Mysteries is that initiates were forbidden to reveal any information to the uninitiated, on pain of death. All of the writers of the time mention their existence – but we have no details of the initiation proceedings, other than that they were a women only event and dedicated to Demeter and her daughter Persephone. As you can imagine, this has led to centuries of speculation. We know absolutely nothing about what went on in those ceremonies.

There are those though, considering its narcotic properties, who see Demeter’s association with the poppy, as significant.

Gordon Bennett

Herb Bennett
Herb Bennett

Gordon Bennett may or may not have ever existed. Just supposing he did exist, he could have been one of three people. A Scotsman who started The New York Herald, his son who, born into a life of privilege, was determined to make the most of it and ended up with a road named after him in Paris, or an Australian General during the Second World War. For any non-British readers – here, perhaps I’d better say, any non-British readers of my generation – Gordon Bennett! Is a polite exclamation of surprise or irritation. As such, the most likely explanation for the exclamation is that it is a corruption of a less polite response to surprise or irritation.

Saint Benedict, on the other hand, was a real person. That is to say that we are almost sure that he was a real person. If he did really live in Italy around 500AD, then it is quite possible that he wrote Saint Benedict’s Rule. Around that time, monasteries were the in thing and they were pretty much going viral throughout Europe. They ranged from a medieval equivalent of a sweat shop to centres of peace, prayer and learning. Saint Benedict had been in a few of them so he knew. His contribution was his Rule. A balanced and fair way to pray, work and support the community. More importantly, he wrote it in a straightforward, plain and simple way that could be understood by anyone.

Herb Bennett could be a corruption of Herb Benedict. The plant is also known as Avens. The name Avens is derived from the Medieval Latin word avantia, but we don’t actually know what avantia used to mean.

Gordon Bennett!

Thirty Nine Steps

Foxglove Flowers
Foxglove Flowers

Protocol is important. It should be practised until it becomes a habit and integrated totally into your daily life, to the point that you no longer realise that you are merely performing a series of actions – and not necessarily doing something useful. Of course, you may be doing something useful, but that is no longer the point of the actions. They are there to reinforce whatever solution to an issue the protocol was initially introduced to provide. This brings us rather neatly to the subject of muddy feet.

The Dog, being a King Charles Spaniel, performs many of the same functions as a motorised road sweeper, the ears and tail alone can transfer several skip-loads of dead leaves, dry grass and many other hallmarks of our rural existence, into the house as a result of a twenty or thirty minute meander along our local byways. This means that on arriving home, after our morning excursion, she must suffer the slings and arrows of having her ‘feet’ wiped. The depth of this grooming depends on the time of the year, related to the amount of dried up vegetable matter, and the weather, related to the amount and variety of the mud she has managed to accumulate.

The protocol is well established. On entering the house the feet and any other part needing it, are cleaned. Then you sit and receive a dog treat or a choc-drop.

It seems to me that Foxgloves could do with a similar protocol for visiting bees – or at least a sign saying Please Wipe Your Feet.

Bedding Down

Bedstraw
Bedstraw

Common Bedstraw is, indeed very common. Too common, some might say. It catches on everything, with the little hooked hairs on its leaves, stalks and seeds being more like Velcro than Velcro. But it’s this coat of small barbs that make the Bedstraw useful for, guess what, beds. We don’t sleep on straw mattresses these days thankfully, but if we did the really irritating thing about them would be their tendency to spread and collapse. You might go to sleep on a nice plump mattress but, like many a camper’s air bed, you would wake up next morning, on its sadly, deflated equivalent. Because Bedstraw sticks to everything including other Bedstraw, a mattress stuffed with this holds its shape much better.

Then, those nasty little hooks make an ideal sieve for milk, as many a shepherd, both Greek and Swedish, has found. On the other hand, Geese just love the stuff and indeed, Goosegrass is one of its many aliases. Humans can eat it too, but you probably wouldn’t want to chew on a mouthful of wiry barbs – ‘they’ say that it isn’t too bad if you cook it. Hmm. . .

