Her Hair

Hare Bell
Hare Bell

I’ve always thought that Harebells are much nicer than Bluebells, Bluebells do look nice as a large drift of blue, in the dappled shade of woodland glades, but as soon as you look too closely, that clunky stem destroys the illusion. Harebells have enough common sense to not try to compete and seldom grow in that sort of density. They know it is their individual delicacy that sets them apart. And anyway, they like their elbow room.

The Harebell is dedicated to St Dominic, St Dominic founded the Order of Preachers, popularly known as the Dominican Order. During his life he did his best to punish himself, walking miles without shoes and sleeping on the floor to prove something, probably to himself. Perhaps this is why he became the patron saint of astronomers.

Flowers so delicate and fragile, yet of such vibrant colour, must obviously be magical, and Harebells do go a bit over the top in the occult. You see, they represent the veil between human and faery. I’m not quite sure how you do it but using a Harebell you can improve your chances of seeing a fairy. Now, before you all rush off to, illegally, pick wild flowers, I must stress that there is a greater chance that you will be unlucky enough to catch sight of an irate imp than a fortunate enough to find a frolicsome fairy.

Just remember, if you can see them – they can see you.

Two Way Traffic


There  was quite a bit going on in 1871.

Kaiser Wilhelm proclaimed the second German Empire and, following Germany’s victory in the Franco-Prussian war, the Parisians revolted, starting another bloody chapter in French history. Marx and Engles took notes and discussed what the Parisians were doing wrong.

Henry M Stanley set off for Africa and started going over good opening lines in his mind in preparation for his meeting with David Livingston. By the time he found him, Stanley had the sound bite he wanted.

The Great Fire burned down a big chunk of Chicago and in New York, Susan B Anthony was arrested for voting in an election – Good Lord what was her husband thinking of? Get back in the kitchen, woman.

Margarine, in the US and Rugby Union, in Britain, put in an appearance and in the first Rugby International, Scotland beat England. Back in America, Brigham Young was arrested for bigamy, while Jesse James pottered from bank to bank, collecting any spare cash he could find.

Aida was performed in Cairo, so they opened the Suez canal while everyone was there. Victor Hugo hadn’t been invited so he stayed at home and wrote a poem about the revolution and wondered if  Les Misérables would have been better as a musical.

Oh, and in Britain, they recorded the first sighting of that wretched, American, pineappleweed. Who knows how it came to be here!

Green is Good

Large Emerald and Muslin Footman
Large Emerald and Muslin Footman

Luckily, we don’t use candles the way we used to. The odd tea light now and again and the odd candle-lit dinner is a far cry from candle-light being the only light available after dark. Moths, generally approve of that. These two had picked up an amazing deal on that website that sells South American rivers and just couldn’t put the book down. They popped in to our place to read a few more chapters while we had the bed-side lights on. I think they were both so engrossed in the story, they didn’t notice each other. I did the upturned tumbler and the drinks mat trick and opened the window so I could shake the glass, outside. They were quite irritated with me and promptly made their way back in. Eventually they came to the end of the chapter and I was able to persuade them to leave.

The bigger of the two is a Large Emerald (thank you Wild About Britain), he is much greener when he first takes his caterpillar suit off, but that green stuff is just so difficult to keep clean, you know. He likes Birch and Beech and Hazel and, very sensibly, sleeps through the winter. The little guy is a Muslin Footman. As a larva he is partial to lichen on dry stone walls.

There’s a few of those around here, so he’ll be fine.   


Hedge Bedstraw
Hedge Bedstraw

Today we have Hedge Bedstraw, I can say this with confidence as the information has come direct from Chris on Wild About Britain. It has been much harder to find something interesting to say about it though. Everywhere Google and I looked, it was a case of “and , of course, there’s Hedge Bedstraw” or “there are many other members of the Bedstraw family, such as Hedge Bedstraw.”  I definitely began to get the impression that Hedge Bedstraw is the poor relation, or perhaps the middle child.

Goosegrass or Cleavers seems to be the favourite, we certainly have it in abundance around here. Perhaps this is the reason for its popularity, just its plain numbers. If you needed a new mattress and you were gathering Bedstraw to fill it, you would be pleased to find large quantities readily to hand. Just think about how much Bedstraw you would need to have a mattress-full, not just full but stuffed full, so as to keep you off the cold, hard ground.

I really don’t have to tell you that this boringly common Bedstraw, uses those little hooks to climb all over the plants nearby. It certainly doesn’t stand on its own two feet or its own one stalk either. It needs something to provide support. Something like a hedge, say?

Hedge Bedstraw on the other hand is quite independent and self supporting. It does not require a hedge to climb on.

What can I say?



There is a concept ‘out there’ that real life isn’t real at all. It is all in our imaginations and there is some kind of over-spirit that melds the various imaginings from, not just people , but animals, trees and plants too, so the real life we see is actually the result of the sort of slush that comes from the mixing and melding process.

