Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

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Valentine’s Day, 2017

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Red roses, £6 a stem, for sale at a florist’s shop at Clapham South underground station, London Borough of Wandsworth, 13 February 2017.



Homage to ‘God’s Architect’

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The architect Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926) is best known for his, as yet unfinished, church of the Holy Family (La Sagrada Familia) in Barcelona, Spain.  From 1915 he devoted his life to the building of this masterpiece, and following his death he was buried in the chapel of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, in the its crypt.  He is said to have led an exemplary life as a devout member of the Roman Catholic Church

On the 66th anniversary of his death ‘a small group of Christians fond of the personality and work of Gaudi’ started the process which they hoped would lead to the canonization of ‘God’s architect’.

His tomb is decorated with fresh flowers and lit candles.

Image, 10 February 2017.

St Pancras and parsley

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Visited the church of Sant Jaume (St James the Apostle), reputedly the oldest church in Barcelona, Catalunya, Spain, on 10 February 2017.  The church is noteworthy for its side chapels which contain statues of saints, most of which are surrounded by numerous bunches of mostly fresh flowers.  An exception was the statue of Sant Pancraç (St Pancras), which had two vases of parsley (Petroselinum crispum) placed in front of it.

According to the woman tending the church’s shop, parsley is offered to St Pancras in the hope that the donor’s business will be successful.

The church of Santa Maria del Mar was visited later in the day.  It too had a statue of St Pancras with numerous candles lit in front of it, and a red and a white rose placed on the candle-holder, but no parsley.

Plant-lore Archive: January 2017

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Things progressed steadily during the month, with 9 items of information being received, so that the Archive now contains 7,374 items of information from 1,988 contributors.  Thanks to everyone for their contributions, and to J.B. Smith, formerly of Bath, but now of Chester, for a great deal of interesting correspondence concerning plant-lore found in dialect dictionaries.

5,823 searches were made of the website; up from 5,060 in December 2016, and 4,287 in January 2016.

Work continued on the contribution to The Cultural History of Plants and revising the Local Names database.  A visit was paid to the Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival and several other events, and a well-attended lecture on the folklore and uses of common vegetables was given at the South London Botanical Institute.

The Facebook page Plant Lore and Traditions is slowly attracted more attention.

Commemoration of King Charles I, 2017

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Wreath placed by the King’s Army of the Civil War Society on the plinth of the equestrian statue of King Charles, Whitehall, London, to mark the anniversary of his beheading on 30 January 1649.  The plinth was also decorated with three wreaths composed mainly of white roses and eucalyptus foliage, from ‘the Governor-General and Members of the Royal Stuart Society’, ‘the Order of the Crown of Stuart’ and ‘the Memorial of Merit of King Charles the Martyr’, and a bunch of white roses which was left anonymously.

Image: 31 January 2017.

Apples wassailed in Mitcham

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In 2016 a Community Orchard was planted on an area of derelict land in the London Borough of Merton; on Saturday 28 January 2017 an apple-wassailing, ‘traditional, rural and family’ event was held from 5 – 9 p.m.

Good publicity and fine weather ensured the presence of a large number of people, to enjoy locally produced cider, food stalls, and music.  There  was also a performance of border-morris by the Carshalton-based Black Swan side.
The wassail ceremony was          conducted by Druids (even though the first known reference to apple-wassailing dates from no earlier than the 1580s).  After summoning the spirits of the four points of the compass, lambswool (mulled cider) was poured on the roots of of a selected apple (Malus pumila) tree, and people were invited to hang toast dipped in lambswool, ‘for the robins’, from it branches.  There was an attempt to sing a wassail song, but no one seemed sure of its tune.

Thereafter people drifted home having had a pleasant evening enjoying simple pleasures.

Apple cure for diarrhoea

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According to a letter, from Mortlake, London, published in The Times of 27 January 2017:  ‘One of the best natural cures for diarrhoea is to grate an apple [Malus pumila], spread it in a plate and wait half an hour until it goes brown.’  This ‘tasty antidote’, administered by the correspondent’s mother, had cured ‘several episodes of upset stomach’.

REMINDER: Folklore of common vegetables

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Roy Vickery will be talking about the folklore of common vegetables at the South London Botanical Institute – – on Monday 23 January, at 7.00 p.m.  The discussion will cover beliefs associated with the cultivation of everyday vegetables and concentrate on their uses in traditional healing.

The SLBI, 323 Norwood Road, London, SE24, is about 10 minutes walk from Tulse Hill mainline station, and on the 68, 196, 322 and 468 bus routes.  All are welcome, but please book in advance; free to SLBI members; non-members £3.

Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival, 2017

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On Plough Monday – the first Monday after Twelfth Night (5 January) – or the following day, men dressed in costumes made from straw would be led around the Cambridgeshire towns of Whittlesea (also known as Whittlesey) and Ramsey.  The custom appears to have been short-lived, being first recorded in Ramsey in 1880 and appearing intermittently until about the end of the century, and being first recorded in Whittlesea in 1859 and continuing with some gaps until 1909.  Since the bear and his attendants expected to receive cash from house-owners and others, it is thought that they appeared mainly at times when employment was scarce and working men needed to supplement their income.

At Whittlesea the custom was revived in 1980 and since then it has grown to become what is probably the first major morris dance festival of the year.

In 2017 the Festival consisted of a concert of folk music on Friday evening, the main event with dance teams around the town, story-telling sessions, ‘acoustic sessions’, followed by a barn dance on Saturday 15 January, and music and dance session on Sunday, followed by the Straw Bear Bonfire.

Saturday was a fine, crisp, sunny day, so from 10.30 until 3.30 people were able to enjoy a wide variety of morris performances around the town.  The programme listed some 38 groups, not all morris, as participating, including nine Molly Dance (the local form of morris dance) sides.

Image:  upper, straw bear with the Lady of Old Glory Molly dancers; lower, Old Glory’s Lord and Lady.

Catherine of Aragon commemorated

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Tomb of Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536), first wife of King Henry VIII, and Queen of England from 1509-33, is buried in Peterborough Cathedral, Cambridgeshire.  Catherine spent her childhood in Grenada, Spain, and adopted the pomegranate (Punica granatum) fruit as her personal emblem, and usually at least one pomegranate is placed on her tomb.

On 14 January 2017 the tomb was decorated with two pomegranates, a small bunch of long-dead rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis, considered to be an emblem of remembrance) and a bunch of florist’s flowers.

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