Then, there are the seeds. Those horrible, get stuck to anything seeds. If you were to collect them, which shouldn’t be too difficult given their natural affinity for everything. Then dry them and roast them, they make one of the best substitutes for coffee there is.

Not surprising, seeing that the Bedstraws and Coffee are from the same family.

Hog Wash

 

HogWeed - Just About to Flower
HogWeed – Just About to Flower

Hogweed has one of those Latin names that you can actually believe, for a change. A quick translation gives us Hercules‘ Skeleton and if you look at the stalks, with their knobbly knee competition entries, you can see how we came here from there.

It is another one of those Carrots. Like any large family, there are the good, the bad and the ugly. One of the problems associated with this is that you might have to poison yourself to death a few times, in order to find out that a particular plant is just not edible. They all are very similar in appearance and habitat, especially while they are young.

If you’re going to eat these things, then eating the young delicate shoots comes with lots of positives. Most importantly, they will probably regrow, so you will have new shoots over a longer period. Perhaps only slightly less important, they taste nicer. We could go so far as to say the older the shoots, the more inedible they be come.

It’s very tempting to think that once upon a time our life involved lounging round the camp fire, every now and then going out and spearing a mammoth or two. Then, from the Monday after that, we started ploughing the fields, planting crops and herding sheep. But it didn’t happen that way, of course.

The term ‘Hunter Gatherer‘ is a complete misnomer. In reality our ancestors were Wild Farmers and as the population grew our farming merely became more intensified to meet this new challenge.

Wild Oat

Wild Oats
Wild Oats

If you have a field of Oats and you suspect that you may have some Wild Oats in there too, I’m afraid you’re stuck with them. They are members of the same oat family, so anything you do to try to kill them off will, kill off the cash crop. Wild Oats started to be a problem to cereal farmers after the Second World War and reached their peak nuisance value in the 1990s. The question arises then, why try to kill them off, why not just harvest them along with the real stuff? Sometimes I suspect it has something to do with being in control. After all, the farmer planted the crop he wanted to grow, so volunteer plants obfuscate the master plan. Then, there is the fact that the more wild plants you have in the field, the less space, nutrients, etc. there is for the crop that’s paying the wages.

Dr Edward Bach (1886 – 1936) felt that restless people, who wanted to achieve, to become prominent, but who couldn’t decide what or how to reach their goals – or even exactly what their goal were, probably just needed a helping hand from a few drops of his Wild Oat flower essence.

Sowing Wild Oats, apart from irritating farmers everywhere, is a saying that goes back to the Romans. The seeds of the wild variety of oats, are small and hard with very little nutrition in them. So, anyone sowing Wild Oats was indulging in an annoying and pointless pastime.

And of course, you always reap what you sow.

Fit For Foxes

Foxgloves About To Open
Foxgloves About To Open

You’d think that with a name like Foxgloves there would be no issues. Obviously, some of the naughtier fairies have given the foxes these gloves. The foxes can then tippy-toe into the chicken roost, without making so much noise that they alert the residents to their presence. Fairly straightforward you might assume, but not so. It would seem that if you search hard enough, even BG –  i.e. Before Google – you can find a word in some ancient language that sounds a bit like glove. Of course, we don’t know how they pronounced these words from long dead languages and that helps in translation.

The end result is that we have Fox Glew, or Fox Music. The music created for foxes by the fairies who played the bells that are formed by the flowers hanging from the stem of the plant. Here, we have a troop, or skulk, of foxes sitting in a circle round a patch of Foxgloves. The EmCee fairy: “and now, get on down, get on down, I say. Here’s nuuumber five this week. Lets Boogie!”.

Boringly, they could also be FairyFolksGloves shortened to FolksGloves, easily transmuted in to FoxGloves. Really? How unimaginative!

By the way, the most usual misfortune that befalls children and Foxgloves, is related to the children drinking the water from the vase containing the flowers.

The message is clear. Don’t pick the flowers. Leave them for all to enjoy.