I sometimes think I’ve dropped through into that slush when Google and I are prodding around, looking for something that might interest you. Today’s photo is of Knapweed – the Common or Black variety.  It’s name comes from its resemblance to a hammer. These days, knapping means flint, arrow heads and other stone tools. Looking to see if the Internet knew anything interesting about knapping led me to Ishi.

In 1911 Ishi caused quite a stir in California when, nearing starvation, he was arrested for stealing food. He had been born in around 1860 and had spent all his life dodging bands of roving ‘Indian hunters’ who had succeeded in wiping out his entire tribe and most of the other tribes he was related to. As he had spent the last forty-odd years in the wilds, living the life that his ancestors had lived, he was completely ‘out of his depth’.

What is now the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology  in Berkeley, California took him in and gave him a job. He lived for another five years, passing on his unique knowledge of the lives and customs of his vanished tribe. Then he succumbed to TB – one of the ‘benefits’ of civilisation..

As well as passing on all that priceless information, he took the time to teach friends and colleagues the right way to knap flint and how to make stone tools that actually work.

Talk about forgiveness.


Prickly Sow Thistle
Prickly Sow Thistle

We were on a tight schedule today, so needed to move right along. A pity really, because the air felt fresh and there was a nice breeze keeping things cool. The sky was full of clouds admittedly, but they were compact cotton wool balls, well perhaps a bit larger than that – but with plenty of blue sky for them to wander round in. Even the mountains, who we haven’t seen for weeks, away for their summer break I think, were back in their usual place.

We went down to the beck, to see how he was feeling after the heavy rain of the last few days. He seemed quite relaxed and was murmuring quietly to himself. With all that hot weather he has been feeling a bit drained, you know. On our way over from the upstream side of the bridge to the downstream side, we came across this guy, just standing nonchalantly, in the gutter. Yellow flowers but prickly leaves – sort of thistley but not thistley. We thought we’d have a chat with Google about it.

Now, I must tell you here, Chris, over at wildaboutbritain, has been kind enough to give my posts here, a cursory once over. He found that on average, my guesses at identification were mostly wrong. You have been warned.

I’m going to stick my neck out here and label this photo Prickly Sow Thistle. After they become bored with being mad, March Hares eat it to restore themselves to normal, apparently.

I have met a few sows and they seem to be mostly good natured, perhaps it’s the weather.

A Bad Hair Day

Tree, Caught In The Rain
Tree, Caught In The Rain

We’ve had some very heavy rain the last day or so. Thunder, lightning, the works. This is quite a change from the blistering (relatively) heat we were subjected to for the previous week or so. Now, I know I was chiding Global Warming for his laid-back approach, but I didn’t mean to upset him. I obviously touched a raw nerve. At this time he could probably do with sympathy, not nagging. He has been handed the sticky end of the stick, you know. With the thousand and one things that go into the pot when you cook up a batch of climate, it’s hard to get the recipe just right. If you have too much of this and too much of that at the same time you end up with an Ice Age. A few (tens of thousand) years ago there was too much pepper. The pot held swamps and ferns and palm trees and it was splashed around liberally all over the world. Just recently, we’ve added more water and it has started to cool down, another eon or two and we’ll be back in an Ice Age again – all mammoths and fur coats and igloos. Poor old Global Warming is completely out of his depth, he was born too soon – or too late.

The Dog and I walk past this tree often and I’ve never noticed these markings before. We had waited for the worst of the rain to stop and then made a quick dash up the road and back. It took me a minute to realise that the tree, in common with everything else, had accumulated a coat of dust in the hot weather and being caught in the downpour had caused the colour to run.

It’ll be needing to make an appointment at the hairdresser.

That’s the Spirit

Wild Cherry
Wild Cherry

If you wanted to be at the bleeding edge of technology four thousand years ago, what you needed was an alchemist. The word alchemy itself, is as confused about its origins as we are today, about the origins of alchemy. Alchemy, the word, could be a corruption of an old French word. The French word is derived from Medieval Latin. The Medieval Latin word in question comes from joining up a couple of Arabic words. The Arabs had pinched the words from the Greeks (nice to see we’re not the only ones who do this). We think the Greeks were actually using an Egyptian word. The problem is, after all that, it’s hard to make the Egyptian word mean anything that could be classed as alchemy. Still it does make a good story, I suppose.

The main differences you would notice about your Alchemist, once you had one cornered, was the way they mixed the spiritual in with the practical. I recently came across a reference to using the correct spell with herbal medicine (sorry Google, I can’t remember where). As the commentator pointed out, at a time when temporal divisions consisted of winter, and then the rest of the year, the choice between telling someone to boil the pot gently for four minutes or telling them to recite a spell that took four minutes to say, was pretty much a no-brainer.

With science or magic or whatever, alchemists developed the still and used it to distil everything in sight – including wine.

I marked out these trees when they were the first in flower. I’ve picked a few of their cherries, put them in a jar and covered them in Brandy.

We will see what happens.


