Collecting the folklore and uses of plants


0751.  As a child in the 1950s I spent a lot of time in the South Wales valleys  …  my uncles used to pick a sprig of bracken fern and place it over their ears to keep off flies [Raynes Park, London, August 2015].

2. I was born and brought up in Liverpool, but spent lots of my childhood [1950s and 60s] in rural Wales.
In the summer we called bracken ferns. As children we used to fold the fronds of a wild fern down to make a plaited wand, Then we would pick wild flowers to tuck into it to make it look pretty. An adult friend of the family showed us how to do this.
In the autumn we used to pick the brown fern stalks. We would play a game with them. You hold your fern stick for your friend to hit. Then you had a hit of his. The fragile stalks would eventually break, so your stick was a one-er, or a two-er, depending on how many sticks it had broken. Just like conkers, your five-er defeating a three-er became a nine-er and so on until the walk took you beyond the bracken stalks.
My grandfather used to use these stalks as kindling to get the fire going before he added the coke to our caravan fire [Childwall, Liverpool, August 2011].

3. Some years ago I saw some Koreans in Richmond Park collecting bracken for cooking in their restaurant in Soho [Stockwell, London, October 2010].

4. When we used to live at Colyton [Devon, 1930s] … we used to cut bracken up on the hill for [cattle] bedding. We used to pull it down on a sleigh. As it used to hang out over the side, the sleigh was twice as wide as when you started [Thorncombe, Dorset, August 1997].

5. Under gorse – copper
Under brambles – silver
Under bracken – gold
Roughly the value of the crop if the above three are ploughed under
[Charmouth, Dorset, January 1994].

6. I was brought up in the Forest of Dean … Bracken, of course, was used as bedding for pigs, and covering plants and [as] a lining over potatoes before burying for winter storage [Little London, Gloucestershire, November 1993].

7. [Memories of her childhood in Mulingar, c.60 miles from Dublin, in about 1942]. The fern that grows everywhere -bracken – we used to pull off bits of it saying:
Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief; doctor, lawyer. merchant, chief.
This year, next year, now or never.
A loaf, half a loaf, a wedding cake, a bun.
Gold, silver, copper, pig-ring or brass [Streatham, London, February 1992].

8. [?Hampshire] When I was a boy they used to say that if you split a bracken stem you would see a picture of King Charles hiding in his oak tree. I often wondered what would have been seen by those who split bracken before King Charles had hid in his oak tree [Paddington, London, May 1989].

Images: main, Hampstead Heath, London, April 2014; inset, Beechenhurst Lodge, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, September 2015.