In The Clover

White Clover
White Clover

Where the ‘Man With the Mower’ has been round and cut the verges nice and short, we find those who prefer not to have to stand on tip-toe to be able to watch the passing traffic. Buttercups and Dandelions will stick their flowers out of the top of a dense bank of grass, nettles and Wild Carrots – if they have to, but they are not really happy with looking down from that height and are more content to stick a flower on the end of a short stalk at the side of the road where it has been tidily mown. Daisies too, revel in being able to stick their elbows out.

Clover is another plant that is pleased to have the chance to vote for greater openness in the biosphere. Like the Daisy, it also feels that the trade off, being mown or eaten – against being able to feel the wind in your hair, is well worth the sacrifice. As soon as our road-side reaper has loaded his mower on the back of his truck and driven off, one of the Dandelions, Buttercups, Daisies or Clover will pop their heads up, have a look around and sound the All Clear.

Clover is edible, by humans as well as livestock, but wimpy humans don’t digest it very well. Luckily, our ancestors figured out ages ago, that this sort of problem is easily resolved by cooking the stuff, a quick boil – and munch away. Meanwhile, back in the US of A, the Delaware and Algonkian people used an infusion of Clover to treat coughs and colds

I wonder what the Delaware and Algonkian words for “Bless You!” are?

Oak Hay?

Oak - Leaves But No Flowers
Oak – Leaves But No Flowers

Well, it seems we have definitely had our summer. It lasted nearly two weeks, so I suppose we can’t complain.

The wind is being a little over enthusiastic today and the trees, in the wood that rises up the hill behind the house, are jumping up and down and waving their arms around like a bunch of five year olds on a bouncy castle. They do enjoy a good breeze and the noise of their laughing and shouting quite overrides the chortling of the beck that normally greets you, as you step out into the back garden.

A week or so ago, I popped in to see Sharon at aleafinspringtime in Finland, and I noticed that she had a picture of an Oak tree in flower, while there was only the merest suggestion of leaves on the Oak trees in our wood. Well, now our Oaks have woken up and are properly dressed, there is no sign at all that they intend to flower this year.

I could have missed it, I suppose, with winter hanging on until the last possible minute. When Spring arrived she really didn’t have time to do everything that needed to be done. There was such a rush to get on to summer and a great many things were swept under the carpet of last years leaves.

I’ll keep an eye out – but I don’t think we’ll see Oak flowers this year.

Good for Gout

Ground Elder
Ground Elder

At last. A ray of hope! Up to now, all the spring growth that has been edible has come with a natural health warning “Not to be eaten by those susceptible to Gout.” There is no doubt I should be proud to be included in this merry band. Gout was called the disease of Kings and, while I don’t have a list of Kings who suffered the swollen toe, there is a school of thought that believes Tyrannosaurus Rex had his problems. Ancient Egyptians complained about it. The Greeks had a word for it (so we promptly pinched it off them), in fact it has been limping along, dogging our footsteps, since the very beginning.

While it is easy to believe that Kings imbibed a little too freely – see Old King Cole et al. – I do wonder where Tyrannosaurus Rex did his drinking. Was he down the pub every night, do you think? Or maybe just Fridays with the boys? The other common dietary no-no is shellfish. Was the King of the Dinosaurs fond of throwing another trilobite on the barbie, then?

But, on to the good news. Ground Elder is good for Gout! Let me repeat that. Ground Elder is good for Gout. I needed to repeat it, because gardeners out there will have trouble believing that Ground Elder is good for anything and would have thought they misheard the first time.

I need to pick the new leaves and fry them, apparently.

Interesting But Not Relevant

Grass With Raindrops
Grass With Raindrops

There were two things I wanted to tell you about. First, amongst all the umbelliferous flower heads (things that could be Hemlock) waving seductively from our verges at the moment, there is one without the ferny, carrot type leaves. I’ve decided that this is Ground Elder and I have some pictures to show Google to see what he thinks. However, pictures you take so that you can identify a plant tend to be pretty boring, have a look at the picture of Horsetails (Still Waiting) from a few posts back. Believe it or not, I do try to limit the boring pictures you’re subjected to, so I don’t want to use those for this post.