As You Like It


Burdock has led an interesting life. While on holiday in Switzerland in the early 1940s, it bumped into Swiss inventor George de Mestral, while he was out hunting with his dog. As a result of this brush with destiny, on returning home, George spent a frustrating few hours trying to remove the Burdock’s burs from his clothes and his dog’s fur. He became sufficiently irritated with the tenacity of the Burdock seeds that he put a few under the microscope to try and figure out why the burs were so hard to pull off. The strange arrangement of hairs and hooks stayed in his mind and he began to see how it could be useful in the clothing industry. It took him until 1955 to make it work in a reliable, easy to manufacture product and to patent it.

Now, everyone knows that if you invent a better mouse trap the whole world (except for the mice) will beat a path to your door. Unfortunately for George, the world was quite happy with the current rodent control measures and it took to Velcro unenthusiastically. George spent a good few more long years, traipsing round from one textile manufacturer to another, from fashion house to fashion house, in France, Germany, Britain, and America, before he began to collect interested parties. It was really the astronaut’s complex space suits, made easier to put on and remove by the Velcro fasteners, that started things moving for him.

In As You Like It, Rosalind, the heroine says “How full of briers is this working-day world.” to which her BFF, Celia replies comfortingly, “They are but burs, cousin, thrown upon thee in holiday foolery.”

Shakespeare could have invented Velcro if he’d put his mind to it.

A Bitter Brew

Wood Sage
Wood Sage

Wood Sage, Sage Leaved Germander, Hindheal, Ambroise or Garlic Sage, what’s in a name? Well, here I must thank the kind people of Wild About Britain, without their help I wouldn’t have any idea what its name is. Whenever Google and I reach the end of out tethers, that’s where I go for assistance. Wood Sage is another one of those plants that contains poisons, in this case chemicals that cause liver damage. So, naturally we use it to flavour all sorts of food and drinks. We just can’t resist living on the edge, can we?

The Italians have just nagged the European Union into upping the limit of the teucrin from our Wood Sage, allowed in drinks. It is the main flavouring used in Vermouth and Tonic waters, if the EU is going to insist on keeping it down to safe levels, the Italian drinks industry will suffer.

You can use it instead of Hops to give beer its bitter taste too. It is said to help the beer to clear quicker than Hops does but it makes the beer darker.

Mrs Grieve, in 1936, noted that Culpepper suggested it be used to clean old wounds or bruises – no issues there – but also as an appetizer and a tonic. A glass of Vermouth, perhaps? Mrs Grieve also mentions that the leaves can be dried and a snuff made from them.

So rub it on the outside, drink it for the insides, or if all else fails – stick it up your nose.

What’s the Hurry?

Foxglove Gone To Seed
Foxglove Gone To Seed

It hardly seems more than a few days ago I was complaining to Global Warming, that if he didn’t get a move on he would miss his chance completely. Well, he took my advice to heart and we have had a week or so of blisteringly hot, and at times very humid, weather.

Spring was very late this year. I think she missed the bus to the station. She did manage to catch the next one, but by the time she arrived at the station the train had left. Of course, she caught another train as soon as she could but, instead of arriving with plenty of time, she only just managed to squeeze in before summer turned up.

Summer seems to be in a tearing rush as well. We have hardly had time to admire the flowers and already they are being pushed off the ends of their stalks by the seed pods. I have a feeling that winter left unfinished business behind him when he grumped off to the southern hemisphere and all the plants want to make sure they have time to complete the programme, before he decides to come back.

We come this way every other day and last time we passed here this foxglove still had a decent compliment of flowers.

Where have all the flowers gone – indeed.

A Bit Distracted

Blackberry - Fighting its Way Through the Hedge
Blackberry – Fighting its Way Through the Hedge

I was having a look to see what Mrs Grieve wrote in 1936 about Blackberries, she is usually a mine of information. She invariably has anecdotes from Gerard or Culpeper to support her opinions. In the case of the Blackberry, while bemoaning the multitude of hybrids that hinder identification, she mentions that the London Pharmacopoeia (1696) says that Blackberry Cordial “contains a notable restorative spirit.” She talks of Blackberry vinegar, made by covering the Blackberries in malt vinegar and leaving to stand for three days before straining, adding a pound of sugar to every pint of juice and boiling for five minutes, cool and bottle. A teaspoonful, mixed with water to be taken in cases of a feverish cold. She also mentions that Blackberry leaves, boiled with lye make a very effective black hair dye.

Lye is an assortment of chemicals, including caustic soda, that dissolve fat. This, as you can imagine, is quite dangerous to use. Naturally, people, being only human, use it to flavour and preserve various foods (including olives) and to clear blocked drains. To make lye you need a nice big heap of hardwood ash. You put it in a barrel (Note here – it will attack glass – so bottles and jars are out) and cover it with water. After a few days strain it off, now pour it back in and repeat as often as you like.

I had intended to give you a recipe for a nice Blackberry jam or jelly but I’m afraid making lye proved to be too tempting to ignore – so here’s one I found on a wee bit of cooking (amongst many other recipes) – will this do?