Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

REVIEW: Plant Lore & Legend

Posted on by royvickery |

005Ruth Binney, Plant Lore and Legend:  The Wisdom and Wonder of Plants and Flowers Revealed.  Hassocks:  Rydon Publishing,, 2016.

We are told that the author of this book ‘has been studying nature and the countryside for over 50 years’ and is ‘the author of many successful natural history and nostalgia titles.’  Presumably this work falls into the ‘nostalgia’ category as its layout harks back to Victorian times, and  its attitude to folklore is similarly dated.  The author might have studied nature for over 50 years, but she does not appear to have read any folklore work published during the last 50, or more, years.

Thus we get statements such as ‘Ensuring fertility – of crops, cattle and humans – was the original purpose of dancing around the maypole on May Day.  The tree that forms the pole represents the spirit of the forest springing back to life.’   Even in a popular publication, few, if any, folklorists writing today would make such assertions without hesitation.  Yes, maypoles may have been concerned with fertility and the spirit of the forest, but is there any firm evidence for this?

A further problem is that author casts her net worldwide, leading to statements which suggest customs which are restricted in distribution are ubiquitous.  For example we are told that ‘rice, quinoa and barley are all dinner-table essentials on 31 December’, but even in London, probably the most multicultural city in the world, I’ve never come across anyone who uses these ‘essentials’ on New Years Eve.

Thus the book cannot be treated as a reliable source of information, and, to be fair, it does not set out to be a scholarly work; it provides little meat and is a confection little substance.

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