Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Dried apples deter moths

Viola Bankes was born in 1900 into the family which owned Kingston Lacy and Corfe Castle, in Dorset.  Towards the end of her life her reminiscences were collected by Pamela Watkin, and published as A Kingston Lacy Childhood in 1986.  When Viola was four her father died, but, although the children were put into mourning dress, they were not informed of this. When their father’s final illness took hold they were told that he had gone to India, and it was not until she was nine that Viola discovered the truth.

Her formidable mother ran the estate, keeping it in good condition, until Viola’s brother, Ralph, came of age and inherited it.  During their mother’s absence, Viola and her sister Daphne enjoyed greater freedom, including opportunities to explore the lumber room.   Once when doing this they discovered a coffin-like tin box, and on opening it found what they thought were the remains of their father’s bones ‘disintegrating among the folds of his scarlet sheriff’s robes’.  Some years later when they dared to reveal their discovery, they were informed that what they thought were decaying bones were, in fact, dried apples (Malus pumila) put into the robes to deter moths.

Any other records of this use of apples, or any comments, would be appreciated –

Comment:  A similar practice is mentioned by John Galsworthy in the sixth book of his Forsyte Saga, Swan Song, set in the 1920s, and published in 1928.  In chapter 10, Fleur Mont visits the rest home, which she ran for ‘girls who wanted air and that’ in the neighbourhood of Dorking, Surrey: ‘On the table in the hall were a number of little bags of bitter-apple prepared by her caretaker’s wife against the moth, which were were all over the house that had been derelict for a year.  She busied herself with stowing them in drawers’.

Updated 3 October 2021.

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