Collecting the folklore and uses of plants


1. Our dear neighbour is 89 … is a real country woman … She remembered her granny making cowslip balls, told us about making them with the use of string, she knew exactly how granny had made them. She started to recite the rhyme ‘Tinker, tailor …’
She said when she was about seven she was a May Queen’s attendant. This was when she lived at Marston Magna. There was a procession; there was one more attendant. They both had a cowslip ball, hanging from a string and they bobbed it up and down as they walked along [Milborne Port, Somerset, September 2011].

0152. My family for generations have been born in Somerset …
My grandmother used to make balls from cowslips. We used to pick cowslips and take them to her, she joined them together until they formed a tightly packed ball. My brother and I used to play with the ball and as far as I remember there was a rhyme associated with it. The cowslip ball was called a tisty tosty and as you threw it to one another the rhyme was sung, something about spelling out the letter of the name of your future love!
My mother, although tea-total, used to make a lot of home-made wine from things growing wild: dandelion, elderberry, primrose, cowslip, etc. … She used to win lots of prizes at the local horticultural shows! [Milborne Port, Somerset, September 2011].

3. During my childhood, which was just before and during the 2nd World War, I lived in a village in Cambridgeshire, where there were local names for wildflowers … One in particular was the name pagels, which I grew up knowing. I did not know that they were in fact cowslips for many years [Wickham Market, Suffolk, July 2011].

4. My mother was a real countrywoman … She spent much of her childhood at Yetminster, near Sherborne, in Dorset, where there were wonderful old meadows full of cowslips and granfer-griggles (early purple orchids). We often went there when I was a child because we could reach it by train. One tradition I enjoyed, when cowslips were in bloom, was making tisty tosties. We made balls of cowslip flowers by cutting off their heads and tying them together with wool, so that the end of their stems were in the centre. We then hung a dozen or so tisty tosties on a stick and carried them home. I recall chanting ‘Tisty tosty, tell me true, who shall I be married to?’ [Orpington, Kent, February 2009].

5. I grew up in Desborough, Northamptonshire. In the 1920s … In those days the limestone meadows were a glorious gold, covered with cowslips. The girls would make large balls or chains of them. Older people made cowslip wine [Robertsbridge, East Sussex June 2003].

6. From my childhood in a Lincolnshire village …
Cowslips were gathered for making wine …
We sucked nectar from the bottom of cowslips in the belief that it would make us grow [St Albans, Hertfordshire. October 1994].

7. Cowslip wine will cure jaundice [Portland, Dorset, April 1991].

Images: main, probably planted, Misterton, Somerset, March 2015; inset, probably planted, Wandle Meadow Nature Park, London Borough of Merton, April 2015.