Secondly, on our way home this morning, The Dog found something incredibly, nasally interesting, I think it was a blade of grass, I stood there waiting, as patiently as possible, but eventually I became insistent and we moved off – only for me to spot a large bumble-type bee pottering around in a patch of vetch. Naturally, I had to stop, we haven’t had that many bees around. The Dog gave a huge sigh and sat down in the middle of the road. In the process of attempting to stick the camera through the undergrowth, as close to the bee as possible, I was stung several times by nettles – don’t we just have to suffer for our art? Unfortunately, bees are naturally fuzzy and they tend to fidget a lot too, so those pictures turned out, well, fuzzy.

So, here’s a picture of the peculiar way this grass seed-head has trapped last nights rain.

Oh, and just across the road from the Vetch is a patch of Ribwort, I’ve mentioned before that it’s good for stings and bites, so I picked a leaf and rubbed it on the stingy places.

Guess what – Google was right. It really works!

Excuse Me

Ash And Hawthorn - Three's a Crowd
Ash And Hawthorn – Three’s a Crowd

If you were a couple of Hawthorn bushes, just standing there looking at nothing in particular and this Ash Tree came along and pushed in between you, would you be grumpy about it?. I remember, once in my youth, well, perhaps I wasn’t that young. We took the children to one of these outdoor events, full of athletics, vintage cars, hot dog stands, goldfish in plastic bags, people, people, people and fairground rides.

While my eldest and her Mum went to ride in a tea cup, I and my youngest stood aside to watch. My youngest was a very young toddler at the time, and proud of her new found ability to remain vertical without assistance, she did not like to be carried. To give her a level playing field, in as many ways as possible, I shuffled the two of us into a reasonably empty space. The thing that irritated me was the way people clumped around me, the instant I had a small space to myself.

Then I started to play a game. I found a gap in the wall of humanity and stood there resolutely staring at nothing in particular. Within a short time I had acquired a small group of ‘fans’. As there was nothing to see, they assumed I was blocking their view and soon, they had elbowed their way past me. As soon as the eddy of expectant spectators had swirled us to the rear, my daughter and I were able to wander off to find another small spot and another group of eager ‘fans’.

Like the intergalactic dust, a large amorphous mass of humanity behaves in strange ways.

Calm Down

White Chestnut Blossom
White Chestnut Blossom

You know when you’re trying to meditate and your head is full of stuff?  No, it’s not that I have a butterfly mind, more that I have a mind which would rather chase butterflies. Here, I have to confess, the last time I tried to meditate was long, long ago. I think I was prodding at Zen Buddhism at the time, trying to see if I could levitate, or cover seven miles in one stride. Don’t ask me why, it could be useful though.

Now, the Horse Chestnut came to this part of the world in the sixteenth century. That’s fifteen-odd-something if you want dates. We’re not sure how it came to come here but it could be that Britain, at that time, was the last stronghold of the Julian calendar and it just couldn’t get the hang of all these newfangled Gregorian days.

Why is it a Chestnut? No one seems to know, but everyone has their own idea of where the Horse bit comes from. First, it could be that it is being compared (unfavourably) to the Sweet Chestnut (no relation) and the horse could be a corruption of coarse, there is even a Welsh word that means ‘bitter’ that sounds a bit like horse, standing as a candidate.

Next up, is that it was used to treat horses and cows who had a bad cough, hmmm, a hoarse horse?

Then, there are the marks on the twigs, left by the leaves from previous years, which look just like little horseshoes – or so they say. Galileo had just caused a stir by looking through a telescope, so I suppose it’s possible that people went round looking at twigs with magnifying glasses, about then.

Edward Bach (1886 – 1936) thought that his White Chestnut Flower essence was useful to quieten a busy mind.

Still Waiting

Marsh Horsetails
Marsh Horsetails

The Dog, Jackie and I first noticed these Horsetails as a patch of different green, in a little corner between two fields and the beck. We don’t actually have access to the patch of marshy bog in question, but we have kept an eye on them from the bridge. To start with, it wasn’t that obvious from our distant observation point, what they were going to turn out to be. Today, as I idly leaned on the railing, I noticed that there was some type of flower developing on the plants, so I judged it time to take a photo. When I put the photo on the computer you could see straight away that we had been watching Horsetails.

