Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Hoary plantain

OXFBA 0261. Both my parents (now deceased) were born in London, but came of country stock. My mother spent a large part of her childhood at her mother’s family home in Rainham, Kent, then much more rural than it is now. Also, both their maternal grandfathers were Romany. My mother in particular picked up a lot of plant folklore, but which was Kentish and which was Romany, I have no idea. My brother and I grew up in Thanet, just seconds from farmland. We also had a huge recreation field at the end of our road. In those days it was left unattended for most of the year, so it was more like a meadow (and therefore more fun!) … As kids we played quite a few games with wild plants. As well as dandelion [Taraxum officinale] clocks, daisy [Bellis perennis] chains and conkers [Aesculus hippocastanum], there was a game we played with lamb tails (flowerheads of hoary plantain) and the heads of ribwort [Plantago lanceolata]. But only when the plant was young. One looped the stalk around itself at the base of the head, then tugged sharply upwards. If you were successful, the head would fly off. I don’t know whether lamb tails is [a] local [name] or not [Cliftonville, Kent, January 2012].

2. Although I live in Cheltenham now, I am a countryman, well-versed in country-lore; some gleaned from my father (b.1872) and even from my grandfather … The pretty little plantain flower still found, I hope, in the pasture fields, was known when my father was a boy as grandmother’s whiskers [Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, November 1993].

Images: ┬ámain, St Peter’s churchyard, Arlesey, Bedfordshire, September 2015; upper inset, St Mary the Virgin churchyard, Bampton, Oxfordshire, May 2016; lower inset, All Saints’ churchyard, Marlow, Buckinghamshire, October 2019.