Plant-Lore

Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

QUERY: Toothwort

Posted on by royvickery |

048Toothwort (Lathraea squamaria) is unusual in that it is completely parasitic – unlike, for example, mistletoe (Viscum album) and yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor), which obtain some nutrients from a host plant.  Thus toothwort produces no chlorophyll and consequently the plant is not green but pinkish white.  Although hazel (Corylus avellana) is the most usual host plant, other woody plants are also parasitised.

Such an unusual plant might be expected to be the focus of a variety of folklore, but in fact it seems to have attracted no interest.  Two local names – corpse-flower in Yorkshire, and cuckoo-flower in Hampshire – have been recorded, otherwise there is nothing.

Any additional names, any folklore, or comments would be much appreciated.

Response:  David Allen & Gabrielle Hatfield in their Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition, 2004, note that although John Gerard in his Herball of 1597 mentions that country women in England ‘called Lathraea squamaria “lungwort” and used it against “the cough” (presumably pulmonary tuberculosis)’, they can find no other record of the plant being used in folk medicine in Britain or Ireland [RV, 21 April 2016].

Image:  Downe, London Borough of Bromley, April 2016.

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