Then, I made the mistake of having a chat with Google about them. “Horsetails hybridise mercilessly,” he said, “it’s quite difficult to tell what is what, without pulling the plant apart.” Luckily, when I reach the red line of irritation and frustration with wild flowers, I have found a safety valve in Wild About Britain. The immensely soothing reply soon came back “It looks like Marsh Horsetail to me.” As always, it isn’t what you know, but who you know that counts.

Horsetails have been around for more than four hundred million years. And here they are standing in the corner by the beck. Do you think the dinosaurs shouted “We’re just popping out to an extinction party. See you later!” perhaps?

Sorry chaps, but I don’t think they’re coming back, but if you’re going to wait anyway, at least sit down. I think they’ll be a while yet.

Atten-shun!

Ribwort
Ribwort

It could be a view of the Galaxy or, if we step a little closer, we could be looking down on the solar system from the ecliptic north pole. Maybe it’s Saturn or Jupiter, they both have loads of moons. We know of even more now we have satellites pottering round out there. Talking about even more satellites, it could be a view of earth, showing all the communication, military and other extraneous satellites that we have lobbed up there over the last twenty years or so. It must be nearly as hard to find a parking space in earth orbit, as it is on earth these days.

But really of course, it’s Ribwort Plantain. It grows best in meadows and disturbed earth and sometimes archaeologists like to think that it shows that the area was farmed or at least grazed in ‘The Olden Days’. If you have a bad cough, a nice cup of tea made from Ribwort leaves should have you better in no time, and while you are waiting for the tea to brew, you could rub a leaf on those nettle or insect stings to relieve that nasty itchy tingle.

Mrs Grieve, in “A Modern Herbal“-  published in 1936, mentions that Ribwort Plantain was often called Kemps. This, she says, is because children used to play a game with the flower stalks, sword fighting with them until the stalk broke.

And the connection is? The Saxon for a soldier is cempa. Could this be related to camp and camping I wonder?

Ol’ Blue Eyes

Germander Speedwell
Germander Speedwell

Life must have been so much simpler in ‘The Olden Days’. You lived in a little community and you learned which plants not to eat and which were tasty and should be picked and taken home, to be shared by the whole family. Most of this knowledge came from a relatively small number of sources. Your mother or father were probably the fount of most knowledge. Other adults in the village, suitably extended, expanded and filtered through the other children you had contact with, provided another layer, which could always be referred back to your parents. Today we are faced with the problem that, all of this mass of human creative misinformation, is easily available on the Internet.

Google and I think this is Germander Speedwell. Apart from the fact that it is the commonest form of the speedwell in Britain, Google managed to find a photo that is almost identical to mine. It is also known as Birds Eye Speedwell, and I suppose, seeing those tiny bright blue specks twinkling at you through the general undergrowth, this is not that bad a name. It might be this name that led to the belief that birds would peck your eyes out if you picked it.

Other people mention that this flower was once called For-Get-Me-Not, until some one, some where, decided otherwise.

There is a school of thought that believes that the flowers only last a day and open in the morning, bright blue, but fade to pink or white and die by the evening. This is thought to be where the name Speed Wilt, soon corrupted to Speed Well, came from.

Those who put the flowers in their shoes to protect them on a journey probably don’t know this.

Foreign Body?

Creeping Yellow Wood Sorrel
Creeping Yellow Wood Sorrel

There are some tiny yellow flowers growing in the cracks in the concrete path that goes round the side of the house. This is the end of the house farthest away from both the front and back doors, so it is not a path well travelled. I mowed the lawn this morning and, while I was round that side, I spotted it glowing in the sun. Wondering what it was I took its picture – thinking to ask Google what he thought. Obligingly, he found Woodsorrel for me. There are about eight hundred members of the family to choose from, so, as a temporary measure, I chose Creeping Yellow Woodsorrel for ours. Small plant? Yellow flowers? It does sort of fit, doesn’t it?

