Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

QUERY: Witches and cornflowers

Cornflower, Centaurea cyanus, has two names, both recorded in the nineteenth century in northern England and Scotland, which refer to witches:  witch (or witches’) bells, and witch’s (or witches’) thimble.  Can anyone suggest why this attractive flower might have been given these names?

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Response:  From Isabel Pombo Geertsma, Leiden, December 2020:  ‘One of the Dutch synonyms of witch is kol, and its called kolbloem, kolleboem, etc. (bloem means flower), but kol is also a bastardization of koren (= corn); is this where the witch names come from?’

Image:  cultivated, South Queensferry, West Lothian, August 2017.

Updated 26 December 2020.

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