It’s where it comes from that is of the most interest. Some people come right out and say that it is a native of North America and has spread round the world. Then, there are advocates for both South America and South Africa as its homeland. Just a few though, are of the opinion that it has spread around the world as we humans have spread, hiding in amongst our grain and animal food stocks. To spring out and surprise us, whenever we arrive somewhere that turns out to be our destination.

It is riddled with the same toxins that abound in rhubarb and spinach, so it is, as you might guess, very tasty. After tasting a pinch of leaves and flowers, we can confirm that it has a delightfully tart, lemony flavour. Mrs Grieve (1858 – 1941) says that if you take twenty pounds (9 Kg)of leaves (this would probably need about an acre of the plant) this will give you about six pounds (2.5 Kg) of juice from which you can extract about two ounces (64 gm)of lemon flavouring.

One thing all authorities agree on – it is no good for people with gout!

Sitting in the Sun

Sitting In The Sun
Sitting In The Sun

This Guy was too busy sunbathing to even notice us, as we walked close past him, so I wrote him a song.

The backing track is at the bottom of the post – Four bars intro and four bars after the chorus before verse two – you’ll have to play it twice for the whole song so that means you will have the intro twice – sorry, it’s late, and I’m not going to fix it now.

Edit: – OK I’ve fixed it – it now plays through twice properly. (Aren’t computers wonderful!)

As they say in the old songs – “If you want any more you’ll have to sing it yourself”

I should be singing

I should be singing,
but I’m not.
I should be winging,
not just sitting in this spot.
I should be doing,
this and that.
I should be to-ing,
and a fro-ing not just sat.

Chorus
But, hey you guessed it.
I guess that I confessed it.
There’s no work gonna get done,
cause I’m just sitting here, in the sun

I should be flying.
Yes I know.
I should be Hi-ing,
with a Ho to work I go.
The chicks are hatching,
so they say.
There’s flies need catching,
by the beak-full every day.

Chorus
But, hey you guessed it.
I guess that I confessed it.
There’s no work gonna get done,
cause I’m just sitting here in the sun

Save the World

Silverweed
Silverweed

We went for a slow amble this morning – The Dog is still limping a little, but she needs her fresh air. We pottered down to the beck, pretty much as we always do, actually. On the way we noticed that the Silverweed was in flower. Our patch of Silverweed grows between two clumps of Buttercups, so we had to be careful that we were looking at Silverweed flowers, not Buttercups. The Dog became bored with all this rooting round in the vegetation, trying to trace the flower stalk back to its parent plant, and sat down in the middle of the road to wait.

The French name for the plant is Richette, this roughly translates as, “wealthy with gold and silver,” – it’s on the Internet, so it must be true. This is a reference to the gold of the flowers and the silver of the leaves. The leaves are silver because they are covered with fine hairs that reflect the light. Last year, I noticed that by the end of the growing season, the leaves had lost their silvery sheen and had become a boring green colour.

But it’s the roots that saved the world. In Ireland, during the infamous Famine and Clearances of the 1840s, many of the disinherited starving were able to eke out their existence by eating the Silverweed roots. In Scotland too it has saved many lives in time of hardship and in the Outer Hebrides it is known as The Poor Man’s Potato.

In Celtic folk lore it is called “The Seventh Bread” – with the obvious inference that when things were hard it would give you one last resource.

Nutkin

Red Squirrell
Red Squirrel

Beatrix would have recognised him straight away, of course. Rather that go all the way to Owl Island, he popped in to see if Jackie had refilled the peanut dispenser. It would seem that the fact that peanuts are not nuts at all, doesn’t trouble him in the least. That we serve them without their shells, thus saving him time and effort, is probably a plus in our favour.

Squirrels seem to spend a great deal of their time travelling. Long before Nutkin sailed over to Owl Island on a raft, his Scandinavian cousin was busy running up and down Yggdrasil, the tree of life. At the top of this Ash Tree (or Yew, depending on who you choose to believe) sat an eagle and down at the bottom of the tree, beneath one of its roots, lived a dragon. The dragon, possibly called Nidhogg, was eating the roots of the tree from underneath. It was doing this, possibly because it was imprisoned by the roots or possibly not. Ratatoskr, the squirrel spent his day, scampering up and down the tree trunk, carrying gossip and insults between the dragon and the eagle.

At that time, Scandinavian mythology was in the hands of the minstrels – and minstrels are performers, most of whom would be quite likely to improvise, to match their performance to the mood of their audience. Scandinavian society was built around the warrior, and a disgruntled audience full of warriors could easily be fatal. Today, this leaves us with groups of scholars, happily devoting their lives to produce a unified Scandinavian theology. Out of the stuff the local bard made up as he went along.

Ratatoskr would be delighted!

Smelly Bob

Herb Robert
Herb Robert

We and The Dog were out visiting Stella and Russell, to say “Hi!” to Laurie at his birthday barbecue yesterday. The Dog gets on very well with Jessie and Lola, the two miniature Schnauzers at whose house said barbecue was taking place. While we humans sat around and ate sausages and burgers the three dogs went mad all over the lawn, running and rolling around, as dogs do. When we came to go home we noticed that The Dog had developed a pronounced limp. So, we excused her from this mornings walk. So as not to hurt her feelings by leaving her behind, we decided to stay home too. We made an appointment for her with the vet – or the Dogtor as Jackie has named him and came home with some stuff to squirt on her dinner. He thinks she may have just sprained her wrist.

This means that we don’t have a photo from today to show you so here’s one I prepared earlier. This is Herb Robert. Some people that Google knows, think that it was named after a monk who grew it in the monastery garden, but none of them seem to know just which monk or which monastery. It is a member of the Cranes-Bill family, a sort of Geranium and if you crush the leaves they give off the smell of burning tyres, hence its other name of Smelly Bob.

Used as a herb, the feeling is that it provides the body with Germanium so, here we have a Germanium Geranium.

Cool For Cats

Cock's-foot
Cock’s-foot

Google and I often have long, convoluted arguments – I mean discussions, of course – over the photographs I take. Remarks such as – “the colour ranges from pale green to purple” – whatever their veracity, are hardly helpful. With flowers, this can be ameliorated by a nice clear picture of the leaves or stems of the plant, but when we come to grasses, Google is not at his best.

This photo is probably, or might be, or even could be, Cock’s-foot. This is not a bad thing for it to be, Cock’s-foot is widespread across Europe and the UK, it is considered to be ‘very common’ and is often used for hay and forage according to Wikipedia. It could have once been a domestic plant sown deliberately for the above reasons. If so, it has now, not so much escaped into the wild, but more, sort of, wandered away through a hole in the hedge and set up home on our verges. It has the neat habit of using up more than its fair share of the nitrogen in the ground around it and so stopping other plants from crowding it out. I just wonder how it intends to replace that nitrogen so it can continue to grow, itself. Personally, I would put this tactic into the ‘short-sighted’ category.

Google found several places that mention that indoor cats like to have a tray of Cock’s-foot around, as a dietary supplement, so it is now often known as Cat Grass.

The new, young leaves are apparently just purr-fect.

Flowers of Compassion

Beech Flowers
Beech Flowers

While we’re on the subject of Beech (see previous post) I thought you might be interested in these. In the 1930s, Dr. Edward Bach gave up his promising medical practice in Harley Street, London and went off to the country. He was looking for a better way to make people well. He had been playing around with vaccines and that sort of thing, but to use the stuff of the disease to cure, just seemed plain wrong. It took him twenty years, but he eventually came up with his flower remedies, thirty six essences made from flowers, just about as close to nature as he could get.

When it came to people whose illness could be traced back to anxiety caused by intolerance and lack of compassion, people who perhaps, lived with the frustration of feeling that their whole world was made up of individuals who just didn’t get it – or even just would never get it, Dr Bach would prescribe an essence made from the flowers of the Beech tree.

Now Beech trees only start to flower once they come of age, and for Beech trees this means thirty years old. They only flower at the top of the tree or sometimes on the sunny side, if one side has a sunnier aspect. Beech trees pruned into hedges rarely flower.

I felt incredibly lucky to find these flowers on the Beech trees just up the road.